*Before reading the article, please take a moment to review this caution statement: It is important, when speaking about any group of people, to keep certain cautions and principles in mind.  Please read carefully the numbered items found next.

Cautions to Observe when Considering Cultural Influences on Learning Style, Behavioral Patterns, and Value Orientations.

Discussing “cultural differences” and the influences of one’s heritage on learning style preferences, behavior patterns, and deeply-held values is fraught with hazards.  At any moment, we are just a few syllables away from inflicting verbal self-injury and perhaps unintentionally alienating ourselves from those with whom we wish to connect.  In order to prevent stereotyping and overgeneralizing (or on the other extreme, denying that cultural differences exist which fails to recognize and honor the characteristics that give a group their sense of peoplehood) we need to remember that:

1. All behaviors are found in all cultural groups.

2. Some behaviors are demonstrated more so in some cultures than in others, but the first point still applies.

3. Individuals within a particular culture display the traditional traits and cultural markers of that group to varying degrees… from “not at all” to “exclusively and intensely”.  These variations can be due to ethnic group differences with the larger culture, socio-economic status, degree of acculturation to the mainstream society, gender, religion, and myriad other factors.

4. If a student displays a behavior that is common and accepted within his/her cultural group, it should be viewed as “a difference” from the ways of the mainstream society that are promoted in the schools; NOT as a “deficiency” or “disorder”.


 Does the Way We Teach
 Create Behavior Disorders
 In Culturally Different Students?


 Youngsters from non-mainstream cultural groups often possess cognitive styles that differ from those promoted in the schools.  This mismatch can lead to misunderstandings, and culturally inappropriate interaction, assessment, instruction, or discipline.  Underachievement, poor self esteem, and misbehavior can result.  These pupils may end up in special education programs, either because of mislabeling or because educators have "created" a learning disability or emotional and/or behavioral disorder.  How this phenomenon occurs and how it can be prevented is addressed.

     Cognitive style, the way that we acquire, process, and display information, varies from person to person (Dunn & Griggs, 1990; Fernandez, 1992).  Individuals approach problems in different ways, ask different questions, and ask those questions differently.  Despite our individuality, commonalities in cognitive patterns tend to exist within and differ between cultures (Anderson, 1988; Grant & Sleeter, 1989; Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994; Phillips, 1983; Ramirez & Castaneda, 1974; Reid, 1987; Willis, 1993), gender (Grant & Sleeter, 1989; Tannen, 1990), socio-economic class (Bijou, 1983; Gollnick & Chinn, 1990), and language (Banks & Banks, 1993; Cooper, 1980; Education Week, 3/31/93; Lasky, 1994; Reid, 1987) with diversity found within each group.  Disabilities can also affect cognitive style (Grant & Sleeter, 1989), but contrarily, can one's cognitive style be misinterpreted as a learning or behavioral disability?  Could failure to match our teaching style to a student's culturally determined ways of learning, knowing, and expressing actually create an emotional and/or behavioral problem?  The answer to both questions could very well be "Yes" (McIntyre, 1992a; McIntyre 1996a; Park, Pullis, Reilly & Townsend, 1994; Rueda & Forness, 1994; Sue, 1988; Sugai, 1989).

Overview of Culture and Cognitive Style
     Cognitive style, as used here, refers to the ways in which one acquires, processes/analyzes, and displays knowledge.  It encompasses more than just "learning style" which typically refers to the first and second components of cognitive style (Hainer, Fagan, Bratt, Baker, & Arnold, 1990).  "Cognitive style" also includes any factors or "behaviors" related to, affecting, or stemming from the learning process.  This broad definition of cognitive style will be explored more in depth later.

    Increasingly, culture, language, and social factors are being recognized as having an impact on learning (Hainer, Fagan, Bratt, Baker, & Arnold, 1990; McIntyre, 1996a; Tharp, 1989).  Indeed, culture is a major, if not the primary factor affecting the development of cognitive style (Brodzinsky, 1985; Education Letter, 1988; Garcia & Malkin, 1993; Shade & New, 1993).  Cognitive patterns depend, to a large extent, on which ones have been modeled and reinforced by childrearing practices (Anderson, 1988; Banks & Banks, 1993; Fennema & Peterson, 1987; Garcia & Malkin, 1993; Hale, 1982; Philips, 1983; Shade, 1982); practices that commonly vary by culture (Anderson, 1988; Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994; McIntyre, 1992b; Philips, 1983).

