Creating a Multicultural Learning Environment

Educators teaching in a multicultural setting may be unsure of how to create a classroom environment that will ensure that each student will reach their full potential.  Perhaps some of these educators have had little contact with people outside of their culture.  Another possibility is that they are just not confident that they can effectively reach all students because of cultural barriers.  Educators, however, do not have anything to fear because they are most likely incorporating the necessary characteristics on a daily basis.  The first characteristic of a successful multicultural classroom is a safe and inclusive learning environment.  Also, teachers with a focus on democratic ideologies will instill dignity and respect for all students.  Finally, incorporating a student-centered, collaborative, project-based curriculum gives all students the opportunity to succeed.  In short, a safe and inclusive classroom that focuses on democratic ideologies while incorporating student-centered, collaborative, and project-based curriculum will successfully foster a successful multicultural learning environment.

One of the first steps to creating a successful multicultural classroom is fostering a safe and inclusive learning environment.  A safe classroom is one where the students and teacher have respect for one another.  Respect for each others differences and respect for each others learning.  Not only do students and teachers need to respect the diversity of the classroom, but everyone must respect that all learners are unique in their abilities and that learning, especially when mistakes are made, is a process free from ridicule.  Students who feel safe in the classroom are more likely to be academic risk takers, which will encourage a greater understanding for the curriculum.  Along with creating a safe environment, a classroom must also be inclusive.  It is not enough that all students participate in the class assignments. Educational materials should be inclusive of diverse voices and perspectives.  Including a multitude of perspectives shows the students that all voices are heard in the class, not just the dominate, mainstream culture. Students who are able to think critically about a wide range of resources and feel safe in doing so will be successful in a multicultural setting.

In addition to creating a safe, inclusive classroom, a multicultural classroom must focus on the democratic ideologies on which United States was founded.  Schools should not promote the ideologies and political goals of any specific group, but should promote democratic ideologies to facilitate societal change that enhances human dignity.  As suggested by the National Council for the Social Studies, “students should be encouraged to examine the democratic values that emerged in the United States, why they emerged, how they were defined in various periods, and to whom they referred in various eras.  It is also important to look at how those values have not been fulfilled and the conflicts that ensued surrounding competing values and interests.  Students who recognize that all Americans had to fight for their freedoms at various points through our nation’s history will understand why it is vital that all cultures work together in support of our democratic society.

In addition to the classroom climate, or the hidden curricula, students in a multicultural setting thrive under a student-centered pedagogy where learners work collaboratively to meet learning goals.  According to Harry and Rosemary Wong in their book The First Days of School, research shows that collaborative learning is the most successful means for fostering student achievement.  In an ideal multicultural setting, student’s voices and experiences are brought to the forefront of the classroom  Students who work together bring a host of experiences and ideas to the table.  Working in a safe and inclusive environment gives students the opportunity while working in groups to hypothesize, test, and implement solutions to problems posed in the classroom.  Collaborative work is also important in a multicultural classroom because after graduation students will enter an increasingly multicultural workforce.  A successful multicultural setting must provide an opportunity for students to showcase their strengths while working to solve a common problem just as many Americans do in the workplace.

In conclusion, a safe and inclusive classroom that focuses on democratic ideologies while incorporating student-centered, collaborative, and project-based curriculum will successfully foster a multicultural learning environment.  The foundation of any successful classroom, especially a multicultural one, is a safe and inclusive learning environment.  Teachers and students in a safe and inclusive multicultural setting are then able to honestly and openly analyze society through the lens of our nation’s democratic ideologies, giving students a common sense of ideals such as liberty and equality.  Finally, much of the research on student learning, in or out of a multicultural setting, indicates that students are most successful when they work collaboratively to meet common goals.  This is important because according to the late president John F. Kennedy, “in America there must be only citizens, not divided by grade, first and second, but citizens, east, west, north, and south.”  It is up to educators to facilitate this type of learning environment to effect positive social change in the years to come.

Further Readings:

Larri Fish. “Building Blocks: The First Steps of Creating a Multicultural Classroom.” http://www.edchange.org/multicultural/papers/buildingblocks.html

David W. Johnson and Roger T. Johnson “Making Diversity a Strength” http://www.co-operation.org/pages/CLandD.html#strength

Lee Knefelkamp. “Effective Teaching for the Multicultural Classroom” http://www.diversityweb.org/digest/f97/curriculum.html

“Creating a Multicultural Classroom Environment” Teacher Enrichment Training Solutions Newsletter, vol. 3, issue 12. http://www.cceionline.com/newsletters/December_08.html

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