Professional Development Module on Diversity

By Diane Starke, El Paso Community College


This self-paced module provides a series of annotated web sites providing definitions, key concepts, awareness tests, and teaching tips for recognizing and handling the instructional challenges, problems, and opportunities presented by student diversity in the classroom. Diversity and multiculturalism are monumental topics.  During one search, Google located well over half a million sites.  For practicality, the following sections focus on the major topics of interest to educators.  The sections do not represent mutually exclusive classifications since most sites reflect the multiplicity of topics and issues involved.

Key Concepts: 

Section 1: Diversity

Diversity is an often ignored or misunderstood factor contributing to either instructional effectiveness or instructional failure.  Apart from issues of political correctness, it raises concerns regarding the fit between learning and teaching styles, the instructional effect on self-esteem, failure or success in furthering and achieving instructor and student objectives, issues of acculturation - both desirable and undesirable - and appropriateness of instructional materials.   In this module, diversity refers to the complex of significant differences exhibited by the student population in a classroom, i.e., race, language, age, ethnicity, gender, culture, learning abilities and disabilities, religion and socioeconomic level.

This site offers both a classification and definitions of diversity, i.e., race, ethnicity, gender, language, special needs, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic and geographic differences.

This site is an excellent source of background materials, links, and activities for diversity and multicultural issues.  It is a must for both beginning and experienced educators.

This site contains a diversity planning guide which, though meant for businesses primarily, provides many helpful insights, guidelines, and work practices/strategies applicable to all organizations.

Section 2: Ethnicity, Race, and Culture

The terms race, ethnicity, and culture are often perceived as near synonyms.  However, Margaret Andersen, Professor of Sociology and Women's Studies and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs, University of Delaware, Newark, sees race as defining a group through “some physical or cultural characteristic,” while ethnicity defines a group as one that shares a “cultural heritage or is perceived to do so.”   To further clarify the concepts, Sonia Nieto, Professor of Education, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, says that “it is generally understood that culture is made by people, but that one is born with a particular ethnicity and that’s unchangeable.  I would say that the difference is not that simple, because many people who are from the same ethnicity can manifest their identity in very different ways.”  And, finally, she continues, “if we understand race and ethnicity as created through political and social historical processes that involve group self-definition, but often also imposition from state authority, then you see how transient they can be, but also that they have to be understood within a political context.”
“Transcript of Harvard Educational Review’s Ethnicity and Education Forum:  What Difference Does Difference Make?”  Harvard Educational Review.  Summer 1997. 15 November 2002.

This site, from the Teaching Effectiveness Program at Oregon University, offers an excellent set of links with an emphasis on practical and specific suggestions for effectiveness in the classroom.  broad topics include:

  • Students (College & University)
  • Hate
  • The Inclusive Classroom
  • Learning Styles
  • Oppression
  • White Privilege
  • Organizations

Sometimes things seem to explode in the classroom, and what do we do then? How do we address important, but hot, topics -- religion, politics, race, class, gender -- in our classroom discussions?  "Handling Hot Moments in the Classroom" by Lee Warren of Harvard University's Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, offers strategies for turning difficult encounters into learning opportunities.

Section 3: Language Diversity

As Jean Molesky states, “ The United States is indeed both a linguistically diverse nation and an English-speaking one, if the latter term is taken to mean the undisputed dominance of English in public life. The complex current language situation in the United States is the result of intertwining developments in immigration, settlement, and policy-making. “  She then quotes Glazer who states, “If a group emigrates because of religious, political, or cultural oppression, members will cling to their national language more than if they emigrated to improve their economic situation.”
Molesky, Jean.  “Understanding the American Linguistic Mosaic:  A Historical Overview of Language Maintenance and Language Shift.”   Language Diversity: Problem or Resource?   Eds. Sandra Lee McKay and Sau-ling Cynthia Wong.  San Francisco: Newbury, 1988. 30-31.

This site is a somewhat esoteric collection of links to more sophisticated discussions of L2 learning topics and issues, i.e., “Brain Research: Implications for Second Language Learning” and “A National Study of School Effectiveness for Language Minority Students’ Long-Term Academic Achievement Final Report: Project 1.1 - Findings from a Large Urban Research Site.”  The latter provides an interesting analysis of findings from a Houston research site for a variety of approaches for educating language minority students.
Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence

This site lists and elucidates four common misconceptions about language diversity:
“The best way to promote English literacy is to immerse children and adults in English-only instruction…. English illiteracy is high because language minorities are not as eager to learn English and assimilate as prior generations were…. English literacy is the only literacy worth noting….[and] the predominance of English and English literacy is threatened.”
Willey, Terrance. G.  “Myths About Language Diversity and Literacy in the United States.”  Eric Digest: National Center for ESL Literacy Education.  May 1997.

