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Encouraging Teachers to Adopt Inclusive Instructional Strategies
Critical Conversations and the Academy
A National Symposium
November 22-23, 2019
University of Miami
Michael Finetti, Saint Peter’s University
Jay Garrels, Saint Peter’s University
Colleges and universities are capable of helping students from various backgrounds achieve economic security and social mobility (Kvaal, 2017). Colleges are strategically recruiting diverse student cohorts to expand the pool of underrepresented minorities (URMs) and first-generation college students. Research demonstrates that diverse classrooms can lead to improved learning for all students (Maruyama, Moreno, Gudeman, & Marin, 2000). While it is important for institutions to purposefully recruit diverse populations, changing admissions policies does not solve the problem. Colleges must provide ongoing support to students and the faculty who teach them (National Center for Education Statistics, 2017).
Teachers at all levels of education should proactively think about their teaching practices, course design, assessments, and classroom environments and ask themselves, “Am I being inclusive?” Having strategies in place to include all students benefits both the student and the instructor. Culturally responsive teachers are mindful of varied educational and demographic backgrounds. These teachers also develop a supportive learning community that recognizes and celebrates differences within their student population. This type of learning environment allows students’ strengths and abilities to flourish (Dray & Wisnecki, 2011).
At Saint Peter’s University in Jersey City, NJ, the idea of inclusion and infusing multicultural values into our curriculum has been at the forefront of conversations, trainings, and workshops. Our remarkably diverse undergraduate and graduate student population originates from 27 states and from more than 40 countries around the world. The student population at Saint Peter’s University represents a demographic make-up from almost every socioeconomic background. The race/ethnicity percentages of full-time undergraduate enrollment during the fall 2018 semester included the following: 47.2% Hispanic, 21.6% Black Non-Hispanic, 14.1% White Non-Hispanic, 9.3% Asian/Pacific Islander, 1.8% Non-Resident, and 0.3% American Indian/Alaskan Native (Saint Peter’s University, 2019c). It is imperative that Saint Peter’s University faculty are aware of their students’ cultural differences in order to instruct, engage, and challenge them more effectively. Our goal is to deliver content and assess students in a manner that will allow them to be successful, which may include changing content or revising assessments.
In 2011, Saint Peter’s University applied for and received a Title V federally funded $2.8 million grant designed to narrow the gap in grade point averages, retention and graduation rates, as well as improving college access for Latina/o and all generation 1.5 students. After receiving the Title V federally funded grant, Saint Peter’s University created many new programs and workshops to help both students and faculty be more inclusive in their classrooms. These programs include the Center for English Language Acquisition and Culture (CELAC), College & High School Partnership for Achievement Program (CHiSPA), Title V Oscar Romero Faculty Inclusion Workshop, Laptop Lending Program, Textbook Voucher Program, and the Research Internship Program (Saint Peter’s University, 2019d).
The new Center for English Language Acquisition and Culture (CELAC) was established to strengthen skills of new English speaking students that do not yet have a command of the English language. This center included a new language learning lab, English as a second language (ESL) curriculum, and tutoring sessions for ESL students and members of the Hudson County community who need to enhance their English skills. The goal of this supportive academic program is to build the skills and confidence in students so they can be active participants in their “mainstream” courses (Saint Peter’s University, 2019a).
CELAC was created to assist students during their freshman & sophomore years and then additional years, if necessary. Students are first identified for placement into CELAC through the results of their essays that they write as part of the new student assessment program conducted during the summer prior to arrival on campus. They are then placed into core courses uniquely designed for students to increase linguistic and language acquisition skills in English. In addition to the credited course work, other resources are available to the CELAC students. For example, the program offers and requires “Community Conversation Practice”, which links students to tutors in a one on one setting or discussion-based group work settings. CELAC characterizes itself as a community that extends beyond new student coursework and the classroom (Saint Peter’s University, 2019a). Faculty that oversee CELAC, and the students themselves, want all students to feel included, which helps them to break down language, and in some cases, cultural barriers that may be present in the classroom and on campus.
According to Haveman and Smeeding (2006), students from low-income and minority neighborhoods are not as well prepared academically for higher education compared to those students from higher socioeconomic families who attend top-tier colleges and universities. These students are also ill prepared to select colleges, apply for admissions, and secure acceptance to institutions of higher learning. In addition to the selection process, they are poorly informed about the cost of attending college and the availability of needs-based financial aid. In response to this gap in success rates for lower socioeconomic students, the College & High School Partnership for Achievement (CHiSPA) program at Saint Peter’s University was established. Through the collaboration of faculty and several Hudson County High Schools teachers, the needs of our local community were identified. It was found that first generation and generation 1.5 incoming students needed additional support services. The assistance was part of the bridge program to address the linguistic and cultural barriers faced by students and members of the local community.
