With the ever-increasing cultural and lingual diversity in the American population, the student population in the country is rapidly becoming culturally diverse (Au, 2008). Despite the diversity, it is the right of every student in the country to get an equitable as well as empowering education. The aim of a good education is to ensure that every student will have an equal opportunity to achieve significant impact in life and career, regardless of his or her social, cultural, ethnic or national backgrounds (August & Hakuta, 2007).
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To provide the students with strong educational backgrounds, literacy teaching must be strong and relevant. Therefore, teachers have the biggest role to play in ensuring that every student obtains equitable and empowering education. The teachers must discover the cultural and lingual diversity by applying knowledge, creativity, diligence, courage and extra effort (August & Hakuta, 2007). They must use their experience and knowledge to discover the cultural and lingual differences and use the information to implement the effective literacy and learning.
According to Derman-Sparks and Edwards (2005), the “Pygmalion effect” is a major phenomenon that occurs because of the impact of cultural and linguistic diversity in the classroom on the implementation of effective literal teaching and learning. It states that the expectations of the teachers of the students, which are communicated verbally or nonverbally, have a significant influence on the behavior as well as the performance of their students. In consequence, the children mirror the expectations of their teachers.
However, various studies indicate that the efforts focused on the need to examine the importance and impact of teacher preparation is minimal. In particular, the efforts focused on the development and implementation of effective literacy teaching and learning skills in multicultural classes are minimal (August & Hakuta, 2007). The existing information regarding the process of teacher education and preparation is relatively limited because most studies in the past placed emphasis on the actual methods through which teachers should achieve positive responses from the students in multicultural and multilingual settings.
The purpose of the proposed research is to explore, examine and analyze the issues and challenges that embed teacher education in the US, paying attention to the obstacles that limit the implementation of effective literacy teaching and learning in a multicultural and/or multilingual classroom (August & Hakuta, 2007). The proposed study will address the problems associated with these obstacles in order to show the appropriate ways through which effective literacy teaching and learning methods can be achieved when attempting to enhance learning and growth in multicultural and multilingual classrooms across the country.
Nichols, Rupley, Webb-Johnson and Tlusty (2004) assert that culturally and linguistically diverse classes are difficult to manage because each student has unique needs. Banks and Banks (2007) state that most students come with different patterns of behavior as well as socialization and experiences that have not been valued in the context of public schools (Au, 2008). This means that the education providers and policy makers are challenged to develop and implement effective ways for meeting the diverse needs of the students in schools (Au, 2008).
Nevertheless, it is important to note that culturally and linguistically diverse students have almost similar learning and reading continuum as monolingual students in the mainstream populations (Au, 2008). Nichols et al (2004) indicates that the major difference between the two groups of students is that the culturally and linguistically diverse students tend to have experiences that are relatively different from the mainstream.
Therefore, Nichols et al (2004) notes that culturally responsive instructions for reading and learning are required to bridge the gap between the two types of students sharing a common class. Moreover, the authors state that culturally responsive instruction must always be consistent with the values of the culture of the students in order to ensure that effective literacy learning is achieved (Barrera, 2002). This calls for an effective teacher adapting of effective instruction system that will meet the learning and literacy needs of every student in culturally and linguistically diverse classes (Au, 2008).
According to Barrera (2002), the teacher training institutions such colleges, schools and departments must assume effective strategies that prepare all teachers to teach in multicultural and multilingual class environments. Studies have shown that most teacher education systems and programs are aware of the need and importance of the increasing cultural and lingual diversity in modern schools, but studies show that mainstream teacher education programs have not been providing teacher education that prepares them to teach and handle culturally and linguistically diverse student populations (Au, 2008).
Therefore, researchers have proposed that unless the US education system endeavors to change the traditional and mainstream teacher training systems and ideologies, it will be difficult to provide an equitable as well as empowering education to all the students because internal contradictions and disparities will continue to affect the multicultural and multilingual classes (Au, 2008).
Information obtained from the Forum on Child and Family statistics indicate that more than 30% of the students enrolled in American elementary and high schools belong to the racial/ethnic and minority backgrounds with cultures and languages different from the mainstream (Birch, 2002). It is predicted that the American population of school-going people will be composed of 45% students of color or other languages/backgrounds apart from the mainstream English speakers by 2020 (Birch, 2002).
In addition, statistical predictions indicate that the group will be the majority by 2035. Currently, elementary and secondary school population in the country is made up of more than 10% of students with languages other than English (Birch, 2002). Therefore, the need to incorporate and implement effective literacy learning and teaching is urgent and increasing every year (Barrera, 2002).
