Multicultural Instruction

The Case For Multicultural/Diverse Perspective Instruction

The United States is becoming an increasingly pluralistic country. The traditional numerics of “majority” and “minority” are rapidly changing (Hodgkinson, 1985). Many educators, sensitive to the needs of students who must be able to function emotionally and academically in our pluralistic society, recognize the need to expose students to instruction based on multicultural/diverse perspectives – that is to say, instruction that is not limited to an Anglo-American perspective (Duff & Tongchinsub, 1990).

What is Multicultural/Diverse Perspective Instruction?

The United States is becoming an increasingly pluralistic country. The traditional numerics of “majority” and “minority” are rapidly changing (Hodgkinson, 1985). Many educators, sensitive to the needs of students who must be able to function emotionally and academically in our pluralistic society, recognize the need to expose students to instruction based on multicultural/diverse perspectives – that is to say, instruction that is not limited to an Anglo-American perspective (Duff & Tongchinsub, 1990).

According to Banks (1990), multicultural/diverse perspective instruction is comprised of three different and important dimensions. The three dimensions are related to content integration, knowledge construction, and an equity pedagogy. A brief description of each dimension follows:

Content Integration

Sensitive, accurate, and non-biased content representing a variety of cultures and groups should be used to illustrate key concepts, principles, generalizations, and theories.

Knowledge Construction

As students construct knowledge about the content, they must be helped to view concepts, issues, and problems from diverse cultural perspectives. The mainstream-centric perspective is only one of several perspectives from which concepts, issues, or problems are viewed.

An Equity Pedagogy

To ensure equity for all students, teachers must modify their teaching in ways that will facilitate the academic achievement of students from diverse racial, cultural, gender, and social-class groups.

The Role of Multicultural Literature

Appropriate content is one of the major elements of multicultural/diverse perspective instruction (Banks, 1990). Literature, a major carrier of content, is a powerful medium for understanding the world. Young children find it easier to assimilate new information when this information is presented within the structure of a story (Wells, 1986).

Cultural Authenticity

Experts in multicultural education frequently emphasize the importance of using literature to increase cultural awareness (Piper, 1986; Tway, 1989). The literature used should accurately portray the history, customs, values, and language of a particular cultural group (Sims, 1982). Through sharing carefully selected literature, students can learn to understand and to appreciate a literary heritage that comes from many diverse backgrounds (Norton, 1990).

Improves Self-Concept

Students also benefit from reading literature that reflects their own ethnic and cultural background. Such literature can be an important tool in helping all students develop a healthy self-concept – one that is based on a knowledge of and a sense of pride in family background (Hittleman, 1978).

Promotes Understanding Among Cultures

The use of multicultural literature can also extend students’ knowledge about parallel cultures by exposing them to the differences and similarities between their culture and that of other groups (Norton, 1983). These observations, documented in research, support the notion that incorporating multicultural literature into the curriculum can expand students’ awareness and decrease negative stereotyping of individuals from other cultures (Litchner & Johnson, 1973).

Literature can present students with clear contrasts in perspectives and can help them to understand their own cultural heritages and those of others – within and outside the classroom (Rasinski & Padak, 1990).

Strategies To Support Multicultural Instruction

Essential for developing multicultural/diverse perspective learnings is a positive and trusting classroom environment – one in which all students are made to feel welcome, comfortable, and respected. Listed below are several strategies that are particularly useful in promoting multicultural/diverse perspective learnings in such a classroom.

Questioning Styles

Questioning techniques that personally involve students will allow them to respond in a way that reflects their cultural diversity and that will expose their fellow students to those differences (Evans, 1991).


Role-playing is a versatile activity that allows students to express their opinions in a realistic situation. Students can “trade places” with a fellow student or a character from a literature selection (Tiedt & Tiedt, 1990).

Role-playing enables students to express and to examine their attitudes, beliefs, and feelings about prejudice and discrimination. Poetry, biography, and powerful fiction are excellent sources for both discussion and role-playing (Banks, 1989).

Cooperative Learning

Many years of research and practice support the use of cooperative groups to focus on students’ different strengths and styles. In addition, cooperative learning groups have been found to have strong and consistent positive effects on social relationships between culturally different students (Slavin, 1983). Group members become more accepting of classmates who are different.

Exposure to Different Languages Cultures

It is important for students to recognize that English is not the only language spoken in the United States. Students should be exposed to speakers of various and languages. In addition to broadening students’ perspectives by introducing them to different languages, such speakers can also share with students ideas and values from other cultures (Tiedt & Tiedt, 1990).

Group Discussions

Group discussions stimulate thinking. The notion that thinking originates within individuals – and only after that is it ready to be shared socially – has given way to the belief that some of the best thinking results from a group’s collective efforts (Sternberg, 1987). In discussions in which students examine more than one point of view, there is ample opportunity to enrich and refine their understanding by helping them to view their own interpretation in the light of the interpretations of others (Alvermann, 1991).

Active Involvement

Instructional techniques that allow for individual differences and that add a spark of excitement to classroom activities should be used in place of fill-in-the-blank activities. Students should be engaged in listening, speaking, reading, writing, and thinking activities that provide opportunities for them to make decisions and solve problems (Tiedt & Tiedt, 1990).

Values of Multicultural/Diverse Perspective Instruction

Multicultural/diverse perspective instruction prepares all students to live in our pluralistic world and at the same time provides them with solid academic benefits.

Broadens Students’ Views

In schools today, students are rarely given the opportunity to view concepts, events, and issues from more than one perspective, and this perspective is usuallythat of the mainstream group. As a result, students gain only a limited view of the world. When the world is viewed from more than one perspective, students’ views are broadened and they gain insight into their own behavior (Banks, 1989).

Builds Self-Esteem

Studies indicate that there is a direct link between the way students see themselves in the classroom and the way they perform (Rosenthal & Jacobson, 1968). In a multicultural classroom, teachers support their students through the elimination of labeling and through the heightened appreciation of student achievement. A curriculum that prepares students to live in a pluralistic world is particularly beneficial, because such a curriculum enhances individual self-esteem by helping members of various racial and ethnic groups to retain and value their cultural identity (Grant, 1974).

Improves Academic Performance

Classroom experience shows that multicultural/diverse perspective instruction helps students develop problem-solving and higher-order thinking skills. As students learn that there is more than one “right” way to look at an occurrence, more than one valid point of view, more than one appropriate cultural practice, they are also learning to analyze, evaluate, and make judgments.

Building on Home Literacy Experiences

A number of research studies from multiple disciplines demonstrate that students who might be considered “culturally deprived” by some bring to school many language and cultural strengths (Tharp & Gallimore, 1989; Wells, 1986).

Respecting Students’ Home Cultures

Educational programs that spring from the idea of cultural deprivation often show disrespect for students’ home cultures. Educators must recognize that the linguistic forms and cultural values a student brings to school are intimately connected with that student’s loved ones, community, and personal identity. To suggest that what a student brings to school is wrong is to suggest that something is wrong with the student and his or her family (Delpit, 1990).

Building on Experiences Students Bring to School

When we accept children’s knowledge about language, learning, and culture, we not only validate their being, but acknowledge their self-worth. Responsible instruction builds on the language, knowledge, and experiences students bring to school, using them as steppingstones for the development of more complex understandings (Flores, Cousin, & Diaz, 1991).