Strategies for Inclusive Teaching:

Plan for Diversity in Teaching

To plan for greater diversity in teaching, instructors must examine their practices and the assumptions on which decisions about teaching are based. Teaching is not a linear, one-way delivery of knowledge, but an interactive process that requires adapting to shifting contexts, demands of content, and student input. For example, how do instructors identify and respond to challenges that their students are facing in the course? How well does their teaching represent the complexity of the discipline and the social realities in which it is situated? To what extent might ways of teaching perpetuate power imbalances or exclude students from socially marginalized groups?

Planning for diversity in teaching must also account for the reality that individuals do not all learn in the same way, and any group of students will include a variety of approaches to learning. It may not be possible to predict or even discover all the different ways of learning represented among a group of students, and though course content may allow for some variety in teaching approaches, course goals may necessitate helping students adapt to certain types of classroom experiences. Teaching diverse learners requires monitoring student progress and responding to student input -- which might mean teaching differently, or helping students benefit from and see the value of the teaching strategies being used.

Strategies for diversity in teaching can be divided into two categories: considering how you teach and what you teach.

Plan for Diversity in Teaching

Consider How You Teach

The strategies already identified throughout these web pages will help diversify a teaching style by bringing in a wider range of classroom practices that present students with a variety of options for learning and demonstrating what they have learned.

One way to monitor the alignment of teaching practices and student expectations is to invite students to provide feedback on their perceptions of how they are learning in a course. At times their feedback may reflect challenges posed by difficult content, but at times challenges may be related to the style with which the content is presented. Consider the following example from an instructor’s perspective.

I like to move around the classroom a lot and ask lots of questions, showing my own excitement about the topic. I don't write a lot down because it really interrupts the flow. In each class I've had a few who don't like to talk. They complain that they don't get anything out of class and the lectures are disorganized. I think they just want me to tell them everything.

From the instructor’s perspective, this particular way of teaching may be well-suited to the content being taught or the instructor’s own personal style, but the following statements from students show that they perceive this instructor’s ways of teaching somewhat differently:

He gives us so many details that I never know where he's going with it, so it's hard to know what to focus on. I tried asking a couple of questions and he always said we'll get to that later. So I don't ask questions anymore.

I try to take notes but he goes so fast and jumps around so much, it's hard. I wish he would write stuff down sometimes but nobody else seems to need him to do that. I don't ask questions because I don't even know where to start. Maybe I'm just not good at this stuff.

In cases like this one, it is not a matter of identifying whose perceptions are more accurate, but rather, finding ways that the instructor’s and students’ expectations can be aligned so that students are able to learn what the instructor intends them to. Alignment in this case might require orienting students to the instructor’s ways of teaching (conveying respect, fairness, and high expectations), and providing students with strategies for successful learning in this situation (supporting student success). There are also a variety of ways to set expectations for student participation (fostering equitable class participation), all of which contribute to helping students see what they are expected to learn, and how they can most effectively learn, in this type of situation.

Plan for Diversity in Teaching > Consider How You Teach

Instructor Self-Assessment Questions and Surveys

Teaching in a Racially Diverse Classroom, from the Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning at Harvard University

Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education

The Chilly Climate: How Men and Women are Treated Differently in Classrooms and at Work

Your Diversity, Academic Culture, and Teaching and Learning Styles. Chapter 1 of Teaching for Inclusion, a publication of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill.

Plan for Diversity in Teaching > Consider How You Teach

Related Resources

Active Learning

Classroom Assessment of Teaching and Learning

Diversity and Complexity in the Classroom: Considerations of Race, Ethnicity, and Gender, from Tools for Teaching, by Barbara Gross Davis, University of California, Berkeley.

Design Your Own Ways of Collecting Student Feedback

Midterm Student Feedback

Strategies for Inclusive Teaching. Chapter 2 of Teaching for Inclusion, a publication of the Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill

Using Writing as a Teaching Strategy

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Plan for Diversity in Teaching

Consider What You Teach

Another way to make teaching more diverse is to ensure that course content thoroughly and accurately represents the discipline. For example, instructors who focus on isolated, abstract principles and do not address ethical or social relevance of their work may be communicating that students who are concerned with these issues do not have a place in the professional or scientific community -- one of the reasons that has been identified for why some undergraduates choose to leave a discipline. Though there may be good reasons to take some concepts out of their more complex contexts for the purposes of learning, these broader contexts still need to be represented for students to gain an accurate understanding of the discipline.

This attention to context also addresses the extent to which students can see that the curriculum represents voices of people with whom they can readily identify. The goal is to show that people of all types are able to make welcome contributions to the discipline -- not (by implication) only the people who can readily identify with the instructor.

For example, entering a discipline typically requires that students gain an appreciation of the history and development of the discipline, which should include due acknowledgement of the diverse community of professionals and scholars who have shaped it. Attention to comprehensiveness might also lead to setting up a course to draw on a diverse range of experts, mentors, and role models, showing that success in the field depends on ability and effort, not social or cultural identity. Although many instructors might think it unnecessary to go out of their way to make this point, studies of student achievement reveal that many students see obstacles to their success because of how their identity is perceived, rather than because of their level of ability.

These initiatives to diversify teaching begin with instructors’ own experiences in the classroom, but also ask instructors not to limit themselves to making decisions on that basis alone. Rather, a more diverse approach to teaching is one that recognizes the complexity of the content they are teaching, the learning challenges this complexity poses for students, and the potentially wide range of possibilities for meeting those challenges.

Plan for Diversity in Teaching > Consider How You Teach

Resources, References, and Examples

Advice on Effective Curriculum Transformation, from Diversity Digest

CIDR Resources on Course Design

Cultural Pluralism in the Sciences, by Professor John Macklin, UW Department of Chemistry

Curriculum Transformation Project

Developing and Teaching an Inclusive Curriculum, by Deborah Flick, in the UC Boulder Diversity Essay Series

Enriching Science through Diversity, by Margaret Asirvatham, in the UC Boulder Diversity Essay Series

Head Trip: A Teaching and Learning Discussion, by Polly E. McLean, in the UC Boulder Diversity Essay Series

Is Diversity Relevant to What I Teach?, a Faculty Forum from Diversity Digest featuring comments from faculty members in Business, Mathematics, Biology, and Engineering

Transformed Courses within the Disciplines. A sampling of courses in humanities, social sciences, and other sciences, collected by Diversity Digest

Transforming a Course, CIDR Teaching and Learning Bulletin, 2(4): A one-page overview and suggested resources for curriculum transformation. Written by Betty Schmitz, Ph.D., Director of the Curriculum Transformation Project at the University of Washington.

UW Library - Subject Librarians

Web Searching Workshop - Techniques for improving relevance when searching for published literature or internet resources, developed for the Curriculum Transformation Project by Anne Zald, Information Literacy Coordinator at UW Libraries.

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Plan for Diversity in Teaching

Responding to Problems

Sometimes, despite your best efforts, you may still get reports that some students are finding it a challenge to learn from the ways that you teach. These situations may suggest a real need for change, or they may point to a misperception on the part of the students. In either case, it is important to get more information, and to formulate a response. Some options include:

  • Discuss the situation with a peer or colleague who may have insights from teaching similar courses or helping students who have struggled with similar issues.
  • Openly discuss the topic with students. Let them know you understand that some students are have raised this concern, and discuss with them ways that you will respond to it.
  • If there are changes you intend to make, let students know what the intended changes are and later, ask for their feedback on how helpful the changes have been.

Other Inclusive Teaching Strategies

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site last updated: February 1, 2008
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