Affirmation of Difference

Affirmation of Difference: Acknowledging students’ different identities, experiences, strengths, and needs; leveraging student diversity as an asset for learning.

This list offers examples of concrete strategies aligned with this general inclusive teaching principles. If you would like to submit your own example for consideration, please click here.

Normalize the fact that students will have a range of background preparation, and find ways of highlighting those differences as assets for learning (e.g. learners who are new to material can often pose useful critical questions that help those familiar with the material identify gaps in their understanding or think about the material in new ways).
  • See this paper for research on how to recognize the strengths that diverse students bring to engineering classrooms. (Svihla, V., Datye, A. K., Gomez, J., Law, V., & Bowers, S. (2016). Mapping assets of diverse groups for chemical engineering design problem framing ability. In Proceedings of American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference.)
Reflect upon and share the ways your own identities shape your relationship to your work/the discipline.
  • If you feel comfortable doing so, include your pronouns when you introduce yourself to class on the first day, and in your email correspondence with your students.
Invite students to identify examples from their own arenas of knowledge or expertise to illustrate course concepts.
  • See an example in the Implications section (Appendix A) of “Latine/o Adolescents’ Funds of Knowledge Related to Engineering”, (Wilson-Lopez et a., 2016).
  • See a ASEE paper about how the knowledge/experiences of low-income and first-generation students can foster innovation in engineering problem-solving. (Smith, J. M. (2015). Making the Funds of Knowledge of Low Income, First Generation (LIFG) Students Visible and Relevant to Engineering Education. In Proceedings of American Society for Engineering Education pp. 1-16)
Assess students' prior knowledge about your field and topics to align instruction with their needs.
  • See a pdf of a sequence of questions which are adapted from two STEM faculty at U-M that highlight two STEM examples. (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan)
Use a background questionnaire early in the term to learn about individual students' past academic experiences, goals, concerns, or other information that would be useful for you to know as their teacher.
  • Develop a background questionnaire [see example here] to gain more information about students’ skills and experiences. (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan)
Deliberately choose course materials and activities with a range of student physical abilities in mind.
  • Select videos that include closed captions and transcript download options. See this resource for step-by-step instructions on how to adapt YouTube videos. (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching in Engineering, U-M)
  • Include descriptions of images online and/or describe them out loud.
Deliberately choose course materials with students' range of financial resources in mind.
  • Use an open-source textbook if a good one is available.
  • Make sure any required textbooks are explicitly required so that students can use financial aid to purchase them.
  • Consider reserving a computer lab rather than assuming every student has a laptop that they can bring to class.
  • Don’t ask students to purchase a book unless they will be using it regularly. The U of M library can scan small portions of resources if that’s all you need, or you may be able to link to an online e-book or article.
  • See an example in the syllabus (See “references” section) for UM course EECS 589, taught by Necmiye Ozay.
Welcome requests for accommodations as a chance to include everyone more fully in learning (through a non-stigmatizing syllabus statement, a reminder in class, or an email).
  • See some suggested wording for syllabus statements on accommodations for students with disabilities (from University of Michigan’s Services for Students with Disabilities office).
Communicate concern for students' well-being, and share information about relevant campus resources to support students with a broad range of experiences and identities.
Ask students to make observations about content (e.g. simply describe a figure, graph, diagram, or process) before moving to analytical questions. This can provide everyone a common starting point, highlight students' different perspectives/approaches, and model analytical processes you want to teach.
  • See a pdf of a sequence of questions which are adapted from two STEM faculty at U-M that highlight two STEM examples. (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching, University of Michigan)
Present course material in a variety of modalities (readings, diagrams, lectures, podcasts) rather than relying on one mode of engagement.
Accompany verbal instructions with a written ones. (Multiple modes can be helpful to a range of students, including English-language learners and students with processing disabilities.)
  • Multiple modes (e.g., written, verbal, mathematical, images or graphs) can be helpful to students, especially those with processing disabilities as well as non-native English speakers.
Acknowledge campus events or incidents that may be creating barriers to students' sense of being welcomed and valued; acknowledge the different effects incidents have on students.
  • Read a short blog post, “Teaching in Tumultuous Times,” from CRLT about addressing events that occur outside the classroom. It contains links to important campus support services, as well. (Center for Research on Learning and Teaching University of Michigan)