ERIC Identifier: ED333622
Publication Date: 1991-05-00
Author: Cummins, Jim
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Handicapped and Gifted Children
Empowering Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
with Learning Problems. ERIC Digest #E500.
A positive attitude and a positive self-concept are necessary ingredients
for achieving maximum learning potential. A program that accepts and respects
the language and culture of its students empowers them to feel confident
enough to risk getting involved in the learning process, which includes
making mistakes. This digest describes ways in which professionals who
work with culturally and linguistically diverse students with disabilities
can create such an educational climate.
INCORPORATE MINORITY STUDENTS' LANGUAGE AND CULTURE INTO THE SCHOOL
The extent to which their language and culture are incorporated into
the school program is significantly related to students' academic success
(Campos & Keatinge, 1988: Cummins, 1984, 1989; Willig, 1985). In programs
in which minority students' first-language skills are strongly reinforced,
the students tend to be more successful. Students' English skills do not
suffer as a result of less English instruction because there is considerable
transfer of cognitive and academic skills across languages. Thus, students
who have learned to read in Spanish in a bilingual program do not have
to learn to read all over again when instruction begins in English (Ada,
1988). Educators who see their role as adding a second language and cultural
affiliation to students' repertoires are likely to empower them more than
those who see their role as replacing or subtracting students' primary
language and culture in the process of fostering their assimilation into
the dominant culture.
The following is a list of ways schools can create a climate that is
welcoming to minority families and, at the same time, promotes children's
pride in their linguistic talents (New Zealand Department of Education,
1988, p. 14):
* Reflect the various cultural groups in the school district by providing
signs in the main office and elsewhere that welcome people in the different
languages of the community.
* Encourage students to use their first language around the school.
* Provide opportunities for students from the same ethnic group to communicate
with one another in their first language where possible (e.g., in cooperative
learning groups on at least some occasions).
* Recruit people who can tutor students in their first language. Provide
books written in the various languages in classrooms and the school library.
* Incorporate greetings and information in the various languages in
newsletters and other official school communications.
* Provide bilingual and/or multilingual signs.
* Display pictures and objects of the various cultures represented at
* Create units of work that incorporate other languages in addition
to the school language.
* Encourage students to write contributions in their first language
for school newspapers and magazines.
* Provide opportunities for students to study their first language in
elective subjects and/or in extracurricular clubs.
* Encourage parents to help in the classroom, library, playground, and
* Invite students to use their first language during assemblies, prizegivings,
and other official functions.
* Invite people from minority groups to act as resource people and to
speak to students in both formal and informal settings.
ENCOURAGE MINORITY COMMUNITY PARTICIPATION AS AN INTEGRAL COMPONENT
OF CHILDREN'S EDUCATION.
When educators involve parents from minority groups as partners in their
children's education, the parents appear to develop a sense of efficacy
that communicates itself to their children and has positive academic consequences.
Most parents of children from minority groups have high academic aspirations
for their children and want to be involved in promoting their academic
progress (Wong Fillmore, 1983). However, they often do not know how to
help their children academically, and they are excluded from participation
by the school. Dramatic changes in children's school progress can be realized
when educators take the initiative to change this exclusionary pattern
to one of collaboration. A collaborative orientation may require a willingness
on the part of the teacher to work closely with teachers or aides proficient
in the mother tongue in order to communicate effectively and in a noncondescending
way with parents from minority groups (Ada, 1988).
ALLOW STUDENTS TO BECOME ACTIVE GENERATORS OF THEIR OWN KNOWLEDGE.
There are two major orientations in pedagogy: the transmission model
and the interactive/experiential model. These differ in the extent to which
the teacher retains exclusive control over classroom interaction as opposed
to sharing some of this control with students. The basic premise of the
transmission model is that the teacher's task is to impart knowledge or
skills to students who do not yet have these skills. This implies that
the teacher initiates and controls the interaction, constantly orienting
it toward the achievement of instructional objectives.
A central tenet of the interactive/experiential model is that talking
and writing are means to learning (Bullock Report, 1975, p. 50). Its major
characteristics, as compared to a transmission model, are as follows:
* Genuine dialogue between student and teacher in both oral and written
* Guidance and facilitation rather than control of student learning
by the teacher.
* Encouragement of student-student talk in a collaborative learning
* Encouragement of meaningful language use by students rather than correctness
of surface forms.
* Conscious integration of language use and development with all curricular
content rather than teaching language and other content as isolated subjects.
