other advanced countries who focus their educational efforts disproportionately
on an elite group, the United States attempts to educate all students.
Today's teacher may find herself facing a classroom of 30 different
varieties of students all in one room. At issue are several factors
such as, variety of native languages (students with limited English
proficiency), students from a variety of cultural backgrounds
whose body language can often be misread (Vontress, 1973), students
from cultures with a long history of distrust of institutional
authority (Wilkinson, 1979), students with activity or behavioral
disorders such as hyperactivity, distractibility, perceptual-concept
disorders, and emotional instability (Levy, 1973), as well as
students whose learning styles vary from auditory to visual to
tactile. In addition, one-third of America's children live in
poverty and face associated problems such as those caused by abuse
or neglect (Dixon, 1995).
traditional classroom is rigid in style. It is geared for one
type of student, or at best, a small range of students. Educating
all the variations in culture, language, ability, and learning
style is often like trying to fit square pegs into round holes.
Because the traditional, didactic classroom has not been modified
to fit the variations in students, the student who wants to succeed
has been forced to modify his or her style to fit the template
of the successful student. The community outside the school often
does not see that the components of the classroom have changed
while teaching methods have remained the same. Their cry is frequently
to increase the amount of traditional teaching methods in order
to solve the problem. This is what Senge (1990) refers to as the
"'what we need here is a bigger hammer' syndrome...Pushing
harder and harder on familiar solutions, while fundamental problems
persist or worsen" (p.61). But more is not always better;
Sometimes what you need is different. Typical suggested solutions
such as a longer school day, or more school days, or more time
spent reciting the 3 R's will not be effective. What is needed
is a whole new approach to teaching. Instruction needs to be differentiated
within the classroom to address various abilities and learning
styles. The problem, then, is how does a teacher effectively modify
instruction to allow for this variability in the classroom, so
that all students, regardless of ability or background, can succeed.
issue is a new one. Educating the masses in one classroom is a
problem that has been slowly evolving in the last half of this
century. Prior to this time, the emphasis was on educating White
students from middle-class backgrounds who also appeared to be
without any handicapping conditions that would prevent them from
succeeding in the mainstream public school. Regarding students
of African descent, this is especially true in the Southern states.
In the 1940's it was common for schools in the South to spend
nearly five times as much money per White pupil as per Black pupil.
(Wilkinson, 1979). At that time, according to Wilkinson, the prevailing
belief was that persons of color had a questionable ability to
learn and therefore, it was unjustifiable to spend what few resources
these states had on educating students other than White pupils.
Another factor contributing to the discrepancies in White and
nonwhite education is that early in this century most American
Blacks lived in the rural areas of the South. By 1960, though,
nearly three fourths of the Black Americans had moved to urban
areas, particularly in the Northern and Western States. The movement
was motivated by a desire to find better jobs and less severe
attitudes towards persons of color. Schools were officially desegregated
in 1954 with the Supreme Court ruling Brown v. the Board of Education
(1954), however, many schools remained segregated after this time
as the Supreme Court made little effort toward enforcement and
deadlines. Consequently, in as late as 1962, there were no Black
American students in any traditionally White public school or
college in several southern states, including Mississippi and
Alabama. By 1964, conditions had improved slightly in that 2.3
percent of Black American students were enrolled in desegregated
schools in the South. (Wilkinson,1979).
scenario holds true with students from all racial backgrounds.
In 1974, only 10% of school-age Native American children were
attending school in urban areas. Today only one-half of all Native
American children graduate high school (Atkinson, Marten, &
Sue, 1979). In the 1970's and 1980's, the minority population
in public schools grew from slightly over 20% to nearly 33%. Today
more than one-third of students in public education come from
African, Asian, Hispanic, and Native American backgrounds. In
the largest Urban districts, these populations comprise three
quarters of the pupil enrollment in schools (Matcznski & Joseph,
1989). Although schools today have made significant improvements
in desegregation, current statistics show a significant gap in
school achievement between White students and minority students.