    Upon entering school, students attempt to gather and process incoming information via strategies that have been rewarded previously in similar situations (Anderson, 1988; Jenkins, 1982; Smith, 1993).  If their culturally determined processing procedures are incompatible with the required cognitive style of the task, dysfunction (e.g., cognitive and emotional conflict, poor academic performance, and low self esteem) can result (Baruth & Manning, 1992; McIntyre, 1996a; Vogt, Jordan, & Tharp, 1987).  Unfortunately, the instructional methods typically used in educational settings are often incompatible with the cognitive styles and experiences of culturally and linguistically different students (Anderson, 1988; Focal Point, 1988; Franklin, 1992; Ishii- Jordan & Peterson, 1994; McIntyre, 1996a; Vasquez, 1990).
 Schools typically promote a style of cognition consistent with that of the European American cultural group (Anderson, 1988; Brislin, 1993; Hilliard, 1988; McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre, 1996a; Tharp, 1989; Tharp, 1995).  Given that culturally different students are most often taught information in a European-American context and presentational style that is frequently opposed to their preferred manner of learning (Dean, Salend & Taylor, 1993), it is no surprise then that minority culture pupils commonly fail to learn as well as majority culture learners (Anderson, 1988; Franklin, 1992).  Indeed, cognitive style differences may explain, to a large extent, the overrepresentation of culturally different learners in special education classrooms, including those for students with behavior disorders (McIntyre, 1993; Rueda & Forness, 1994).  Inappropriate referrals might be reduced if educational programs were designed around students' innate cognitive styles (Hoernicke, Kallam, & Tablada, 1994).\

Categorizing Cognitive Styles
 There are many ways to classify preferred ways of learning, processing, and displaying knowledge.  One of the most common systems of differentiating cognitive styles is on a continuum from field-independent to field-sensitive/dependent (Anderson, 1988; Dunn & Griggs, 1990; Harry, 1992; Ramirez, 1988).  While these two types of learners do not differ significantly in cognitive ability, intelligence, or memory, they do differ in the strategies and types of material they incorporate most easily (Anderson, 1988; Harry, 1992; Ruble & Nakamura, 1972; Witkin, Moore, Goodenough, & Cox, 1977).

     European-Americans, who tend to be field independent (Anderson, 1988; Banks & Banks, 1993; Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994), are better able to perceive elements as discrete from their background (Anderson, 1988), and extract specific information from the surrounding "field" (Brislin, 1993).  They tend to be motivated by the intrinsic appeal of activities (Diaz, 1989), rather than the opinions of others (Anderson, 1988).  Their style also involves a more impersonal, analytic, rational and reason-bound thought process than field sensitive individuals who typically include emotion and intuition in their thinking and decision making (Anderson, 1988; Grossman & Grossman, 1994).  Independents do best on analytic tasks and are better able to learn impersonal material (Anderson, 1988). They prefer to receive background information (e.g., history, theory) before application or practice, while most culturally different youngsters prefer practice and experimentation previous to theoretical or conceptual discussion (Anderson, 1988).

    Because most teachers tend to be field-independent (LeCompte, 1981; Ramirez & Casteneda, 1974), most schools cultivate the field independent style of learning (Anderson, 1988; Curriculum Update, 1993).  North American educators typically promote individualized work, personal achievement, and competition between students.  Tasks typically require organizing a project (eg. math problem, essay writing) into sequential component parts or steps (Brislin, 1993).  Their task oriented, less interpersonal style meshes well with that of field-independent students, primarily European American and Asian Americans (Anderson, 1988; Gollnick & Chinn, 1990; Curriculum Update, 1993), who work well alone on assignments and projects.

    However, the typical teaching style found in North American schools conflicts with the preferred manner of learning of field dependent children (Anderson, 1988; Curriculum Update, 1993; Harry, 1992).  This style is more common among culturally different pupils (Cummins, 1984; Ramirez, 1988; Ruiz, 1989; Trueba, 1988), being prominent among African-Americans (Banks & Banks, 1993; Gay, 1985; Gilmore, 1985; Ogbu, 1984), Arab-Americans (Nydell, 1987), Hispanic-Americans (Anderson, 1988; Banks & Banks, 1993; Diaz, 1989; Grossman, 1984; Grossman, 1990; Ho, 1992), Native Americans (Utley, 1983), and a subgroup of Asian Americans that includes Laotian and Cambodian Hmong immigrants (Hvitfeldt, 1986).

