Multiculturalism in the Classroom is the Gateway to a Richer Learning Environment
Grant Davis, Divya Anroop, Armaghan Ahmadian, Nicol Dumais, Amena Shamisa
Please cite page as:
Davis, G., Anroop, D., Ahmadian, A., Dumais, N., & Shamisa, A. (2022, April 1). Multiculturalism in the classroom is the gateway to a richer learning environment. Classroom Practice in 2022. Retrieved [date] from https://ecampusontario.pressbooks.pub/educ5202/chapter/multiculturalism-in-the-classroom-is-the-gateway-to-a-richer-learning-environment/
MULTICULTURALISM – AN INTRODUCTION
What is multiculturalism? Examining the term multi-, cultural-, and ism-: multi- meaning to have multiple, many, or more than one; cultural- meaning the different indicators of a group of people through their values, beliefs, customs, religion, language, history, art, socioeconomic status, social institutions, achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social groups; and ism- is the suffix meaning a distinctive doctrine, theory, system, or practice. Together it means the practice of multiple cultures – or the way society deals with cultural diversity on multiple levels (Longley, 2020). Regarding education, culture and education are intertwined as they impact and value one another. It is crucial to teach multiculturalism in the classroom from earlier ages as studies show that children start creating biases regarding race by the age of four, and when they are twelve, they become set in their beliefs, making it harder to change (Dickinson, 2020). Each year, classrooms are becoming more diverse and as teachers, we need to embrace diversity and foster a culturally inclusive classroom focusing on equality, justice, and equity.
To implement a multicultural classroom, educators need to be aware of biases; value life experiences; understand learning styles; and assign multicultural projects (American University, 2020). There are four main points to creating a multicultural education which are done through: contributions – needing a deeper understanding of cultural differences to reshape curriculum and pedagogy; additive – educators branch out and teach what is missing from mainstream norm or the perspectives that are missing; transformative – norms are shaped by many intersections which allows teachers to reflect how the lessons, activities and conversations are framed; and decision-making/social action – support and guide children to develop their comprehension of equity and justice and take action (National Association for Multicultural Education). The benefits of incorporating a multicultural education are that people learn value in all cultures. As teachers, we need to ensure that we do not neglect a major part of a student’s identity, especially if it has been historically ignored or marginalized (Walden University). The more diversity is promoted and focuses on people’s similarities with different groups, it promotes positivity, whereas only looking at people’s differences creates alienation and othering, promoting negativity and hate. Students and their experiences should be valued and discussed, enabling others to address multiple ways of thinking or open themselves to different perspectives, eventually becoming inclusive adults. Throughout this paper, we will examine the different levels of multiculturalism, such as socioeconomic status, language, religion, gender, and values, and how these practices are applied in the classroom, what opportunities are presented to address concerns, what challenges can occur when discussing these topics, and what strategies can be used to overcome these challenges.
Socioeconomic Status (SES) is the combination of income, education attainment, financial security, and subjective perceptions of social status and class (American Psychological Association). Socioeconomic status affects everyone in different ways, whether they are from higher statuses, lower, or in-between – everyone fits into a category. Socioeconomic status may affect quality of life attributes and opportunities and privileges offered to people (American Psychological Association). Those from lower SES suffer from these consequences and rarely get the chance to reap the benefits, sometimes propelling their children into the same cycle.
