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A research-based approach on teaching to diversity.

Changes in demographics are having a profound affect on education. Hodgkinson (1997) stated that the United States is the "first world nation in this history of humanity" (p. 3), where every nation in the world has a resident in this country. Former Governor of North Carolina and Chairman of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (NCTAF), James B. Hunt Jr., said in its 2003 report that "It is time for our leaders to redouble their efforts to achieve for reaching education reform by pledging to recruit, prepare, support, and pay for quality teachers". He went on to say: "The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act was a clear expression of national will. Its goal to insure that all children have an opportunity to learn-regardless of income, background, or ethnic identity--cannot be achieved unless we assure that quality teachers stay in the profession" (p. 6). In this paper, salient research on diversity is presented. This research, which comes under the umbrella of multicultural education, provides a mechanism by which teachers can recognize, accept, and affirm diversity as it relates to race, culture, language, social class, gender, and disability. Teachers and their leaders must be knowledgeable and appreciative of this body of literature. It is vital to their success in being able to provide all students with a good education. Specialty area expertise, alone, is not enough. Educators must be guided by policies and practices in multicultural education.

According to Chandra Hawley (1997), classrooms in America have changed in some significant ways:

1. Students come from a variety of racial, cultural, linguistic, and economic backgrounds.

2. Students with disabilities of many kinds are spending more time in regular classrooms.

Hawley went on to say that this increase in diversity among the student population is one of the greatest challenges facing teachers in the years to come (p. 23).

The importance of quality teachers and the challenges they face are made salient in a recent report by The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future (2003). NCTAF Chairman and former Governor of North Carolina, James B. Hunt, Jr. said: "It is time for our leaders to redouble their efforts to achieve far reaching education reform by pledging to recruit, prepare, support, and pay for quality teachers." He went on to say: "The passage of the No Child Left Behind Act was a clear expression of national will. Its goal to insure that all children have an opportunity to learn--regardless of income, background, or ethnic identity--cannot be achieved unless we assure that quality teachers stay in the profession. The Act is a pledge to America's children that we must keep" (p. 6).

Certainly classroom teachers are not only in front of the class, but also at the forefront of school reform. In this paper notable research on teaching to diversity will be presented. An awareness of this research will benefit teachers and it may help school leaders and other stakeholders reflect on what can be done to help teachers and their students succeed.

Demographics That Affect Education

Hodgkinson (1985) stated, "The number of minority children in our school is now so large if they do not succeed, all Americans will have a diminished future" (p. 18). How American educators choose to address the issues of diversity will forever influence the success and failure of millions of students now and in the years to come.

According to the population projections, the face of America will become even more diverse in the years to come. Hodgkinson (1997) prefigured that:

African American populations will increase slowly while Asians, Hispanics, and Native Americans will increase rapidly in the next twenty-five years. Of the 5.6 billion people in the world, only 17% are white, a percentage that will decline to 9% by 2010. (p. 3)

Also, Hodgkinson (1997) explained that the United States is the "first world nation in this history of the humanity" (p. 3), where every nation in the world has a resident in this country. At the same time, American "immigration has shifted from being 85% European American to 85% Latin American and Asian, with a rapidly increasingly contingent from the Middle East" (p. 3). With the arrival of a new immigrant population comes a corresponding group of immigrant children, and schools are the recipients of these immigrant children. Additionally, these children will be from backgrounds in which English is a second language and will bring a host of different languages to their classrooms. Summarily, as a result of immigration, the United States is becoming less white, both in and out of the classroom.

By the year 2000, Gollnick and Chinn (1998) predicted, "One-third of the nation will be African American, Latino, Asian American, and Native American. These groups will comprise 40% of the population by 2020, and 50% of the population by 2050" (p. 82). Asian Americans "come from more than 20 countries, speak more than two dozen different languages, and practice a variety of religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity" ("In Our Own Words," 1996, p. 50).

