Creating a Multicultural Classroom: Strategies for Diverse Learning StylesFeb 21st, 2016 | By jkeith | Category: Online features, Web Exclusive
In the tribal college and university (TCU) setting, it’s important to create a multicultural classroom that incorporates a variety of teaching styles to meet the various needs of American Indian students. Many TCUs are situated in reservation communities that serve students from a specific tribe, whereas other tribal colleges serve students from many different tribes and reservation communities. These realities make creating a supportive environment for learning especially important and a key issue for tribal college educators. Instructors should strive to be aware of each student’s learning needs, and to treat each student as an individual while building a multicultural classroom that enhances student learning
Connecting Ways of Learning with Teaching Strategies
The literature shows that Native students may have a different way of learning than what traditional classroom settings offer. Because many students tend to have interdependent relationships with family and extended family, as well as the tribal community, traditional styles of learning are often based on observation and experience. Teaching methods geared toward Native students may include more opportunities for hands-on experiential learning, discussion-based learning objectives, interaction and teamwork with peers, learning by observation, and student-driven classroom activities.
Incorporating such teaching methodologies may contribute to Native students’ academic success and create a more effective learning community. Literature addressing supportive environments for Native students substantiates the use of teaching methods that integrate these traditional styles of learning. Consideration of a variety of teaching methods is especially relevant when considering Swisher’s (1991) work with Native youth and her observation that “cultural values and early socialization experiences” have an impact on the way Native children learn.
Most educational settings in the United States today use a Westernized style of teaching that relies on predominantly lecture and other verbal teaching methods. These techniques may not encompass educational efforts that contribute positively to Native student success and, indeed, may actually hinder it. Teachers affect student learning—and their effect may be positive by creating a collaborative, multicultural learning environment; or negative by utilizing few teaching methods and failing to incorporate the necessary tools that address various learning styles and students. Because many TCU classrooms have diverse student populations (diverse in tribal affiliation, age, family structure, number of children, etc.), discovering students’ different learning styles will help educators meet their needs and contribute to student success.
Some Tools and Strategies for Working with Diverse Students
Teaching strategies for working with diverse students can help instructors promote learning for any student. Identifying preferred learning styles can help the instructor know what types of teaching strategies to use in the classroom. For example, if the upcoming class primarily consists of students from the millennial generation, the instructor may want to consider incorporating more media into the course for the technology-savvy millennial student. If many of the students have children and families, incorporating real-world examples that connect learning objectives with at-home activities can be beneficial.
Clearly, identifying these characteristics among students involves a commitment to not only facilitate learning, but to know your students. Teachers possess educational expertise and techniques, but should also work to recognize and validate the diverse backgrounds of their students and incorporate teaching tools that address this diversity (Kingsley 2007). Developing classroom activities to learn about students, evaluating early feedback from classroom participants, and creating a relationship of trust between instructor and student contributes to this reciprocal learning process. It also demonstrates the instructor’s commitment to get to know his or her students and the wealth of experience and skills that they bring to the classroom.
Moreover, collaborating with other educational professionals can provide additional ideas and tools instructors can use in their own classrooms. By connecting and communicating with other professionals, educators can ask questions, share experiences, and assist one another in order to create better multicultural learning environments (Kingsley 2007). For example, new TCU instructors may be paired with a mentor faculty member (or team) to promote the learning process, and identify techniques and experiences that work in the learning environment at that institution. In addition, supportive work groups or collaboration teams can provide encouragement and teaching tools for new, as well as long-term, faculty members.
As educators face time constraints, utilizing existing instructional strategies proven to work well among Native students can be beneficial. For example, one teaching strategy that has been shown to benefit diverse students is using visuals in the classroom. Photographs, artwork, drawings, and graphs provide nonverbal methods to help learners find meaning and connect educational concepts with specific learning outcomes. Visuals incorporated into the classroom benefit diverse students of any background who are not primarily auditory learners.
Another proven teaching strategy that can benefit diverse students is experiential learning. Literature supports the use of hands-on learning among diverse students, as the technique incorporates the opportunity to interact with class materials, participate in various learning-centered activities, and handle and practice skills on relevant equipment (Allison and Rehm 2007). Providing hands-on experiences for students so they can practice skills, as well as observe others practicing, is a good way to reach students who are “doers” or learners who benefit from opportunities to touch and perform physical activities, also known as tactile/kinesthetic learners (Allison and Rehm 2007). These experiential learning events may come through practicum hours, field trips, demonstrations, lab hours, or other activities.
Grouping students together for hands-on activities or projects may also be a benefit—such cooperation has been identified as an effective teaching method in classrooms that include students of various cultures, as well as students who speak a variety of languages (Allison and Rehm 2007). Giving students an assignment and having them work towards the end product together provides an opportunity for building relationships and sharing knowledge and skills.
A Final Word
All of the tools noted above can be utilized in different classes and disciplines in tribal college settings. While many of these strategies have been devised for use in teaching minorities or students of color, they are useful tools for teaching any student. The key is for instructors to be familiar with the learning styles of their students and to treat each student as an individual. Employing different teaching strategies increases the chances that many of the students will be able to learn successfully.
Jill F. Keith, MS, RD, LRD taught at United Tribes Technical College and is now studying exercise science and nutrition at North Dakota State University.
Allison, B. & Rehm, M. (2007). Teaching Strategies for Diverse Learners in FCS Classrooms. Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, 99(2), 8–10.
Kingsley, K. (2007). Empower Diverse Learners with Educational Technology and Digital Media. Intervention in School and Clinic, 43(1), 52–56.
Swisher, K. (1991). American Indian/Alaskan Native Learning Styles: Research and Practice (Report No. ED335175). Charleston, WV: Rural Education and Small Schools.