Between 1990 and 1992, there has been improvement in the gap between
White and Hispanic students, but no significant improvement in
the gap between White and Black student high school graduation
educational programs for children with disabilities has changed
dramatically over the last two decades as well. In 1975 Congress
passed Public Law 94-142, known as The Education for All Handicapped
Children Act. Among other things, this law gives all students
the right to a free and appropriate education in what is termed
the "least restrictive environment". What this law encourages
is placement of exceptional children in the regular classroom
with support services that will allow the student to succeed in
a community of his peers (National Society for Autistic Children
[NSAC], 1984). The mainstreaming process for these children can
often be a difficult task, especially for the regular education
teacher who has little training in teaching exceptional children.
The specific needs of the individual student must be considered
above the pre-existing programs in a school or classroom (Button,
1991). Although national and state lawmakers can provide policy
for mainstreaming children with handicaps, the teacher is ultimately
the determining factor in mainstreaming success. Levy (1973) writes:
experience with the management of several hundred learning-disabled
children has convinced me that the child can be helped most by
those close to him. No program developed on a regional or national
basis is going to solve all the problems of every learning disabled
child since each one is different and needs to be treated as an
individual. A knowledgeable teacher, concerned parents, and an
interested physician comprise the real learning disability team.
Together they can try to aid each child according to his own specific
need, helping him reach his true learning potential and keeping
him in the mainstream of regular education in his own community
where he belongs. (p. 12)
to the problem of all this diversity is learning style. As Dunn
(1983) points out, our "functioning" style is different
from our "learning" style. The elements involved in
our learning environment may be more varied than those involved
in our everyday functioning with routine tasks. These elements
include: noise level, amount and type of light, temperature, the
design of the chair and desk, motivation, persistence preference,
social influences, and sensory preference (auditory, visual, tactile).
Most young people are tactile learners, whereas most traditional
teaching methods teach to the auditory and visual learner. Designing
instructional activities for the various learning styles can be
a new experience for many teachers. So how does a teacher solve
these problems associated with the new diversity in the mainstream
classroom. The answer lies in leadership skills.
achieve a successful classroom requires strong leadership on the
part of the teacher. It also takes great leadership on the part
of those that train and administrate teachers. Leadership training
is often aimed at the administrative level and as Sashkin and
Sashkin (1993) write, the concept of leadership as well as the
emphasis on educational leadership is changing. The traditional
administrative manager is being replaced or at least retrained
for a leadership role. Very little, however, is written on leadership
at the classroom level. One of the National Education goals that
our nation is expected to reach by the year 2000 is that teachers
will be provided with the skills they need to prepare all students
for the next century (National Education Goals Report, 1994).
This training can take place either through in-service or pre-service
teacher education. It is critical that the leaders responsible
for training new teachers adequately prepare them for the diversified
teaching the limited English proficiency (LEP) student, Harris
(1995) encourages what she terms "sheltered instruction."
This instruction relies heavily on tactile manipulatives to teach
concepts rather than verbal instruction or textbooks. The teacher
is encouraged to allow the students to successfully discover concepts
independently using simple manipulatives, graphs, and maps, rather
than allowing a language obstacle to promote failure. It is important
to remember, as Harris notes, "The students do not lack intelligence,
just English" (p. 25). The idea of using more manipulatives
for self-discovery is further supported by Keegan (1995). Keegan
compares the student-centered and teacher-centered classrooms
in what he calls discovery versus didactic instructional methods.
He concludes that the discovery or student-centered classroom
tends to produce the best results when dealing with pre-adult
learners. The teacher-centered or didactic instructional classroom
with heavy emphasis on lecture, textbooks, and video, although
allowing the teacher to feel in control, is not conducive to long
term ability in transferring that knowledge to other situations.
implement such instructional methods, a teacher must assume the
role of leader in her classroom. The first step in classroom leadership
is building confidence and trust between student and teacher and
between students. Johnson and Johnson (1974) write,
is a necessary condition for stable cooperation and effective
communication. The higher the trust, the more stable the cooperation
and the more effective the communication. Students will more openly
express their thoughts, feelings, reactions, opinions, information,
and ideas when the trust level is high. When the trust level is
low, students will be evasive, dishonest, and inconsiderate in
their communications. Students will more honestly and frequently
declare their cooperative intentions and make contributions to
a cooperative effort when they believe they are dealing with highly
trustworthy individuals. (p. 103)
a classroom is to form united working relationships, the leader
must set the precedent for communication, organization and direction
(Bennis & Nanus, 1985). Applying these author's 5 key skills
of leadership, the teacher must show and prove acceptance of her
students, she must look at the relationships in terms of the present,
focusing on the here and now and set new direction for each student.
