New Teacher Advocate — KDP New Teacher Advocate Fall 2015
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CREATE Harmony In Your Culturally Diverse Class
Nichole Wangsgard


Today’s diverse classroom is like a symphony orchestra equipped with 25 kinds of instruments played by 25 different professional musicians. Just like the symphony, students in today’s diverse classroom will come from various cultural and linguistic backgrounds. The perfect sound of a symphony is created after the conductor understands and attends to each musician’s needs and strengths. Like a conductor creates beautiful music, you can CREATE harmony in your culturally diverse class if you teach in a culturally responsive manner, taking the time to understand and attend to each student’s needs and strengths. Culturally responsive teachers use cultural knowledge, prior experiences, performance styles, and the frames of references of their diverse learners as means for teaching them more effectively.

Culturally diverse learners are students who have life experiences, cultural knowledge, and sometimes languages that differ from their peers and teachers (Bennett, 2014). Culturally competent teachers have the disposition, attitudes, knowledge, skills, and resources necessary to ensure high levels of personal development and learning for each of their culturally diverse learners.

Becoming a culturally competent and responsive teacher is an endeavor that new teachers can begin on day one with these six tips which become the acronym CREATE:

Connect with each student personally. A conductor gets to know each musician by listening as they play their instruments. This allows the musicians to show the conductor what they are capable of creating as individuals and with a collective group. Just like a conductor, you can take a seat and allow yourself to be “schooled” by your students. In other words, allow your students to tell you who they are, what they are interested in, and what they want to accomplish so you can design instruction that is more relevant.

Respect every student. When a conductor stands in front of the symphony orchestra, he or she nurtures the sound of each instrument regardless of their musical history. Like a conductor, it is important to respect every student regardless of your own personal beliefs or prior experiences. The social norms and tendencies of a culturally diverse class are highly influenced by ethnic, linguistic, social, and socioeconomic backgrounds. Your students will study your reactions and behaviors as you learn about their backgrounds. Always show respect and learn appropriate verbal and nonverbal communication behaviors such as language, gestures, and body language.

Engage students in the learning. Musicians are active participants in the symphony orchestra as they play their instruments. Encourage students to become active participants. Teach them how to control and shape their own learning, just like musicians shape the sound of their instruments. An active, engaged learning environment combines instruction with problem-based authentic learning questions and activities. Inspire culturally diverse students to become actively involved. For example, allow students to create a poem, dance, or rap song to illustrate their understanding of particular content.

Assess understanding. When a conductor leads an orchestra, he or she is there to provide timely feedback, which helps the musicians make adjustments. Like a conductor, watch, listen, and check in as much as possible so you can remediate and create modifications. Assess informally and formally daily and be prepared to re-teach or provide more opportunities to practice.

Teach to their learning styles. Conductors are willing to adjust their style if the musician does not respond. Like a conductor, you can learn to be flexible and teach in a variety of ways. For example, students may have a more interactive learning style, rather than an analytical questioning style. They tend to process information differently from the way it is often presented in school settings (Bennett, 2014). Knowledge of learning styles provides insights that will help you adjust your interactions and instructional approaches.

Empower students through choice. Musicians did not become professionals on their own. They chose the instrument and, slowly, through the help of others, developed competence and gained courage to invest more time into music. You can empower students by giving them decision-making power in the area of curriculum. Giving students the power to choose a project topic, materials, or theme of a unit creates a sense of ownership and a strong sense of empowerment as a result of their progress. Empowerment translates into competence, personal confidence, and the courage to take risks (Bennett, 2014).

Culturally competent and responsive teaching will develop when you follow these six tips. Like a conductor, you can CREATE beautiful harmony in your culturally diverse classroom as you lead each of your students to success.


Bennett, C. I. (2014). Comprehensive multicultural education: Theory and practice (8th ed.). Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon.

Dr. Wangsgard, a frequent contributor to the NTA, was a classroom teacher for 16 years. She is an Associate Professor at Utah Valley University, where she is developing a special education major with a minor in autism studies and opening the first universitybased center for autism in Utah. Her research interests include autism, literacy, and applied behavior analysis.