Individual Differences



You've probably heard someone say, "Everyone is unique."
Though it sounds really like a cliché, one cannot ignore the truth in it. As a facilitator of learning, the teacher is tasked to consider the individual differences among the students in planning for effective instruction.

Factors that Bring about Student Diversity

In all learning environments, individuals interact with others who are in some ways different from them. Recall how these differences were shown in your class tally gender and racial, ethnic or cultural background (nationality, province, language). This diversity also comes from other factors like the following:

1. Socioeconomic status - The millionaires' lifestyle differs from that of the middle income or lower income group.

2. Thinking/ learning style - Some of you learn better by seeing something; others by just listening; and still others by manipulating something. 

3. Exceptionalities - In class there maybe one who has difficulty in spoken language comprehension or in seeing, hearing, etc. 

How Student Diversity Enriches the Learning Environment

A teacher may be "challenged" to handle a class with students so diverse. There may be students having different cultural background, different language abilities, different attitudes and attitudes and behaviors. Some teachers might see this diversity as a difficult predicament, really a hassle! Yet a more reflective teacher may see a diverse classroom as an exciting place to learn not just for her students, but for herself, as well. A wise teacher may choose to respect and celebrate diversity! Read on to discover the benefits and learning opportunities that student diversity can bring to your classroom.

1. Students' self-awareness is enhanced by diversity. Exposing do students to others with diverse backgrounds and experiences also serves to help students focus on their awareness of themselves. When they see how others are different, students are given reference points or comparative perspectives which sharpen assessment of their own attitudes, values and behaviors.

2. Student diversity contributes to cognitive development. The opportunity to gain access to the perspectives of peers and to learn from other students, rather than the instructor only, may be especially important for promoting the cognitive development of learners. Supreme Court Justice, William J. Brennan said: "The classroom is peculiarly the 'marketplace of ideas.' The depth and breadth of student learning are enhanced by exposure to others from diverse backgrounds. Student diversity in the classroom brings about different points of view and varied approaches to the learning process.

As the German philosopher, Nietzsche, said over 100 years ago: "The more affects we allow to speak about one thing, the more eyes, different eyes we can use to observe one thing, the more complete will our concept of this thing, our objectivity, be."

3. Student diversity prepares learners for their role as responsible members of society - Suzanne Morse stresses one competency that has strong implications for instructional strategies that capitalize diversity: "The capacity to imagine situations or problems from all perspectives and to appreciate all aspects of diversity". Furthermore, she argues: "The classroom can provide more than just theory given by the teacher in a lecture. With student diversity, the classroom becomes a `public place' where community can be practiced. 

4. Student diversity can promote harmony. When student diversity is integrated into the classroom teaching and learning process, can become a vehicle for promoting harmonious race relation Through student-centered teaching strategies, diverse students can help encouraged to interact and collaborate with one another on learning tasks that emphasize unity of effort while capitalizing on the diversity of backgrounds.

Some Tips on Student Diversity

1. Encourage learners to share their personal history and experience - Students will be made to realize that they have something in common with the rest. They also differ in several ways.

2. Integrate learning experiences and activities which promote students' multicultural and cross-cultural awareness.

You can encourage or even initiate co-curricular experiences that are aimed at promoting diversity awareness. These activities could be held to coincide with already-scheduled national weeks months which are designated for appreciation of diverse groups Disability Awareness Week, Linggo ng Wika, Indigenous People Week, etc.

Let students interview other students on campus who are from diverse backgrounds (foreign students or students from other ethnic/racial groups). These students of different racial and ethnic origin serve as source of first-hand information on topics relate to their culture. This can also provide opportunity for interaction among students who may otherwise never come in contact with each other.

Invite students to Internet discussion groups or e-mail; ha students "visit" foreign countries and "talk" to natives of those countries.

Ask students if they have ever been the personal target prejudice or discrimination, and have them share these experiences with other members of the class.

3. Aside from highlighting diversity, identify patterns of unity the transcend group differences.

Clyde Kluckholn, an early American anthropologist who spent lifetime studying human diversity across different cultures, conclude from his extensive research that, "Every human is, at the same like all other humans, like some humans, and like no other human”

(Cited in Wong, 1991). His observation suggests a paradox in the human experience, namely: We are all the same in different ways. It may be important to point out to students the biological reality that we, human beings, share approximately 95% of our genes in common, and that less than 5% of our genes account for the physical differences that exist among us. When focusing on human differences, these commonalities should not be overlooked; otherwise, our repeated attempts to promote student diversity may inadvertently promote student divisiveness. One way to minimize this risk, and promote unity along with diversity, is to stress the universality" of the learning experience by raising students' consciousness of common themes that bind all groups of people-in addition to highlighting the variations on those themes.

