In a growingly diverse community, the diversity of our teachers does not reflect the diversity of our students. This dynamic may compound given that teachers are assigned an excessive number of students within each class. Consequently, the teacher to student ratio isn’t optimal. In the first week of virtual learning, as some schools have gone 100% virtual, teachers are challenged to find new avenues to implement their lesson plans and use technology to their advantage. Meanwhile, teachers may not even be able to see all their students in their virtual classrooms, as some students hide their videos or only a few students can be seen at a time.
But, there’s a lot more going on here. In considering a student’s perspective, we must acknowledge that they are experiencing a lot of challenges right now. Some of them want to hang out with their friends or they are transitioning between online classrooms at home to online classrooms in a school setting. Moreover, students of varied backgrounds may experience all of this while also still learning English as a second language.
At The Reading Room, we have a diverse group of tutors that are passionate about seeing each student succeed. However, this may not solve every obstacle within the learning environment. One of the teaching methods we use includes the Montessori Method. We implement this method by considering the interests of each student by allowing them to get creative while celebrating and learning about their cultural heritage. For example, our students get to create a book or essay on a self-selected topic by the end of a ten-week session. As a reflection of the core principles of the Montessori Method, an individualized curriculum allows each student to explore their interests and share their unique cultural heritage. As the famous writer (Murakami, 2011) notes in the introduction to Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman, “I find writing novels a challenge, writing stories a joy. If writing novels is like planting a forest, then writing short stories is more like planting a garden.” Our students get to dabble in this level of creativity even if mom is the only one who reads their first book.
One of the many obstacles within the learning environment includes structuring a lesson plan within a cultural framework. (Parrish & Linder-Vanberschot, 2010, p.10) have noted that some “challenges include (a) accepting that research-based instructional strategies are also culture-based and maybe at times inappropriate, (b) knowing which instructional activities will be most effective for a particular group of students, and (c) deciding how instructional strategies should be adapted in cross-cultural and multicultural situations.” Furthermore, our CEO Cynthia Januska has researched the connection between cultural background and learning, which has influenced the curriculum at The Reading Room.
We structure the curriculum with each student in mind, not a one size fits all approach. Each student receives an evaluation on the first day of their session for strengths and areas of improvement. In this way, we take the guesswork out of lesson planning. More importantly, we want to know who they are and what kind of books they might enjoy. Our assignments are formatted so that students get to share and explore their unique cultural backgrounds and interests while gaining all the necessary language skills to move on to the next level. Moreover, this process increases deep learning because it engages self-referencing skills by requiring each student to write about themselves and topics that speak to their interests. All of this is to cultivate an environment where they get to share their ideas. The goal is to engage curiosity, create an amazing learning experience, cultivate a love of learning, and make sure each student is seen and heard without fear of making mistakes or asking for help.
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Murakami, H. (2011). Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman. London: Vintage Digital.
Parrish, P., & Linder-Vanberschot, J. (2010). Cultural dimensions of learning: Addressing the challenges of multicultural instruction. The International Review of Research in Open and Distributed Learning, 11(2), 1. doi:10.19173/irrodl.v11i2.809
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