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MEETING THE CHALLENGE OF TEACHING IN CULTURALLY AND
LINGUISTICALLY DIVERSE SETTINGS: REFLECTIONS ON A CENTER'S PROGRESS
by Deborah Short and Anna Whitcher
The National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and
Second Language Learning will be completing its fifth year of
research and dissemination in December 1995. Over the last five
years, the Center has conducted research that has revealed
innovative practices and approaches for teaching linguistically
and culturally diverse students. Much of the research has focused
on instructional approaches that capitalize on the way children
learn; the knowledge, expectations, language, and cultural
resources children bring to school; and the kinds of learning
situations that facilitate second language acquisition and engage
students actively in academic subjects. Center researchers have
also investigated school reform efforts with special attention to
their impact on school organization and teaching and learning in
The Center's contributions to the field of education have
been extensive and instrumental in advancing the most recent and
innovative educational theories and effective practices for
teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students. We have
taken the lead in refocusing the debate from the "pros and cons"
of bilingual education to the identification and implementation
of comprehensive educational programs of excellence for diverse
students tailored to local school conditions and needs. Through
our research projects and outreach and dissemination activities,
substantial information about new ways of thinking and teaching
has spread to a broad audience of educators, researchers, and
Housed on the University of California, Santa Cruz (UCSC)
campus, the Center works in collaboration with the Linguistic
Minority Research Institute (a multi-campus institution of the
University of California), the Center for Applied Linguistics
(CAL) in Washington, DC, and the Technical Education Research
Center (TERC) in Cambridge, MA. The Center has also collaborated
with various technical centers and teacher training institutes to
facilitate study tasks and dissemination practices.
Center research projects have been clustered around five
themes related to the education of culturally and linguistically
diverse children, namely, (1) the acquisition of literacy, (2)
the influence of home and community, (3) instructional
approaches, (4) content area instruction, and (5) alternative
assessment. The studies have focused on the interconnection of
language development, academic achievement, and cultural
background. Much of the research has been founded on
sociocultural theory, which emphasizes the social and cultural
aspects of learning and calls for a constructivist approach to
meaning-making. Through the work conducted by the researchers,
language learning principles and teaching techniques have been
extracted for educators to use in culturally and linguistically
Several Center studies have examined the acquisition of
literacy in young children. Particular focus has been placed on
the efforts of caretakers to socialize students into an
educational process through activities such as learning to read,
investigating scientific phenomena, completing homework
assignments, and problem solving (Duranti & Ochs, 1995; Scarcella
& Chin, 1993). Research indicates that many young children
receive assistance from "capable others," often family members
who guide the children in their cognitive growth.
For schools, this research implies that learning is a
socially negotiated process, and teachers need to be aware that
children from linguistically and culturally diverse homes may
approach learning in ways that are not concurrent with
traditional curricula and teaching methods.
The importance of understanding the home and cultural
backgrounds of students is a major Center concern. As students
enter schools in the United States, they must adjust to different
cultural contexts; yet, they benefit from having their cultures
and values respected by their teachers. In our studies, we have
tried to determine ways to mediate the differences between home
and school cultures, drawing from the strengths of both to create
active learning environments for the students.
In one study, teachers visited their students' homes as
ethnographers and anthropologists to collect information about
the accumulated knowledge base, or "funds of knowledge," present
in each household. By incorporating the knowledge they gathered,
teachers were able to develop curriculum units on
household-related topics, such as animal husbandry, candy-making
and marketing, and building construction (Gonzalez et al., 1993).
In another study, researchers compared Mexican-American and
European-American households, looking specifically at parental
aspirations for their children, chore assignments, and homework
assistance. Out of this study came the recommendation that to
promote home-school partnerships, teachers and parents should
interact more regularly and collaborate to set expectations for
student behavior and learning activities. This will enable
students to transfer skills learned in the household context to
the classroom setting (Azmitia et al., 1994).
Several Center studies have been conducted to identify
exemplary practices and approaches for teaching culturally and
linguistically diverse students. One innovative and promising
program model is two-way (or developmental) bilingual education.
Researchers have defined, illustrated, and analyzed how students
develop dual language proficiency and acquire a deeper
appreciation of two cultures by being in a classroom -- usually
comprised of half native speakers of English and half native
speakers of another language -- that follows the regular academic
curriculum (Cazabon, Lambert, & Hall, 1993; Christian, 1994;
Lambert & Cazabon, 1994).
In another project, an "untracking" program was studied that
provides social and academic support to minority secondary school
students who follow a college preparation course of study.