Socioeconomic status is not something one can practice, but can know and address in a healthy way, especially in the classroom. As previously mentioned, the earlier and more students are exposed to a topic, such as SES, multiculturalism, or multiple perspectives, it can create positive thoughts, allowing the students to carry these positive notions throughout childhood and into adulthood. However, students who come from lower socioeconomic backgrounds tend to have more problems at home, affecting their behaviours at school (Hayes, 2019). Regardless of a student’s SES, all students have the same rights and responsibilities, even though some may require extra care and support (Taylor), and it is the educator’s role to teach, support and meet the needs (social needs included) of all students. Students from low-income backgrounds have different needs than students from higher-income backgrounds as they have access to less resources, they are more stressed, sick more often, home provides less emotional support and intellectual stimulation (Hayes, 2019). There are lots of comparisons between children from low socioeconomic statuses and high socioeconomic statuses, such as those from low SES develop academic skills slower, which is related to poor cognitive development, language, memory, socioemotional processing, and poor income and health in adulthood (American Psychological Association). Not only do the students develop slower, but the resources provided by the school are not adequate, as that impacts their academic progress. It is important to note, as educators, we need to develop personal, caring relationships with students to develop trust and transparency. Through this, teachers will have a better understanding of the child’s homelife and can relate to their students from an empathetic, equitable, equal, or just position and provide resources or solutions to the students and their families (Taylor).
Opportunities present themselves in many ways to address the concern of SES in the classroom. Starting on the first day of class, it is important for the educator to set classroom rules for behaviour emphasizing respect, honesty, and an open-door policy for students (Yale). This is a time and place to set ground rules regarding acceptance and civility, though also begin building an open and trusting relationship with students – however, it is not probable for students to open up freely about difficult conversations as there has been no trust or sense of safety developed amongst classmates and teacher-student. Teachers should also present themselves as available to have open discussions with students anytime but should also require one-on-one check-ins with all students to discuss learning progress and personalize strategies for their improvement (Yale). Throughout the term or year, teachers are able to take their time and examine requirements of assessments and evaluations, clearly state what is required of them, provide resources and instruction (Yale). However, another approach to target lower SES students would be to have an open discussion about what the students reckon is reasonable considering the resources they have available. This also ensures that students have a voice, a choice, and that it matters – they are given autonomy in their class pertaining to their education, where not many lower SES students have that opportunity at home. Other examples for opportunities to address SES could be reading a book and having an opening discussion, allowing students to open up in different ways, exposing students to multiple viewpoints (Hayes, 2019). It is important to integrate content with diverse perspectives and representation through including books, authors, videos, and examples, as this helps students recognize the content through a personal connection (Yale). Another opportunity could be witnessing stereotyping and using this time to remind students of the classroom rules – that all students need to be addressed with respect as this teaches civility (Taylor). Students want representation, whether that is having the curriculum relate to their own experiences, it is important to place value on diverse experiences in the classroom, use pop cultural examples or even examples referencing the student’s interest (Yale). Ensuring that students have a quality education reduces the likelihood that they will continue the cycle of remaining in a low SES. As Kindergarten to grade 3 is a crucial development period for students, if they remain in a higher quality classroom, they are more likely to attend post-secondary school, save for retirement and live in better neighbourhoods (American Psychological Association).
Discussing socioeconomic status is not an easy topic to explain and there are many challenges that can occur. A student’s SES is not necessarily detectable as students find ways to self-normalize and appear middle-class (Yale); it is unlike race or gender where it is explicit and obvious. Everyone wants to be accepted and included, and if a child does not feel this way at home, the school should provide opportunities for a student to find a home in the school (Hayes, 2019). Not all students have access to all the same resources, for example, internet or even colouring utensils (Hayes, 2019). For instance, children’s literacy environment in the home affects how they develop fundamental skills of reading acquisition, such as phonological awareness, vocabulary, and oral language (American Psychological Association). Students from low SES are less likely to have the fundamental skills to develop at the rate they should compared to their high SES counterparts, caused by the lack of books owned at home, parental distress, less access to learning material and experiences, or lack of a positive literacy environment (American Psychological Association). Students from high SES have the support and resources to succeed, hence they are equipped with the tools to meet curriculum expectations or exceed. If these students are not meeting the requirements, parents can afford tutors or take the time to create a positive environment for skill-building or development. Another challenge that is important to note is that schools in lower socioeconomic neighbourhoods have fewer library resources for students to draw on, such as fewer staff or open for fewer hours (American Psychological Association).
