Creating Culturally Responsive, Inclusive Classrooms

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  • Culturally responsive class-rooms specifically acknowledgethe presence of culturallydiverse students and the needfor these students to find rele-vant connections among them-selves and with the subject mat-ter and the tasks teachers askthem to perform.

    Lets repeat that: Culturally respon-sive classrooms specifically acknowl-edge the presence of culturallydiverse students and the need forthese students to find relevant con-nections among themselves and withthe subject matter and the tasksteachers ask them to perform. In suchprograms teachers recognize the differ-ing learning styles of their students anddevelop instructional approaches thatwill accommodate these styles. In lightof the value of culturally responsiveinstructional practices, schools and dis-

    tricts need to support teachers in theirquest to learn about the use of thesestrategies (see box, Our IncreasinglyDiverse Classrooms). This article pro-vides guidelines for creating culturallyresponsive, inclusive classrooms.Teachers can use these guidelines withstudents from culturally and linguisti-cally diverse backgrounds in all kinds ofclassrooms, but particularly in inclusivesettings where general and special edu-cators work together to promote theacademic, social, and behavioral skillsof all students. First, teachers need totake an honest look at their own atti-tudes and current practice.

    Conduct a Self-AssessmentMany teachers are faced with limitedunderstanding of cultures other thantheir own and the possibility that thislimitation will negatively affect theirstudents ability to become successfullearners. Hence, teachers must criticallyassess their relationships with their stu-dents and their understanding of stu-dents cultures (Bromley, 1998; Patton,1998). The self-assessment in Figure 1,based on the work of Bromley, 1998), isone tool teachers can use to examinetheir assumptions and biases in athoughtful and potentially productiveway.

    4 THE COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN

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    Creating CulturallyResponsive, Inclusive

    Classrooms Winifred Montgomery

    Many teachers arefaced with limitedunderstanding of

    cultures other thantheir own and the

    possibility that thislimitation will

    negatively affect theirstudents ability tobecome successful

    learners.

    Figure 1. Diversity Self-Assessment

    What is my definition of diversity? Do the children in my classroom and school come from diverse cultural

    backgrounds? What are my perceptions of students from different racial or ethnic groups?

    With language or dialects different from mine? With special needs? What are the sources of these perceptions (e.g., friends, relatives, televi-

    sion, movies)? How do I respond to my students, based on these perceptions? Have I experienced others making assumptions about me based on my

    membership in a specific group? How did I feel? What steps do I need to take to learn about the students from diverse back-

    grounds in my school and classroom? How often do social relationships develop among students from different

    racial or ethnic backgrounds in my classroom and in the school? What isthe nature of these relationships?

    In what ways do I make my instructional program responsive to the needsof the diverse groups in my classroom?

    What kinds of information, skills, and resources do I need to acquire toeffectively teach from a multicultural perspective?

    In what ways do I collaborate with other educators, family members, andcommunity groups to address the needs of all my students?

    Source: Adapted from Bromley (1998).

  • Following self-assessment, teachersneed to take time to reflect on theirresponses (what they have learnedabout themselves) and make some crit-ical decisions regarding ways to con-structively embrace diversity and, thus,create learning environments thatrespond to the needs of their students.

    Use a Range of CulturallySensitive Instructional Methodsand MaterialsIn addition to self-assessment, animportant component of effective cul-turally responsive classrooms is the useof a range of instructional methods andmaterials (Bromley, 1998). Teachersneed to use instructional methods thatare tailored to suit the setting, the stu-dents, and the subject. By varying andadapting these methods and materials,teachers can increase the chances thattheir students will succeed. The follow-ing are effective culturally sensitiveinstructional methods.

    Explicit, Strategic Instruction

    Explicit, strategic instruction shows stu-dents what to do, why, how, and when.An effective strategy is the think-aloudmethod, a procedure that takes advan-tage of the benefits of modeling. In athink-aloud, the teacher reads a pas-sage and talks through the thoughtprocesses for students. The objective isto show students how to ask themselvesquestions as they comprehend text.

    Another important strategy is recip-rocal questioning where teachers andstudents engage in shared reading, dis-cussion, and questioning (Leu & Kinzer,1999). The primary goal of this strategyis to help students learn to ask ques-tions of themselves about the meaningthey are constructing as they read.

