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Empowering Culturally and Linguistically(Note: A translation of this digest is available in Spanish.)
The ERIC Clearinghouse on Disabilities and Gifted Education
ERIC EC Digest #E500
Author: Jim Cummins
A positive attitude and a positive self-concept are necessary
ingredients for achieving maximum learning potential. A program
accepts and respects the language and culture of its students
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
linguistically diverse students with disabilities can create such
Incorporate Minority Students' Language and Culture into
The extent to which their language and culture are incorporated
the school program is significantly related to students' academic
success (Campos & Keatinge, 1988: Cummins, 1984, 1989; Willig,
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
instruction because there is considerable transfer of cognitive
academic skills across languages. Thus, students who have
read in Spanish in a bilingual program do not have to learn to
all over again when instruction begins in English (Ada, 1988).
Educators who see their role as adding a second language and
affiliation to students' repertoires are likely to empower them
than those who see their role as replacing or subtracting
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
welcoming to minority families and, at the same time, promotes
children's pride in their linguistic talents (New Zealand
of Education, 1988, p. 14):
- Reflect the various cultural groups in the school district
providing signs in the main office and elsewhere that welcome
in the different languages of the community.
- Encourage students to use their first language around the
- Provide opportunities for students from the same ethnic
communicate with one another in their first language where
(e.g., in cooperative learning groups on at least some
- Recruit people who can tutor students in their first
Provide books written in the various languages in classrooms and
- Incorporate greetings and information in the various
newsletters and other official school communications.
- Provide bilingual and/or multilingual signs.
- Display pictures and objects of the various cultures
- Create units of work that incorporate other languages in
the school language.
- Encourage students to write contributions in their first
for school newspapers and magazines.
- Provide opportunities for students to study their first
elective subjects and/or in extracurricular clubs.
- Encourage parents to help in the classroom, library,
- Invite students to use their first language during
prizegivings, and other official functions.
- Invite people from minority groups to act as resource people
speak to students in both formal and informal settings.
Encourage Minority Community Participation as an Integral
When educators involve parents from minority groups as partners
their children's education, the parents appear to develop a sense
efficacy that communicates itself to their children and has
academic consequences. Most parents of children from minority
have high academic aspirations for their children and want to be
involved in promoting their academic progress (Wong Fillmore,
However, they often do not know how to help their children
academically, and they are excluded from participation by the
Dramatic changes in children's school progress can be realized
educators take the initiative to change this exclusionary pattern
one of collaboration. A collaborative orientation may require a
willingness on the part of the teacher to work closely with
or aides proficient in the mother tongue in order to communicate
effectively and in a noncondescending way with parents from
groups (Ada, 1988).
Allow Students to Become Active Generators of Their Own
There are two major orientations in pedagogy: the transmission
and the interactive/experiential model. These differ in the
which the teacher retains exclusive control over classroom
as opposed to sharing some of this control with students. The
premise of the transmission model is that the teacher's task is
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
A central tenet of the interactive/experiential model is that
and writing are means to learning (Bullock Report, 1975, p. 50).
major characteristics, as compared to a transmission model, are
- Genuine dialogue between student and teacher in both oral
- Guidance and facilitation rather than control of student
- Encouragement of student-student talk in a collaborative
- Encouragement of meaningful language use by students rather
correctness of surface forms.
- Conscious integration of language use and development with
curricular content rather than teaching language and other
- A focus on developing higher level cognitive skills rather
- Task presentation that generates intrinsic rather than
- Student involvement in curriculum planning, teaching
understand learning styles.
In short, pedagogical approaches that empower students encourage
to assume greater control over setting their own learning goals
collaborate actively with each other in achieving these goals.
instruction is automatically culture-fair in that all students
actively involved in expressing, sharing, and amplifying their
experiences within the classroom. Recent research on effective
teaching strategies for bilingual students with disabilities
the adoption of interactive/experiential models of pedagogy
1987; Willig, Swedo, & Ortiz, 1987).
Use an Advocacy Orientation in the Assessment
Recent studies suggest that despite the appearance of change
about by legislation such as Public Law 94-142, the Education for
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,
& 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
children's language and culture are incorporated into the school
program, (b) the extent to which educators collaborate with
a shared enterprise, and (c) the extent to which children are
encouraged to use both their first and second languages actively
the classroom to amplify their experiences in interaction with
children and adults. It is essential that assessment go beyond
psychoeducational considerations and take into account the
entire learning environment.
In summary, an advocacy approach to assessment of children from
minority groups involves identifying the pathology that exists in
power relations between dominant and dominated groups in society,
the reflection of these power relations in the interactions of
and communities, and in the mental and cultural disabling of
from minority groups that takes place in classrooms.
The major goal of the intervention model discussed here is to
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
are designated bilingual education, bilingual special education,
some other form of program. In fact, students from minority
are experiencing learning difficulties and have been referred for
special education have a particular need for empowerment pedagogy
can benefit considerably from such approaches (Swedo, 1987).
Ada, A. F. (1988). Creative reading: A relevant methodology for
language minority children. In L.M. Malave (Ed.), NABE '87:
research and application: Selected papers (pp. 223-238). Buffalo:
State University of New York.
Bullock Report. (1975). A language for life: Report of the
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
student experience: From theory, to practice, to success. In T.
Skutnabb-Kangas & J. Cummins (Eds.), Minority education: From
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
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.
Alto: Stanford University Press.
New Zealand Department of Education. (1988). New voices: Second
language learning and teaching: A handbook for primary teachers.
Wellington: Department of Education.
Swedo, J. (1987, Fall). Effective teaching strategies for
limited English proficient students. Bilingual Special Education
Newsletter, 6, 1-5.
Willig, A. C. (1985). A meta-analysis of selected studies on the
effectiveness of bilingual education. Review of Educational
55, 269-317. EJ 324690.
Willig, A. C., Swedo, J. J., & Ortiz, A. A. (1987).
teaching strategies which result in high task engagement for
exceptional limited English proficient Hispanic students. Austin:
University of Texas, Handicapped Minority Research Institute on
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.
Washington, DC: TESOL.
This digest is based on A Theoretical Framework for Bilingual
Education by Jim Cummins (Exceptional Children, October 9, Vol.
No. 2, pp. 111-119. EJ 399079).
ERIC Digests are in the public domain
and may be freely
disseminated, but please acknowledge your source. This
publication was prepared with
funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Office of
Educational Research and
Improvement, under Contract No. RI88062207. The opinions
expressed in this report do
not necessarily reflect the positions or policies of OERI or the
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