* A focus on developing higher level cognitive skills rather than factual
* Task presentation that generates intrinsic rather than extrinsic motivation.
* Student involvement in curriculum planning, teaching students to understand
In short, pedagogical approaches that empower students encourage them
to assume greater control over setting their own learning goals and collaborate
actively with each other in achieving these goals. The instruction is automatically
culture-fair in that all students are actively involved in expressing,
sharing, and amplifying their experiences within the classroom. Recent
research on effective teaching strategies for bilingual students with disabilities
supports the adoption of interactive/experiential models of pedagogy (Swedo,
1987; Willig, Swedo, & Ortiz, 1987).
USE AN ADVOCACY ORIENTATION IN THE ASSESSMENT PROCESS.
Recent studies suggest that despite the appearance of change brought
about by legislation such as Public Law 94-142, the Education for All Handicapped
Children Act of 1975, psychologists continue to test children until they
find the disability that could be invoked to explain the student's apparent
academic difficulties (Mehan, Hertweck, & Meihls, 1986). What is required
to reverse the so-called legitimizing function of assessment can be termed
an advocacy orientation. To challenge the labeling of students from minority
groups as disabled, assessment must focus on (a) the extent to which children's
language and culture are incorporated into the school program, (b) the
extent to which educators collaborate with parents in a shared enterprise,
and (c) the extent to which children are encouraged to use both their first
and second languages actively in the classroom to amplify their experiences
in interaction with other children and adults. It is essential that assessment
go beyond psychoeducational considerations and take into account the child's
entire learning environment.
In summary, an advocacy approach to assessment of children from minority
groups involves identifying the pathology that exists in the power relations
between dominant and dominated groups in society, in the reflection of
these power relations in the interactions of schools and communities, and
in the mental and cultural disabling of students from minority groups that
takes place in classrooms.
The major goal of the intervention model discussed here is to prevent
academic casualties among students from minority groups. The principles
of empowerment pedagogy are equally applicable to all programs for students
from minority groups, regardless of whether they are designated bilingual
education, bilingual special education, or some other form of program.
In fact, students from minority groups who are experiencing learning difficulties
and have been referred for special education have a particular need for
empowerment pedagogy and can benefit considerably from such approaches
Ada, A. F. (1988). Creative reading: A relevant methodology for language
minority children. In L.M. Malave (Ed.), NABE '87: Theory, research and
application: Selected papers (pp. 223-238). Buffalo: State University of
Bullock Report. (1975). A language for life: Report of the Committee
of Inquiry appointed by the Secretary of State for Education and Science
under the chairmanship of Sir Alan Bullock. London: HMSO.
Campos, J., & Keatinge, R. (1988). The Carpinteria language minority
student experience: From theory, to practice, to success. In T. Skutnabb-Kangas
& J. Cummins (Eds.), Minority education: From shame to struggle (pp.
299-307). Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters.
Cummins, J. (1984). Bilingualism and special education: Issues in assessment
and pedagogy. Clevedon, England: Multilingual Matters. Co-published in
the United States by College-Hill Press, San Diego.
Cummins, J. (1989). Empowering minority students. Sacramento: California
Association for Bilingual Education.
Mehan, H., Hertweck, A., & Meihls, J. L. (1986). Handicapping the
handicapped: Decision making in students' educational careers. Palo Alto:
Stanford University Press.
New Zealand Department of Education. (1988). New voices: Second language
learning and teaching: A handbook for primary teachers. Wellington: Department
Swedo, J. (1987, Fall). Effective teaching strategies for handicapped
limited English proficient students. Bilingual Special Education Newsletter,
Willig, A. C. (1985). A meta-analysis of selected studies on the effectiveness
of bilingual education. Review of Educational Research, 55, 269-317. EJ
Willig, A. C., Swedo, J. J., & Ortiz, A. A. (1987). Characteristics
of teaching strategies which result in high task engagement for exceptional
limited English proficient Hispanic students. Austin: University of Texas,
Handicapped Minority Research Institute on Language Proficiency.
Wong Fillmore, L. (1983) The language learner as an individual: Implications
of research on individual differences for the ESL teacher. In M. A. Clarue
& J. Handscombe (Eds.), On TESOL 1982: Pacific perspectives on language
learning and teaching (pp. 157-171). Washington, DC: TESOL.
This digest is based on A Theoretical Framework for Bilingual Special
Education by Jim Cummins (Exceptional Children, October 9, Vol. 56, No.
2, pp. 111-119. EJ 399079).
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