    Interdisciplinary Units

    Interdisciplinary units include and con-nect content area learning with lan-guage arts and culturally diverse litera-ture (Cooper, 2000; Leu & Kinzer, 1999).Many effective classrooms are organ-ized around an interdisciplinary, orcross-curricular, theme with studentsparticipating in meaningful reading,writing, listening, and speaking tasks asthey explore the theme through a vari-

    ety of activities and books. The topiccan be drawn from childrens lives andinterests and sometimes from the cur-riculum. Teachers can help their stu-dents successfully engage in cross-cur-ricular activities by demonstrating howto make connections across the curricu-lum through literature, by makingexplicit connections among books, andby helping them recall how previousactivities and experiences relate to cur-rent studies.

    Instructional Scaffolding

    Instructional scaffolding involves theuse of teacher demonstration and themodeling of strategies that studentsneed to be successful with content areatexts (Galda, Cullinan, & Strickland,1997; Leu & Kinzer, 1999). In scaffoldedinstruction, teachers determine the dif-

    ference between what students canaccomplish independently and whatthey can accomplish with instructionalsupport. Teachers then design instruc-tion that provides just enough scaffold-ing for students to be able to participatein tasks that currently are beyond theirreach. Over time, as the tasks becomemore under the control of the learner,

    TEACHING EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN MAR/APR 2001 5

    Teachers need to useinstructional methods

    that are tailored tosuit the setting, thestudents, and the

    subject.

    Our Increasingly Diverse Classrooms

    For many reasons, U.S. schools are serving a growing number of students fromculturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (Obiakor & Utley, 1997;Salend, 2001). In fact, the student population in the United States is growingfastest in those segments with which American education has traditionallybeen least successfulAfrican Americans and Hispanics. Special Education Overrepresentation. A disproportionate number of stu-

    dents from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are inappropri-ately referred to and placed in special education (Yates, 1998). Data from theOffice of Civil Rights reveal that African-American and Hispanic-Americanstudents, particularly males, are overrepresented in terms of their identifica-tion in the disability categories of serious emotional disturbance and mentalretardation (Oswald, Coutinho, Best, & Singh, 1999). These data also indicatethat students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds identifiedas needing special education services are more likely to be provided theseservices in more restrictive settings than their caucasian counterparts.

    The Negative Effects of Tracking. The overrepresentation of students fromculturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds in special education canhave a negative effect on students and their school performance because itplaces them in a separate and unequal track that denies them access to thegeneral education curriculum. In addition, once placed in special educationclasses, these students often encounter lowered teacher expectations, awatered down curriculum, and less effective instruction that can have dele-terious effects on their school performance, self-esteem, behavior, educationand career goals, and motivation to achieve (Nieto, 1996). As a result, thesestudents often do not return to general education placements and frequentlyleave school before graduating.

    Need for Culturally Responsive Instruction. Though several factors con-tribute to the disproportional representation of students from culturally andlinguistically diverse backgrounds in special education (Artiles & Zamora-Duran, 1997), one important factor is the failure of general education teach-ers to use culturally responsive instructional practices that address their edu-cational, social, and cultural needs (Smith, Finn, & Dowdy, 1993).

  • the teacher can introduce more difficulttasks.

    Journal Writing

    Journal writing provides opportunitiesfor students to share their personalunderstanding regarding a range of liter-ature in various cultural contexts thatinform, clarify, explain, or educate themabout our culturally diverse society(Montgomery, in press). For example,character study journals permit studentsto make their own personal connectionswith a specific character as they readthe story. Students develop their owninsight into the characters and theevents in the story, and they are giventhe independence to write what theywant about the character. The teacherprovides time for students to share theirjournal writings in small cooperativelearning groups, with their teachers,with their tutor(s), or with a readingbuddy.

