Supporting Diverse Learners

Spring 2013

By Crissy Anderson

How do teachers support diverse learners?  Having an elastic, accepting, and caring mindset, providing direct instruction, creating time for collaboration, and teaching advocacy are ways to construct an effective learning environment for all of our students who each have a unique and developing mind.

The key to supporting diverse learners

An accepting and caring mindset is the most important key to supporting diversity learners. Each student has something to contribute to the learning environment and school community. Discovering a student’s strengths, interests, and personal goals helps us to appreciate and highlight who they are beyond what grade they earn on a test or how fast they read. Once we discover these qualities, we can be sure to integrate them into lessons and discussions, thus increasing the value of the lesson for students. Students need and want to know that we are on their side, rooting for their success. Once this trust is achieved, academic support can happen in the most effective ways.
Teaching strategies to consider:
• Incorporate “get to know you” activities or have students write letters describing their strengths and interests.
• Support a student’s interests by attending his or her drama performance or sporting event.
• Talk to students about what is going on in their lives and show genuine interest in their responses.
• Constantly remind yourself where your students are developmentally and be realistic in your expectations, while at the same time, strive to help them grow academically and emotionally.

Developing effective work habits 

Offering instruction in study skills and executive functions allows students to understand the best ways for lifelong learning.  Skills including goal setting, engaged reading, active listening, planning and scheduling, and organizing materials are habits that students can apply to a variety of settings and content areas.
Teaching strategies to consider:
• Give time and attention outside of class by providing extra support on a more personal level.
• Help students set personal, specific, and achievable goals and then implement daily behaviors to move toward those goals.
• Review calendars on a regular basis and make action plans for the day/week/month.
• Allow time to clean out desks, notebooks, and lockers.
• Meet individually or in small groups to increase attention and engagement.
• Pre-teach new content by showing pictures and videos or having students research the topic ahead of time.
• Offer alternative options in your room, such as soft lighting and roundtable seating.
• Allow for different seating options, such as exercise balls or bean bags.
• Coordinate extra support services, e.g. homework help, one-on-one tutoring, or peer mentoring.

Creating a team approach

Make certain that you consult with colleagues who also work with your students, whether it be in a different subject area or in an after-school activity. Making time to meet as a team allows teachers to discuss the whole child as they develop the best ways to address students’ needs. Parents should also feel a part of the team, as they can help teachers see each child as someone beyond a student in class.  Each child has a history, a personality, and hopes for him- or herself that parents can help teachers to understand. We, in return, are able to share our expertise of learning and developmental characteristics with parents, who crave this type of insight into their children. Finally, students must be part of the team. When we consult them, talk with them, and allow them to be a part of the decision-making; we create buy-in from them when it comes to their learning. This collaboration creates a mutual trust, with everyone working together in the best interests of the student.


Strategies to consider:
• Collaborate with teachers: Set aside time for team meetings, share strategies that work for a student with colleagues, observe students in other classes to discover what might not be noticeable while teaching the student yourself, and keep a log of student concerns and successes to share with appropriate teachers.
• Collaborate with parents: LISTEN and offer support (with Kleenex and chocolate if needed), participate in parent conferences, always maintain confidentiality, be respectful to the privacy of families, and educate parents via workshops, book clubs, and website resources.
• Collaborate with students: Set aside time for individual conferences to set semester goals or to review a writing assignment, provide choices when coming up with a plan for students to achieve their goals, and LISTEN to their ideas and needs.


Teaching advocacy 

When you give students opportunities to discover their strengths and accept their challenges as learners, they can then set realistic goals and implement the best strategies for reaching those goals.  Students are also in a better position to advocate appropriately for themselves, thus becoming their own best supporters.
Teaching strategies to consider:
• Provide students with opportunities for constant reflection about their learning, whether it be completing test corrections with a written explanation component or leading their own parent-teacher conference.
• Give a multiple-intelligence survey and help students focus on their own strengths while becoming resources for each other.
• Steer students away from ineffective strategies and offer options that are better suited for their learning styles.
• Coach students on how to advocate respectfully for themselves by helping them to compose a letter or email.
• Accompany the student to chat with another teacher when issues arise.
• Assist students in preparing for a parent conference with a template, which the students fill in with their own notes.
Our students are the center of what we do and what we want to accomplish. We do not simply teach a subject, we teach children. We teach them how to learn and also to value the process of learning whether it be the process of writing a book report, completing a project, or preparing for a test. Our students are incredibly unique and yearn for us to know and value their strengths as learners and their qualities as people. When we appreciate our students’ diversity as learners and promise to stretch their capabilities and minds, we ultimately prepare them for independence from us, which allows them to mature as individuals.
Crissy Anderson

Crissy Anderson is a member of the Greensboro Day School Learning Resource Department. Her work supports the academic needs of students and she also serves as a consultant to the school community.