Diversity and Identity in the Classroom

US flag in the DiagDuring U-M's Veterans Week, it's a good time to reflect on the needs of our students who have served in the military. Did you know that record numbers of veterans are enrolling in U.S. colleges and universities--and many of them are here on U-M's campuses? As a result of the university's new tuition policy which took effect in January 2014, allowing students who have served in the military to qualify for in-state tuition, our number of student veterans is expected to rise. If you teach at U-M, odds are good you've had or will have student veterans in your classroom.

How might your awareness of veterans in the classroom make a difference in your teaching? The research on student veterans suggests several strategies and cautions for teaching inclusively with veterans in mind. Here are a few: Read more »

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How can we promote academic success for all students who enter the University, particularly those students from disadvantaged backgrounds? How can we help students overcome their own anxiety about achievement and get past “stereotype threat?” How can we increase retention rates--both for particular majors and at U-M generally--by encouraging students’ to see their abilities as malleable, rather than fixed? In early February, U-M Department of Psychology faculty member Bill Gehring addressed these topics at an LSA faculty seminar on Diversity and Climate. His research-based strategies can provide direction for instructors in all fields to enhance diversity and academic success at U-M.

In his presentation, Professor Gehring described four evidence-based interventions that work to create “identity-safe” classrooms:

(1)  Seeing Students Holistically: It is important for faculty to recognize that students’ performance in class can be affected by many factors beyond intelligence. For example, Professor Gehring’s research on students in his Psychology 111 course found that students’ motivation to do well was positively related to their performance on exams, while their anxiety about testing was negatively associated. To increase motivation, faculty can help students set goals for their learning, and to decrease anxiety, more frequent, lower-stakes assessments may help.  Other “non-cognitive” factors related to performance include discipline (i.e., the ability to resist distractions and procrastination). To reduce distractors, Gehring recommends that students not bring laptops to class, as his research finds a statistically significant decrease in exam grades among students who almost always bring their laptops, compared to less frequent users.

(2)  Framing Disappointment: The first undergraduate year can be a struggle, given that many students come into U-M at the top of their classes yet underperform relative to their expectations. (Incoming student survey data from the Cooperative Institutional Research Program indicate that 75% anticipate having at least a “B” average.”) Similarly, many students experience doubts about making friends and fitting in socially.  Read more »

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Recent student activism and statements on diversity from academic leaders have led many U-M instructors to focus new attention on inclusive teaching, seeking ways to ensure all students feel welcome and able to succeed in their classes, regardless of race, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status. CRLT provides many resources to help you develop inclusive teaching strategies for your particular teaching context. To browse those, click on the 'inclusive teaching' tag below, or the 'Diversity and Inclusion' link at the bottom of any one of our web pages. 

Molecule structureIn this blog, we focus on one strategy for creating an inclusive learning environment: encouraging productive student interactions in your classrooms, particularly when using small groups.

Some of the best in-class learning takes place in small group activities, which can be very effective for prompting all students to engage actively with the course material. Some instructors nonetheless have found that efforts to encourage engaged learning through peer interaction can sometimes exacerbate students' experiences of identity-based exclusion. This can be a real danger where groupwork is used spontaneously with little guidance or follow-through. If, for instance, an instructor casually instructs students to 'get into groups' and then turns her or his own attention elsewhere, many students who already feel marginalized in the class may find it easier to sit alone than to seek out peers to share with.

It's therefore important to deliberately form and carefully guide student groups, even when you're just using a brief informal peer conversation to get students engaged in thinking about a topic. What are some specific strategies for doing so? The following practices can help ensure that student groups are primed to include all students: Read more »

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You may have heard about the recent trending on Twitter of #BBUM, a series of tweets featuring brief student perspectives on "being black at Michigan." Some of the statements are about numbers while others are about interactions: being the "only one" in a class, or being expected to be a spokesperson.

#BBUM being the only black person in class, and having other races look at you to be the spokesperson whenever black history is brought up.
— Terra (@_myPrivateJET) November 19, 2013
 
#BBUM the mental debate you have with yourself if you should ignore a remark by someone or speak up
— Lauren Elizabeth (@Foreign_Lo) November 19, 2013
 
#BBUM is working in study groups and your answer to the question always requires a double check before approval.
— Young Old Head (@LoooseCannon) November 19, 2013

Knowing such experiences and dynamics are present in U-M classrooms, what can instructors do? Read more »

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This term's LSA Theme Semester on "Understanding Race" provides opportunities for U-M instructors across campus to engage their students in productive exploration of questions about race. In connection with the Theme Semester, CRLT is sponsoring a panel later this month on "Pedagogies for Understanding Race."

Four U-M faculty members from a range of LSA departments will share insights they have gained from their experiences teaching courses focused on critical approaches to race. The panelists include:

Evelyn Alsultany, Martha Jones, Shari Robinson-Lynk, Stephen Ward

  • Evelyn Alsultany of American Culture
  • Martha Jones of Afroamerican and African Studies (DAAS), History, and Law
  • Shari Robinson-Lynk of Social Work and the Ginsberg Center for Community Service Learning
  • Stephen Ward of DAAS and the Residential College

Participants will also hear from organizers of the Theme Semester with more information about the rich array of events, exhibits, and performances taking place across campus throughout the semester. We encourage instructors to spread the news among their students so they can take full advantage of the Theme Semester as a broad learning opportunity taking place both in and out of classrooms. Follow this link for the full calendar of events.

The "Pedagogies for Understanding Race" session will take place Tuesday, January 29, 2pm-4pm in Palmer Commons. For full details, including registration information, click here. 

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