Students differ in a multitude of ways, both individually and as groups. Individually, for example, students have a preferred learning style as well as preferred cognitive or thinking styles. They also have unique profiles or intelligence or competence that affect how and what they learn most successfully.
In addition to individual diversity, students tend to differ according to their gender, although there are numerous individual exceptions. Motor abilities as well as motivation and experience with athletics gradually differentiate boys and girls, especially when they reach and begin high school. Socially, boys tend to adopt relationships that are more active and wide-ranging than do girls. Academically, girls tend to be a bit more motivated to receive slightly higher marks in school. Teachers sometimes contribute to gender role differences— perhaps without intending—by paying attention to boys more frequently and more publicly in class, and by distributing praise and criticism in ways differentiated by sex.
Students also differ according to cultures, language, and ethnic groups of their families. Many students are bilingual, with educational consequences that depend on their fluency in each of their two languages. If they have more difficulty with English, then programs that add their first language together with English have proved to be helpful. If they have more difficulty with their first language, they are risk for language loss, and the consequences are also negative even if more hidden from teachers’ views.
In addition to language differences as such, students differ according to culture in how language is used or practiced—in taking turns at speaking, in eye contact, social distance, wait time, and the use of questions. Some of these differences in practice stem from cultural differences in attitudes about self-identity, with non-Anglo culturally tending to support a more interdependent view of the self than Anglo culture or the schools. Differences in attitudes and in use of language have several consequences for teachers. In particular—where appropriate—they should consider using cooperative activities, avoid highlighting individuals’ accomplishments or failures, and be patient about students’ learning to be punctual. Students with an oppositional identity may prove hard to reach, but flexibility in teaching strategies can be very helpful in reaching a wide range of students, regardless of their cultural backgrounds.
Information and activities about student diversity are distributed throughout the teachingedpsych wiki, but see especially the page called Social Relationships.
Some of the issues about cultural diversity are dealt with as well on the page called Assessment of K-12 Learning, though in the context of the thorny issues of testing and evaluating learning.
Birx, H. J. (2005). Encyclopedia of human anthropology. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Bohn, A. (2003). Familiar voices: Using Ebonics communication techniques in the primary classroom. Urban Education, 38(6), 688–707.
Martinez-Roldan, C. & Malave, G. (2004). Language ideologies mediating literacy and identity in bilingual contexts. Journal of early childhood literacy, 4(2), 155–180.