To develop a comprehensive understanding of the best or most appropriate methods that should be used to achieve an effective literacy teaching and learning in a multicultural and multilingual American schools, it is imperative to examine the obstacles that have always made it difficult to achieve such as system (Birch, 2002). In the recent past, the increasing diversity in culture and languages within the American schools has triggered a number of studies that attempt to examine some of the challenges that face policy makers, schools, education providers and teachers in schools serving multicultural and multilingual communities throughout the country (Barrera, 2002).
A major problem that has surfaced in literature from past studies is the provision of an education system based on the traditional ideology of the American social system that favors European American students that speak English as the mother tongue (Au, 2008).
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Students from the historically marginalized societies such as the Hispanics, African-Americans, Latino, Native and Asian American have always been excluded from research and education paradigms that seek to enhance teacher instruction in reading and writing (Birch, 2002).
In fact, studies have shown that the traditional educational programs given to teachers in teacher training colleges have not been placed enough emphasis on the need to incorporate instruction methods that accommodate students from cultures other than mainstream European American culture (Birch, 2002). Studies have further shown this this challenge makes it impossible for the student from other cultures and languages to keep at par with their European American counterparts (Au, 2008).
Secondly, the research paradigms used to examine, assess and describe the academics impact and reading instruction from a cultural point of view have been lacking (Barrera, 2002). Noteworthy, the research on the impact of reading and written instructions on the class outcomes is persistent in the processes used to document how the students from other cultures fall behind the achievements of their European American counterparts (Birch, 2002). Nevertheless, a major challenge is that the research paradigms have always failed to provide adequate assessments of the academic growth as well as development from a culturally diverse perspective.
In America’s education history, teachers have been trained to provide instructions based on the mainstream paradigms that define the socialized behaviors within the academic field (Au, 2008). As described above, the academic field has been structured in a manner that meets the needs of the mainstream European American culture and language. Therefore, the curriculum has been serving the majority society (Birch, 2002).
In particular, the curriculum has always placed an emphasis on reading society’s focus on reading experiences of the students from the middle and upper income families, the whites and mainly the English speaking communities (Barrera, 2002). It also attempts to reflect the academic needs of the European American families with few children, two parents and high economic capabilities as the constant models (Birch, 2002).
Therefore, the curriculum attempts to neglect the reading and writing experiences of students from low-income families, non-English speakers, English as Second Language students, non-European American students as well as those from other cultures in the country (Barrera, 2002). As such, this problem makes it difficult for the implementation of effective literacy teaching and learning in multicultural classrooms (Au, 2008).
It is important to note that effective literature patterns have changed significantly over the last few decades, making it possible for schools to open up to cultures other than the mainstream. However, the slower rate of implementing the changes in the materials available for teachers has always affected the ability of the teachers and schools to meet the needs of the multicultural classes (Au, 2008). Teachers find it difficult to find the appropriate materials needed to provide literal instructions with the capacity to accommodate students from different cultures, which makes the available teaching methods remain biased against those from different cultures and non-English speakers (Au, 2008).
The materials available for teachers to develop instructional strategies fail to address the need for empowering all students to prosper academically because it only focuses on meeting the needs of the European American students and particularly the native English speakers (Barrera, 2002).
Another challenge to the achievement and application of the appropriate literacy teaching and learning methods in multicultural classrooms is the failure to consider the students who are classified as “under risk” for the failure of acquisition and development of reading (Barrera, 2002). Data from various research studies and surveys indicate that most students in this category are found in societies with low socioeconomic conditions, especially in the non-mainstream cultures (Birch, 2002).
While previous efforts have been made to ensure than “at risk” students are accommodated and given the opportunities to acquire reading and writing skills alongside the normal students in the same classroom, the efforts have often failed to consider the “at risk” students from other cultures (Birch, 2002). In fact, studies have shown that most of the past efforts applied to improve reading and writing instructions for the “at risk” students have always focused on the mainstream culture, which discriminates against the “at risk” students from other cultures and lower socioeconomic backgrounds (Birch, 2002).
Summary of the analysis of data obtained from the review of literature
The review of literature has shown that most teachers are unable to implement and use effective instruction for literacy teaching and learning required to meet the needs of multicultural and multilingual students in their classes. The causes of this problem are diverse. They explain challenges that the teachers and education providers face when handling multicultural and multilingual classes (August & Hakuta, 2007).
First, the reviewed literature has shown that the existing education system is oriented towards serving the students from the mainstream culture, that is, the European American and native English speakers (Barrera, 2002). The challenge is significantly bigger because the teachers are graduates of colleges and institutions that have the traditional system of teaching. The review of literature indicates that most teacher training institutions in the US provide teachers with knowledge and skills required to enhance effective literal teaching and learning in homogeneous classes made up of students from the European American background who are also native English speakers (Barrera, 2002).