    Field-dependent individuals attend to the total context in which they find information (Brislin, 1993), perceiving elements as a part of a total picture (Anderson, 1988).  Their holistic thinking pattern, with its emphasis on synthesis into a whole, makes them less able to screen out distractors and unrelated information (Banks & Banks, 1993; Brislin, 1993).

    In comparison with field independent youngsters, field dependent pupils tend to be more group oriented (Harry, 1992; Park, Pullis, Reilly, & Townsend, 1994), more proficient at summarizing group consensus after hearing many individual positions put forward (Brislin, 1993), and are more sensitive to the needs and reactions of others (Anderson, 1988; Witkin, Dyk, Faterson, Goodenough & Karp, 1962).  These youngsters typically possess more adept social skills in dealing with diverse groups of individuals (Brislin, 1993).  They tend to be less competitive with their peers, and more sensitive to the reactions of significant adults (Park, Pullis, Reilly, & Townsend, 1994).  Indeed, their performance is greatly influenced by the teachers' expression of confidence or doubt in their ability (Anderson, 1988).  However, due to mismatches between teaching and learning styles, they may receive fewer positive affirmations from their teachers.  Field dependent youngsters do best on verbal tasks, especially those that involve material which involves human social content, humor, or fantasy (Anderson, 1988).

Relationship of Cognitive Style to Disabilities
     Culturally and linguistically different children are oftentimes misclassified as having a disability when none exists (Anderson, 1992; Argulewicz & Sanchez, 1983; Ford, 1992; Gersten & Woodward, 1994; Harry, 1992; McIntyre, 1994; Obiakor, 1992).  Differences in cognitive style between teachers and students may result in learners being perceived as less competent than they truly are (Anderson, 1988; Gollnick & Chinn, 1990; Harry, 1992).  This perception, combined with the commonly found cultural bias in assessment (Gollnick & Chinn, 1990; Obiakor, 1992; Patton, 1992; Sugai, 1988; Taylor, 1984), can result in youngsters from culturally different households being labeled as behavior disordered (Anderson, 1992; McIntyre, 1995; McIntyre, 1996b; Rueda & Forness, 1994), mentally retarded (Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994), or learning disabled (Overton, 1992) when they are not.

    Other evidence of how culturally different cognitive styles are not recognized or addressed is found in the failure of typical assessment practices to recognize giftedness in many pupils from culturally different backgrounds (Kitano & Kirby, 1986; Patton, 1992).  Our profession's lack of ability in assessing cultural- based behaviors versus true behavioral disorders can result in inappropriate referral and placement (McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre, 1995; McIntyre, 1996b).

    As a result of the frequently found mismatch between teaching practices and culturally based cognitive styles, teachers oftentimes cause emotional distress in students and create much of the "misbehavior" about which they complain (McIntyre, 1992a; McIntyre, 1996a).  This happens in a number of ways (McIntyre, 1996a): an atypical cognitive style might be misinterpreted as being misbehavior, bringing about a teacher's disciplinary reaction that results in defiant behavior as students rebel against what they view to be unjustified chastisement; academic failure due to culturally incompatible instruction and discipline can negatively affect students' self esteem; and/or due to frustration in their attempts to learn, students might exhibit defensive behaviors (e.g., refusing to work, destroying products) in an attempt to prevent continued failure and the further lowering of their self esteem.

    In the above scenarios, the teacher and student are at risk of plunging headlong into a destructive interactional "whirlpool" of sorts, and dragging each other deeper into its educationally deadly depths.  This phenomenon is diagrammed in Figure 1.  It is hoped that this model of conceptualization will spur investigations and commentary based on it, and provide substantive answers to lingering questions about the effects of contrasting cognitive styles.

