Tips For Teaching Our Diverse Student Population

Author: Eileen Barrett, Professor of English and Former Director of the Office of Faculty Development

Self-reflection and Preparation

  1. Understand who your students are. Be aware that the majority are first-generation to attend college, and that we serve a population with multiple layers of diversity. See our campus' statistics.
  2. Question your own assumptions and biases. Develop awareness about your attitudes about others in general and about our students in particular. Take the Project Implicit tests.
  3. Check if students are enrolled in the right course. Review the course roster, which identifies our students by major and year. Consider taking the time to see that these students are enrolled in the appropriate course and have satisfied the appropriate prerequisites. Are they prepared to be successful in the course?
  4. Learn how to pronounce and practice pronouncing students' names. We have a guide written by our colleagues about how to pronounce names of Asian/Pacific Islander students. Current technology is extremely helpful. Here is our recommended commercial site of the moment. Pronounce Names: The Dictionary of Name Pronunciation.

Course Design

  1. Welcome our diverse student population through guest speakers. Plan to invite a colleague or graduate student in your field who represents diversity other than your own to guest lecture. If not in person, use the marvels of technology to include specialists who represent diversities other than your own or who work on issues in the field relevant to diversity.
  2. Incorporate content relevant to DSJ-related learning objectives. Design your overall course with attention to achieving DSJ-related learning outcomes, how these outcomes align with the classroom activities, and what assignments you will use to asses students’ ability to achieve these outcomes. Re-evaluate the examples, case studies, and reading you assign for diversity. See L. Dee Fink, A Self-Directed Guide to Designing Courses for Significant Learning. (open source).
  3. Use active learning strategies to ensure that every student participates. Use simple methods such as pair and share or e-clickers to ensure that every student participates in every class. Develop term-long teams using Team Based Learning. Try developing term-long projects using Project-based Learning. Carefully incorporate these into the design of your course.
  4. Order your books and reading materials early, and consider open source materials. On average textbooks have been costing students nearly $900 a quarter, a cost that is challenging for many and prohibitive for some. Our thoughtful and early consideration of materials can help solve this problem. Our University library has a large collection of electronic sources. See the Affordable Solutions system-wide site for other sources of free or inexpensive course materials.

Syllabus Design

  1. Prepare a clear, thorough, welcoming syllabus. All students appreciate a well-organized course, and this organization is especially helpful for those who have many responsibilities outside the classroom.
  2. Use language that invites students into the discipline, making certain they feel that they belong. Follow our Policy on Course Syllabus Information. Include a schedule with dates, assignments, and grading expectations. Consider these suggestions:
    1. Encourage (appropriate courses might require) students to attend at least one event sponsored by Associated Students' Diversity Center.
    2. Develop an assignment that requires students to come to your office hour.
  3. In addition to information about academic honesty, accessibility services, and emergency preparations, consider including information about programs that provide all or eligible students with counseling and information about financial aid:
    1. Student Center for Academic Achievement
    2. Student Health and Counseling Services
    3. Financial Aid
    4. Educational Opportunity Program (EOP)
    5. EXCEL
    6. Student Service Operation for Success (SSOS)
    7. Gaining Access'n Academic Success (GANAS).
    8. Send a welcome email message to the students before class begins.

Make the Most of the First Day of Class

  1. Welcome each student individually. Some faculty stand at the classroom door as students enter, greeting them with a syllabus. Others distribute the syllabus to each student (in a large class, each cluster of students). Although it may be more efficient to ask students to pass the syllabi around, this initial contact often has positive results for the term.
  2. Try a multicultural ice-breaker. Use a ice-breaker to connect students to at least one other student in the course and to introduce them to their own diversity. Examples include working in a team to create a list of how to say hello in as many languages as possible.
  3. Ask students to introduce themselves to you in writing. Once you have reviewed the syllabus, ask students to write about themselves briefly. Questions might be what brings you to this class, what challenges do you see that might affect your success in the course, what do you plan to contribute to the course. Students can then use these to introduce themselves to a peer (a pair and share activity). You can collect them as attendance and as a means of getting to know your students better. They are a handy reference for the rest of the term.
  4. Invite a former successful student or panel of students to come to class. Here's an opportunity to include students who represent diversity other than your own and to ensure all students feel they belong in your classroom. Ask these students to describe their experience in the class, what they did to be successful, and if or how the course has helped them in subsequent courses. Recent research has shown how activities such as these enhance students’ confidence in their ability to succeed. ("Who Gets to Graduate?" New York Times)
  5. Explain your style of teaching and your expectations, and convey your belief that they can meet your expectations. Share with students quotes from previous course evaluations that use the voice of other students to convey your style.
  6. Let students communicate by writing their questions. At the end of class, ask students to write on their introduction any questions they have about the course or the syllabus.

Throughout the Term

  1. Keep a teaching journal. Reflect on how well you are achieving your own goals for a diverse classroom.
  2. Use anonymous surveys. Check in with the students and their progress in the course.
  3. Invite a colleague to observe you. Ask someone who represents a diversity group other than your own for an informal observation in the classroom.
  4. Participate and consult with other colleagues. Use the resources at the Office of Faculty Development and the Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching.
  5. Consider writing a pedagogy article about the course for presentation or publication. Tomorrow's Professor is always looking for short essays on teaching.