By Julie Z. Russo 


 Whether it’s from the perspective of a buffalo, a self-portrait in art class, or a 13th century poem recited in English class, teachers and students are using imaginative, multicultural experiences to learn more about themselves, their peers, and the world. 

  With multicultural practices and art leading the way, studies show that students of diverse cultural, ethnic, racial, and socioeconomic backgrounds benefit from sharing their individual experiences and learning about the varied experiences of their peers. Practicing this school culture on a regular basis includes an understanding of the five dimensions of multicultural education as defined by James Banks, followed by ways to integrate art in the curriculum as defined by Emily Style. 

  The following set of questions can be used by teachers to understand these dimensions along with examples of how an English Languages Arts (ELA) teacher might apply multicultural practices. Teachers might approach this as a checklist that they can review throughout the semester to determine progress or room for improvement.  

1.      Content Integration: Am I using content (concepts, generalizations, theories) that illustrate a variety of cultures and perspectives? 

Example: When studying literature, the teacher would discuss not only the dominant cultural traditions within a particular book, but the impact of socioeconomic status on the lives of the characters in this period. The teacher would refer to cultural traditions outside of the dominant faith, as well as the origin of superstitions, and how these beliefs defined the lives of characters. 

2.     The Knowledge Construction Process: To what extent do I advance and communicate information that enables students to construct knowledge knowing the origin of these assumptions, beliefs, ideas, and cultural and historic content so that students are able to distinguish between majority stories/beliefs and alternative belief systems?  

Example: Participation in multiculturalism at school often begins and ends with a holiday celebration. Thanksgiving is a prime example. Western expansionism of the Americas is often taught from the perspective of Puritans and white European settlers while the experience and contributions of the indigenous people of the Americas is minimized. The ELA teacher would lead students in group activities to research and share their knowledge about the diverse tribal nations in the U.S. prior to the settling of America. Another idea would be to view expansionism from the perspective of the American buffalo sacred to Native Americans and hunted to near extinction by colonists. (Jen Holladay, 2013 TED talk) 

3.     Prejudice Reduction: To what extent am I and my colleagues at school reducing racial differentiation by modifying teaching practices and curriculum to create more democratic perspectives? 

Example:  Multiethnic literature and the teaching of democratic values are shown to have a positive impact on intergroup relations. The ELA teacher shares a documentary about student immigrants to the U.S. and the difficulties that they’ve experienced assimilating in their school culture in order to heighten sensitivity by classmates about some of the challenges they feel. 

4.     Equity Pedagogy: Am I drawing on the linguistic and cultural strengths and learning styles of diverse classroom participants? 

Example: The teacher understands through study, practice, and observation the ways that knowledge is transmitted in specific cultures. With this knowledge, the teacher creates classroom curriculum to support the individual learning styles of students. The ELA teacher would use cooperative group learning to support knowledge construction when analyzing concepts and themes within a young adult fiction novel or create diverse assessments that appeal to the strengths of diverse learners. 

5.     Empowering School Culture: Are multicultural practices extending beyond my classroom to schoolwide practices by administration and staff to create an equitable culture? 

Example: In this holistic model of systemic school reform, the school community including parents and care givers advances policies based on student achievement, anti-bias, and anti-discrimination. To create a more culturally responsive school, students help in the cafeteria, provide support to administration in terms of office duties, work on the school grounds, or promote student fundraising to raise equity in the larger community. 

6.     Advancing Knowledge through the Arts: Am I using art in my ELA classroom to promote observation, sensitivity, and philosophical discussions? 

Like Banks, Emily Style, co-founder of the National SEED Project (Seeking Educational Equity and Diversity) believes in integrating multicultural perspectives in the ELA curriculum in order that students learn to appreciate, analyze, and interpret diverse perspectives. 


Example: Style uses the simile of “windows and mirrors” to describe curriculum that enable students to understand their peers, the world, and themselves through multisensory perception in order to acknowledge the subjectivity of truth. She integrates the arts, particularly music, painting, poetry, and fiction to explore race, identity, and culture from the perspective of ecology, gender studies, and minorities.


“You are not a drop in the ocean. You are the entire ocean in a drop,” said the 13th century poetry Rumi.  Students who analyze and recite poetry like this examine not only their self-worth, expanding on their vision of themselves, but recognize broader truths about fellow humankind. 




Banks, J.A. (1995). “Multicultural education: historic education development, dimensions and practice” in Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education. New York. NY: Macmillan. 

Style, E. (1988). “Listening for all voices.” Summit, N.J.: Oak Knoll School Monograph.