Click on the box below to view the "Cultural Currents" ("whirlpool phenomenon") diagram


     Consider the following disadvantageous cultural interplays that can result in the "whirlpool phenomenon".  First, as mentioned previously, the individualistic and competitive environment of the standard classroom works against the more cooperative cognitive style common among Hispanics, African Americans, and Native Americans.  Yet, how can this result in teacher-perceived "misbehavior"?  While displaying their culture's helpfulness or generosity, students may assist their peers or allow them to copy answers, not viewing this as "cheating" (Grossman, 1984), as does a teacher from a culture promoting competition and independence.  If criticized for this "sharing" behavior in front of their peers, or made to compete rather than cooperate, these pupils may rebel against such treatment, or withdraw from further attempts to succeed in school or relate to their teachers in a positive manner (Grossman, 1990; McIntyre, 1992a).  Because these field dependent learners also tend to seek, and be more sensitive to, the reactions of people in their "field" or life (Banks & Banks, 1993; McIntyre, 1996a), depending on their reaction to the situation, these Latino, Black, and American Indian pupils are at risk for being labeled by majority culture teachers as "overly sensitive", "overly dependent", or "needing excessive adult approval" (Garcia & Malkin, 1993; McIntyre 1996a).

    The whirlpool phenomenon can also result in another way. Historically, certain cultures have not been served well by society and its institutions (Foster, 1986; McIntyre, 1992a; McIntyre, 1993; Ogbu, 1990; Quality Education for Minorities, 1990; Sosa, 1990).  As a result, these groups often place pressure on their members not to succeed in "White" settings, including schools (Ferguson & Jackson, 1990; Fordham & Ogbu, 1986: Gregory, 1992; Ogbu, 1990; McIntyre, 1993).  Few teachers realize that African- American, Mexican-American, Native American, and Native Hawaiian youth are often under great pressure from their peers not to achieve in school (Gregory, 1992; Gollnick & Chinn, 1990; Hanna, 1988; McIntyre, 1996b; Ogbu, 1990).

    Because these youngsters frequently feel alienated from their schools and teachers, misbehavior is often a strategy of resistance to the institutional pressure to think and act "White" (Fordham, 1988; Gibson, 1988; Gregory, 1992; McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre 1996a; Ogbu, 1988; Ogbu, 1990; Quality Education for Minorities, 1990).  If these cultural concerns and pressures are not addressed in a proactive, positive, and culturally sensitive manner, educators may discipline these students in ways that exacerbate the culturally promoted rejection of school that often results in referral for behavior disorders services (McIntyre, 1993).

     Consider another example of how the whirlpool starts in motion.  Most teachers' expectations for quiet, non-active student behavior would be in opposition to the more active and emotionally outspoken contributory styles common among students of Arab heritage (Nydell, 1987).  This can result in the students' well intentioned behavior being viewed as inappropriate.  A similar cognitive style is often evident among African American pupils who frequently show attention and cognitive involvement via vocal responses, exuberance, and physical movement (Boykin 1982; Hale- Benson, 1986; Kunjufu, 1984; McIntyre, 1992a; McIntyre, 1995; Ogbu, 1984; Shade, 1982).  Teachers oftentimes consider these students to be inattentive, restless, lacking in self-control, disruptive, or hostile (Gay, 1975; McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre, 1995), and evidencing "an attitude" (Gilmore, 1985).  These educators might then impose disciplinary consequences that start swirling the educational waters into the "whirlpool phenomenon".

     As another scenario of cross-cultural misunderstanding, consider a teacher who explains a task to an Asian American student and then asks if the directions are understood.  The student says "Yes".  Upon later review of the student's product, the teacher finds that the instructions were not comprehended.  He or she is perplexed by the apparent dishonesty of the pupil and chastises the youngster, unaware that the student may have been attempting to "save face" (Ho, 1992; McIntyre, 1993; Woo, 1985).  Among those individuals who hold to the traditional East Asian ways, there is a commonly held belief that one should avoid conflict or public embarrassment which would shame not only oneself, but by extension, one's family (Wei, 1977; Henkin & Nguyen, 1981; Leung 1988).  The student may have been trying to prevent the humiliation of admitting that he or she was incapable of understanding the directions of the task (Woo, 1985), or perhaps the pupil was trying to avoid humiliating the teacher for having explained the task poorly (Wei, 1980).  Either way, disciplinary actions may exacerbate, rather than resolve the misunderstanding.

