Classroom Experience

What is the relationship between the classroom experience and student outcomes? We know that for students to persist, complete, and achieve success in college, the classroom experience matters. Students need to feel integrated into the academic and social culture, but integration is not enough. Students must be engaged in the range of activities that constitute the classroom experience. We ideally think of the classroom experience as a setting in which the diverse academic, social, emotional, and communication needs of all students are met. We function on the premise that learning can occur in both formal and informal environments. Yet, for a variety of reasons, our formal learning environments are seldomly structured to accommodate the diversity of its student body.

The evidence-based practices that we know impact student outcomes and instruction, while widely documented as effective, are not widely used in practice. Instead, there is a common expectation that the student body must be prepared to adapt to a “default” learning environment that skews heavily toward a specific demographic group.

While learning is a highly complicated process dependent upon a variety of factors, teaching is an equally complicated activity focused upon creating an environment in which students can and do learn and are able to be successful. The key to unlocking this challenge, as White and Lowenthal (2011) argue, is that educators and administrators must begin to focus on issues of language, academic literacy, and identity. Focusing on these issues impacts how well students transition to college. The goal should be to develop classroom experiences that mitigate any negative effects of cultural stereotypes on students’ performance.  In her book, The DreamKeepers (1994), Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings defined culturally responsive instruction as “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes”. Research suggests that culturally responsive instruction allows educators to address social barriers that cause disparities in student achievement; by tailoring classroom experiences to be mindful of these barriers, educators can help students overcome obstacles and succeed.

Students often need to navigate the implicit biases and assumptions that may permeate their learning environment. More specifically, negative assumptions may hinder the development of productive relationships among peers as well as with professors. These diminished relationships tend to weaken, if not totally obstruct the academic support system. Case in point, studies have shown that students that identify as LGBTQ+ believe the ability to be open about one’s sexual orientation or gender identity and the ability to maintain social support after disclosure are important factors related both to the perception of campus climate and to student’s thoughts about leaving(Tetreault, Fette, Meidlinger, & Hope, D. 2013).

Now What

  1. As educators, how can we respect students’ culturally imbued discursive styles and use those styles as the basis for teaching students to code-switch (alternate between academic and culturally imbued language)? 
  2. What am I doing to model and to help students acquire the skills necessary to create more equitable and respectful educational experiences? Are you using existing systems such as Name Coach to learn the accurate pronunciations of the names of your students? 
  3. What strategies can we deploy in our classrooms that can contribute to inclusive experiences? What structures exist in our classrooms that exacerbate the isolation students may feel such as reinforcing heteronormative structures?


Tetreault, P. A., Fette, R., Meidlinger, P. C., & Hope, D. (2013). Perceptions of campus climate by sexual minorities. Journal of homosexuality, 60(7), 947-964.

White, J. W., & Lowenthal, P. R. (2011). Minority college students and tacit” codes of power”: Developing academic discourses and identities. The Review of Higher Education, 34(2), 283-318.