By: Kelly Jackson

How are my students diverse? Let me count the ways: age, race, ethnicity, language, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, academic preparation, citizenship status. Do they work? Kids at home? If yes, single parent? Do they have a physical limitation? Are they military?

Given the above, how on earth do I begin to teach a class and expect student success? Do I try to be everything to everybody or ignore it all and just teach the syllabus? Is there a comfortable in between? Very early in my career I had an eye-opening experience. I was assigned a self-contained all-deaf section. Before the term a former student, who had failed my class the previous term, asked to enter the section. I warned him of the difficulties that might arise. Did I mention he was blind? So, for each class my lesson needed to be visual enough for a non-hearing student to benefit and my explanations clear enough for a blind student to benefit. It was an awesome lesson for me at an early age!

We all know that our students can bring “baggage.” Some have more than others. Some have people to help them carry the load and others not so much. Here are my top five suggestions for trying to respect the diversity in your classroom and still honor academic standards.

  • Have something in every lesson that the lowest-level students can do, BUT also have something that will challenge the highest-level students. Give everyone at least one win and at least one loss. Maybe this comes in the form of warm-up problems or challenge problems. Let them all feel success and failure every day.
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  • Who know what challenges your students face when they are not in class with you? Make the most of your minutes with them by giving them the most valuable experiences possible in the time you have. Starting late or letting students out early is a disservice to those who need those minutes because they are sometimes the best or only quality time they get with your subject.
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  • Use technology but don’t abdicate what humans do well. You can help with problem recognition and the common threads that tie topics together. Tech is great for providing students with problems and how to do them correctly. But instructors are great at helping students understand what they did wrong. Let the tech do the busy work, you can do the creative work.
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  • Math anxiety is real but so is lack of preparation. Keep things in the room comfortable and interactive. That said, students need to be participants in the process. We use the student as a customer model so much in education now . . . well for our product, some assembly is required. Students need to be doing work, interacting with material, and asking and answering questions. Give them an opportunity to interact with the content in class.
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  • Use examples from a variety of CURRENT fields and interests. Sports, video games, social media, politics, pop culture, science, health and nutrition, etc. Diversify your examples and approaches to each field so every student can feel included, as well as be given an opportunity to understand “the other side.”

Check out these additional resources for addressing diversity in the classroom:
Six Ways Mathematics Instructors Can Support Diversity and Inclusion
Goals for Achieving Diversity in Mathematics Classrooms