     While the majority culture places great emphasis on promptness and working diligently on task (Althen, 1988; Anderson, 1988; Ho 1992), most other groups have a more flexible view of time (Anderson, 1988; Ho, 1987; Nine-Curt, 1976; Sung, 1987).  As a result, culturally different students may not complete classwork as quickly as their majority culture peers (Grossman, 1984), and may be viewed as being "off task" (McIntyre, 1993).  If rushed, or told to stop working before completion of the present assignment in order to begin the next task with their peers, students from cultures that promote working at one's own pace may resist, appearing to misbehave (Grossman, 1984).

    The clash of cognitive styles extends much further than the few examples provided above.  When teachers and their students have different cognitive styles, underachievement and interpersonal conflict can result.  Indeed, Holtzman (1978) found that students and teachers who shared a common learning style tended to view each other's cognitive and personal characteristics positively.  When cognitive styles differed, educators and pupils viewed each other more negatively.  Surely, the latter finding is not conducive to the promotion of a positive learning climate.  Unfortunately, this clash of styles is common in classrooms with culturally different students (McIntyre, 1996a).

     As diagrammed in Figure 1, failing to modify instruction and discipline to better match culturally learned styles results in new and/or more intensive problems (McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre, 1996a).  When cultural differences in cognitive style are unrecognized or ignored, and teachers fail to modify instruction to better address these variations, they create the very behaviors about which they complain: tardiness/truancy, non-cooperative actions, and rebellious behavior.  Additionally, teachers often misinterpret these situationally induced reactions to frustration as indicating a personality problem (Grossman 1990).  While placing students who display culturally based traits into programs for the emotionally and behaviorally disordered is wrong (McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre 1996a; McIntyre, 1996b), it is even more saddening if we label students as being seriously emotionally disturbed after we have caused the misbehavior by using culturally incompetent practices.

Modifying Practices in the Multicultural Classroom
     Culturally competent teachers adapt their presentational style to the cognitive styles of their students (Fernandez, 1992; McIntyre, 1996b).  When instructional methods compliment cultural styles, students at all levels become more motivated to learn, and perform better academically (Anderson, 1988; Vasquez, 1990).  Students who achieve to their potential, feel better about themselves, their teachers, and school.  Misbehaviors formerly presented to protect self esteem in the face of failure become no longer necessary.

    Instruction can be adapted to students' styles via a three phase process (Vasquez, 1990).  The first step is to identify the particular student trait that may require some change in instructional approach.  Any behavior that regularly occurs during instruction that seems odd, counterproductive, or disruptive should be pondered.  Determining whether the behavior of concern is culturally based, an issue that will take on even greater importance with the expected passage of the new definition for emotional or behavioral disorders (McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre, 1996a) is difficult.  However, it can now be assessed more accurately via completion of the McIntyre Assessment of Culture (McIntyre, 1995), an instrument designed to distinguish culturally based behaviors and cognitive traits from those that indicate a true behavioral disorder.

     The second step in the process is to question oneself regarding the validity and degree of a student's difference from the typical teaching style.  The instructor should ask himself or herself whether this trait has implications for the (a) content/material taught, (b) context or physical setting for instruction, or (c) mode or manner of instruction.  One or more of these aspects of teaching may have to be changed to assure culturally appropriate instruction.  The teacher can determine which aspect(s) of instruction might be modified by asking certain questions.  For content considerations, the questions are: "Does this cultural trait have implications for the material being taught?" and "How can I give examples and ask questions that place the concepts in scenes and situations familiar to the student?"  For context, the question becomes: "Does any aspect of this culturally based characteristic require a change in the physical or psychological climate of the classroom?"  When considering the mode of instruction, the teacher asks: "Should I change the manner or style in which I present the material to the student?"

     The third step of the process requires the teacher to define and implement the new instructional modification(s).  For example, teachers of students with an active, participatory style of learning would be well advised to incorporate more group activities, discussion, spontaneity, audience participation, performance, and movement into their lessons (Gay, 1975; Kunjufu, 1984).  If a Native American student displays the visual learning style common among youngsters from that culture (Gold, 1977; Ho 1992), teachers should change the typical auditory emphasis of instruction to a more observational focus.

