CHEC course: teaching and learning (day 3)

Image taken from YMCA cultural diversity office

Yesterday’s CHEC session was presented by Jeff Jawitz from UCT, who looked at tools for addressing diversity in the South African university classroom. I’ve seen Jeff present before at conferences and he’s got a really relaxed way of introducing and working with often highly controversial topics, like race and gender. I was especially excited to have the opportunity to learn more from him during this session. Here are my notes.

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In what ways are students diverse? Which of these matters?

There are many different differences, and any one of these might be highly significant for one person, but insignificant for everyone else → we can’t take all of these into account when we’re working with groups. Yet, we must be aware of all of the differences nonetheless

No single aspect of diversity addresses all of the issues

What does diversity mean in a South African context?

Diversity enriches the classroom

Learning styles (e.g. Felder-Silverman) can be used to change teaching practice to take diversity into account, rather than categorising students. Bear in mind that the most aspects of diversity in education deal with the issue of cognitive diversity i.e. ways of learning, but there are others e.g. language

Language can be used to communicate effectively, but also to engage deeply with the academic discipline. These are two different things and can be developed in different ways (See Cummins, 1996)

“Every time a student sits down to write for us, he has to learn to speak our language, to speak as we do, to try on the particular ways of knowing, selecting, evaluating, reporting, concluding and arguing that define the discourse of our community. He must learn to speak our language. Or he must dare to speak it or to carry off the bluff, since speaking and writing will most certainly be required long beofre the skill is learned” – Bartholomae, 1985, 134-135

Discourses are ways of being in the world, which integrate words, acts, values, beliefs, attitudes and social identities, as well as gestures, glances, body positions and clothes…a sort of identify kit” – James Gee

Where do discourses come from (Gee, 1996, p.137)?

  • Primary – acquired early in life within the socio-cultural setting of the family
  • Secondary – learned / taught as part of socialisations within schools, religious communities and other local, state and national groups

How do discourses cause discomfort among others?

Socio-cultural dimensions of diversity:

  • Race
  • Gender
  • Class (“income diversity”)
  • Religion/culture

What resources do students need in order to complete a task?

How comfortable are you using race as a descriptor?

What are the problems with using race as a descriptor?

What is the value of using race as a descriptor?

“Am I a racist if I think about race in my courses? Shouldn’t I treat all my students equally?” – Milner, 2003, p.176

How does one address the significant difference in retention and graduation rates between black and white students at university in South Africa without reference to race?

When discussing diversity in the classroom, it’s as much about who we are  (i.e. teachers) in that discussion

Authority doesn’t only come from what you know, but also from what you look like. The notion of authority has huge racial overtones in South Africa

Knowledge in the blood” – Jansen

“Race reflection” – Milner, 2003

  • How might my race influence my work as a teacher?
  • How might my students’ racial experiences influence their work with me? What does it mean for a young black student who has never even had a conversation with an adult white male, to be told to come and see the teacher anytime, when that teacher is an adult white male?
  • How do I negotiate the power structure around race in my class to allow students to feel a sense of worth?
  • Am I willing to speak about the injustice of racism in conservative spaces?

“We are a nation struggling to come out of our history”

References

  • Bartholomae, D (1985). “Inventing the university”, in Rose M (ed), When a writer can’t write: studies in writer’s block and other composing precess problems.
  • Cummins J (1996). Negotiating identities: education for empowerment in a diverse society
  • Felder, RM (1993). Reaching the second tier – learning and teaching styles in college science education. Journal of college science teaching, 23(5):286-290
  • Gee J (1996). Social linguistics and literacies: ideology in discourse
  • Milner HR (2003). Teacher reflection and race in cultural contexts: history, meaning and methods of teaching. Theory into practice, 42(3):174-180

Additional resources

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