Students take a special class that provides academic guidance in
areas such as study skills, and coaches them through the college
application process.They are also taught explicitly about the
implicit culture of the classroom and the hidden curriculum of
the school. Nearly 88% of students who graduate from this program
enroll in college (Mehan et al., 1992; Mehan, et al., 1994).
Several instructional approaches, including the
instructional conversation and cooperative learning, have been
the focus of Center research. The instructional conversation (IC)
is a dialogue -- focused on a topic that has meaning and
relevance for the learners -- in which "teachers and students are
responsive to what others say, so that each statement or
contribution builds upon, challenges, or extends a previous one"
(Goldenberg, 1991, p.3). The teacher guides the dialogue to meet
the emerging understanding of the learners. This approach mirrors
natural teaching found in homes and communities and contrasts
with the recitation model, where the teacher typically initiates
an interaction by asking a question, the student responds, and
the teacher evaluates the response. Studies have been conducted
in elementary and middle school language arts and mathematics
classes with native English-speaking, Spanish-speaking, and
Zuni-speaking students (Dalton & Sison, 1995; Echevarria &
McDonough, 1993; Goldenberg, 1991; Rueda, Goldenberg, &
Gallimore, 1992; Tharp & Gallimore, 1991; Tharp & Yamauchi,
In cooperative learning, students work collaboratively in
small groups on tasks that require both the cooperation and
interdependence of all members of the group. One study looked at
the role of conversation in cooperative learning groups, and how
the children's control of two languages enters into the group
processes. The study illustrates how students in group work "use
two different conversational strategies to achieve a working
collaboration in the production of shared answers and in which
their bilingual ability serves as a special communicative
resource" (Gumperz & Cook-Gumperz, 1994).
The integration of language and content instruction has also
been an important focus of Center research. Studies have
illustrated various designs and implementation procedures for
programs that encourage development of discourse-rich classrooms
that involve the systematic planning of language skill
development with content area objectives. One example includes
scientific "sense-making" seventh and eighth grade Haitian
bilingual classrooms. This project explored ways teachers could
promote scientific discourse among students, including developing
the students' argumentation skills, and used a collaborative
inquiry approach so students would participate in scientific
investigations to construct meaning (Rosebery, Warren, & Conant,
1992; Warren & Rosebery, 1995).
Center studies also examined two other areas of the
curriculum: mathematics and social studies. In these projects,
thematic instruction was viewed as a means for promoting student
language growth and conceptual knowledge. Use of thematic
instruction was coupled with hands-on activities to increase
student motivation and to address different learning styles. In
both studies, project teachers participated with researchers to
co-develop curricular units that reflected effective
instructional techniques (Henderson & Landesman, 1992; Short,
Center studies have looked at non-traditional ways of
assessing student progress. One study examined the use of
portfolios -- samples of student work that are used to show
student progress -- with emergent literacy students,
demonstrating how portfolios are effective tools for measuring
student literacy growth in English and Spanish (Rueda & Garcia,
1995). Another study looked at the relationship between teachers'
professional backgrounds and their beliefs and practices for
assessing language minority students, specifically the reading
assessment practices used by a bilingual credentialed teacher, a
special education teacher, and a bilingual waivered teacher
(Rueda & Garcia, 1994). A third study focused on informal ways of
assessing students' knowledge of academic language (Solomon &
Rhodes, in press), and a fourth looked at reading comprehension
and reasoning skills of secondary students who plan to enroll in
college (Duran, Revlin, & Havill, 1995). These studies revolve
around the search to identify promising approaches for assessing
students who are learning English but must demonstrate their
content knowledge through English-medium assessments.
Over the past five years, the Center's work has given
direction to emerging themes in the education of linguistically
and culturally diverse students. Several of these have been
addressed above: the use of instructional conversation to foster
student involvement and critical thinking in classroom discussion
and language learning; the integration of language and content
instruction, especially for secondary school students who must
master the content areas in time to graduate from high school;
and the implementation of instructional programs of excellence
that facilitate not only learning a second language, but also
promote the social and academic achievement of diverse students.
One theme that has come to the forefront during the five
years of Center investigation is the effect of school change on
linguistically and culturally diverse students. In one study, the
Center found a number of exemplary elementary and middle schools
that are trying to enact reform. These schools have successfully
implemented innovative approaches to teaching students with
limited proficiency in English, while respecting their cultural
backgrounds (Berman et al., 1995). At a more local level,
researchers have documented the progress of a southern California
elementary school through its change process. The study found
that involving teachers in the decision-making process is the
first step to ensuring that meaningful change will take place.
