Using the Six Strategies to Teach Diversity
By Cindy Nebel
I teach at a small university in the middle of Kansas, where a lot of my students come to me having never been exposed to thoughts, ideas, or persons different from themselves. While our university has some amount of diversity, most of what I hope to accomplish as an instructor is a mindset that will allow these students to think critically and question many of the messages that they have and will hear in the future.
Diversity is extremely important. We have discussed before how racism develops and the importance of diversity in the media. The primary way of achieving inclusivity is through exposure to a variety of thoughts and people. However, in lieu of that exposure, we can at least develop the skills needed for students to consider other viewpoints. It is in this way that they six strategies for effective learning can be especially useful.
These strategies promote diversity on my campus in a number of ways. In the most direct way, instruction of evidence-based study strategies should differentially benefit underrepresented groups. Some students naturally adopt these strategies, but the students who do so tend to be high achievers – both in high school and college – and come from homes or school districts where evidence-based practices are used or taught. The students who are therefore most in need of direct teaching of effective study strategies are from underrepresented groups on campus. First generation and non-traditional students, as well as those with less college preparation in high school, are unlikely to have the same understanding of how to study and should therefore especially benefit from direct instruction of novel study strategies. In order to address this issue, we are collecting data on student factors to determine if the strategies particularly help these students in all sections of a freshman seminar at my institution.
Several of the strategies themselves promote diverse thinking and provide necessary tools to promote inclusivity. Elaboration as a study strategy changes the way in which students approach material by asking them to think about similarities and differences between pieces of knowledge, to rely on their past experience to enrich their understanding, and think about the broader implications of the studied material. Thinking using elaboration is an essential skill for intercultural competence because it requires students to develop ideas about similarities and differences and how those differences impact everyday life.
Students are also taught about Retrieval Practice, in which they are encouraged to bring things back to mind after learning about them. While practicing retrieval, students are encouraged to make links between information they have learned, critically thinking about the relationships, which is another essential component of cultural competence. Students are developing the necessary skills to consider everything they know about a topic and how things are related.
When learning about Dual Coding, students are encouraged to create both visual and verbal representations of the material they are learning, but we explain the key to this strategy is to develop multiple ways of thinking about the same material or issue. This type of thinking is again necessary for understanding and appreciating other viewpoints or cultures. The final strategy is Concrete Examples; students are encouraged to develop real-world examples for abstract concepts that they learn in class. Here instructors are encouraged to provide (and students are encouraged to find) a wide variety of examples that match the criteria. The ability to recognize underlying similarities despite different surface details is a key component in acceptance of diverse opinions, ideals, and cultures.
In most of the strategies that we promote above, we encourage students to work in groups to develop additional examples, quiz each other, or think of other applications of their elaborations. Because students are talking about their own experiences with material, they have an opportunity to see diverse thinking, ideas, and personal histories. Through small group and whole-class discussions, we provide the opportunity for students to develop a broader understanding not only of the strategies, but each other.
By providing the same training to faculty and the same learning strategies to students, we are able to reduce bias and create level ground. Throughout the training that we provide to instructors of freshman seminar, faculty ask excellent questions about how and why these strategies work and in what circumstances. By providing this information, we are reducing the biases that faculty might have regarding how students learn and demonstrating strategies that work despite the many differences in our students. Students who come from a variety of backgrounds are all given the opportunity to use strategies that are effective. Despite the disadvantages some students may face when starting their undergraduate studies, my hope is that these strategies will give every student equal opportunity to succeed and that they will be better equipped with the skills needed to appreciate and respect diverse thinking, cultures, and experiences.