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The Multicultural Classroom: Tips for Adding Diversity to History Lessons
American classrooms are increasingly culturally and economically diverse. In order to engage everyone, it’s important that all students see themselves in the history we study. While our textbooks may not always reflect the diversity we’d like to bring to our lessons, there are a variety of outside resources that can combine with reading assignments to involve students in a significantly more multicultural understanding of history.
The rigorous integration and critical thinking expectations in a variety of education standards can be met by working hard to present many cultural experiences.
Thinking critically about history lessons: “Who is missing from this story?”
One great way to make lessons more diverse is to push students to think critically about the history they’ve just read. Ask them, “Who do we see, and who is missing?” This may be all it takes to get students to ask insightful questions about the populations being omitted from the text.
Having students explore several sides of a story is an excellent way to support critical thinking about history as well as to fulfill research requirements they may need to meet. Supplementing readings with documentaries that examine historical contributions of minority populations can be an excellent way to get students started on these explorations.
One documentary, PBS’s Latino Americans, discusses multiple important contributions to American history and culture. Showing students the solid Latino presence in the American identity is a resourceful way to diversify American history lesson plans.
Helping students gain a deeper cultural understanding of personal experience
Another effective way to diversify lesson plans is to step entirely outside of American history and examine the cultural happenings in another part of the world at the same time. Introducing students to a different culture and asking them to examine what they learned from that lesson in terms of their own cultural experience can give them a deeper understanding of culture.
The National Endowment for the Humanities Edsitement lesson “Angkor What? Angkor Wat!” could be used to help students understand the importance of temples and pilgrimages in historical Southeast Asia, but can also be extended to Amer-European lessons, encouraging students to take what they learned from the Angkor Wat lesson and apply it to their knowledge of Amer-European history.
If you’re struggling with adding diversity to the lessons you have, Kids.gov has an excellent database of diverse lesson plans for enhancing your existing lessons or replacing them altogether. Of particular interest are the lessons from the National Park Service or the Library of Congress which can connect your students’ learning with electronic access to actual historical sites or historical documents. This hands-on access can make diversity in American history visible in ways that their textbook has not.
Creating an American history timeline with family stories
Finally, one excellent way to connect diversity to history and make it memorable for students is to ask them to tell you their stories. Often, students have memories and family narratives of their family history. Creating a class-wide family history timeline and world map of student experience can make history real, accessible, and exciting for them.
These examples and stories make the concept of diversity in history personal as students see history’s lifeline through the stories of their classmates. This type of project-based learning also builds skills in non-fiction narrative writing and storytelling.
However you add diversity to your lesson plans, know that it pays off. When students engage in multiple stories and viewpoints, they develop vital critical thinking skills as they are challenged to analyze their lessons and textbooks. More than that, though, studying a rich multicultural history allows students to see themselves inside that history and understand the ways in which their personal story is woven into their studies.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current adjunct faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.
Multiculturalism and Diversity, Scholastic.com
Diversity: Understanding and Teaching Diverse Students, BYU David O. McKay School of Education
Lesson Plans for PBS’s Latino Americans Documentary, PBS Newshour Extra
Angkor What? Angkor Wat!, National Endowment for the Humanities
History Lesson Plans , Kids.gov