This makes it difficult for the teachers to apply the skills gained from the colleges to develop effective literal teaching and learning in multicultural classrooms (Au, 2008). In other worlds, the type of skills provided to the teachers in colleges does not provide for the literal needs of the multicultural classrooms (Au, 2008).
Secondly, the reviewed literature indicates that the previous studies and programs used to assess and improve the impact of literal teaching and learning in schools do not consider the diverse nature of the student populations (Au, 2008). There are hardly any efforts made to ensure that the existing programs consider a cultural approach to the provision of materials that meet the literal needs of the multicultural and multilingual student populations.
In addition, the review has shown that the major cause of this problem is the traditional system that has always served the high and middle-income society that is mainly composed of the white European American population (Barrera, 2002). The review shows that history is a major cause of the modern challenges that limit the implementation of literal teaching and learning in multicultural and multilingual classrooms (Barrera, 2002).
For instance, the American curriculum is based on the traditional education system that emphasized on teaching students using perfected American English and focusing on students with the English as the mother tongue. In fact, most teachers and college tutors as well as the curriculum itself have traditionally been made to serve the native English speakers, leaving out the members of other ethnic and cultural groups (Barrera, 2002).
The review has further shown that studies have focused on examining and describing the disparities that the above challenges have created, especially in creating a bias against the non-European American and non-native speakers of English.
Nevertheless, the policy-making bodies in the American education system and the processes applied to enhance literal instructions have always been slow. The review shows that the rate of implementing the changes in the materials available for teachers is slow, despite the dynamic rate of increase in the levels of diversity of cultures in modern schools (August & Hakuta, 2007). Therefore, the available materials are not effective, which affects the ability of the teachers and schools to meet the needs of the multicultural classes.
The review of literature has further shown that the policy makers and education providers have achieved a lot in providing materials and skills to teachers who deal with students in the “at risk” category of acquisition of literal skills. While the efforts have been successful, the review has revealed that the efforts were based on the traditional curriculum that has always served the majority European American and native English speaking population (Barrera, 2002). This means that the teachers are able to help the “at risk” students from the majority background, but neglect those from other cultures and non-English speakers.
Implications of the research
The study suggests a number of solutions to the challenges and obstacles that affect the implementation of the effective literacy teaching and learning in multicultural classrooms (Barrera, 2002). A major strategy for solving the problem is to implement radical changes in the teacher-training curriculum provided in colleges.
In this way, the teacher training methods will be enhanced to ensure that teachers are offered strategies for learning the cultural diversity of their students and identifying the unique needs of the students based on their cultural backgrounds. Teachers will be provided with the additional skills of developing positive attitudes and expectations of their students, which is likely to reflect positive behaviors, responses and the outcomes of literal teaching and learning in a multilingual and multicultural classroom (Barrera, 2002).
Secondly, the existing research paradigms should be changed in order to focus on the problems and challenges that affect the achievement of effective literal teaching and learning in multicultural student populations. To achieve this, the research paradigms should be oriented towards examining and assessing the need for changing the materials available to teachers in order to help them focus on the cultural diversity of their classrooms. It is expected that this change will ensure that the teachers will shift from using the traditional model that focused on the mainstream culture and embrace the cultural and lingual diversity of the modern populations.
This study shows that the existing literal teaching and learning methods applied in schools are problematic and needs urgent attention. It shows that the existing teaching methods as well as research paradigms fail to meet the needs of the multicultural and multilingual classrooms. The study indicates that each student has unique and individual needs for achieving literal capabilities. However, the existing education system, teacher training methods, literal materials available to teachers as well as the research-based evidence do not address the literal needs of the culturally diverse classrooms.
To solve these issues, it has been suggested that the curriculum, research paradigms and teacher training methods should be changed to ensure that teachers use effective teaching methods and develop positive expectations of their students in order to achieve a good method of implementing and using effective literal teaching and learning for multicultural and multilingual classrooms.
Au, K. H. (2008). Social constructivism and the school literacy learning of students of diverse backgrounds. Journal of Literacy Research, 20(2), 297-319.
August, D., & Hakuta, K. (2007). Improving schooling for language-minority children: A research agenda. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
Barrera, R. B. (2002). The cultural gap in literature-based literacy instruction. Education and Urban Society, 24, 227-243.
Birch, B. (2002). English L2 reading: Getting to the bottom. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
Derman-Sparks, L., & Edwards, J. O. (2005). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves. New York: NAEYC.
Nichols, W. D., Rupley, H. R., Webb-Johnson, G., & Tlusty, G. (2004). Teachers role in providing culturally responsive literacy instruction. Reading horizons, 4(1), 254-272.