Eve Dufour, M. Ed., Producer, French Educational Content for the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario, LD@school
The demographic of students that attend Ontario schools is incredibly diverse and educators have a responsibility to ensure the inclusivity of all students. In 2014, the Ontario Ministry of Education published Equity and Inclusive Education in Ontario Schools: Guidelines for Policy Development and Implementation, a guide to assist Ontario school boards in creating more equitable and inclusive learning environments for all members of the school community. Barriers are undeniably omnipresent in the lives of students and may be related to their sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression, race, ethnic origin, religion, socio-economic background, physical and/or mental abilities, etc. (OME, 2014, p.6). All of these aspects simultaneously construct a student’s social identity and inform the way they perceive and know the world that surrounds them.
Students with learning disabilities (LDs) may confront multiple barriers as a result of discriminatory practices and beliefs. These barriers may be confronted in their classrooms, communities, and in their own homes, due to a lack of understanding of what LDs are and the invisibility of these neurodevelopmental disabilities. Furthermore, it is also important to consider how having LDs intersect with other aspects of students social identities, which may exacerbate the discrimination they experience in their daily lives.
Culturally Responsive Pedagogy
While social change needs to happen at the systemic level, it is important to consider the role educators may play in circumventing barriers in the classroom by creating an inclusive learning environment for all. A culturally responsive pedagogy may be implemented in the classroom to enhance the classroom experience of students by celebrating diversity responsibly and habitually.
The goal is not to present one or two lessons on diversity to your students, but rather to honour and learn about diverse ways of being every day and everywhere.
A culturally responsive pedagogy appreciates that “all students learn differently and that these differences may be connected to background, language, family structure and social or cultural identity” (OME, 2013, p. 2). While LDs are neurodevelopmental and not a result of culture, students with LDs have cultural knowledge and this knowledge, which stems from students’ lived experiences, presents opportunities for enhancing learning. “Drawing on students’ experiences provides teachers with the opportunity to represent their knowledge in the curriculum so it is meaningful and students see themselves reflected in the learning that takes place in the classroom” (as cited in OME, 2013, p.5).
Adapted from “The CUS Framework for Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy” by Jeff Kugler and Nicole West-Burns, Capacity Building Series presents teaching strategies for implementing a culturally responsive pedagogy in the classroom, which include:
- Expand upon what is considered as the “curriculum” – recognizing both the informal and the subtle ways in which the curriculum defines what is and what is not valued in our schools and society.
- Use inquiry-based approaches to student learning to develop engaged and self-directed learners. Support students in making decisions about their learning that integrate who they are and what they already know with their home and community experiences.
- Use a variety of resources, including community partners, to ensure the learning environment and pedagogical materials used are accessible to all learners and that the lives of students and the community are reflected in the daily workings of the classroom. Resources, materials and books should present both local and global perspectives.
- See the curriculum as flexible and adaptive to the lived experiences of students so they see themselves and their lives reflected in daily learning opportunities.
- Know and build upon students’ prior knowledge, interests, strengths and learning styles and ensure they are foundational to the learning experiences in the classroom and the school.
- Ensure that learning engages a broad range of learners so that varied perspectives, learning styles and sources of knowledge are explored.
- Differentiate instruction and provide a wide range of methods and opportunities for students to demonstrate their learning, ensuring both academic rigour and a variety of resources that are accessible to all learners.
- Work to ensure that the socio-cultural consciousness of students is developed through curricular approaches, emphasizing inclusive and accepting education, to inform critical examination and action regarding social justice issues. (As cited in OME, 2013, p.6-7)
To successfully implement a culturally responsive pedagogy for students with LDs, educators must allow cultural knowledge to come from students and their community. Educators attempting to teach about a culture they do not identify with risks perpetuating assumptions and stereotypes about certain social groups. When implementing a culturally responsive pedagogy in the classroom, the role of the educator is to create a platform where cultural knowledge can be shared; it is a learning opportunity that allows student to see:
Knowledge building is reciprocal because students play an active role in crafting and developing learning experiences for themselves and their peers. This results in making learning relevant and accessible for all students in the classroom as they are able to see themselves in the curriculum. (OME, 2013, p. 5)
Furthermore, using this approach can also benefit educators when working with parents to implement adaptations, accommodations and modifications for students with LDs. Parents’ worldviews may differ from those of the educator and being aware of a student’s cultural background may help educators understand the parents’ perspectives regarding LDs and allow them to discuss with the parents in a more culturally aware manner.
To date, little research has been conducted to explore the effects of a culturally responsive pedagogy, specifically for students with LDs. Regardless, students with LDs have cultural knowledge and creating a learning environment that welcomes, celebrates, and recognizes this, will surely make them feel included and a part of their learning community.
Students with LDs have often been marginalized from the classroom experience due to their learning differences. Acknowledging and celebrating their cultural differences and knowledge are ways to include them in a classroom that is becoming more diverse than it is saturated in sameness.
Relevant Resources on the LD@school website:
Additional Resources for Teachers
Edutopia.org offers a Five-Minute Film Festival: Culturally Responsive Teaching where several videos and resources have been gathered and made readily accessible for teachers. Click here to access the Five-Minute Film Festival: Culturally Responsive Teaching.
Ontario. Ministry of Education. (2013). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy Towards Equity and Inclusivity in Ontario Schools. Capacity Building Series. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/literacynumeracy/inspire/research/cbs_responsivepedagogy.pdf
Ontario. Ministry of Education. (2014). Equity and Inclusive Education in Ontario Schools: Guidelines for Policy Development and Implementation. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/eng/policyfunding/inclusiveguide.pdf