Diversity: Approaches to building conceptual understanding in the Social Studies classroom, pp. 7 of 14

Strengths & Weaknesses

In the execution of the above-mentioned activity in a class of 20 secondary three students, one observation quickly made by the class was that of the racial composition. The participating class quickly figured out that there was a large proportion of Chinese students in the class, in relation to that of other races. The physical segregation of the class into distinct categories (which revealed the majority vs. minority groups) allowed for the teacher to lead a spontaneous discussion about discrimination, race-relations and other issues relating to the notion of privileges afforded to the majority race. The activity allowed for the exchange of ideas and feelings by different groups of students pertaining to race matters. While this issue is contentious and sensitive in nature, the ability of the teacher to facilitate a meaningful discussion will make such dialogues a powerful tool for social justice, perspective building and empathy development in our students. It forces our students, however uncomfortably, to reflect on their own quotidian practices and think critically about the various stereotypes and prejudices that they may encounter or unknowingly perpetuate about other races.

Ultimately, the Four Squares activity is a simple facilitation exercise that seeks to provide a broad overview of diversity in the class. It seeks to facilitate greater understanding of the concept of diversity by tapping on the diverse experiences of the students themselves. However, the value of such an activity also lies in the visual impact it has on the students as they move from one box area to another and observe their decisions in relation to that of others. The visual impact of those who fail to identify with any of the main categories and are stranded aside provides a significant teaching opportunity on marginalised communities in our society. The activity will indefinitely provide multiple opportunities for teacher to facilitate discussions of various critical issues pertaining to the concept of diversity. While the teacher may not bring these topics up during the activity itself, the students’ findings recorded in the class profile worksheet provides a good resource for the teacher to tap on when attempting to discuss other diversity related issues subsequently.

However, one quickly realises that the effectiveness of the adopted strategy is largely dependent on the teacher’s ability to generate meaningful dialogue. Billingsley (2000) describes the pedagogy of teaching by discussion to place “a heavy burden” on the classroom teacher. The teacher is not merely a deliverer of content but one who needs to be proficient in eliciting students’ responses and conscientiously strives to weave a coherent and logical narrative using these responses. The level of readiness and proficiency of the classroom teacher to partake in such a pedagogical strategy is thus a great limiting factor which would predetermine the effectiveness of a discussion-based pedagogy.

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

Newsletter Subscription

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay up-to-date with new journal issues!