Focusing on present and future performance rather than past experience
is critical when working with at-risk students. The teacher also
needs to view the problem of diversity in term of the present.
The classroom has changed. The diversity is here and it will not
be going away. The situation that exists now requires some action.
The classroom leader must encourage and build trust, even though
the risk is great. Many students have grown up in families with
a rich background of distrust of established institutions such
as schools, police, and judicial systems. During the Brown v.
Board of Education hearings in the 1960's, Supreme Court Justice
Lewis Powell was quoted as saying "the Negro has had, until
recent years, little reason to respect the law. The entire legal
process, from the police and sheriff to the citizens who serve
on juries has too often applied a double standard of justice"
(Wilkinson, 1979, p.163). Although Justice Powell's quote was
from 1966, attitudes have changed little in terms of trust as
was seen during the recent Rodney King trial in California. A
teacher is often seen as a part of an American institution, one
that may not have been a positive experience in some family histories.
So trust building may be difficult, but it must be in place before
the students can work on goal setting. Bennis and Nanus' fifth
key skill involves tenacity without recognition and support. This
can be especially true in some school situations or communities
where the teacher is a pioneer in differentiating instruction
within the classroom. Even trying to modify instruction for various
learning styles can often bring friction from teachers and parents
clinging to traditional methods. In the face of controversy, credibility
becomes key to a leader's success. A credible, competent and honest
leader will bring support from the community. Ways to build that
credibility include leading by example, (in terms of ethics and
control); standing up for your beliefs, (show the community that
you are not afraid to take risks); and know your constituents,
(acknowledge the differences and be honest about those differences).
Learn how to effectively communicate the vision for a diversified
classroom. Communication can be the most important element in
persuading support (Kouzes & Posner, 1993).
key to individualizing instruction is to see the classroom as
a community. In that community, each student needs to be empowered
to make his or her own decisions as far as assignment choices
and evaluation. Bennis and Nanus (1985) discuss 4 dimensions of
empowerment that can be applied to the classroom. Their first
dimension, competency, is seen in a student's individual effort
to learn. The student can choose the level he or she needs to
be at and then work toward personal goals to reach a competency.
Goal setting can be a joint project between teacher and student
so long as the trust is there so that the student buys into the
goal. In group work or cooperative learning, Bennis and Nanus'
second dimension, significancy, can be demonstrated. Each member
of a group or team takes a role based on individual strengths.
One of the group activities may be to find individual strengths.
If the group has identified their own personal strengths, there
will again be ownership of the goals and work. By helping each
other work towards a goal, the students feel the sense of community,
Bennis and Nanus' third dimension, where there is interaction
and dependent relationships. The students in this community build
a network of support. They may have a group goal, they may divide
tasks based on individual strengths, and give credit where credit
is due (Kelley, 1993). Once a student is given the power to choose
his own goals and assignments, he takes ownership in his work
and transfers the task from "teacher-given" to "student-chosen."
This ownership allows not only for more enjoyment but also more
effort and time spent on reaching goals.
teacher must also teach leadership skills to her students by teaching
them how to translate intention into reality by setting personal
learning goals, deciding on the best path to reach those goals
and then successfully achieving them (Bennis & Nanus, 1985).