Gollnick and Chinn (1998) forecasted that:
 At the end the twentieth century, African
 Americans will be the largest non-European
 groups, but by 2030 nearly
 one-fourth of the school-age children
 will Latino. Although racial and ethnic
 diversity has long existed in schools,
 the next fifty years will be characterized
 by either greater conflict among groups,
 especially the declining white majority,
 or the sharing of education resources
 and power. (p. 82)

According to Delpit (1995) a predominantly white teaching force is likely to make most decisions through the lenses of white people's experiences and belief systems. This is not, said Delpit, because the teachers don't care about the students, but because we all base our interpretations of the world on our life experiences. But, Pohan (1995) offered the following reminder:

With the nation's student population becoming increasingly more diverse, teachers must both be willing and prepared to work with students from backgrounds different from their own. For indeed, if All students don't succeed, we fail to meet their nation's democratic ideals and the very purpose of schooling itself. (p. 2)

Culture, Cultural Diversity, and Multi-cultural Education

Culture and cultural diversity are important concepts for educators to understand because they influence students' lives. Culture is those stated characteristics of a group of people such as language, religion, habits of dress, customs and traditions, and ways of thinking and behaving (Banks, 1992). Culture, thereby, teaches and shapes student's identifies, beliefs, and behaviors (Gollnick & Chinn, 1998).

Cushner, McClelland, and Safford (1992) described diversity as a concept expanded "to include differences based on gender, ethnicity, race, class, age, and handicapping conditions" (p. xvii). Diversity is not equated "with a notion of "other" ... that all Americans are, to some degree, multicultural because they live in a multicultural society" (p.xvii). It was believed by Shapiro, Sewell, and DuCette (1995) "the most defensible position for educators is to use the term diversity ... that multicultural education, while very similar to diversity, it not synonymous with it, but is rather a subset of this more inclusive area" (p. 2). Thereby, DuCette, Sharpiro, and Sewell (1996) defined diversity as:
 ... encompassing the domain of human
 characteristics which affect an
 individual's capacity to learn from, respond
 to, or interact in a school environment.
 These characteristics can be overt
 or covert, recognized by the individual
 or not recognized, and biologically or
 environmentally or socially determined.
 Some of the characteristics are meaningful
 only as they describe an individual;
 others are more meaningful as
 they describe the entire school climate
 so that teaching techniques, teacher expectations,
 discipline programs, and
 home/school/community relationships
 will all reflect an atmosphere supportive
 of learning for all children. (p. 324)

According to Banks (1992), multicultural education is a reform movement designed to bring about educational equity for all students, including those from different races, ethnic groups, social classes, exceptionality, and sexual orientations. "We need to create a school environment that is equitable and just, then in our discussions and classrooms, honestly try to search for a balance of views, and present them as fairly as possible. (p.21).

Further, Banks (1994) identified five dimensions of multicultural education. They are: (a) content integration, (b) the knowledge construction process, (c) prejudice reduction, (d) an equity pedagogy, and (e) an empowering school culture and social structure.

Bennett (1999) posited that multicultural education is an approach to teaching and learning that has its foundation in democratic values and beliefs. As a movement, multicultural education restructures. Ethnic minorities and children of lower socioeconomic circumstances will find the restructured school to exhibit high scholastic expectations in addition to a confirmation of diversity. Bennett's approach signified a curriculum with an all encompassing focus, in which a knowledge base that will integrate the histories and contributions of ethnic groups into the present curriculum is provided. She believed the process of multiculturalism moved individuals from ethnocentric viewpoints to more inclusive views of multicultural education and ultimately to global perspectives. For Bennett, multicultural education should be viewed as a commitment to affirm and appreciate cultural diversity.

In brief, culture refers to those shared characteristics of a group of people. Diversity, on the other hand, is the differences in those characteristics between groups. And cultural diversity is a concept very closely tied to the tenets of multicultural education which may directly impact how children learn.

Teacher Attitudes and Beliefs

Pohan (1995) maintained that there existed an influence of teacher's beliefs on student outcomes. He noted that "differential expectations lead to differential treatment, which results in differential student outcomes" (p. 5). Further, he believed that teacher beliefs influence the type of activities in which students are engaged, the feedback students receive, and the degree of interaction that takes place between teachers and students (Pohan, 1996).

Tatto (1996) stated, "Not only do teacher beliefs influence their teaching practices, these beliefs are relatively stable and resistant to change" (p. 157). In order for teachers' beliefs to be impacted by their training programs, an important goal of many teacher education programs ought to be to alter teachers' beliefs. (p. 157). Teachers have preconceived ideas about issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and class. Like any other preconceptions, these beliefs and attitudes will play out in the actions and practices of teachers. It is, therefore, important to understand teachers' beliefs and their relation to classroom practices.

Given the tremendous cultural diversity that characterizes American schools and the big contrast between the composition of the teaching force and the student population, Gay (1993) advised that teacher preparation programs should be designated to teach teachers how to be "cultural brokers" (p. 294) and how to be "competent in cultural context teaching" (p. 287). Teachers can become cultural brokers by studying about different ethnic and cultural groups, by having firsthand experiences in actual classrooms and cultural communities, and by cross-cultural awareness. Cross-cultural awareness is competency in recognizing, interpreting, and understanding cultural elements that contrast with one's own behavior, values, and beliefs. In other words, teachers should be aware of the cultural contexts that shape not their own but their student's way of knowing as well (Harrington, 1994).

