Most schools—especially in areas of high ethnic and economic diversity—have concerns over “student achievement gaps,” academic-success differences related to demographics. This post series looks at ideas for remedying the problem.

The worst-case classroom scenario is the teacher who not only is sure of the one way a “good” student should perform, but “predicts” every new student’s performance at first glance. It’s hard for teachers not to treat students as if perceptions were truth—and hard for students not to behave in accordance with the way they’re treated.

Few of us are completely free of prejudice, so here are some things to consider in the interest of maximizing every student’s achievements.

Don’t Expect “Quick Learning” from Everyone

Some potential geniuses seem “dumb” in school because they don’t understand the language perfectly, or because their brains process information differently. Or they may have undiagnosed vision or hearing problems—or major stress issues.

The best way to keep this from turning into an achievement gap is to catch it early. Talk privately with struggling kids; then, instead of automatically prescribing a tutor, get the students’ input on what accommodations would help. Make it a case of “we have a problem and teamwork will find a solution.”

Respect the Different Types of Intelligence

Most of us grow up with a mental picture of a “good student”—attentive, good at spelling and math, excellent memory. Unfortunately, this gives the impression nothing else counts: you may be a fountain of creativity and a paragon of empathy, but without a head for algebra, you’re out of luck in the future job market.

As a teacher, you can avoid reinforcing this stereotype. Instead of designing every lesson for the traditional academic type, include a wide variety of projects utilizing a wide variety of abilities. Make the work as open and cooperative as you can. Watch every student to assess achievements and abilities—then adjust the curricula, as you go, to ensure everyone maximum opportunity to achieve.

And if you have a “troublemaker” in the class, consider that this often indicates a potential leader who simply needs encouragement to redirect energy and initiative in a better direction.

Get the Students Mingling with Each Other

Make sure that work groups (and everyday seating arrangements) don’t wind up segregated by intelligence types, accent, economic level, or already-good-friends—which is certain to happen if you aren’t careful. Even after the kids get to know everyone else, keep your eyes open to head off “clique” problems.

If your class has some real loners—complete with major bad attitudes—tread carefully. This type is suspicious of “flattery” from authority figures, and while their trouble-making usually hides a lot of pain, trying too hard to be “understanding” can mean other students suffer for it. The best bet is to ask the strongest, most empathetic students to help the loners and keep them out of trouble. And make it clear you will not tolerate disruption or bullying from anyone—neither coming from nor directed toward “hard cases.”

One more thing: whenever someone—“troublemaker” or struggling learner or academic genius—completes some new personal challenge, let them know you’re proud of them!

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