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Empathetic Lesson Planning to Include Diverse Populations

By: K. M. Walton

السلام عليكم ورحمة الله وبركاته

      Can you read that for me? Could you write how you feel after you read it? Could you share any personal connections you made to the text? Do you picture anything in your mind while you read it? Would you answer a few questions about what you read?

      What’s that? You can’t do any of those things? Are you sure? I’d like you to try again. Try a little harder this time. What do you mean you still can’t do what I’m asking? What’s wrong with you? Read it again. Do you have it now?

     And so it goes.

      Life for an “everyday” Arabic Language Learner is no different than our very own English Language Learner. Bottom line, it’s hard. When you slip on the ESL student’s shoes they’re two sizes too small – tight, pinching, difficult to walk in. Imagine the frustration and confusion felt on a daily basis. I’d want to kick those shoes off and go barefoot.

      The playing field must be leveled for true learning to take place. Any good educator worth her salt knows this. But what does that look like? Sound like? Planning with an empathetic heart is crucial—put yourself into those pinching shoes and craft lessons that will bring every learner to the leveled field. Take the time to consistently create learning opportunities where students celebrate their diversity and put themselves into each other’s shoes. It’s the empathy component that will make the deepest impact.

      One idea: read alouds with a focus on courage (or hope, change, fears, intolerance, injustice, social action, etc…), from a variety of sources, and allow your students respond in writing. And of course, share/discuss. Make empathetic accommodations to your lessons for your ESL students—create ways in which they can meaningfully participate. Confidence will bolster and trust will be built.

      While I’m no longer in the classroom, my educational philosophy remains locked in concrete, and it spills into the young adult novels I now write: adults—educators in particular—hold the tremendous power of inspiration. Students everywhere are waiting to be inspired. Young people are poised to do great things, to help each other, to open their minds—all they need is direction, from the adults in their lives.

      Go for it.

K. M. Walton is the author of Cracked (Simon Pulse 2012), Empty (Simon Pulse 2013) and the co-author of Teaching Numeracy: 9 Critical Habits to Ignite Mathematical Thinking (Corwin Press 2011) for mathematics teachers K – 8. She is a graduate of West Chester University, with a degree in elementary education. As a former middle-school language-arts teacher she’s passionate about ending peer bullying. She gives school presentations on the topic “The Power of Human Kindness.” She lives in PA with her husband, two sons, cat, and turtle. Visit the author at or follow her on twitter @kmwalton1.

One Comment Post a comment
  1. Emily Castillo #

    Ms. Walton,

    I love this post. Diversity is a strong core belief of mine. I love that you specifically mentioned our English Language Learners in classrooms. One of my field placements is in a district right now where there is a high number of English Language Learners. When I see students disengaged or off-task, I think, “Do they even understand what they are supposed to be doing?” And often when teachers try to redirect them, they ask the same questions and make the same assumptions that you were describing in the beginning. I took a class titled Teaching English Language Learners PreK-12 here at West Chester University and I really believe every pre-service educator should have to take it. Accommodating for ELLs is not dumbing down your content or giving them busy work, it is being explicit, concise, and clear with instructions and expectations. Empathy is also a strong core value of mine and your post really strikes a cord with me. Thank you!


    October 4, 2017

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