CHiSPA focused on providing instruction, activities, and community-focused, project-based learning to further academic success and ensure meaningful and relevant opportunities in preparation for college-level coursework and social interactions (Saint Peter’s University, 2019b). CHiSPA hosted two field trips to local sites: the Tenement Museum in NYC and Liberty Science Center in Jersey City. Also, orientation sessions to college life were presented to families to provide education and raise awareness. This program culminated with a ceremony where students presented final projects, received certificates of completion, and were gifted Kindle Fire tablets.
As a Hispanic Serving Institution (HSI), Saint Peter’s University developed a Laptop Lending Program and Book Voucher Program for Latina/o and low-income minority students. Also, a Summer Research Internship program was created to provide high achieving Hispanic students the opportunity to assist faculty members with various research projects to expand their academic and social activities (Saint Peter’s University, 2019e).
According to Monroe (2006), the cultural backgrounds of low-income students of color often differ significantly from the institutional norms of a school. Therefore, educators must develop competencies related to the cultural context of their learning environment in order to become truly effective teachers for culturally diverse students. The Title V Oscar Romero Faculty Inclusion Workshop was developed to support cultural competency and pedagogy and to train new faculty in expanding their curriculum, as well as achieving a better understanding of their students. This summer workshop was conducted over a four-day period and had four major goals: (1) discover ways that different cultural groups of students approach learning, including what challenges they face and what opportunities they provide to enrich the learning environment; (2) develop a more inclusive curriculum that would increase sensitivity to different communities; (3) strengthen achievement among Hispanic and other low-income minority students; and (4) create opportunities for faculty to infuse cultural diversity and multicultural values into their own course curriculum. Faculty were required to incorporate the strategies and techniques introduced in the workshop into one fall course according to their curriculum and usefulness. The summer workshops continued for five consecutive years with over 90 participants. During each summer, faculty who participated in the previous workshop would return and share their insights, strategies, and techniques to the newcomers of the program.
For example, one faculty member required students to complete weekly assignments related to cultural diversity and multicultural values. These required assignments were as follows: (1) Students were required to create their own identity map. (2) Students were required to research an educational system of a culture unfamiliar to the. (3) What is culturally responsive classroom management? (4) Where do students learn to stereotype? (5) What can teachers do to increase their knowledge of cultural differences that establish a positive relationship with their students? (6) How can we as teachers create a more compassionate and just society? (7) How can we create a pleasant classroom atmosphere that increases the likelihood of appropriate student behavior? (8) Why do many under-represented groups of students experience a cultural disconnect or lack of cultural synchronization in school? (9) Discuss a time during your educational journey when you or your classmate experienced test bias or cultural bias on an assessment. What would you do as a teacher to prevent this test bias? This faculty workshop challenged instructors to think differently about their students and their curriculum. In response to the challenge, there was an overwhelmingly positive response by the faculty to strive to serve their students better and improve student outcomes. The success of this program was evidenced by the large number of faculty that opted-in to the workshop and the return rate of faculty as many participated year over year.
The importance of inclusive instruction cannot be understated. Every member of the higher education community needs to be doing all they can to provide students with the opportunity to be successful. When assessing diverse populations, faculty must recognize that language and cultural barriers exist. Institutions should have programming in place to lessen the impact on these challenges. The research is clear that students perform better with the additional resources and support that is provided when schools proactively encourage their teachers to be more inclusive.
Dray, B., & Wisneski, D. (2011). Mindful reflection as a process for developing culturally responsive practices. Teaching Exceptional Children, 44(1), 28–36.
Haveman, R., & Smeeding, T. (2006). The role of higher education in social mobility. Future of Children, 16(2), 125–150.
Kvaal, J. (2017, February 24). Colleges can help students move up. let’s make it easier. Chronicle of Higher Education, p. A44.
Maruyama, G., Moreno, J., Gudeman, R., & Marin, P. (2000). Does diversity make a difference? three research studies on diversity in college classrooms. Washington, DC: American Council on Education and American Association of University Professors.
Monroe, C. (2006). Misbehavior or misinterpretation? Kappa Delta Pi Record, 42(4), 161-165.
National Center for Education Statistics (2017). Graduation rate from first institution attended within 150 percent of normal time for first-time, full-time degree/certificate-seeking students at 2-year postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity, sex, and control of institution: Selected cohort entry years, 2000 through 2013. Retrieved From https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_326.20.asp
Saint Peter’s University (2019a). Center for english language acquisition and culture. Retrieved from https://www.saintpeters.edu/celac/
Saint Peter’s University (2019b). College and high school partnership for achievement. Retrieved from https://www.saintpeters.edu/academics/programs-services/title-v/college-high-school-partnership-for-achievement/
Saint Peter’s University (2019c). Institutional research: Fact book. Retrieved from https://www.saintpeters.edu/institutional-research/fact-book/
Saint Peter’s University (2019d). Saint peter’s college faculty honored by the state of new jersey. Retrieved from https://www.saintpeters.edu/news/2012/05/01/saint-peters-college-faculty-are-honored-by-the-state-of-new-jersey/
Saint Peter’s University (2019e). Title V – The Oscar Romero Project. Retrieved from https://www.saintpeters.edu/academics/programs-services/title-v/