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Teaching a Diverse Student Body: Practical Strategies for Enhancing our Students’ Learning

Preface

This handbook serves as a supplement to the Teaching Resource Center publication Teaching at the University of Virginia. Though some material will necessarily overlap that in the other handbook, Teaching a Diverse Student Body expands upon issues of diversity in a series of interrelated chapters. At the end of the book, you’ll find appendices listing relevant university and community offices and organizations as well as additional print, web, and video resources to consult for further information. Please note that the handbook is meant to be a helpful source of ideas based on current research and not a doctrine insisting upon certain “correct” procedures or beliefs.

The handbook chapters can be read separately: the table of contents and lists of chapter sections will help you locate specific topics. Because some will prefer to read a chapter at a time, particularly effective teaching strategies may appear in more than one chapter. Overall, though, the chapters are meant to build upon one another to form a general scheme for responsive and inclusive teaching. Since students vary in their backgrounds and learning preferences, these suggestions-taken as a whole- should prove helpful in recognizing and addressing the individual learning styles of all our students, not just those who fit into specific categories. Recognizing and responding to the increasing diversity of our student body can help us become more effective teachers, enriching our classrooms in the process.

Nearly 30% of the entering Class of 2007 were students from underrepresented groups (9% African American, 11% Asian American, 3% Hispanic American, and 5% international). Over half were women. Racial, ethnic and gender differences account for only a part of our students’ diversity, however. U.Va. students vary in many other ways as well, including religious values, sexual orientation, fluency in English, cultural background, and types of physical ability. Although knowing these details helps us become more aware of the differences among our students, “[n]aming patterns is like charting the prevailing winds over a continent, which does not imply that every individual and item in the landscape is identically affected” (Frye 180). As Marilyn Frye suggests, while it is sometimes useful to recognize patterns of differences, we must also remember that these general patterns will not apply to every individual student and that many students fall into more than one category. Terms such as “female student,” “African American student,” or “Asian American student” can encompass vast differences in cultures, educational backgrounds, psychological types, and learning preferences. The suggestions in this handbook are meant to help faculty and teaching assistants recognize some broad ways in which students may differ from one another-and from each of us-and to examine what effect these differences may have on our students’ learning and our teaching. The most effective ways we can recognize and teach this diverse student body are by following the same general principles good teachers use:

  • making our students comfortable in the classroom
  • recognizing differences in their reactions and learning preferences
  • teaching in a flexible manner
  • varying the ways our students participate in the classroom
  • responding to students equitably and inclusively.

We hope this handbook will help you to enact these principles in your classroom. Please let us know what you think by contacting us at trc-uva@ virginia.edu.