    Open-Ended Projects

    Open-ended projects allow students tocontribute at their varying levels of abil-ity. Such projects work well with diverselearners because they need not start orfinish at the same time. Students canexplore a topic of interest drawn fromtheir readings of culturally rich litera-ture or a content area topic they are cur-rently studying. They may choose towrite reports or prepare oral presenta-tions and create artwork to illustratesome of the major concepts embeddedin their topic. Goforth (1998) suggests aproject in which interested studentsmake artifacts such as dolls or storycloths representing an ethnic or cultur-al group. They may also want to writestories or poems about their artifacts.

    Establish a ClassroomAtmosphere That RespectsIndividuals and Their CulturesTeachers can enhance students self-esteem when they construct learningenvironments that reflect the culturalmembership in the class. This strategygoes beyond wall decoration to atmos-phere: Teachers must attend to all stu-dents and try to involve them equally inall class activities. This recognitiongives students a positive feeling abouttheir worth as individuals and as pro-

    ductive members in their classroom.Some strategies to accomplish a positiveclassroom atmosphere include: Current and relevant bulletin boards

    that display positive and purposefulactivities and events involving cultur-ally diverse people. Include, forexample, newspaper articles (localand national) reporting newsworthyevents or accomplishments thatinvolve people of color, photographsof community leaders from culturallydiverse backgrounds, student-madeposters depicting culturally relevanthistorical events, and original (stu-dent-written) stories and poems withculturally diverse themes.

    A book corner with a variety andrange of culturally diverse literature,fiction and nonfiction (see box,Culturally Complex Atmosphere).

    6 THE COUNCIL FOR EXCEPTIONAL CHILDREN

    Explicit, strategicinstruction shows

    students what to do,why, how, and when.

    Culturally ComplexAtmosphere

    Creating a book corner thatappeals to all children can be achallenge for the teacher. TheInternet has become an excellentresource for the kind of quality lit-erature that will introduce chil-dren to other cultural contexts.Teachers will find valuable linksto appropriate childrens literaturethat will help their studentsappreciate and begin to under-stand the range of human experi-ences and cultural backgrounds. The Web site Multicultural

    Resources provides articles, re-views, and literature selectionsorganized around specific cul-tural groups (http://falcon.jmu.edu/~ramseyil/multipub.html).

    An excellent Web resource forchildrens literature thataddresses cultural differences isThe Childrens Literature WebGuide (http://www.acs.ucal-gary. ca/~dkbrown/lists.html)

    The Reading Zone of theInternet Public Library(http://www.ipl.org/youth/lapage.html) is a central sitethat is useful for teachers andstudents.

    In reciprocal questioning, teachers and students engage in shared reading,discussion, and questioning.

  • The books that are chosen must alsodeal fairly with disabilities and spe-cial needs. The characters should beintegrated naturally into the story andnot depicted as anomalies or peculi-arities in society (Russell, 1994).

    Cross-cultural literature discussiongroups in which students discussquality fiction and nonfiction litera-ture that authentically depicts mem-bers of diverse cultural groups.Discussion groups help all studentsfeel pride in themselves and in theirculture when they see their back-grounds valued in classroom readingand study activities. In small groups,students can read a single work of lit-erature on their own, follow the expe-riences of a particular character andhis or her problems, form opinionsabout a specific issue put forward inthe text, or respond to a significantevent that occurred during the char-acters life (Montgomery, 2000). Forexample, the content and characteri-zations in culturally diverse bookssuch as Amazing Grace (Hoffman,1991), Local News (Soto, 1993),Smoky Night (Bunting, 1994), TheStory of Ruby Bridges (Coles, 1995)and Black Cowboys, Wild Horses(Lester & Pinkney, 1998) can stimu-late greater interest in reading and inreading to learn.

    Language arts and social studies pro-grams provide opportunities for stu-dents to share written and oralreports pertaining to their heritageand cultural traditions. Teachers canintroduce thematic units that offerexcellent opportunities for children toexplore a range (in terms of readabil-ity) of different forms of literaturethat look intensively into a single cul-tural or ethnic experience (Leu &Kinzer, 1999). If learners are to besuccessful in understanding culturaltraditions, trade books must be avail-able in the classroom and in theschool library to support these strate-gies.

    Foster an Interactive ClassroomLearning EnvironmentStudents must have opportunities tointeract with each otherto engage inshared inquiry and discoveryin their

    efforts to solve problems and completetasks. The following are suggesteda...

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