     As another example of this third step modification, teachers of students who have a field-sensitive style would be well advised to devise learning/teaching situations that allow them and their students to use personal, conversational interaction.  These students usually achieve higher and learn better when engaged in social discussions, group work, and cooperative learning activities (Anderson, 1988; Focal Point, 1988; Grossman, 1990; Henry, 1990).  They are likely to learn best when they have a personal relationship with a teacher (Anderson, 1988; Willis, 1993) who provides caring external guidance, support and critique (DeLeon, 1983).  Because they are also more sensitive to the reactions of people in their "field" or life, they likely prefer personalized lessons with knowledge that is humanized and related to their experiences (Banks & Banks, 1993).

     While not all elements of cognitive style can be addressed for all learners at all times, it is important that teachers understand the multidimensional nature of difference among individuals (Henry & Pepper, 1990).  They can then decide how best to plan and implement lessons.
 In addition to accommodating cognitive styles, it is in the students' best interests to expand their cognitive styles repertoire (Hainer, Fagan, Bratt, Baker, & Arnold, 1990; McCarthy & Lieberman, 1988).  With practice, cognitive styles can be modified, or accommodations made by the students to better benefit from an incompatible teaching style (Hilliard, 1988; Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994).  Practicing a new cognitive style can be a beneficial experience.  Indeed, exclusive accommodation to culturally different students' cognitive styles limits their chances for success in society (Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994; Weisner, Gallimore, & Jordan, 1988).  However, total disregard for students' cognitive styles is contraindicated (Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994).  During most lessons, especially when presenting new material, teaching style must match learning style if pupils are to fully understand the material, benefit from the lesson, and reach their academic potential.

     Henry and Pepper (1990) recommend that 65% of lessons and activities be presented in a student's preferred learning style(s).  A different style might be used for activities about 25-35% of the time.  To determine what has been learned, students should be tested in their preferred way of demonstrating ability and knowledge.  Assessing them though other means is a practice best used to develop comfortability and adeptness with other assessment methods and devices that might be used in the future.

      Educators must work with the unprecedented and increasing degree of diversity within our schools (Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994).  However, is it possible to meet the needs of all pupils if many cognitive styles are present in the classroom?  Yes, it is "do-able" (Hainer, Fagan, Bratt, Baker & Arnold, 1990; Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994).  Ramirez and Castaneda (1974) provide suggestions that teachers can utilize to arrange the learning environment to better assure that all students, regardless of their cognitive style, have their needs accommodated.  Lessons can be devised that allow students the choice of working on either individual or group projects.  A program of study might also be developed for each student so that he or she has the opportunity to work with both field-sensitive and field-independent peers.  A student can then decide which style best suits him or her.  Peer tutors might also be assigned from both field-sensitive and field- independent orientations.  Additionally, classroom walls might be decorated with products of both styles of cognition.

 Other suggestions should also be considered:
1. Use an "advanced organizer" to provide a context for and conceptualization of the final product before beginning to teach the various segments of the lesson.  Offering an initial overview of what is to ensue or what is to be the final conclusion/result assists global/deductive learners in             grasping the intent of the lesson before it is dissected and presented sequentially in the typical inductive manner of instruction.
2. Make lessons interesting.  Actively involve the students.  Use  good-natured humor. Be enthusiastic in your presentation.
3. Relate concepts and material to the students' experience. This enhances retention of newly learned information (Banks & Banks, 1993; Hansen & Hubbard, 1984; Love, 1985; Tharp, 1995).     Personalize and humanize knowledge by using examples and explanations that relate to individuals, places, and events found in their neighborhood before moving on to more  removed/abstract examples and related ideas.
4. Include student interests in lessons.  Make use of their  music, entertainment foci, performers, sports figures, and other youth culture phenomena in presentations and materials.  5. Use a variety of methods and modalities in presentation (Willis, 1993).  This better assures that all students receive     information in a manner that matches their preferred cognitive styles.  As an additional benefit, multisensory instruction helps the different modalities reshape and reinforce each other (Sinatra, Beaudry, Stahl-Gamake, & Guastello, 1990).
6. Re-explain material to perplexed students in the style in which they learn best.  Gear explanations to students' learning strengths (Dunn & Griggs, 1990).
7. Use cooperative academic techniques to enhance the learning of  culturally diverse students (Banks & Banks, 1993; Johnson & Johnson, 1990).  Research indicates culturally diverse             students learn better via cooperative learning while European Americans achieve as well as in competitive situations  (Glasser, 1986).