Instructional Approaches

Paul Gorski (1997) described diversity and multiculturalism into three major components: (a) the curriculum, (b) the teacher, and (c) the student. He stated that the curriculum should include contributions made by different ethnic groups and provide models of different ethnic groups. He also stated that the curriculum should provide opportunities for students to discuss racial and ethnicity related questions in a non-threatening atmosphere, encourage interactions between children from different ethnic groups in learning activities, and encourage children to bring examples of everyday life into the classroom as part of their learning. He added that kids must learn to think critically and their stories and experiences must become part of the learning experience of the class. The second focus Gorski spoke of is the teacher as the leader of cultural diversity and multicultural education. He explained that every teacher must do the following (p. 3):

1. Every teacher must reflect on his/her experiences and assess his/her attitudes, prejudice values as they relate to dealing with people from different ethnic groups.

2. Support groups for teachers need to be formed where they can openly discuss and debate multicultural issues. These groups need to be multicultural groups of small enough size that everyone has an opportunity to participate.

3. In-service training needs to be provided to all teachers using new materials in order that they feel comfortable in using them.

4. Teachers must re-dedicate to offering the best possible learning environments for all students.

Thirdly, Gorski stated that every student comes to school with their own stories, and at their own level of cultural awareness. The student must be empowered by being encouraged to share those stories, and to hear the stories of others. An atmosphere must be created in which students contribute to history, literature, and other areas. Students must learn to think critically and must be taught to challenge the information they are presented, so when they pick up a magazine or turn on the television, they are prepared to do the same thing. He went on to say that every student, no matter what age, came to school with a set of values which reflected his/her upbringing. Many of these values were related to their perceptions about different ethnic groups. In the multicultural classroom these values need to be made explicit and explored. It is important that classroom rules reflect the value of diversity and respect for different cultures while at the same time realizing that a climate conducive to learning is required.

A similar view of cultural diversity in the classroom has been described by Hawley (1997). It was positied that to adequately attend to cultural diversity in the classroom, teachers must look first at their own cultural background and understand how their biases affect their interactions with students. Then, teachers can examine the backgrounds and needs of the student population and understand their students' cultural biases as well. Classroom instruction can be designed to connect the content of a course with students' backgrounds.

Even in classrooms in which all students are white, issues of diversity arise and need to be considered. High school teacher, Julie James, puts it to teachers this way:
 You have a diverse classroom. The fact
 that your students all have a similar
 cultural heritage does not mean that
 they are all the same. Yes, students
 often dress like their friends or bond
 into constellations or "lie personalities,"
 but given the chance, most high school
 students will assert their differences.
 The key is giving them a chance. The
 challenge to the teacher is being able to
 consistently recognize and value the
 creative ways that students express
 themselves and to use these actions,
 words, or habits to talk about diversity
 issues (Hawley, 1997, p. 25).

Ladson-Billings (1994), in her article "What We Can Learn From Multicultural Education Research," concluded that "Many findings from multicultural education research can be applied in the everyday world of teachers and administrators" (p. 22). Ladson-Billings has identified five areas that play a large role in educating a multiculturally diverse population: (a) "teachers" beliefs about student, (b) curriculum content and materials, (c) instructional approaches, (d) educational settings, (e) and teacher education" (p. 22). In this article, Ladson-Billings observed and interviewed, and then compared and contrasted, two new teachers in their first year of teaching. Although one teacher was in an urban school and the other in a suburban school, both were faced with cultural diversity issues.

The students in the urban school were predominately African American and Latino. Many were economically disadvantaged, achieving below the national average, and attending school sporadically. Comparatively, the suburban students were predominately white, with five African Americans and two Mexican Americans (one with limited English). Most students were upper-middle-class and tested at or above grade level. As teachers, both took a human relations course, which "they silently resisted the material, and its impact on their eventual practice was sharply reduced" (Ladson-Billings, 1994b, p. 25). As teachers, they "had some opportunities to learn about multicultural education, but these ... were in the form of fleeting, one-time workshops. The experiences had little or no follow-up, and no one attempted to ensure that teachers applied the new information" (p. 25).