With all challenges, there are strategies and solutions to overcome problems. Being able to share resources with your own class, or other classes is important. Many times, teachers buy resources for their class with their own money, and the more you buy, the more it adds up. Though, being able to share tools around the class or with other classes, allows students to access tools they may not have access to at home. Increasing school funding may also help with providing resources to students (American Psychological Association). Also being able to offer students a way to access the internet outside of school, whether it is the public library or even a McDonalds (Hayes, 2019). While this is great advice, some students may not have access to technology at home (laptop, computer, tablet). Another way to offer resources is allowing students to come to school early or stay later and use the school resources – this way students can also utilize the teacher for help with homework, clarify other questions they may have, or just use the time to complete the homework as they may not have had a chance to complete it. In terms of creating inclusivity in the classroom, this can be done through extracurricular opportunities (Hayes, 2019) where students can connect with other students or develop new skills independently – as both promote student engagement and development. Understanding that students have different learning styles, lessons can be taught through simplified language or offer several approaches to different content for students to capture important concepts and meet the various levels of SES and academic preparedness (Yale). Ensuring that student emotions are protected in the classroom permits honesty, valuable insights, and encourages academic discussion with personal experience (Yale). One of the best ways to do this is through share-circles where one student speaks at a time, moving in a circle, as everyone is able to listen respectfully and everyone has an opportunity to speak, unlike a debate or conversation and some voices are forgotten or ignored (Bickmore, 2014). Staying connected to the world around us with current and relevant information allows teachers to improve teaching and learning, as well as continuing their professional development, and involving parents (American Psychological Association), all contribute to strategies of discussing and tacking socioeconomic inequalities in the classroom as these are all aids to better teach and bring attention to topics pertaining to diversity. By having a multicultural approach to teaching and learning, it allows students to become active seekers and producers of knowledge, learning more, faster, and developing a higher curiosity (National Association for Multicultural Education).
Language development is essential to all students’ education, regardless of their prior or current experiences with language. Many students in Ontario have rich linguistic and cultural backgrounds, some of which are in the process of learning English (English Language Learners or ELLs; Ministry of Education, 2007). These students are unique because they are learning the language of instruction and the curriculum simultaneously. (Ministry of Education, 2007).
ELL students can be recognized by the programs that support them. (Ministry of Education, 2008). The first includes English as a Second Language (ESL) programs, where students have a first language other than English and are given opportunities to develop literacy skills that are age-appropriate (Ministry of Education, 2007). The second includes English Language Development (EDL) programs, where students have a first language other than English, but were not given sufficient support in development of language and literacy skills (Ministry of Education, 2007).
It is a teacher’s responsibility to support children’s language development in both English and their home-languages (Ministry of Education, 2008). It is important to note that supporting all language development is essential because home-languages are fundamental to student identities and their cognitive, linguistic, and socio-emotional development (Olivia-Olson et al., 2019). Therefore, it is imperative that education programs recognize, honour, and cherish children’s identities or home environments/cultures (Olivia-Olson et al., 2019). Taking this into consideration regarding classroom management will help create an inclusive and equitable classroom.
This notion of fostering inclusivity can be applied by adopting the general principle that ELL students should be included in whole-classroom activities. In this case, language is made visible and accessible to them (Ministry of Education 2008). To ensure equitable and fair opportunity to language development in the classroom teachers:
- Ensure their delivery models are flexible and student-centered. This includes giving ELL students ample opportunities to interact with proficient English speakers in the classroom (Ministry of Education, 2007).
- Follow Integrated Classroom Support models, where they collaborate with ESL and EDL teachers to develop tailored and comprehensive planning, instruction, and assessment strategies that complement and support ELL students. This includes appropriate scaffolding techniques, adaptations to the Ontario curriculum and learning tasks, and differentiation of instruction to ensure every student can complete and participate in classroom activities. (Olivia-Olson et al., 2019).
