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March 1, 2007
Vol. 64
No. 6

EL Study Guide

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EquityLeadership
Many teachers are facing new realities in terms of whom they are teaching. Authors in this issue explore how teaching is changing to keep up with demographic shifts, and how schools are comfortably welcoming the benefits of greater diversity.

Looking at Change in Your Community

  • Have you noticed an increase in the number of foreign-born students attending your school or district during the last 10 years? How many speak a first language other than English?
  • What changes and challenges has the upsurge of immigrant students brought to your school? How has your school responded to those challenges—or have school policies and practices remained unaltered?
  • Invite teachers who have taught in your area for decades to come to a class and share their perspectives with your students. You might even look at photos from a local historical society showing graphically how schools and your community have changed since the 1950s. Discuss advantages and challenges students face today. Have students and visitors together make a list of positive changes in the school.

Facing Bumps in the Road to Diversity

In Gary R. Howard's article “As Diversity Grows, So Must We” (p. 16), he describes discomfort among teachers facing rapid overhaul in the demographics of their classes. Howard shows how school systems concerned with demographic tensions have taken steps to head off such problems. Has your school initiated any of the kinds of proactive professional development Howard describes? Do you think it needs to? If so, how might the kinds of explorations and discussions Howard outlines logistically take place at your school?
Do you agree or disagree with this statement by Howard:
As educators in rapidly transitioning schools, we need to reexamine everything we're doing. Continuing with business as usual will mean failure or mediocrity for too many of our students.
  • Think of a recent situation in which you taught students—or a student—from a background different from that of most youth you teach. Did you experience any of the frustration or doubts that Howard mentions? Did any of your own reactions surprise you?
  • Have you heard negative comments concerning immigrant students at your school (or witnessed the kind of harassment against minority students described in Valentine Hart's article (“Confronting Racial Harassment,” p. 70)? If so, how did you react?
  • Consider how the administration of Deering High School (described in Hart's article) handled tension between students of different races and backgrounds. They enlisted students' help in studying the problem, openly shared the situation with the public, and turned over to student leaders much of the responsibility for standing against harassment. Do you think this was an effective way to address the problem? Consider and discuss other ways the school might have handled the issue.

Finding Strengths Hidden at Home

  • Pick a quiet student from an immigrant or minority culture. Talk with that student one-on-one to discover his or her special interests and also how that student contributes at home. Visit with the student's family, if possible, to learn more about family life and this child's role. Share with the group what you learned and whether it changed your view of this learner.
Margery B. Ginsberg (“Lessons at the Kitchen Table,” p. 56) notes how understanding the life knowledge of immigrant families makes school learning more meaningful. She suggests visiting students' homes, objectively noting family strengths that surface during the visit, and creating a chart of these “funds of knowledge” that reside in students' lives. Teachers can then weave these areas of expertise into classroom activities or lessons, drawing on students and parents as sources.
  • Assign all students (not just those from immigrant homes) to do an oral report about a recent family project or a way their family once solved a problem. The activity must have involved group effort, problem solving, and a particular skill. As part of the report, have each student bring in a sample product, write a “how-to,” or demonstrate a particular skill—anything from showing a letter translated into the student's native language to giving a lesson on grooming an animal.
  • Share with the group what your students came up with. Brainstorm—in discipline-specific teams if possible—how you might incorporate some of your students' skills and knowledge into reading, math, science, or social studies units during the remainder of the school year.

Naomi Thiers is the managing editor of Educational Leadership.

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