Addressing Cultural Diversity in the Classroom

Cultural Diversity is increasing in today’s schools and classrooms. “By (the year) 2020, almost half of the U.S. school population will consist of members of non-Caucasian cultural groups.” (Kauchak, p. 85) This “vibrant mixture of cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and experiential plurality (will have) profound implications for developing instructional programs at all levels of education that respond positively and constructively to cultural diversity.” (Gay, p. 30) One of the greatest challenges for teachers in this era is how to modify the curriculum to meet student needs in relation to culture.

As a teacher in a culturally diverse classroom I would enhance my cultural sensitivity, shape the curriculum so that it is culturally responsive to my students, and use cooperative, learner centered instruction. These practices, along with many others, are important for “making explicit connections between multicultural education and subject-and skill-based curriculum.” (Gay, p. 31)

Enhancing cultural sensitivity is the first step to accommodating students from diverse cultures in the classroom. “Cultural sensitivity requires that teachers interpret their students’ behaviors within the cultural context of the student.” (The Knowledge Loom) Knowing the nuances and customs of a particular culture in addition to the artifacts of the culture is key to developing cultural sensitivity. Hispanic adolescent girls view their mother’s sister as a role model in their life, so getting to know “aunty” as well as the parents would be tantamount to understanding such a student.(Ferrari) Asian cultures typically value a collectivist orientation which values family or group needs over individual ones so the Asian student who may appear shy to the uninformed teacher may be expressing a cultural mind set by not wanting to call attention to himself or otherwise diminish the abilities of classmates. (Feldman, p. 376) This specific knowledge would help in modifying curriculum for these two student examples. Knowing the cultural background of my students and developing my cultural sensitivity will be a crucial part of teaching in the classroom.

Teaching content is the ultimate result we as teachers must achieve; framing the content within the curriculum so that it is culturally responsive to the students in the classroom will ultimately make it more relevant. As a High School English Teacher, I would introduce literature including “equitable representations of diversity” (Gay, p. 33) within my school community to give the literary content more meaning for my students. A good story about another culture can oftentimes be the most engaging to the reader and far more relevant than many of the “classics.” Students’ self esteem can be boosted by culturally responsive curriculum as well. (Ferrari) Keeping the different cultures within the “familiar and friendly framework” (Gay, p. 33) of the curriculum will more likely hold the students’ interest, enhance their self esteem regarding their culture and make them better students.

Cooperative, learner centered instruction is an approach I plan to use in my curriculum and it has even more relevance in the culturally diverse classroom. “Teaching content about the cultures and contributions of many ethnic groups and by using a variety of teaching techniques that are culturally responsive to different ethnic learning styles (will help) to equalize learning advantages and disadvantages among the different ethnic groups in the classroom.” (Gay, p. 33-34) Cooperative learning is “a teaching strategy that consists of students working together in small groups so that everyone can participate in a clearly assigned task.” (Kauchak, p. 424) This teaching strategy could help students who may not possess academic language skills by helping them to “overcome reluctance to speak out in class and speak more freely about content with their peers.” (The Knowledge Loom) Having students work together in small groups can also bring peer tutoring into play so students within an ethnic group who have a higher level of language skills can assist their peers in content and expression. Pragmatically speaking, this teaching style gives more individual attention to all students and will be more likely to actively involve them in the learning process.

The challenges teachers will face in the increasingly diverse society we have in the U.S. today will require the use of many more than three best practices to accommodate students. A culturally diverse curriculum is a necessity no matter who is sitting at the desks. The world our children will enter when they leave school will be smaller, more complex and infinitely more diverse than it is today. Students who are taught to respect and be curious about culture will ultimately develop a better understanding of the cultural differences that exist around them. This will help them to be better citizens and more productive members of society as a whole. Teachers and students need to embrace diversity. Professional, reflective practitioners need to lead the way by ensuring all students learn the appropriate content within the context of their own culture and American culture as a whole. We must always ask: “what kinds of human beings we would like to have and to be in the future.” (Gardner, p. 2)


Kauchak, Donald P. & Eggen, Paul D., Introduction to teaching: becoming a professional 2nd ed, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2005

Gay, Geneva, The Importance of Multicultural Education, Educational Leadership, December 2003/January 2004, pp. 30-35

The Knowledge Loom, Content Presented By: The Education Alliance at Brown University, References:
Banks, J.A., McGee, B., & Cherry, A. (2001). Multicultural education: Issues & perspectives (4th Ed.). John Wiley & Sons, Inc.
Nieto, S. (1999). The light in their eyes: Creating multicultural learning opportunities. New York: Teachers College.
Villegas, A. M. (1991). Culturally responsive pedagogy for the 1990’s & beyond. ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education, Washington, DC.
Williams, B. (1996). Closing the achievement gap. Virginia: ASCD

Ferrari, Robert D., Visiting Instructor in the Department of Graduate Education at Framingham State College, ideas taken from various lectures and conversations.

Feldman, Robert S., Development across the life span, 4th ed., Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006

Gardner, Howard, Beyond the herd mentality: the minds we truly need in the future, Education Week, September 2006