- Provide Tutorial Support in small groups of ELL students to give them opportunities to practice and reinforce language and literacy skills (Olivia-Olson et al., 2019).
- Support integration into the academic and social school life (Ministry of Education, 2007).
- Communicate effectively with parents (Ministry of Education, 2008).
With these actions teachers must also understand what bilingual students bring to a classroom. Often referred to as bilingual advantage, students with previously developed language skills present advantages regarding their mental flexibility, problem-solving skills, communicating with family members, development of cultural understanding and continuity, awareness of global issues, and their access to future career opportunities (The National Association for Multicultural Education, 2021).Understanding and expressing these advantages helps ELL students feel confident and take risks in classroom. It also develops a welcoming and supportive classroom dynamic that perceives ELLs as a positive asset to the social atmosphere (Ministry of Education 2008).
Although seemingly flawless, the construction of an inclusive and equitable classroom environment could present a few challenges. For example, ELL students may suffer from negative impacts on their self-esteem Students may be unable to communicate initially which can cause feelings of isolation (College of English Language, 2021). Additionally, students may feel disengaged as a result of undifferentiated instruction, which affects their ability to participate in class activities (College of English Language, 2021).
The best strategies for these challenges include proactivity and preparation. For example, teachers should attempt to personalize language through family engagement (The National Association for Multicultural Education, 2021). This includes building rapport with family members and encouraging students to use both languages at home to help build confidence and safe environments for them to practice their language (Ministry of Education, 2007). As a result, teachers will develop supports for students’ cultural identity and literacy skills by cultivating an encouraging network, to prevent feelings of isolation. In addition, teachers can build a supportive classroom environment, where ELL students are recognized and celebrated for the advantages and complexity they bring to the classroom (Ministry of Education, 2007). This can be done by teaching the importance of cultural and linguistic diversity, encouraging group activities in the classroom with differentiated instruction, making language visible and accessible and developing a classroom expectation regarding respect for self and others (The National Association for Multicultural Education, 2021).
Students come into the classroom all with their own cultures, customs, and language, and the importance of allowing students to express their cultural identity is crucial in their growth and connection to this part of themselves. Providing space and opportunities for students to celebrate their religious identity is another place where students need to feel as though their values and faith matter. While religions are often debated based on their differences, opening up conversation to share the similarities could give students an idea on just how similar religions are and their connections to individuals. “Educators and students do not leave our faith at the door before entering a classroom. An educator who is an observant Muslim, for example, does not stop believing in justice, mercy, and inclusion — core dynamics of Islamic ethics — when she engages her students.” (Garofalo et al., 2020).
With the opportunity for a multicultural education, students can develop a culturally diverse outlook on various topics with the ability to see the perspectives of those who may share different experiences and opinions. The community of the school or classroom has the potential to foster these relationships and can be beneficial to students’ learning and achievement. “Educators have an opportunity to foster communication among people creating mutual respect and understanding” (Garofalo, 2020). Part of having multiculturalism thrive comes from the ways we as educators model an importance for celebrating empathy and community in the classroom.
The idea of religion in schools has been controversial and yet the inclusion of the beliefs and values of students is crucial to promoting an inclusive and meaningful education where students can feel connected and welcomed to share any connections to their faith. Educators have the ability to demonstrate showing respect for others and their religions by speaking from a place of respect for every individual to feel comfortable. “Historically, leaders from Muslim, Christian, Hindi, Buddhist, Jewish, and Catholic faiths have urged for humanity to live in harmony and respect and have advocated for peaceful interactions” (Ilosvay, 2016). Faith-based schools gives students the chance to deepen their religious identity, as well as their cultural background all while forming relationships with peers who share similar values, backgrounds, and beliefs. In the article ‘Religion in Schools? The Importance of Recognizing the Impact of Religious Experiences’, the author makes note of ways educators can use the ‘religious beliefs of students as strengths of their identity’, and how it may eliminate some misunderstandings and establish an environment of mutual acceptance, which could also be helpful outside the school environment. (Ilosvay, 2016).
