Multicultural Dimensions Class—What is Success in a Classroom?

Multicultural Dimensions Class—What is Success in a Classroom?

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This semester Cohort 20 from the Art Education MAT program has a J-term (January term) course with Cohort 20 from the Elementary Education MAT program called Dimensions of Multicultural Education and Global Awareness. The objective of the class is to get students thinking about and as mentally prepared as possible for the diverse experiences and backgrounds our students will be bringing into their learning environments, our classrooms, on a daily basis.

The class started on Tuesday, and I’m already preparing to do a quick presentation on defining what success looks like for students and teachers in classrooms that are diverse, not only racially but also in terms of interests, prior knowledge, and ability. Chapter 12 of our text, Learning to Teach for Social Justice (French, 2002), tells the story of a graduate-level student teacher who returned to her old high school outside of Oakland, California to teach English to a group of “at risk” ninth-grade students. She asked them to define what success looked like and got some answers she had not considered before.

Throughout the chapter, she narrates how she had to redefine what success in her classroom looked like based on her students’ reading levels and interests. She had to stop and reassess her definition of success several times during the course of her student teaching experience in order to meet the needs of her students before her own. Some of the students in her class were reading far below their ninth-grade reading level, and some were reading at or beyond that. She had to come up with solutions that met the students where they were.

While I was reading this, I kept trying to relate back to how this would look in an art classroom and how I would assess what is and isn’t successful. In a high school Art 1 setting, I may have students who have never taken an art class before because it wasn’t offered in their K-8 school. They may have little to no background in the art making process. I may also have very skilled students in the same class. This is where the all-important planning for differentiated instruction, deciding on other acceptable evidence of learning, and choice based learning come to mind. Knowing your students in order to meet their educational needs is also extremely important. One of the biggest challenges of teaching is meeting all students where they are and challenging them to develop beyond that.

The student teacher in chapter 12 of my textbook stated that she used to get extremely annoyed when she posed a specific question to her professors about teaching and their answer was, “it depends.” I also hate ambiguous answers, but I am learning to accept the idea of leaving a little room for ambiguity in lesson planning in order to be flexible to my students’ learning needs.