Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Becoming Architects of Communities of Learning: Addressing Academic Diversity in Contemporary Classrooms

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Becoming Architects of Communities of Learning: Addressing Academic Diversity in Contemporary Classrooms

Article excerpt

Increasingly, inclusive classrooms are the educational order of the day (Hallahan & Kauffman, 1994), with general classroom teachers having primary, if not sole, educational responsibility for the full spectrum of learners, including students with a range of learning problems and learners who are advanced. Implicit in these inclusive settings is the assumption that exceptional learners can be served equally as well in these diverse communities of learning as in resource rooms and pullout programs, which previously played key roles in ensuring academic experiences appropriate to learner needs.

It would follow, then, that general classroom teachers who are key service providers for exceptional learners would be able to modify or differentiate curriculum and instruction in ways that extend the potentials of exceptional learners, as well as other learners closer to the norm in readiness and performance. In other words, a goal of university training and apprenticeship for beginning teachers would be the creation of communities of learning in which a variety of learners engage in a broad mix of educational experiences designed to maximize the contribution of each learner to self and to the whole.

Reports exist of successful inclusion, particularly for learners who struggle (e.g., Baker, Wang, & Walberg, 1995; Logan et al., 1995). Many veteran teachers, however, broadly resist mandates to differentiate curriculum and instruction for a wide range of learners (Behar & George, 1994); and many lack skills required to differentiate (Tomlinson, 1995). In practice, teachers often make few robust instructional modifications in general classrooms for learners who are gifted or "advanced" (Archambault et al., 1993; Westberg, Archambault, Dobyns, & Salvin, 1993) and learners who qualify for special education or are "struggling" (Baseman, 1993; International Institute for Advocacy for School Children, 1993; McIntosh, Vaughn, Schumm, Haager, & Lee, 1993).

In that light, it is important to understand the early pilgrimages of teachers in thinking about and addressing learning needs of academically diverse populations in general classroom settings. Such understandings should be instructive in developing career paths most likely to enable all classroom teachers to become artful architects of communities of learning in heterogeneous settings.


Much has been written about profiles of expert teachers, and researchers generally agree on some of their common traits. For example, expert teachers (a) excel in the content of their own domains, (b) see key patterns of meaning in the content of their domains, (c) make quick (and accurate) inferences and decisions when performing the skills of their domains, (d) have rich and full representations of problems in their domains, use a broad set of principle-driven heuristics to solve problems, (e) spend a great deal of time analyzing problems, (f) have a high degree of metacognitive and self-monitoring skills, (g) change tracks quickly as they sense the need to do so, and (h) negotiate relationships with individual children (Berliner, 1986; Chi, Glaser, & Farr, 1988; Sternberg & Horvath, 1995).

Among implications of expertise for dealing appropriately with academic diversity in classrooms are that experts exhibit the following skills and knowledge:

* Continually assess students' readiness levels, understandings, and misunderstandings of students.

* Provide learning options that invite learners to enter the learning process at their own levels of readiness.

* Understand structural frameworks of the content to be explored, including what knowledge is essential and how to extend knowledge beyond "expected" levels.

* Make knowledge relevant and interesting to the individual learner.

* Vary amount of instruction and practice with needs of individual learners. …

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