Even if teachers support recommendations for change, they must
ultimately feel connected to the goals that are being set and
must be kept involved for several years as school reorganization
and changes to teaching practices occur (Goldenberg & Sullivan,
Another theme is the home-school connection. As an outgrowth
of several individual projects, recommendations for creating
home-school partnerships emerged so parents and teachers could
learn to work together in ways that would be most beneficial to
the children. These studies revealed that the education of
linguistically and culturally diverse children can be improved by
increasing communication between parents and teachers and by
capitalizing on resources that already exist in the home. The
research also indicated how schools can help parents identify
resources that are already available to them for developing
knowledge in their children. Such resources include family
members who may possess knowledge they can impart to the
children; books, magazines, recipes, and other literature in
English or the native language that can support reading in the
home; and quiet areas of the house with a functional workspace
The impact of the Center has stretched across many fields,
including education, linguistics, sociology, anthropology,
psychology, foreign language, English as a second language, and
more. Reflecting a sociocultural approach, researchers have
approached their work from these multiple perspectives and have
demonstrated their dedication to investigating, developing, and
evaluating practices related to home and school cultures,
teacher-student interaction, and systematic reform.
One of the more prominent goals of the Center has been to
provide teachers, researchers, and other educators with
information and materials that will enable them to better serve
their language minority students. Through the dissemination of
its research reports, educational practice reports, conference
proceedings, newsletters, curriculum units, ERIC Digests, and
other materials, the Center has attempted to reach various
sectors of American society.
Center researchers have met with practitioners, researchers,
and policy makers in several face-to-face venues to discuss
findings from the studies. Presentations about the research have
occurred at national, regional, and state professional
conferences, and researchers have participated in professional
development activities sponsored by local school systems and
universities. Moreover, the Center sponsored one invitational
conference on the special concerns of secondary immigrant
students (see Olsen & Minicucci, 1993) and a summer institute
that showcased Center research projects (see Montone, 1995).
Finally, the Center has prepared a teacher training video
series, Meeting the Challenge of Linguistically Diverse Students,
that uses a documentary style to highlight real, effective
programs and instructional practices for teaching bilingual and
While the Center has been able to make some insightful
recommendations for improving the education of culturally and
linguistically diverse students, it has opened many more lines of
inquiry. Further research is needed in several areas, three of
which will be mentioned briefly.
First, the area of professional development needs close
examination. We have learned much about what works for language
minority students in the classroom, but we have not yet learned
the best means for training teachers to implement and maintain
these practices. Nor have we uncovered the best ways to ensure
that teachers are able to familiarize themselves with the various
cultural and linguistic backgrounds of their students, so they
will be more effective in conducting their classes and
interacting with parents. One model worth pursuing, however, is
found in the funds of knowledge project, where teachers are
trained to be ethnographers with an anthropological perspective.
Second, additional research is needed in the area of
home-school collaboration. Strategies need to be developed that
will enable teachers and administrators to approach the parents
of culturally and linguistically diverse students in a way that
facilitates their involvement in the learning process, yet
respects the cultural values and ways of learning found in the
households. At the same time, research needs to discover ways
parents can gain access to more information about school culture,
so they can use this knowledge to meet the needs of their
A third area is the development of district-based
comprehensive school plans for students. One aspect of this
involves articulation across grade levels, particularly the
transitions from elementary to middle school, middle to high
school, and high school to postsecondary opportunities. Two-way
bilingual programs found at the elementary level, for instance,
need guarantees that joint language and academic content learning
opportunities will be available at the secondary level in both
languages. Additional research is needed on how this type of
articulation can best be accomplished. Another aspect concerns
assessment. Standardized tests alone are not sufficient to
determine the growth and achievement of culturally and
linguistically diverse students. Standardized test scores should
not act as the sole gatekeepers for these students, isolating
them from academically rigorous courses or gifted and talented
programs. However, what measurement tools districts should
endorse is a question that needs to be answered.
And so, as the five years of the Center come to a close,
much has been learned, yet much remains to be investigated before
we can ensure that linguistically and culturally diverse students
can participate in equitable and effective educational programs
and achieve success in school and beyond. The diversity of
languages and cultures studied, along with the varieties of
instructional settings examined, have proven beneficial to the
overall picture of schooling for these students. Now, however,
we must find ways to implement effective practices more widely
across the United States.
Berman, P., Minicucci, C., McLaughlin, B., Nelson, B., Woodworth,
K. (1995). School reform and student diversity: Case studies of
exemplary practices for LEP students. Washington, DC: National
Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.