     The change to more culturally competent assessment and teaching practices should be spurred at the university level.  Optimally, higher education faculty would teach prospective teachers how to interact, instruct, and discipline their charges in a more culturally aware manner (Ishii-Jordan & Peterson, 1994; McIntyre, 1992; McIntyre, 1996a).  However, teacher trainers tend to lack this awareness themselves (Anderson, 1988; McIntyre, 1992a; McIntyre, 1993; Yates, 1988), and therefore cannot pass along this knowledge.  It seems then that educators at all levels must undertake self-study regarding cultural background and its effect on learning and behavior.  The readings referenced at the end of this paper provide a good starting point for the development of culturally competent teaching.

     Skilled and culturally knowledgeable teachers have the ability to create meaningful and successful lessons tailored to the backgrounds and experiences of their students (Anderson, 1988; Dean, Salend & Taylor, 1993; Villegas, 1991).  These culturally competent teachers identify and build on their pupils' strengths and interests (Franklin, 1992), adapting their presentational styles to the cognitive styles of their students (Anderson, 1988; Fernandez, 1992).  The result is improved student behavior and attitudes toward learning (Anderson, 1988; Grossman, 1990; McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre, 1996a), and increased achievement (Dunn & Griggs, 1990; Vasquez, 1990).

     Much of typical classroom practice is anachronistic and favors one cultural group at the expense of others (Anderson, 1988; McIntyre, 1996a; McIntyre, 1996b; Vasquez, 1990).  Culturally different pupils are frequently penalized by teaching practices that contrast with their culturally based cognitive style (Banks & Banks, 1993; Blackorby & Edgar, 1990; Grossman 1990; McIntyre, 1992a; McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre, 1996a).

    Certainly, it is difficult to single out cognitive style mismatch as the causative factor in the (mis)diagnosis of a learning or behavior problem.  There may be several contributing factors to the overrepresentation of culturally different youth in special education programs (e.g., intentional or unintentional personal or institutional racism, low educational level of parents, lessened parental contact with schools, limited English proficiency).  However, even if a culturally different pupil is accurately identified as having a disability in learning or behavior, culturally inappropriate instruction and discipline can exacerbate rather than remediate the difficulties.

     Knowledge of a student's background gives important clues to cognitive and behavior styles (Banks & Banks, 1993; McIntyre, 1993).  Culturally based characteristics have an impact on what and how learners should be taught, as well as when and how successfully information is presented (Garcia & Malkin, 1993; Lynch, 1992).  Unfortunately, few teachers are aware of the "deep", non- superficial cultural characteristics (e.g., values, cognitive functioning, behavioral norms) of any group, including their own (McIntyre, 1993; McIntyre, 1996a; Vasquez, 1990).  Even fewer are knowledgeable in culturally appropriate instructional modifications.  In fact, most special education teachers give little consideration to the background of their students (Cummins, 1984; Franklin, 1992).  This means that even if cultural characteristics are identified, educators usually have no idea how to adapt classroom instruction (Vasquez, 1990).  Until educators familiarize themselves with "deep" cultural differences, many students will be taught in ways that do not optimally promote academic and cognitive advancement.  Educators must learn to recognize alternative culturally relevant indicators of ability, and translate them into effective assessment and programming practices (Callahan & McIntire, 1994).

      While desired outcomes may be the same for all students, many youngsters require variation in how these outcomes are achieved.  Teachers who boast "I treat all students the same." show their lack of preparation for teaching in culturally pluralistic classrooms (Vasquez, 1990).  They are likely to employ practices that make failure in the classroom inevitable for many of their charges.  Being treated equally does not mean being treated the same.  When all students are treated the same, schools, although unintentionally so, are racist in their practices (Anderson, 1988; McIntyre, 1996a).
 In summary, it is important to contemplate and address the impact of culture on learning.  Doing so allows educators to develop and utilize instructional strategies that work with, rather than against students' preferred ways of learning (Gollnick & Chinn, 1990).



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Return to the culture/gender issues table of contents


Source: Tom McIntye (1996). Education and Treatment of Children, volume 19,
    issue 3, pages 354-370.