Education Leadership Conference

Teachers of both undergraduate and graduate students can make their classrooms more inclusive and culturally sensitive through such means as catering to a variety of learning styles, expanding evaluation tools and including more non-Western perspectives, said APA Board of Educational Affairs member Nadya A. Fouad, PhD, during APA's 2004 Education Leadership Conference.

Fouad, the training director of the counseling psychology program at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, criticized the traditional college lecture-hall model as ineffective for colleges' increasingly heterogeneous students, who may have many different learning styles and may question the professor's perspective on covered material.

Indeed, traditional lecture settings can isolate diverse students, said Fouad, citing a University of Michigan four-year, longitudinal study from the early 1990s, in which students of color reported that they felt faculty had low expectations of them and seemed uncomfortable with them in class. As a result, respondents also felt they and their perspectives were excluded from classroom interaction and curricula, she noted.

Positing that social exclusion hinders academic performance, Fouad added: "It is imperative to create classrooms where students feel included."

Fouad, a former president of Div. 17 (Society of Counseling Psychology), suggested specific ways that teachers can prevent exclusion and create safe classroom environments for a diverse student body:

  • Vary teaching styles. Encourage class discussion, divide students into smaller discussion groups, offer videos and slideshow presentations and assign group work.

  • Diversify the syllabus and course material. Include multiple perspectives and readings from non-Western scholars--and ensure these readings are culturally sensitive.

  • Create flexible grading procedures. Use a variety of evaluation mechanisms to give students multiple avenues to demonstrate their knowledge. Fouad suggests allowing students to earn points by completing a combination of assignments using various methods--such as verbal presentations, group projects or written papers--they choose.

  • Set explicit ground rules, especially when teaching controversial topics. Emphasize that expressing different views is more important than always agreeing and that students should challenge others' ideas respectfully and avoid personal attacks. For example, Fouad advised teachers to handle offensive comments by addressing them as they occur. Ignoring them, she said, signals to the students that the professor is too uncomfortable to handle the situation.

"I'm asking professors to throw away the notes," Fouad said. "Do not teach the same content or in the same way. Give up the power of being the expert."