Gender is unquestionably a distinguishing characteristic of every human community. When a teacher develops a learning environment that is more conducive to the achievement of boys or girls, gender becomes a factor in classroom teaching (Bray et al. (n.d.), p.5). These perspectives often impose tight definitions on the natural skills and attitudes of each sex, as well as on the societal roles judged acceptable for men and women (Alan et al, 2018, p.2). Furthermore, for all youngsters, gender development is a normal process. Understanding gender identity and how it develops is a critical approach for educators to promote and encourage healthy gender development in early childhood. Gender identity is an innate feeling of self that individuals experience as a result of the combination of their biological characteristics, developmental impacts, and environmental factors (Nduagbo, 2020). In addition, while pupils may come to school with an awareness of gender stereotypes, instructors have the power to reinforce or dismantle them; teacher philosophy and verbal and non-verbal communication play a critical part in the classroom development of societal gender norms (Lo, 2015, p.15).
Moreover, cultural differences are comparable to gender differences, but they are not the same. There are physiological differences between men and women, but they do not translate into intrinsic disparities in the capacity to perform in school or at work. Culture affects the impact of gender on education and accomplishment (Bray et al. (n.d.), p.5). Also, regrettably, schools often encourage gender prejudices in a variety of ways. While publishers have developed rules to ensure that educational materials are free of gender bias, it is sensible to check for prejudices. For example, although children’s novels now have an equal number of male and female characters, the titles and artwork still feature more men, and the characters (particularly the boys) continue to exhibit stereotypical behaviour. Boys are more combative and confrontational, while girls are more expressive and loving. Girl characters may straddle gender stereotypes in order to be more active, whereas guy characters seldom exhibit “feminine” expressive characteristics. Additionally, video learning packages, virtual worlds, social media platforms, and other sources, such as YouTube, may not be as thoroughly screened for gender, racial, ethnic, economic, religious, or age stereotypes and biases as most texts are, and they can serve as sources of stereotyped messages (Woolfolk et al., 2016, p. 218).
Throughout the education system, teachers will preach respect. Respect the materials in the classroom, respect the teacher, the staff, but most importantly, each other. Students can struggle with respecting each other though due to a misunderstanding of their values. If not exposed to diversity, how to respect other’s values comes from imitation of their parents, or the media they consume, both of which can be extremely offensive due to outdated terminology and appropriateness. That is why it is vital as an educator to incorporate the teaching of different cultures values in to lessons as often as possible. This can be done seamlessly through many subjects such as language, dance, art, music and more.
When teachers of young students teach with respect to the values of different cultures, it was found that students of different culture gained equal access to opportunities and education in the school was enhanced (Soner & Munevver, 2019). Intuitively this makes sense, when students are aware of why their classmates act or think the way they do, instead of getting bullies they can be praised, raising confidence levels and willingness to try new things as well as putting themselves out there (Soner & Munevver, 2019). American University School of Education (2020) suggests four ways of being able to implement multicultural education into the classroom to help make students aware of the different values their classmates may hold as outlined in the table below. Multicultural education is a great way to allow students learn how they are similar and unique (American University School of Education, 2020).
- Be Aware of Biases
Challenge the status quo to eliminate bias. Question inequalities that occur within the school or community.
- Value Life Experiences
Give students the opportunity to share life experiences if they feel comfortable as it allows others to either feel validated in their own experience or provides exposure for others to grow and learn from.
- Understanding Student Learning Styles
Students from different backgrounds can learn in different ways. Lessons should be designed to allow all students to succeed.
- Assign Multicultural Projects
Researching different cultural backgrounds is a great way to get students thinking and understanding how others act. Language and the arts are great subjects to incorporate multiculturalism into the classroom.
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