Students are accustomed to following the teacher's assignments,
often unaware of the goals or objectives. It may be difficult
in the beginning for them to set goals. Their learned helplessness
in personal education direction may be difficult to change. Through
trust building and encouragement the teacher can pull, rather
than push students toward goal setting. This is a sign of leadership
rather than the traditional manager of curriculum as was seen
in the traditional teacher-given instruction (Bennis & Nanus,
1985). Johnson and Johnson (1975) suggest goal setting as a group
activity. In this situation, the teacher would facilitate the
sharing of ideas within a group and encourage division of labor
so that everyone's strengths are utilized. Students could evolve
to individual goal setting without regard to the individual accomplishments
of other students. Once the students experience some success in
their own personal goal setting, they will be more willing followers,
even demonstrating more responsibility for their own learning.
It is this shift in responsibility that shows the classroom moving
from teacher-centered to student-centered. As Max DePree (1993)
writes, "Performance of the group is the only real proof
of leadership" (p. 140).
addition to teaching personal goal setting, teachers are responsible
for leading a set of ethics that govern the followers. A teacher
must establish good conduct through role-modeling. This is particularly
important when working with students whose backgrounds may not
have included good role-models (Bennis, 1986). The teacher may
be the only person in a student's sphere of reference who is capable
of modeling appropriate behavior. Sashkin and Sashkin (1993) write,
can clarify, interpret, draw attention to, and reinforce values
and thus help build and strengthen cultures. But directly observable
action--preferably involving interaction with others--is more
effective than speech for instilling values that guide subsequent
actions....Only repeated action ensures that others will clearly
see the values one models. (p. 204)
aspect of leadership in teachers is the use of wholistic thinking
when working with students. Their family, their peers, their environment,
their mental ability are all related components to their situation
in the classroom. The student cannot be considered isolated from
the other components once inside the classroom, because all of
those other factors influence outcomes as well as the instruction
within the classroom (Senge, 1990). These factors often become
part of the limiting factors to learning. If learning is not taking
place it may not be the instructional method but rather one of
these outside factors, as Senge writes, that operate within the
student. As educators, we must consider these factors, yet still
maintain our current level of expectation. What is tempting, yet
should never be allowed, is to simply lower the standards, let
goals erode in order to make the problems of diversity go away.
The tension created by this diversity should be used to generate
energy to make the necessary changes (Senge).
necessary changes should be in terms of positive goal setting.
The traditional teacher-centered classroom often focuses on "negative
vision" (Senge, 1990) or behaviors which we don't want rather
than what we do want. The basic difference is referred to as punishment
and reinforcement. Punishments are action taken to decrease the
likelihood of a behavior occurring again. Reinforcements are actions
taken to increase the likelihood of a behavior occurring again.
Punishments tend to teach people to be more creative in their
behavior so that they don't get caught. Reinforcement teaches
pride, effort and responsibility. Punishment often leads to confusion
and anger, whereas reinforcement usually leads to cooperation.
Whether something is perceived as a punishment or reinforcer can
often be based on minor semantics. It is important in the classroom
to allow the students to perceive as much control as possible.
The goal is to let the students see themselves as a partner in
their education. This perception encourages responsibility (Lee,
1993). Senge writes, "It is abundantly clear that rigid authoritarian
hierarchies thwart learning, failing both to harness the spirit,
enthusiasm, and knowledge..." (p. 289). The difficulty in
giving students control is that teachers have to give up some
of the control they have traditionally maintained. To change the
behavior of others, we often have to change the behavior of ourselves.
good teacher/leader in the classroom is an innovator of instructional
ideas. She asks why and what questions such as "Why has this
objective always been taught this way?" or "Why do we
need textbooks to teach these skills?", or "What would
happen if I had no textbook and no chalkboard?". These questions
challenge tradition and begin a focus on alternate ways to teach
using student-directed activities. An innovator is a risk taker
and risk taking can often lead to mistakes or failures. Leadership
is an on the job skill. Failure is not something to be feared
as long as the failure is a learning experience. In his chapter
Moving through Chaos, Bennis (1989) writes "Everywhere you
trip is where the treasure lies" (p.149). He discusses the
valuable leadership lessons that can be learned through setbacks
and failures. This is especially true in trying new teaching methods.
Be prepared for failures and learn from them. Even the bad ideas
teach you something if only it is to know what won't work. The
important thing is to keep taking the risk. Teaching to different
abilities in the same classroom should be an exercise in personal
mastery, a practice that never ends.
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