MET:Diversity & Uniqueness in the Classroom

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This page originally authored by Maria Clarke (2008). This page edited by Brian Barkhurst (2009), Kirklan Lum (2011), and Faryal Akbar (2016)

In an educational setting, the term diversity is used to encompass differences in race, ethnicity, gender, socio-economics, religion, nationality, values, learning styles, sexual orientation, abilities/disabilities, political views, and language background among the learners, teachers, and/or staff.

Research on Diversity

Numerous studies have been conducted on the topic of student diversity in the classroom. Many of these studies focus on one particular aspect of student differences, including cultural diversity. In particular, research on cultural diversity in the classroom has indicated that this form of diversity enhances students’ awareness, promotes higher academic achievement, and broadens students’ perspective on different socio-cultural issues. Michal Kurlaender and John Yun (2002) conducted a survey-based research study on students at Harvard University, where only 31 percent of the student population is Caucasian and the remaining 69 percent is of various ethnic and national backgrounds. Based on the student survey results, Kurlaender and Yun reported that students benefited from cultural diversity at the university because the students developed a greater sense of comfort around students of different races and ethnic groups and their different perspectives (Kurlaender & Yun, 2002, p. 356). Research by Gutierrez (1992), Tharp and Gallimore (1988), Tharp and Yamauchi (1991), Phillips (1983), and Villegas (1991) (as cited in Chisholm, 1998) indicates that teaching students to value their language and culture leads to increased academic performance.

Other research indicates that student diversity in the classroom is not without challenges to both teachers and students. Reports by the Institute for the Study of Social Change (1991) indicate that certain students notice subtle forms of discrimination being permitted to occur in schools, that white students “take over a class,” and that their values and perspectives are not appreciated or respected. Noguera (1999) contends that “the arrival of new groups, especially racial minorities, often leads to racial conflict and the venting of various kinds of prejudice and intolerance. The cultural differences of children are equated with cultural inferiority, and not surprisingly, children from these groups are more likely to do poorly in school, get into trouble, or drop out. It is not surprising that many educators and communities would treat the issue as a problem.”

Instructional Issues in Accommodating for Cultural Diversity

One of the issues in accommodating for diverse learners in the classroom involves ensuring that instructional practices are fair and meet the needs of all the learners. In addition, curriculum needs to depict other students and their differences in an unbiased manner. According to Gay (2002), many textbooks, although improving over time, have been inaccurate in their portrayal of ethnic and cultural diversity and neglect to account for the viewpoints of other cultures.

Another important issue that may pose a problem with accommodating for cultural diversity in the classroom is that of cultural differences in communal communication styles. According to Gay (2002), “In different cultural groups there are unique roles of the speaker and listener when communicating. For example, some African-Americans use a call-response method of communicating; Native-Hawaiians use a method called talk-story.” By understanding different communication patterns across cultures, teachers can better accommodate to this and other forms of learner differences (Gay, 2002).

An additional key issue when accommodating for cultural diversity in the classroom is the inaccurate idea that classroom subjects, such as math and science, are incompatible with cultural diversity. Gay (2002) proposes that there is actually a position for cultural diversity in every subject. What teachers perceive they are aware of about the field may be based upon vague information stemming from popular culture of the media (Gay, 2002).

Many researchers also emphasize the importance of creating a classroom culture that promotes an appreciation of learner differences. Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum (2007) proposes that teachers should affirm students’ identities, build a community atmosphere in the classroom, and cultivate leadership. Ladson-Billings (1995) also reiterates the notion that students’ identities need to affirmed and that teachers should teach students to appreciate others’ differences.

Suggestions for Teaching Diverse Classes

General Strategies

  • Build relationships with students.
  • Observe students to identify how they prepare for tasks, and other ways that they learn.
  • Provide rationale for why students are learning the particular skill or concept.
  • Use a variety of instructional strategies and learning activities.
  • Consider students' language skills when developing learning objectives and instructional activities.
  • Communicate expectations. This may refer to classroom rules, verbal participation during lessons, or the length of time expected to complete an activity.
  • Model assignment expectations by showing examples of the finished product.
  • Provide frequent feedback.

Strategies for Classes with Diverse Reading Ability

  • Use pre and post lesson organizers. This may be an overview before the lesson, and a summary of the main points at the end of the lesson.
  • Allow partner reading or use peer tutoring.
  • Use videos, audio recordings and graphic organizers.
  • Sequence key points logically.
  • Identify and explain the meaning of new vocabulary.
  • Paraphrase important concepts, and have students paraphrase.

Additional Resources

PBS resources on promoting diversity in the classroom:

General strategies for teachers on appreciating diversity:

Teaching diversity by The Ohio State University Fisher College of Business:

Centre for Instructional Development and Research's strategies for inclusive teaching:

How to Teach to a Diverse Classroom of Students

The Teaching Diverse Students Initiative

Tools for Teaching: Considerations of race, ethnicity, and gender

Diversity in the Classroom:



Banks, J. A. (1993). Multi-ethnic education: Theory and practice (3rd ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.

Burnette, J. (1999). Strategies for teaching culturally diverse students. EC Digest #E584. Retrieved from:

Chisholm, I. M. (1995-96). Computer use in a multicultural classroom. Journal of Research on Computing in Education, 28, 162-174.

Christensen, D.D. (1996). Teaching strategies for students with diverse learning needs. Nebraska Department of Education. Lincoln, NE.

Gay, G. (2001). Educational equality for students of color. In J.A. Banks & C.M. Banks (Eds.). Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (pp.197-224). New York: John Wiley. Retrieved from:

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53, 106-116. Retrieved from:

Kurlaender, M., & Yun, J. (2002). The impact of racial and ethnic diversity on educational outcomes: Cambridge, MA School District. Retrieved from:

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995a). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34, 159-165.

Noguera, P.A.(1999). Confronting the challenge of diversity in education. In Motion Magazine, 4. Retrieved from:

Tatum, B.D. (2007). Can we talk about race? And other conversations in an era of school resegretation. Boston: Beacon.