Trends: Diversity and Multiculturalism

Diverse and multicultural classrooms are becoming quite a trend in the learning environments of today. From universities, colleges to continuing education, trade schools and even in community centers, it is becoming more of a norm rather than the exception. There is a movement from a “mono-cultural to a multicultural institution” (as cited in Schwieger, Gros and Barberan, p. 148, 2010). Classrooms are becoming a “cultural contact zone” according to Mary Louise Pratt, “where cultures meet, clash and grapple with each other” ( as cited in Schwieger, Gros and Barberan , 2010). Students and instructors alike are coming from different cultural backgrounds. In the article I found, “Lessons From the Culturally Diverse Classroom: Intellectual Challenges and Opportunities of Teaching in the American University” by Schwieger, Gros and Barberan, teaching assistants from different cultures teach English in an American University which has a very broad mix of students from different cultures, as well. This clearly shows that there is a definite change in education today. Universities are promoting diversity and multiculturalism in their classrooms. The evidence is in the heterogeneity of classrooms in colleges and universities today. It is necessary to understand this to promote tolerance and respect towards each other to achieve the highest quality of education wherein learning opportunities goes beyond barriers. This also leads to the changing role of the instructors to be multi-culturally responsible educators. In fact, the world seems to be getting smaller as the influx of immigrants, students from other countries wanting to study here and professionals from other countries trying to get better job opportunities increase in the country. This contributes to the diversity of the classrooms in our own universities, colleges, trades schools, etc. in Vancouver alone. This is quite evident in my own experience as a Pastry Instructor in Vancouver. There is an increasing mix of cultures in my own pastry classroom. Students come from different parts of the world to Vancouver to learn and study to become pastry chefs of tomorrow. This proves that our city is becoming known to the world where diversity and multiculturalism is accepted and in fact promoted. This topic has a real impact on me because it is something I experience on a daily basis. Other than my own students, I need not look far but simply look at myself and realize that I also come from a different cultural background, being a Filipino immigrant and married to a Japanese immigrant in Canada teaching Foundations of Classical Pastry (mainly French style pastry techniques) to a diverse and multicultural group of students. Coming from a minority group myself, I feel that my students expect me to have a higher understanding of diversity and acceptance of a multicultural classroom environment. Because of the existence of multicultural groups, the topics of race and ethnicity cannot be avoided even in the pastry classroom. “Fostering Awareness of Diversity and Multiculturalism in Adult and Higher Education”, an article by Lisa M. Baumgartner and Juanita Johnson-Bailey, help me, as a first time instructor, understand the importance and sensitivity of this topic and the role of emotions in the learning environment .There will always be stereotypes and this is the one thing we need to get past in this changing world in education. It is time to move forward and see beyond the obvious to be able to help students achieve their highest potentials.
In my very own pastry class, my students are a mix of Asian cultures, Latino, Greek, Canadian, Canadian from European backgrounds and Asians raised in North America. They come from different age groups, as young as 19 years old to someone in their 30’s and mid 30’s. They all have different learning curves and learning styles. So, it is very challenging at the same time interesting to be teaching this group of diverse students. This is the very reason why I chose this topic. Reading these articles opened my eyes that I cannot get stuck in a singular teaching style in my class. Demonstrations seem to be a pretty good instructional tool to use in the pastry kitchen. However, there is still a need to make sure that students understand and learn from the demonstration. For example, I just found out that my exchange student from Korea has never had a muffin in his life prior to enrolling in the program. I did not know this until I had a one-on-one with him, two weeks into the program, just a few days ago. This shed some light to me because I have learned that I cannot assume that everybody has the same basic knowledge, especially, since they all come from different backgrounds.
Through this experience, I see the importance of creating an open line of communication between me and my students for them to feel comfortable, safe and accepted. As Baumgartner and Johnson-Bailey stated in their article, a “transformed curriculum is when the ideas of the marginalized is taken into account and encourages the questioning of assumptions, new ways of thinking and new methodologies.” I now realize not to take anything for granted no matter how simple or basic it may seem to the majority because of the diversity of the group. Therefore, as a new teaching strategy, I now always present a sample of the final products for them to experience in terms of their five senses. In this way, I hope that they will have a better understanding of the things they are supposed to make. In some ways, working backwards, in this case is not a bad idea.
Also, the importance of speaking in a manner that my students would understand what I am trying to say is something to be considered, as well. Perhaps, finding words that are easy to understand for those not proficient with the English language. I beleive that being sensitive to the needs of my students is very important. It is not just about teaching and transferring information, but also making sure that they understand it in their own way. It has to make sense to them for the information to be processed in an effecient way and for them to apply it in what they do. Also, better understanding would mean better memory retention. Hopefully, this would lead to better products, as well, which is one of the objectives of the course. Another realization from reading these articles would be the importance of taking into consideration the learners’ emotions. In this case, I would like my students to have a connection with their products. I would like them to make and create something that has meaning to them and not just an item they have to make. They could incorporate their own cultural backgrounds to their pastry products. They could be making a French croissant with a spinach and feta cheese inclusion, a ginger infused vanilla ice cream, a dulce de leche inspired plated dessert to name a few. It gives them a sense of pride in what they are doing and a “oneness” with their products. As pastry chefs, the cakes, chocolates, breads, etc . that we make, these become an extension of ourselves. It is through the passion for food that we are able to create. This is something that I hope to achieve to impart to my students other than the technical skills that they have to learn.
Using various informal assessment tools is also something that I would definitely use throughout the course, other than the one-on-one’s. Because, they all have different learning curves and styles. In addition to that, halfway through the course, I plan to check on their basic skills by conducting speed tests in the kitchen. This is not a graded activity, but it allows them to practice the skills they need to master for their midterms and final exam. This is also an individual activity. One student does his or her own speed test while the rest of the class goes about their normal day in the kitchen given that they are already pretty comfortable in their own stations and need less guidance. This allows me, as the instructor, to also focus on that particular student and provide guidance and instruction when needed during the speed test. After which, a post-assessment and evaluation is done to check on the final products. Here, I encourage my students to critique their own work, as well. It helps me find out if they know what they are supposed to achieve. In this way, I am able to determine the areas they need improvement and guide them to achieve their full potential. I also hope to gradually help them become self-directed learners as they learn to make their own discoveries in the pastry kitchen.
I cannot help but include technology as a learning tool in the pastry kitchen. It seems that with an increase in diversity of students, the one thing that is becoming a common language is technology. Therefore, I have realized that this would help a lot in making learning more fun and interesting for them. In my present experience, I believe that use of technology also bridges the gap between student and instructor. Pastry is very visual. I find taking pictures of products and even recipes on-line really helps the students visualize the end product. Therefore, I do promote the use of ipads in class for easy reference to on-line recipes. I, myself make use of it for taking pictures of their products which I can refer to in the future. I use it as an instructional tool whenever I feel it is necessary. It is a very fast and changing world that I find I need to constantly adapt to it, as well. I believe that working in a diverse and multicultural setting truly pushes us to practice tolerance and respect to the highest level and stretches our adaptability and creativity in presenting our lesson.


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