Taking everything into consideration, it was the teacher in the urban school who investigated and identified his belief system about teaching culturally diverse students and having had exposure to the multicultural education research literature, who decided to pursue additional training in multicultural education. On the other hand, his suburban counterpart did not feel motivated to change, because "she is successful with most of her students, she thinks her lack of success with students of color stems from their deficiencies" (p. 26) not hers.

When teachers have knowledge of different cultural qualities, it is easier for them to recognize the creative ways that students express themselves. Many teachers felt that it was essential to build supportive classroom atmospheres where differences were not overlooked or minimulazied, but were explored, discussed, and celebrated. Some of the teachers within Teacher Talk (Hawley (1997) offered instructional approaches for working with diverse student populations and related issues of diversity. Some common themes included the following (p. 25):

1. Carefully balanced academic content with instructional process

2. Use of visuals

3. Use of group work

4. Involvement of parents

5. Building on what students already know

Covert (1995) felt that every child came to school with an ethnic identity whether these identifications were conscious or not. These identifications must be recognized and respected by the teacher. It must be the basis for the learning activities in the classroom. The point here was to acknowledge differences rather than ignore them. It was equally critical that the children recognize and appreciate their own ethnicity and learn to appreciate those of the other children in the class. This recognition of individual ethnic identities was the beginning point, it was a connector of both the teacher to the student and the students to each other. It was the basic building block in the learning process which required knowing where the child was relative to him/herself and the content to be addressed. This ethnic identification was a continual point of focus throughout the education process and was the basis for developing the next level of identification which was a national identification.

Further, Covert maintained that as our society becomes more dependent on other societies, it is critical that the schools address the problems of the world as a whole. The development of the global identification helped students to better understand that actions of a nation must not only be viewed in terms of the implications for that nation, but what were the effects on the whole world. Children who developed both a strong ethnic and national identity had the perspective to also develop a global identification which in turn made them better citizens of the world community.

Lastly, Covert stated, "The metaphor of the melting pot is no longer functional. We have to switch to either the toss salad or the stew. It allows us to focus both on the differences in the ingredients while at the same time the beauty of the whole. A good salad does not have a bunch of components that look, taste, or have the same texture. The success of the salad depends not only on its looks but also on a lot of other factors including the taste, the freshness of the ingredients, the smells, the textures and the mixture itself." (p. 403)

Discussion and Conclusion

No doubt, changes in demographics and their impact on schools have placed a major challenge on educators and society alike. The multicultural education literature has provided a mechanism by which teachers can recognize, accept, and affirm diversity (Banks, 1994, Bennett, (1999). Unfortunately, this literature has not received the status of mainstream educational research. Far too many teachers and school leaders continue to struggle with issues of diversity and lack knowledge about how to educate all children, regardless of differences in racial, ethnic group, social classes, exceptionality, and sexual orientations. Evidence of this can be found in numerous reports on the achievement gap and in national studies such as The National Commission on Teaching and America's Future which noted that successful schools are learner-centered and teachers know and attend to the knowledge, skills, beliefs, and background each child brings to the classroom (p. 16).

It should be apparent to all that a knowledge of, understanding of, and appreciation of multicultural education research is vital to successful teaching and educating of all students. This paper has highlighted some of the salient research in this area.

First of all, teachers and school leaders need to be knowledgeable of literature in multiculturalism. Also, they need to be cognizant of their beliefs about issues of diversity and how those beliefs affect their actions and practices. Schools need to be places where these issues are discussed openly. It should be a critical component of professional development. Teachers need to become cultural brokers by studying about different ethnic and cultural groups, by having firsthand experiences in actual classroom and cultural communities, and by cross-cultural awareness. It is important to be aware of the cultural contexts that shape not only their own but their students' way of knowing as well (Gay, 1993, Harrington, 1994).

Further, the importance of developing meaningful relationships with students is worth noting. Teachers should not be reluctant to share their own stories with students as one powerful way of connecting with them. Exposure to models for success and successful teaching is essential. The bottom line is that teachers and school leaders need to be advocates of equity and they need to continually teach ways of combating bias and racism. With a majority white teaching force and a growing number of students who are people of color, what better setting for modeling of democratic values. For those teachers who are open to growing in the area of cultural diversity, they are likely to be rewarded by success in the classroom (Ladson-Billings, 1994).


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Banks, J. A. (1994). Transforming the mainstream curriculum. Educational Leadershiip, 51 (8), 4-9.

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Hodgkinson, H. L. (1985). All one system: Demographics of education kindergarten through graduate school. Washington, DC: Institute for Educational Leadership.

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Title Annotation:education policy United States
Author:Jones, Helen
Publication:Journal of Instructional Psychology
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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