The references in this section were all published by the National
Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language
Learning, Santa Cruz, CA and Washington, DC.
Azmitia, M., Cooper, C.K., Garcia, E.E., Ittel, A., Johanson, B.,
Lopez E., Martinez-Chavez, R., & Rivera, L. (1994). Links between
home and school among low-income Mexican-American and
European-American families (Educational Practice Rep. No. 9).
Cazabon, M., Lambert, W., & Hall, G. (1993). Two-way bilingual
education: A progress report on the Amigos program
(Research Rep. No. 7).
Christian, D. (1994). Two-way bilingual education: Students
learning through two languages (Educational Practice Rep. No.
Dalton, S., & Sison, J. (1995). Enacting instructional
conversation with Spanish-speaking students in middle school
mathematics (Research Rep. No. 12).
Duran, R., Revlin, R., & Havill, D. (1995). Verbal comprehension
and reasoning skills of Latino high school students (Research
Rep. No. 13).
Duranti, A., & Ochs, E. (1995, Winter). Syncretic literacy in a
Somoan American community. Focus on Diversity, v5, p1-2.
Echevarria, J., & McDonough, R. (1993). Instructional
conversations in special education settings: Issues and
accommodations (Educational Practice Rep. No. 7).
Goldenberg, C. (1991). Instructional conversations and their
classroom application (Educational Practice Rep. No. 2).
Goldenberg, C., & Sullivan, J. (1994). Making change happen: The
search for coherence (Educational Practice Rep. No. 13).
Gonzalez, N., Moll, L.C., Floyd-Tenery, M., Rivera, A., Rendon,
P., Gonzales, R., &Amanti, C. (1993). Teacher research on funds
of knowledge: Learning from households (Educational Practice Rep.
Gumperz, J., & Cook-Gumperz, J. (1994, June 1). Project showcase.
Henderson, R., & Landesman, E. (1992). Mathematics and middle
school students of Mexican descent: The effects of thematically
integrated instruction (Research Rep. No. 5).
Lambert, W., & Cazabon, M. (1994). Students' views of the
Amigos program (Research Rep. No. 11).
Mehan, H., Datnow, A., Bratton, E., Tellez, C., Friedlaender, D.,
& Ngo, T. (1992). Untracking and college enrollment (Research
Rep. No. 4).
Mehan, H., Hubbard, L., Lintz, A., & Villanueva, I. (1994).
Tracking untracking: The consequences of placing low track
students in high track classes (Research Report No. 10).
Montone, C. (Ed.). (1995). Teaching linguistically and culturally
diverse learners: Effective programs and practices.
Olsen, L., & Minicucci, C., (Eds.). (1993). Educating students
from immigrant families: Meeting the challenge in secondary
Rosebery, A.S., Warren, B., & Conant, F.R. (1992). Appropriating
scientific discourse: Findings from language minority classrooms
(Research Rep. No. 3).
Rueda, R., & Garcia, E. (1994). Teachers' beliefs about reading
assessment with Latino language minority students (Research Rep.
Rueda, R., & Garcia, E. (1995, February 1). Project showcase.
Rueda, R., Goldenberg, C., & Gallimore, R. (1992). Rating
instructional conversations: A guide (Educational Practice Rep.
Scarcella, R., & Chin, K. (1993). Literacy practices in two
Korean-American communities (Research Rep. No. 8).
Short, D. (1994). Integrating language and culture in middle
school American history classes (Educational Practice Rep. No.
Solomon, J., & Rhodes, N. (in press). Conceptualizing academic
language (Research Rep. No. 15).
Tharp, R.G. , & Gallimore, R. (1991). Instructional conversation:
Teaching and learning in social activity (Research Rep. No. 2).
Tharp, R.G., & Yamauchi, L.A. (1994). Effective instructional
conversation in Native American classrooms (Educational Prac-tice
Rep. No. 10).
Warren, B., & Rosebery, A. (1995). "This question is just too,
too easy!" Perspectives from the classroom on accountability in
science (Research Rep. No. 14).
