By default, we often design and teach courses for the average student. Though we know every student brings unique characteristics and experiences to the classroom, the instinct is to ignore these differences for the sake of expediency. After all, no one has the time and energy to get to know every student every semester in order tailor the lessons to them, especially in large lecture hall classes. But as Todd Rose points out, if you ignore the actual diversity of students and teach to the hypothetical average, you are literally teaching no one.

There are many tips, strategies, and entire frameworks for expanding beyond the average and teaching to the margins. Here is an idea from educator Norman Eng who recommends creating student profile avatars. Such an avatar might look like this:
Betty is a 20-year-old Latina from a working class family who commutes to college, lives with her parents, and works part time. She works hard but is often overwhelmed, because she takes five classes per semester to qualify for financial aid. She has one younger sibling and is concerned with passing the new, harder teacher certification and teacher performance assessments. Although she loves working with children, she’s not sure if she can handle the rigors of teaching in an urban public school classroom with its diverse student needs.
diverse students, ornamental image,
Though fictional, focusing on a single student character like this can ultimately help you improve the experience for all your actual students. Use avatars to guide and ground your plans when preparing a lesson, coming up with examples, or creating assessments. How would Betty react to X, what kinds of examples would Betty relate to, and so on.

To create an avatar, consider factors you already know your students face or confer with colleagues and student affairs staff. Are they first generation college students? Do they work? Do they commute? Do they have pressing family commitments? Do they have concrete career goals? Ask them questions such as “What do you want to get out of this class?” and “What do you wish professors knew about how you work?” An avatar is a composite of such factors resulting in a student profile that is more tangible and relevant than an abstract hypothetical average student.

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