Designing for difference is impacting the way we organise and govern our societies and prepare for the future. In education, this “difference” imperative is also becoming a catalyst for change:
- findings in cognitive neuroscience are confirming that there is significant variability in how we each learn (OECD 2010).
- international reports focus on the need for schools to develop acute sensitivity to individual learner’s differences and to use that knowledge as a driver for the design of physical and blended learning environments and flexible teaching approaches (OECD 2012, 2015)
Diversity work on school campuses takes many forms, and at their best, learning communities build on this existing work. The diversity I want to focus on that is of the Learning Community.
Learning communities can also become places where teachers develop powerful pedagogical strategies that support the learning of all students.
In short, the three central elements for approaching diversity through learning communities are as follows:
1) Designing learning communities for groups of students;
2) Using learning communities as sites for curriculum transformation;
3) Developing pedagogical practices that support diverse learners. Reflecting on these three elements is at the core of connecting the widely-recognized power of learning community structures with the rich work that has been done around diversity issues over the past two decades.
The broad range of experiences and perspectives brought to school by culturally and ethnically diverse students offer a powerful resource for everyone to learn more—in different ways, in new environments, and with different types of people. Every single person in this enormously diverse and ever-changing system has the power to serve as an invaluable resource for all others—students, teachers, and the community. Rather than constituting a problem for students and educators, the growing diversity in U.S. classrooms necessitates and encourages the development and use of diverse teaching strategies designed to respond to each student as an individual.
We are fortunate for I believe as a culture we embrace diversity. This boundless diversity has resulted in the inventions, discoveries, ideas, literature, art, music, films, languages, political systems, and foods that enrich our culture. This needs to reflected in our classrooms for this diversity has the potential for enriching our classroom. Our students bring us opportunities to be explored and treasures to be appreciated, and they help us challenge the status quo.
Adopting a truly global perspective allows us to view culturally diverse students and their parents or guardians as resources who provide unparalleled opportunities for enrichment. However, we need a greater repertoire of approaches to teaching and learning to cope with varied styles of learning. Teachers and students alike must cultivate interpersonal skills and respect for other cultures. The new world economy demands this global view. After all, our markets and economic competition are now global, and the skills of intercultural communication are necessary in politics, diplomacy, economics, environmental management, the arts, and other fields of human endeavor.
Surely a diverse classroom is the ideal laboratory in which to learn the multiple perspectives required by a global society and to use information concerning diverse cultural patterns. Students who learn to work and play collaboratively with classmates from various cultures are better prepared for the world they face now—and the world they will face in the future. Teaching and learning strategies that draw on the social history and the everyday lives of students and their cultures can only assist this learning process.
Teachers promote critical thinking when they make the rules of the classroom culture explicit and enable students to compare them with other cultures. Students can develop cross-cultural skills in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. For such learning to take place, however, teachers must have the attitudes, knowledge, and skills to make their classrooms effective learning environments for all students. Given the opportunity, students can participate in learning communities within their schools and town and be ready to assume constructive roles as workers, family members, and citizens in a global society.