ERIC/CLL announces the availability of two new publications. The
first, "From the Classroom to the Community: A Fifteen-Year
Experiment in Refugee Education," describes the unique
educational program established in 1980 for U.S.-bound refugees
in Southest Asia, focusing on native language literacy, parent
involvement in their children's education, and integrating
educational and social services for young adults. The book is
available from Delta Systems, Inc., 1400 Miller Pkwy., McHenry,
IL 60050, telephone 800-323-8270. (144 pages, $14.95)
The second publication, "K–8 Foreign Language Assessment: A
Bibiligraphy," describes foreign language assessment instruments
currently in use in elementary and middle schools across the
country, and includes information on availability, grade level,
intended use (e.g., placement, achievement), skills tested, cost,
length, format, and materials needed. The bibliography is
available from ERIC/CLL, 4646 40th Street NW, Washington, DC 20016-1859, telephone 800-276-9834. Pre-payment is required. (150
In the March 1995 issue of the ERIC/CLL News Bulletin, we
included an ERIC Internet Survey to solicit feedback from our
readers about whether they had ever tried to access ERIC
electronically and what their impressions were of using ERIC via
Respondents to the survey ranged from K–12 teachers to
college professors, graduate students, librarians, and
researchers. Of those respondents, fewer than half reported using
ERIC via the Internet. Most of those who had were college
professors and graduate students. Many of the respondents who had
not used ERIC electronically cited not having access to the
Internet as a reason, while a number of others did not know it
was possible to search ERIC over the Internet. Both groups,
however, expressed enthusiasm about the possibility of using ERIC
Among those respondents who had searched ERIC
electronically, there was overwhelming consensus that ERIC was
easy to locate on the Internet and fairly easy to use, although
one respondent did write, "I like ERIC and wish it were easier to
access on the Internet." Several suggestions were made on how to
make it easier to use ERIC via the Internet, including providing
search tips and step-by-step instructions, offering training
workshops, and making ERIC easier to find by bypassing menu
screens. The main difficulties cited in using the system
electronically were the screen sometimes freezing and slowness.
Another problem revealed by several users, although not directly
related to electronic media, was difficulty with the search
A number of different systems had been used by respondents,
with Syracuse and America-on-line being the most common. The
majority of respondents located ERIC by browsing, or "surfing,"
while a number of others learned about it from a university
professor, a colleague, or staff development program.
The possibility of an ERIC/CLL gopher or Worldwide Web site
prompted much enthusiasm, with only two respondents declaring
they would be unlikely to use either. It should be noted that
almost all of the respondents who said they had never used ERIC
on the Internet said they would use a gopher or Wordwide Web site
if they had access.
In response to our question about what kinds of information
and materials you would like to see available through a gopher or
web site, most respondents suggested ERIC Digests, full-text ERIC
documents, and this newsletter. One respondent did make the
following request: "Please don't stop publishing the newsletter
in paper format. I don't have unlimited access to the Internet
computers and can take the paper copy home."
Only about 20 respondents reported ever having used AskERIC.
Most of them learned about it from AskERIC mailings, staff
development programs, or browsing the Internet. Most received
responses within 24 hours, although one respondent noted never
receiving a response. The perception of a reasonable turnaround
time for an AskERIC response ranged from "immediately" to "a week
to 10 days," with "24 hours" being the most popular response.
Most recipients were happy with their responses, which came from
either AskERIC alone, or from both AskERIC and an ERIC
clearinghouse. Most received searches of the database, full-text
digests, or referrals. There were no suggestions for improving
the service. (See the section below, What Is Ask ERIC? for a
description of the AskERIC service.) Only two respondents
reported ever having used the AskERIC Virtual Library, with one
making the suggestion that the digests should be downloaded in a
more timely manner.
Overall, the survey provided us with very positive feedback:
First, because it looks as if we are on the right track in
developing the kinds of services that would be useful to you, and
second, because it has given us ideas about what we can do to
make use of ERIC via the Internet easier for you. We very much
appreciate those of you who took the time to fill out and return
the survey form and urge you to continue providing us with
suggestions about how we can improve the ERIC system.
AskERIC is an Internet-based question-answering service for
teachers, library media specialists, administrators, and others
involved in education. The hallmark of AskERIC is the human
intermediary, who interacts with the information seeker and
personally selects and delivers information resources within 48
hours. The benefit of the human-mediated service is that it
allows AskERIC staff to determine the precise information needs
of the client and to present an array of relevant resources, both
from the ERIC system and from the vast resources of the Internet.
Anyone with an education-related question may send an e-mail
inquiry via the Internet to AskERIC. Simply address your message
TESOL is looking for contributions to a new publication, "New
Ways in Teaching English at the Secondary Level." If you have
exciting techniques to share for English as a second or foreign
language, please contact Deborah Short, CAL, 4646 40th Street NW, Washington,
DC 20016-1859, 202-362-0700 for submission guidelines.
Deadline is December 1995.
This publication was prepared with funding from the Office of
Educational Research and Improvement, U.S. Department of
Education, under contract no. RR93002010. The opinions expressed
herein do not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of
OERI or ED.