This site offers an invaluable bibliography, organized by subtopics, of language diversity, i.e., ESL, Special Populations, Bilingual Education, and Two-Way Immersion.
Eric Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics

This site offers annotated bibliographies on specific topics in language education and linguistics, i.e., “Age Differences in Second Language Acquisition,” “Computer-Assisted Language Learning,” “Integrating Mathematics and ESL Instruction,” and “Education Reform and Language Minority Students.”

This site, National Directory of Teacher Preparation Programs (pre-service and in-service) for Linguistically and Culturally Diverse Students, is of interest to those preparing to enter teacher education.  It presents a typology of teacher preparation programs, definitions, and requirements for different programs and state certifications.

McKay, Sandra Lee and Sau-ling Cynthia Wong, Eds. Language Diversity: Problem or Resource?  San Francisco: Newbury: 1988. 
 Of particular interest are the chapters dealing with the “language situation” of various language minority groups - Mexican Americans, Puerto Rican, Cuban Americans, Chinese Americans, Filipino Americans, Korean Americans, and Vietnamese Americans.

Section 4: Multiculturalism

“Multiculturalism in education refers to a fundamental change in the curriculum of both secondary, and post-secondary schools.  In its most basic form, adopting a multicultural curriculum means including the study of other cultures and their products and histories alongside the traditional curriculum.  (By products, I mean things such as literature, religion and philosophy, and the arts.)  Adopting a multicultural curriculum also means including the study of traditionally underrepresented groups and their cultures, products, and histories.
Harding, Dave.  “A Question of Quality: Multiculturalism in Education.” Progressive Review. November 1995. 

This site serves as an Internet clearinghouse of resources for multicultural education.  Selections include background articles, biographies, book reviews, discussion groups, lesson plans, and links to resources on specific areas of interest, such as ethnic cooking, folklore, and holidays.  This site lends itself to browsing in order to define areas of interest.

This site is the home of the Electronic Magazine of Multicultural Education.  Each issue has a theme.  For example, the Fall 2001 theme was “Interracial and Mixed-Racial Relationships and Families.”  Its multiple offerings justify checking this site for thematic applicability.

This is a must peruse site with an emphasis on practical discussions of various diversity subtopics, i.e., multiculturalism, teaching effectively - everything from course content to problematic assumptions to learning styles.  Of particular use are the “CRLT Multicultural Occasional Papers” and the “Multicultural Teaching Strategies.”

Section 5: Other Identities

Are you  aware of your attitudes about yourself and others based on age, race, gender, and academic background? Harvard University, the University of Virginia, and the University of Washington have developed the Implicit Association Test to help you find out.

This site provides a massive statistical compilation of socioeconomic data, i.e., Levels of Education, Outcomes of Education, International Comparisons of Education.

Catherine G. Krupnick, in her article "Women and Men in the Classroom:Inequality and Its Remedies" explains how she  analyzed videotaped class sessions to answer the research questions: What are the differences, if any, between male and female students' participation in classroom discussion? How does the gender of the teacher affect the students' participation?
Originally published in On Teaching and Learning, Volume 1 (1985), accessed from

Hate crimes, or bias-motivated crimes are offenses motivated by hatred against a victim based on his or her race, religion, sexual orientation, handicap, ethnicity, or national origin.  Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbian and Gays' website explores the issues surrounding hate crimes and hate crime legislation.
The PFLAG website also offers "Tips for Professionals Who Work with GLBTQ Youth"

Reed, John H. A Guide to Classroom Instruction for Adjunct Faculty.   Washington, DC: American Chemical Society.  2002.
This is a practical and eminently useful guide for all beginning educators.  Its discussion of “Personality Types that Affect Classroom Interaction” offers suggestions for dealing with a different set of diverse characteristics as evidenced by the classification into “Introverts, Gripers, Ready Answerers, Ramblers, Talkers, Conversationalists, Mules, Bunglers, and Experts.”


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