Periodically place students in homogeneous groups on the basis of shared demographic characteristics (e.g., same-gender groups or same-race/ethnicity groups), and have them share their personal views or experiences with respect to course issues. Then form a panel comprised of representatives from each group who will report their group's ideas. You can serve as moderator and identify the key differences and recurrent themes that emerge across different groups, or students who are not on the panel can be assigned this task.

Try to form groups of students who are different with respect to one demographic characteristic but similar with respect to another (e.g., similar gender but different with respect to race/ethnicity, or similar in age but different gender). This practice can serve to increase student awareness that humans who are members of different groups can, at the same time, be members of the same group and share similar experiences, needs or concerns. 

After students have completed self-assessment instruments (e.g., learning style inventories or personality profiles), have them line up or move to a corner of the room according to their individual scores or overall profile. This practice can visibly demonstrate to students how members of different student populations can be quite similar with respect to their learning styles or personality profiles, i.e., students can see how individual similarities can often overshadow group differences.

4. Communicate high expectations to students from all subgroups. 

Make a conscious attempt to call on, or draw in students from diverse groups by using effective questioning techniques that reliably elicit student involvement. In addition to consciously calling on them in class, other strategies for "drawing in" and involving students include: (a) assigning them the role of reporter in small-group discussions, i.e., the one who reports back the group's ideas to the class, and (b) having them engaged in paired discussions with another classmate with the stipulation that each partner must take turns assuming the role of both listener and speaker, and (c) scheduling instructor-student conferences them outside the classroom.

Learn the names of your students, especially the foreign name that you may have difficulty pronouncing. This will enable you to establish early personal rapport with them which can later serve as a social/emotional foundation or springboard for encouraging them to participate.

5. Use varied instructional methods to accommodate students’ diversity in learning styles.

Diversify the sensory/perceptual modalities through which deliver and present information (e.g., orally, in print, diagrammatically and pictorial representations, or "hands on" experiences).

Diversify the instructional formats or procedures you use class:

- Use formats that are student-centered (e.g., class discussion small group work) and teacher-centered (e.g., lectures demonstrations).
- Use formats that are unstructured (e.g., trial-and-error discovery learning) and structured (e.g., step-by-step instructions).
- Use procedures that involve both independent learning (e.g., independently completed projects, individual presentations) and interdependent learning (e.g., collaborative learning in pairs or small groups).

6. Vary the examples you use to illustrate concepts in order to provide multiple contexts that are relevant to students from diverse backgrounds.

Specific strategies for providing multiple examples and varied contexts that are relevant to their varied backgrounds include the following:

Have students complete personal information cards during the first week of class and use this information to select examples of illustrations that are relevant to their personal interests and life experiences.
Use ideas, comments and questions that students raise in class, of which they choose to write about to help you think of examples and illustrations to use.
Ask students to provide their own examples of concepts based on experiences drawn from their personal lives.
Have students apply concepts by placing them in a situation or context that is relevant to their lives (e.g., "How would you show respect to all persons in your home?"). 

7. Adapt to the students' diverse backgrounds and learning styles by allowing them personal choice and decision-making opportunities concerning what they will learn and how they will learn it.

Giving the learner more decision-making opportunity with respect to learning tasks: (a) promotes positive student attitudes toward the subject matter, (b) fosters more positive interactions among students, and (c) results in students working more consistently with lesser teacher intervention. Also, when individuals are allowed to exert some control over a task, they tend to experience less anxiety or stress while performing that task.

8. Diversify your methods of assessing and evaluating student learning.

You can accommodate student diversity not only by varying what you do with your teaching; but also by varying what you ask students to do to demonstrate learning. In addition to the traditional paper-and- pencil tests and written assignments, students can demonstrate their learning in a variety of performance formats, such as: (a) individually- delivered oral reports, (b) panel presentations, (c) group projects, (d) visual presentations (e.g., concept maps, slide presentations, Power Point presentations, collages, exhibits), or (d) dramatic vignettes- presented live or on videotape. One potential benefit of allowing students to choose how they demonstrate their learning is that the variety of options exercised may be a powerful way to promote student awareness of the diversity of human learning styles. You will have more of assessment in your courses on Assessment of Learning.

9. Purposely, form small-discussion groups of students from diverse backgrounds. You can form groups of students with different learning styles, different cultural background, etc.

Small peer-learning groups may be effective for promoting student progress to a more advanced stage of cognitive development. Peer- learning groups may promote this cognitive advancement because: (a) the instructor is removed from center stage, thereby reducing the likelihood that the teacher is perceived as the ultimate or absolute authority; and (b) students are exposed to the perspectives of other students, thus increasing their appreciation of multiple viewpoints and different approaches to learning.

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