Blake Fetty is a Lecturer of Spanish at the University of Central Oklahoma
Connecting with students in a way that emphasizes diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging has always been essential for World Languages instructors. We not only address diversity and inclusion within our own classrooms but also encourage students to interact mindfully using their target language in the real world.
Here are some of my favorite strategies to foster a diverse, equitable, inclusive and accessible environment in my World Languages course.
1. Create an Atmosphere of Respect from Day One
On the first day of the semester, I project the word “Respect” on the screen and ask students to take a minute and reflect on what it means to them. Then, we talk about their ideas. I encourage them to reflect on what is unique about being in a World Languages class, and what specific scenarios we might come across throughout the semester, such as different accents, dialects, and cultural practices. Additionally, I offer suggestions about how they can show respect to their classmates and teachers, as well as how I will display that respect towards them.
I find that students already know and understand the importance of giving and getting respect. However, they may not be accustomed to it. It’s essential for me to foster an atmosphere of respect in my classroom on a daily basis. This can take the form of a gentle reminder to listen respectfully when students are about to be called on to share, for example:
“Since I’m calling on Julia, we are going to listen respectfully as she shares, because we know how scary that can be,” or “Remember that your partner today may have missed a class last week, so they might need help with this topic. Maybe they can look at your notes?”
Not talking down to students is also key. If all students feel respected by the teacher and their classmates, they are more likely to reciprocate. They key is to establish mutual respect as the rule from day one and to call back to it regularly throughout the year.
2. Provide Guided Notes
To better support and engage underprepared students in the classroom, I provide them with a guided notes page that they can use to stay on task throughout an entire lesson. Before class, I place a page on each desk that corresponds with my lesson, visual aids and slides. The time I spend preparing these handouts is minuscule compared to how much time and distraction it saves me mid-lesson.
With the guided notes, I can always direct a student to the topic, activities, vocabulary lists, role-play instructions, or whatever the topic may be that day. For students who can’t access a printed set of notes or visual aids, you can share guided notes via a post, email, or LMS message that they can access on their mobile devices. This way, students with visual impairments can also have the notes read out loud to them using a screen reader.
3. Offer Remote Office Hours
Time is a massive factor that inhibits students’ ability to keep up with schoolwork. When students pick up on the fact that you’re serious about meeting with them to help, however, they will do what they can to meet you halfway.
Students who work part or full-time have even less free time. Offering office hours by phone or online allows them more options to meet remotely to get caught up.
4. Model Class Tools and Activities
Modeling is perhaps the best way to reach your students and get them on the same page. If you expect students to use your LMS, you should model how to use it in class. Additionally, if you’re requiring that they pay for an online resource such as MindTap, you should model how to access it, then share how to access the components that you expect them to use throughout the semester.
If this sounds like too much class time, imagine how much more effort and time you’ll spend explaining how to do these things over and over to each student. It’s better to try and get ahead of those questions by regularly modeling what you want the students to do with these tools.
Another option is to record a video demo of each of these tasks, then share it with your class via your LMS or email. Remember that if you do this, you may need to include closed captioning for accessibility.
As educators, we need to be mindful of diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging. There is always a way to improve our teaching to maximize students’ class time and study time in a way that serves all their unique needs.
Now, it’s your turn to consider a few things:
- How can you modify your teaching methods in a practical way to reach each of your students?
- How can you create an atmosphere of respect in your World Languages classroom and maintain it throughout the semester?
- Do you already use one or more of the strategies in this post, or do you have others that work for your students?
With those big questions in mind, it’s time to build out your course to be more inclusive of all students.
To learn more about building an equitable World Languages course, download our eBook, “How Fellow Instructors Create an Inclusive Classroom Experience.”