The majority of education systems cater to an archetypal student: eager, outspoken, and rule-abiding, with strengths that lie in memorization and rote learning (memorization through repetition). While this does not mean that other kinds of students will be unable to thrive within a standard academic environment, instructors must begin acknowledging the numerous strengths within their classrooms in order to enable each of their students to attain an equal chance of success. Finding methods to subvert the system or break it altogether may prove to be somewhat of a challenge, but there are several solutions available.
Pick and mix
The easiest and most direct way to include multiple types of learners and their ways of thinking is to arrange a wide range of in-class activities that engage the whole class. These can range from group or one-on-one instead of class discussions, hands-on demonstrations, or creating posters, PowerPoints, or other types of visual media. While each student will be naturally more attuned to some activities than others, exposing them to a variety of exercises will let their individual strengths and needs shine through and by observing the students in action, these will become clearer in time.
Devise your assessments so that they accommodate different minds. For example, counter standardized testing and practical with assignments that allow students the freedom to push boundaries, explore, and be inventive. In one instance, a creative writing professor balanced quizzes with unconventional participation exercises that reflected the concepts taught in class and writing stories, allowing his students to choose from a wide range that encompassed fiction, nonfiction, scripts, graphic forms, and so forth, his rationale being that he would be fair to both the creative and analytical minds in his class — a gesture that was all the more significant given that the nature of the course was inherently creative. Needless to say, his effort was greatly appreciated and yours will be too.
Get to know your students (on an individual level, if possible)! This should come easily if you wholeheartedly care about your students but if you need an additional incentive, learning about your students’ personalities offers insight into the measures you will need to take to ensure that all of their strengths, weaknesses, and quirks are addressed. In the meantime, do not hesitate to share your own experiences, interests, and simply yourself with your students. Not only will it make you more relatable and human to them, doing so requires courage, which will earn you your students’ respect and possibly admiration.
Saving the environment
Lastly, establish a supportive, non-threatening environment that does not favour one kind of student over another. Support the eager beavers when they enthusiastically offer to participate in class but also strive to encourage more hesitant learners by giving them the chance to share their opinions or alternatively, interact with individually and let them know that their voice, audible, frequent, or not, is still valid.
The classroom that benefits its students the most is the one that is patient, accepting, and above all, one that sees the value in each individual and moreover, the potential to learn and grow regardless of their differences.