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Culturally Responsive Education: Cultural Education Through Expeditionary Learning

Diane Demee-Benoit

Former Director of Outreach at Edutopia
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I consider myself multicultural: born in Hong Kong of multicultural parents (a mix of Chinese, Portuguese, French, and Italian). I understand two "native" languages, but only speak one (English). I began my formal schooling in the United States, and I almost didn't "graduate" from kindergarten.

Here's the deal. At the end of my kindergarten year, my mother was called in for a parent-teacher meeting because the school thought I might have a learning disability or a hearing problem. My teacher said I couldn't pass the alphabet test, which is required if you want to graduate from kindergarten.

After some hearing and cognitive tests, and still much confusion about what was wrong, the problem was finally identified! The real problem turned out to be a difference in how British and Americans pronounce the letter "z." I felt my mother knew more than my teacher, so I was going to pronounce "z" my mother's way no matter how many times the teacher tried to correct my pronunciation to her way. Now, this is a rather poor example of cultural misunderstandings, but I do still remember the alphabet debacle from my kindergarten days as being quite stressful.

Forty years later, I don't think most teachers have been prepared any better for dealing with diversity. It's not only the English-language issue; it's also that the differences in sociocultural norms that need to be addressed. Students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are too often erroneously placed in special education classes or deemed "lower achievers" because they learn differently.

The good news is that people are trying to correct the problem. For example, the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRESt), funded by the U.S. Department of Education, grew from collaboration among researchers who were studying trends in special education over time. From that research, they noticed that many more children of color are in special ed and wondered whether this stemmed from problems within the educational system. Guess what?

From the GLEF archives, you'll want to check out these resources about diversity:

This article on learning styles is also helpful.

If you have curriculum, lesson plans, or great Web sites on culturally appropriate education to share, post them. If you have had an experience about diversity that moved you, share what you've learned!

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Comments (5) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Heidi's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Hi - I found your post to be most interesting. I think it is very important for educators to address cultural and social differences in their classrooms. You are right that some students are misdiagnosed, and hopefully more educators will build an awareness for their students.

Leah tharp's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that cultural diversity must be recognized within the classroom, and that recognizing this might lead to a more effective school culture. But in the title it mentioned Expeditionary Learning and I was hoping that you might address how this type of learning might meed the needs of students.

Betty Meng Li's picture
Betty Meng Li
MS & US Chinese and Chinese history teacher from Bronx, New York

Great post! I think cultural diversity is definitely a challenge to, especially American metropolitan schools, where students come from diverse cultural backgrounds. I think the best solution is to recruit teachers with multi-cultural backgrounds, or ones that are receptive to multi-cultural backgrounds. Professional Development can focus on informing teachers of cultural diversity and international issues.

I also find that even with similar cultural backgrounds, the diversity of learning styles among different students is another issues to tackle with. One solution I have found is to ask my high school students to fill out self-evalutions about themselves. I find it helpful because from their self-evalutions, I can learn what kind of learners they are, so that I can understand them better and adjust accordingly.

Pinar's picture

The structure of our school, specifically beginning every day with a Crew Meeting, allows the students to appreciate their capacity for academic and social learning and helps them realize that they belong to a larger school community. The common language of ELAMS provides students with clear expectations across grade levels and prepares them for success beyond the classroom walls

AnnMGW's picture

Diversity Can Benefit All
I have found your blog quite informative and I have endorsed the idea that educators should strive towards meeting the needs for culturally and linguistically diverse students. Diversity has created a vivacious mixture of cultural, ethnic, linguistic, social conditions, and political circumstances. In the 21st century learning environment, schools need to effectively manage diversity to triumph over new challenges. The implementation of Responsive education in schools alienates inequalities and discrimination in education. Students will feel welcome, secure, and will be enthusiastic to learn in a unified learning environment. Through teachers' attitude and expectation, culturally responsive education can be effective in schools. As educators, we are obliged to respond to the challenges that accompany the emerging ethnic and racial diversity. It is necessary for teachers to comprehend the real world of their students and families. Teachers we have to be culturally aware but, at the same time, we should avoid oversimplifying and stereotyping students. Teachers can achieve this when students and their families are given a legitimate voice when schools policies are being created. When parents are included, they can share information on their culture which can be beneficial to the teaching and learning process.

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