Diversity: Approaches to building conceptual understanding in the Social Studies classroom, pp. 6 of 14

Example of Discussion-Based Activity

To illustrate how educators can tap on dialogue and meaningful conversations to teach the concept of diversity, we will examine a simple facilitation activity and discuss some of the strengths and challenges of such an activity. The Four Squares activity is a simple facilitation activity that gives students an overview of the differences in cultural practices, lifestyle habits and beliefs amongst students even within the same classroom. It is a profiling activity aimed at facilitating dialogue between teachers and students in the classroom on the concept of diversity. Of course, the ability of the classroom teacher to facilitate meaningful discussions remains paramount in such an activity. This activity will tap on Hilda Taba’s strategies for effective questioning to bring about meaningful conversations in the classroom (Taba, 1969). Through the use of structured models for discussions that comprise series of sequenced, open-ended questions, Taba (1969) argues that students’ conceptual development can be greatly enhanced. A summary of this activity is provided in the following table:

What is diversity?

Stage 1:

Setting the stage

The teacher begins the lesson by introducing lesson objectives to the class. The teacher than provides a brief explanation of the relevance of the topic to the students’ daily lives.

The teacher than begins to explain the simple facilitation game to the class and instructs the students to stand anywhere around the four squares, which are marked down, by tape or cone. The teacher goes through the general rules of the activity, bearing in mind the need to ensure a safe environment for discussion and exchange of thoughts between all students in the classroom. The students will stand around the four squares in preparation for the activity.

Stage 2:

Reflective Decision-Making / Class-profiling

While the students are standing around the four squares, the teacher flashes options (on projector screen) geared towards answering the question of “Which do I resonate with most?” Each question will provide four options, which will correspond to the box area marked on the floor by the teacher beforehand. Students will be given one minute to reflect on the choices provided and move into one of the demarcated boxes that they identify with the most.

An example of a possible question is to ask students which race category they resonate with the most. The projector screen will show the four main race categories in Singapore (e.g. Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Others) as possible options for students. Students will then move into one of the boxes they can identify with. Students will be allowed to remain at the outskirts of the four boxes, if they resonated with none of the options given. After each question is asked, the students will tally the number of students in each category and fill up a class profiling worksheet provided.

Another example of a possible profiling question is to ask students about their lifestyle choices. The four options could be related to modes of transport that the student resonates with the most (e.g. cars, buses, bicycles, foot). The profiling data obtained could be used to discuss about issues pertaining to lifestyle choices resulting from one’s socio-economic status.

Some other possible categories to feature:

  • Religion
  • Lifestyle choices (linked to socio-economic status)
  • Nationality
  • Language

Stage 3:

Facilitating discussions

After each question is asked, the teacher will facilitate a discussion with the students in the class. Using Taba’s strategy for effective questioning, the teacher will ask some students of each group an opening question, interpretive question and capstone question (Taba, 1969).

A possible sequence is shown below:

  1. What makes you identify with this option? (Opening)
  2. How is your experience different from the other groups? (Interpretive)
  3. Is this an important part of your identity? Why so? (Capstone)

After each group has shared, students are allowed to build on the responses of others and are encouraged to ask probing questions to clarify their doubts. At the end of the students’ sharing, the teacher will attempt to draw similarities and differences between the experiences of various groups. It must be highlighted that the teacher should also seek to get students who did not identify with any of the categories to share about why they chose to sit out and their struggles with identifying with any of the groups presented. This is of great importance in the teaching of diversity and it will subsequently provide the teacher with a good starting point to teach about marginalised communities and the challenges of responding to diversity in Singapore.

The cycle repeats as the teacher poses a new question, with a new set of options for students to respond to. The teacher will continue to facilitate discussions at the end of each round, with each round geared towards a particular factor giving rise to diversity in Singapore.

Stage 4:

Conclusion

The teacher draws the activity to an end by getting the class to recognise the diversity of their own class, drawing special attention to race, religion, nationality and socio-economic status as factors that give rise to diverse identities within the classroom. By the end of the activity, the students will be exposed to the different cultural and economic experiences of the class.

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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