Changing students, changing teaching: Understanding the dynamics of adaptation to a changing student population

Yatta Kanu


As global migrations increase, educators search for effective ways of meeting the learning needs of diverse student populations. I explore this challenge in a study conducted at the high school level where concerns about student diversity and subject matter intersect sharply. Using a case study approach to understand the dynamics of teachers’ adaptations to changing student populations, I document adaptations made by Math and English teachers in a large Canadian city in the areas of curriculum, instruction, and assessment. I examine the goals, conceptions of subject matter, instructional practices, and views about student learning held by Math and English teachers; the teachers contrast as to whether they did or did not reconceptualize and change their practices when faced with new populations of students, specifically African refugee students. I also examine ways in which the teachers’ school contexts, for example, their subject departments, facilitated or inhibited change in their teaching practices. I conclude that different patterns of goals, conceptions of subject matter, and beliefs about students characterize teachers who adapt and those who do not. In the light of these findings I urge teacher education programs to reconsider their exclusive focus on multicultural competence and take these patterns/elements into account in the preparation of teachers for working successfully with changing student populations.

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