Supporting Diversity in Classrooms

“While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives.”  Antonio Guterres, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees

In my EPSY 400 class we have a group presentation on the topic of Minority Groups. I decided to research/ discuss about students who come from a refugee background. In an article by MacNevin it said “by 2016 25% of Canada’s youth will have arrived as immigrants or refugees.” The result of this is populations within schools are becoming more diverse which in turn means that the learning needs are also becoming more diverse. I’m sure we are all aware of the crisis happening in Syria, and as a result Syrian people are fleeing their country. Approximately 26,000 Syrian refugees have arrived in Canada, many of whom are coming to Saskatchewan and will be in schools we work at or in our own classrooms. The process of bringing Syrian refugees to Canada has not been easy and has been met with much criticism and resistance, Premier Brad Wall made headlines when he wrote a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to suspend the plan to bring refugees to Canada, over a concern that the screening process of these refugees would be compromised. Fortunately Mr. Wall’s request was not answered and we began to welcome refugees to Canada.


Canadian schools have students from different part of the world, which can provide challenges for us as educators. Refugee students are entering English content classes in which they have to learn complex content in a new language when they have only limited conceptual development and basic vocabulary due to limited schooling. They are also a particularly vulnerable population, in part due to their pre-migration experiences, which are those experiences they have had before moving to a new country. Depending on the culture, life experiences, and refugee camps students are coming from, they may, have a fear and distrust of authority figures like teachers. As classroom teachers we have to adjust our teaching to include both English language learners and students who have had limited prior schooling. As a secondary teacher I am aware of how challenging this can be because we would normally focus on content-based instruction,  but are now faced with teaching basic language and literacy skills. The following link has resources that can be used to assist educators: Student Resources on the Web.

It would be important for teachers who work with these students to know how to respond to what the students are saying as sometimes these stories can be difficult to hear. It is also important to know what steps to take, and other support services that are available to students and their families, such as The Regina Open Door Society.
Learning how to teach basic reading to youth is important when working with refugee students. In particular to facets are listed:
1) knowing how to teach basic reading skills and
2) finding age-appropriate materials that can be used to teach basic reading to students in intermediate and high school.

It is important to create an equitable environment for these students to learn the curriculum, in addition it is crucial that we create a safe environment for these students to learn and grow. In my research on this topic I found an amazing website called Teaching Refugees with Limited Formal Schooling, created by the Calgary Board of Education. This website has so many great resources, tips, and unit plans that can be used when teaching a refugee student. It is important to promote effective programming for students of this profile, with help of resources and colleagues it is possible to create a safe environment that promotes equity and success.

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8 thoughts on “Supporting Diversity in Classrooms

  1. I really liked your resources that you gave Lydia they were awesome! Recently through my work, we had a presentation by Regina Open Door and one of the most interesting things that I took away was that when families come to Canada, children pick up English faster than their parents. They are directly immersed in the language where the parents might not be. With the children learning English faster there becomes a dramatic change in the family structure since the children have to take on more of an “adult” role and translate between landlords, teachers, cashiers etc. How do you think that has teachers we can help so there isn’t a power shift between the parents and kids and the kids don’t feel the pressure of being a translator for their parents? Great points!

    1. Thanks for the comment Brea, I think it can be very challenging to remove the pressure on the student to feel as though they are their parents translator. I think making the effort to communicate with the students parents would be an important aspect. I also think providing a supporting role for the student while they are in your classroom is important. If you can get rid of that pressure for the hour that your student is in you classroom I think that would make a huge difference for that students.

  2. Lydia,

    I really enjoyed this post, and the great resources that you provided for us. I am currently in my pre-internship and I have a handful of learners who are EAL students. There is a girl in my class that speaks very little english and I often found myself reflecting after each lesson on things I can do to to help her succeed and to understand the content. I see her in class using her phone to translate simple words on the things I have asked the class to do, and her struggling during assignment not because she does not know the answers, but because she does not understand the questions being asked and how to communicate her ideas to me in english. I am also is EPSY 400 class, and I often am referring to things we learned in class in order to differentiate for each individual student and their specific needs. I cannot imagine going into a new country, not knowing the language, and attending school and being asked to preform at a certain level. As a teacher I want to do my best to help them learn and feel comfortable in my classroom This worries me because I think of all the Syrian refugees coming to Canada.I feel like one teacher in a classroom is not always enough to help every student and their specific needs that they bring to our classroom, even though we always try our best to do so. I love that Canada is welcoming them into our country, but I feel that the government needs to come up with a plan to help these students that are being just thrown into english content based classrooms with no idea of whats going on or how to communicate.What do you think? As a teacher I want to do my best in order to make these students feel welcome, comfortable, and give them the confidence to succeed. Thank you so much for sharing this, I am glad you provided these resources, I will defiantly use them in the future and at this time during my pre-internship!

    Charis

    1. I appreciated your comments Charis. I agree with you that the government should be implementing some sort of plan to help these students, however I think because of the costs that will be associated with that, it may not happen. I attended an EAL conference with my cooperating teacher during my internship and one of the major things I took away was that words that we may see as simple could be very confusing for EAL students. Because of this I think it is important to get to know your students and come up with a plan that will meet their needs. It could also be beneficial to involve them in this planning, so that they feel they have a voice. I can tell that you are trying hard to provide these students with an equitable learning experience, and I’m sure the students appreciate the time and effort you are putting in!

  3. Lydia and Charis,
    Thank you for your insightful comments and for sharing your personal experiences. We have also talked about teaching literacy in EPSY 400, and it made me realize how much reading we do across all subject areas. I struggle with this, especially since some subjects, for example mathematics, are considered to be “universal”. The truth is that language and math often develop together and our language is often shaped by our experiences. How then, do we account for this variety of experience in our classrooms? How do we accurately asses students’ understanding of concepts if there is a possibility that they conceptualize ideas in a way that we are not familiar with? (To clarify, I am talking about all students, not just students who are learning another language.) And, is math in fact this universal equalizer that we believe it to be? I would be interested to hear your thoughts!

    1. Thanks for your comment Tori.I think the best answer that I can provide for how to account for the variety of experience in our classroom is by getting to know the students within your classroom. I think it would also be important to create activities/ lessons/ assessments that will be equitable for the students, whether that means providing adaptations or adjusting assessment to help our students be successful. One thing I found to be successful during internship was formative assessments through having discussions with the students. By doing this I could ask the necessary questions to understand thought processes rather than marking an assignment where a student could have misunderstood the wording. Because of timing purposes this form of assessment is not always possible, but I believe whenever possible it is a very effective form of assessment.
      Is math a universal equalizer? This question is hard to answer, because I would like to believe that it is, however I do not think it truly is a universal equalizer. Yes, there are concepts that stay the same, but there is still language involved in math, and unfortunately words can have different meanings in different societies. In a EMTH class we watched a video of a teachers who taught in an Inuit community and some of the terms used in a traditional western classroom had a completely different meaning to these students. Which I think could stand as proof that math may not be the universal equalizer that many believe it to be.

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