________________ CM . . . . Volume XIII Number 3 . . . . September 29, 2006


Student Diversity: Classroom Strategies to Meet the Learning Needs of All Students. 2nd. ed.

Faye Brownlee, Catherine Feniak & Leyton Schnellert.
Markham, ON: Pembroke, 2006.
138 pp., pbk., $24.95.
ISBN 1-55138-198-2.

Subject Heading:
Inclusive education-Canada.


Review by Diana Wilkes.

***½ /4


Collaboration is key. Working alone, none of us is as fine an educator as we can be. Being a member of a learning team—with a resource person, a librarian, an administrator, another classroom teacher—is the first step in refining our professional skills. We have tried to model in our lessons the collaborative efforts of teams of teachers, of our best teaching when we are working with others. In our experience, having the opportunity to work side-by-side with another teacher in the classroom, for even a small amount of time, enriches our teaching and benefits all students. Students with special needs—identified or not—can receive support connected to their learning goals with the curriculum. We learn from having the opportunity to observe the interactions of another professional, even while teaching ourselves. When not working within the classroom, we prize co-planning lessons and units. The powerful conversations that occur in co-planning, reflecting, and analyzing student work energize us and propel us on to new learnings.

This easy to read, professional teaching guide continues the grand tradition of cooperative learning environments introduced in the Eighties. The popular belief states that the ideal classroom is one where all levels of learning ability and diversity are included and celebrated equally. Here, students take an active role in their own learning. They feel safe to take risks in their learning and collaborate together in partners and small groups to increase the sense of belonging to the whole class. Today's classrooms are more diverse than ever with many students experiencing learning disabilities, physical and behavioral challenges, cultural differences and ESL struggles. This guide has many excellent new and “tried and true” suggestions for addressing some of these issues through collaborative learning and collaborative teaching strategies.

     The guide begins with the suggestion of more effective uses of the resource teacher's support of the classroom teacher. Many schools and/or teachers still prefer the “pull out” method of remedial support for a few students. However, the authors of this guide book suggest that a better use of a resource teacher's valuable assistance would be for the two teachers to collaborate in the instruction in the classroom whereby all students benefit and those students with learning needs can remain as a part of the class. Although this is an excellent suggestion, the guide initially presents it as a full-time, easily achieved possibility—two teachers in the classroom at any given time. Wow! Many teachers reading this guide would be discouraged with this first impression and think, “That's a great idea but not possible in my school.” The guide may be discarded before it's fully appreciated. Further in the text, as in the concluding comments quote, it's mentioned that whatever time is available from the resource teacher would be best utilized in a team-teaching situation. That's more like it. Since so much of the book centres on the collaborative teaching situation, it needs to be qualified so that the whole concept isn't scrapped for the impractical possibility of two teachers working side by side all day in every classroom.

     That point aside, the guide is rich with cooperative learning strategies that focus predominantly on writing and reading skills with some suggestions for socials, science and mathematics integration. There is consideration of a variety of materials to learn with and various avenues of response that the students may use to demonstrate their learning. The roles of the classroom teacher, with the support of the resource teacher whenever possible, are that of facilitating learning and assessing the students needs for instruction. There are many useful charts, lists and graphic organizers offered for copying. As well, there are several examples of students' learning responses and samples of their polished work. The layout is easy to follow and the sections are well organized with added information comments in sidebars.

     This teachers' resource is updated and still relevant to today's child-centred learning environments. There are many strategies of inclusion and belonging activities that promote inter-dependence and cooperative group work. However, the issue of diversity is not addressed adequately. The physical challenges of some students hinder group activities and movement around the classroom. Social challenges of some students are not easily resolved by group work either and no mention of the “gifted” student is ever made. Today's social climate is often revealed to be one of intolerance towards various orientations, beliefs, racial and religious groups. Sadly, this often filters down to children in classrooms and causes much disharmony and division. For a book entitled Student Diversity, I hoped to discover more strategies to identify and support differences in students and ways to address the current issues of intolerance and bullying with the building of classroom harmony. Involving more resource teachers in the classroom will help assist with this diversity but more specific strategies to address diverse learning styles, limitations, abilities and subsequent assessment adaptations would be beneficial for any teacher working alone or with a team.

     Still, this resource book is an excellent guide that encourages teachers to be the best we can be by opening our classroom doors and learning from each other—master teacher and student teacher alike. By working as a teaching team, we save planning time and material use but most importantly, we model cooperation for our students and demonstrate how together our thinking and learning will be stretched further and deeper because of it.

Highly Recommended.

Diana Wilkes has taught grades K to 10 for over 20 years and is currently completing a Master of Arts degree in Children's Literature at the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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