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Book Review: Diversity & Motivation: Culturally Responsive Teaching

Raymond J. Wlodkowski and Margery B. Ginsberg. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1995.
Reviewed by Bill Murad, TRC Teaching + Technology Support Partner, Department of Classics

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Increasing diversity in student populations has undoubtedly enriched the modern American university experience. Wlodkowski and Ginsberg find it altogether more disturbing, therefore, that traditional teaching methods persist even though they fail to resonate in today’s diverse classrooms. To rectify the situation, they aim to provide teachers at US post-secondary institutions with a motivational framework for “culturally responsive teaching.” The authors establish a methodology based on criteria rather than rules and on intrinsic motivation to learn rather than extrinsic rewards or punishment. They therefore promote a flexible and accepting teaching method in keeping with the needs of today’s diverse student body.

The heart of the book consists of four chapters that highlight the guiding principles of culturally responsive pedagogy: “Establishing Inclusion,” “Developing Attitude,” “Enhancing Meaning,” and “Engendering Competence.” The authors expect that teachers will have to rework many of their basic attitudes and concepts in order to incorporate the norms, procedures, and structures associated with these principles. The good news, however, is that most of the techniques suggested for accommodating classroom diversity follow principles that are now widely advocated for effective teaching. The guidelines include, for example,

  • course contracts and group dynamics to establish inclusion
  • collaborative and cooperative learning techniques to help develop tolerance of alternative viewpoints
  • concept maps and critical thinking exercises to enhance meaning for diverse students
  • self-assessment and focused feedback to engender competence.

Teaching methods generally recognized as successful in a traditional classroom setting can also be adapted to diverse classroom compositions, and this book clearly shows how.

The most original contributions of the book, though, lie in its detailed prescriptions for multiple approaches to course topics and in its treatment of potential resistance both from traditional teachers and traditional learners. All of the advice given by the authors requires learners to accept more responsibility and teachers to share their authority in all classroom areas, including course construction, assignments, and grading (a system they propose to revamp thoroughly). The book offers a plethora of concrete classroom examples, sample syllabi, sample learning contracts, and advice for difficult situations. Wlodkowski and Ginsberg address issues such as how a teacher can quell a racially-based class outburst, or how teachers with serious demands on their time can accommodate a student’s desire for individual attention. The book also includes four appendices, called “resources,” that contain sample narrative grading forms, a cooperative lesson worksheet, and advice for including non-native speakers of English into lectures and discussions. A vast majority of these examples and resources, however, are drawn from the social sciences; teachers in other areas might find it difficult to apply them to their disciplines. Also, more work might have been done in analyzing how the recommended methods might interact with cultural assumptions and prejudices of different regions and states within the US. Instead, the “dominant” American culture is treated as uniform and “European-American.” These issues do not detract, however, from the overall value of the book: Wlodkowski and Ginsberg successfully establish a workable system for managing and getting the most out of diversity in the classroom; and while reading I frequently jotted down ideas for my own teaching.