Reflection: How does differentiating instruction address the goals of a transformative multicultural learning environment?

James A. Banks (2010) gives a summary of multicultural education thus.

Multicultural education is an idea stating that all students, regardless of the groups to which they belong, such as those related to gender, ethnicity, race, culture, language, social class, religion, or exceptionality, should experience educational equality in the schools. Some students, because of their particular characteristics, have a better chance to succeed in school as it is currently structured than students from other groups. Multicultural education is also a reform movement designed to bring about a transformation of the school so that students from both genders and from diverse cultural, language, and ethnic groups will have an equal chance to experience school success. Multicultural education views the school as a social system that consists of highly interrelated parts and variables. Therefore, in order to transform the school to bring about educational equality, all major components of the school must be substantially charged. A focus on any one variable in the school, such as the formalized curriculum, will not implement multicultural education. (Banks, 2010, p. 25)

To wit, a truly transformative multicultural learning environment is not achieved merely by changing a few lesson plans.  Instead, instruction must be thoroughly differentiated and attitudes and equity-favoring perceptions must spill over from the classroom so that even the whole school culture is changed.  In particular, this reflection examines how differentiated instruction (D.I.) addresses each of the dimensions of multicultural education, in Figure 1.4 below (Banks 2010, p. 23)


As Banks notes, differentiated instruction is often and erroneously limited to just the content integration dimension of multicultural education.  Content integration is a necessary condition of realizing a transformative multicultural learning environment, but it is not sufficient.  The effective teacher daily differentiates instruction via creative content integration.

Differentiated instruction is essential in facilitating “the academic achievement of students from diverse racial, cultural,  gender and social-class groups (Banks, 2010).”  As teachers plan lessons that aim to challenge and maximize the performance of all students, the learning environment is powerfully transformed.  Equity pedagogy is crucial for achieving a truly multicultural education.  A teacher that believes this in their core philosophies:  that all children can learn, that all children can grow, that all children can contribute to society, that teacher is changing the world.

Knowledge construction is a dimension of multicultural education that also can be achieved through differentiating instruction.  In particular, by designing lessons and interactions that allow student to probe their “cultural assumptions, frames of reference, perspectives, and biases (Banks 2010)”, teachers help students build an understanding of other cultures. By creating space for these other voices the learning environment is transformed.

Through modifications of curricula and pedagogical methods, a student’s racial attitudes can be teased out.  This is the prejudice reduction component of multicultural education.  Here again a vigilant teacher can devise exercises which highlight points where biases are being brought to the table and help students work through them.

However, differentiated instruction does not alone build an empowering school culture.  To be sure differentiated instruction is a fundamental part of the school as social system that Banks (2010) describes in Figure 1.5.

Banks 1.5 De-Skewed

For example, it is clearly beyond the scope of an individual teacher to set school policy and politics, or build a counseling program, or foster overall community participation and input.  And it is especially true that differentiated instruction alone will not significantly change those school-wide characteristics.  However, instruction is still the backbone the school social system.  Differentiated instruction is a major part of teaching styles and strategies, formalized curriculum, instructional materials, and assessment and testing procedures, i.e. other foundational parts of the system.  Each teacher can lend their support to buliding an empowering school culture.

Finally, we have briefly examined the characteristics of multicultural education.  We have also discussed how direct instruction can serve to support most of those characteristics.  We have asserted that instructional methods can either move a given school closer to a transformative learning environment or farther away.  There is still work to be done outside the classroom at any given school, but differentiated instruction is a major factor toward reaching the goal of multicultural education.


Banks, J. A. (2010). Multicultural Education: Characteristics and Goals. In J. A. Banks & C. A. M. Banks, (Eds.). Multicultural Education: Issues and Perspectives (7th ed). NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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