Diversity: Approaches to building conceptual understanding in the Social Studies classroom, pp. 5 of 14

Instructional Strategies for Teaching Diversity

In general, the concept of diversity has been weaved into Issue Two: Living in a Diverse Society of the new Social Studies syllabus (MOE, 2015). The issue can be sub-categorised further into four chapters: (1) What is diversity? (2) Why is there greater diversity in Singapore? (3) What are the experiences and effects of living in a diverse society? (4) How can we respond in a diverse society? In this section, we will review and explore two useful instructional strategies, discussion-based as well as inquiry-based, that can help facilitate the teaching of the concept of diversity as well as other big ideas such as stereotypes and prejudices. In the use of discussion-based approaches to conceptual learning, we are keen on engaging learners in meaningful conversations and to deepen conceptual understanding by tapping on their existing prior knowledge. An inquiry-based approach, while also discursive in nature, is primarily aimed at fostering greater student ownership of learning while allowing for self-discovery and exploration. In the case of both approaches, an iterative process of asking good questions remain essential. Our discussions of the above-mentioned approaches in this paper are guided by our own classroom experiences and should therefore not be understood as conclusive of the merits or demerits of each approach. After all, the classroom learning process is fundamentally influenced by a series of variable factors such as student profile or teacher experience. Nevertheless, we hope that our transparency, particularly in addressing some of the challenges and limitations we face in the use of these pedagogical strategies, will be useful to the fraternity.

Discussion-Based Strategies

As mentioned earlier, the 21st century classroom is one of great diversity. An example to prove this would be the increasing proportion of international students (IS) in our schools today. Each of these students that enter the classroom bring with them their own stories – stories ranging from their family’s decision for relocation, the integration process and even day-to-day encounters they may have with Singaporeans. Such experiences of our students bring about a great potential for authentic learning. To this end, it is useful for the 21st century classroom teacher to understand the significance of meaningful dialogue in the teaching of concepts such as diversity in the classroom. This strategy is especially relevant in today’s context, given how curriculum approaches are increasingly geared towards students becoming “architects of their own education” where inquiry and discussions become an increasingly preferred mode of understanding among students (Eisner, 2003; Malloy, Rogers & Cridland-Hughes, 2015). From a pedagogical point of view, Eisner (2003) also suggests that meaningful discussion and inquiry could “lead to critical reading and listening and the formation of articulate and thoughtful responses.” The effective classroom teacher should therefore be receptive in promoting teacher-student and student-student dialogue, so that they can tap on the diverse experiences and perspectives of their peers (Sinnema & Aitken, 2012).

An Inspiring Quote

"[Open-mindedness] includes an active desire to listen to more sides than one; to give heed to facts from whatever source they come; to give full attention to alternative possibilities; to recognize the possibility of error even in the beliefs that are dearest to us."

~ John Dewey, How We Think

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