Encyclopedia of Teacher Education

Living Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students and Teacher Education

  • Alex KostogrizEmail author
Living reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-13-1179-6_194-1


Countries around the world are experiencing the greatest demographic change that they have ever seen. Contributing to this change are skilled and global talent migration, student mobility, displacement and humanitarian migration, and internal mobility. The growing trends in global mobility and migration have challenged education policies and practices of more traditional immigrant-receiving countries, as well as triggering education reforms in counties that have been previously perceived as culturally and linguistically homogeneous. Their education systems are pressed to respond to diversity and its diversification in conditions when various ethnic minorities and indigenous groups demand greater recognition of their cultural and linguistic rights. The question of diversity remains persistent as different countries respond to the old and new identities of people in different ways. This depends on their history of dealing with diversity and current policies that have been adopted by dominant groups. Indeed, the question of diversity has resurfaced in many nation-states, reflecting the increasing tension between liberal and conservative political forces that represent broader public opinions and influence the politics of education.

For example, in the context of “superdiversity” and unfished nation-building projects across Western countries, the preparation of teachers for meeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) students faces a social justice paradox (Fraser 2000; Kostogriz 2011). On one side stand the proponents who advocate the provision of equitable access to dominant language and knowledge for CALD students. This approach to education is informed by the principles of redistributive justice, i.e., the redistribution of the dominant cultural-linguistic capital to CALD students so that they can engage with the mainstream curriculum and achieve required learning outcomes in order to participate fully in the socioeconomic life of the state. On the other side stand the proponents of recognitive justice in education. They see recognition of cultural-linguistic differences as a vital human need and advocate the inclusion of multiple literacies and “funds of knowledge” of CALD students as a productive means for their learning. From this perspective, culturally and linguistically responsive education constitutes a baseline for propagating broader anti-discriminatory curriculum and pedagogical practices, as well as for raising intercultural and ethical understanding of all students.

These two social justice perspectives on diversity are not mutually exclusive as neither of them alone is sufficient to address the complex needs of CALD students. Teachers need to know how languages are learned and how they mediate learning so that they can empower students through the teaching of a dominant language. In redistributing linguistic capital, it is important not to conflate all the CALD students with the learners of an additional/dominant language. In addition to language, teachers need to recognize the role of cultural identities, knowledges, and practices in learning and be able to critique discourses of domination. Building teacher critical awareness rests on the recognitive orientation to the diversification of diversity – teaching cannot be socially just unless it is responsive to the variety of cultural-linguistic needs. Thus, the preparation of culturally and linguistically responsive teachers has emerged as a professional demand for redistribution and recognition in jurisdictions that are committed to democratic, pluralist, and anti-discriminatory education.

The professional demand to prepare responsive, caring, and competent teachers for work in “superdiverse” classrooms faces a number of challenges in initial teacher education (ITE). These are ranging from a largely homogenous teaching workforce, to the teacher education curriculum and program structures, and to the side effects of current teacher education reforms and accountability measures.

The Problem of the Teaching Workforce

The increasing diversity, particularly in Western countries, has raised concerns about the cultural gap between the students in schools and the predominantly white teaching workforce. This, as reported in numerous studies, prevents teachers from recognizing injustices in educating CALD students. White preservice teachers often perceive discrimination and prejudice as an interpersonal communication matter, rather than institutional practices that subjugate and oppress. They are often “color-blind” to dominant cultural practices in which they have been formed and in which they participate as members. Without experiences of being culturally “othered,” preservice teachers cannot reflect critically on students’ experiences of subjugation or challenge curriculum and assessment practices that position them as deficit learners. The common lack of experiences of interacting with culturally diverse people, or of time spent in unfamiliar communities, is also a contributing factor to the misrecognition of diversity as something that requires normalization. The teachers often have little awareness of how students’ identities, languages, and “funds of knowledge” play out in classroom learning. As a result, many preservice and in-service teachers feel they are not prepared to meet social, psychological, and learning needs of CALD students.

In the context of global teacher education reforms, it is increasingly challenging to diversify the teaching workforce. One of the measures used to improve the quality of teaching and the status of the profession is a more rigorous approach to selection into teacher education programs. Raising academic and nonacademic entry requirements usually leads to further homogenization of teacher candidates and, in turn, to the widening gap between students and teachers. To offset this side effect, some jurisdictions have introduced high-quality pathways into ITE for committed and capable candidates from diverse cultural-linguistic backgrounds. While recognizing that the cultural gap between teachers and their students is not possible to transcend through the selection and recruitment of teacher candidates, the efforts should be directed to the characteristics of ITE programs to increase teacher preparedness for work in CALD classrooms.

ITE Program Characteristics

The importance of fostering teacher capabilities to respond to diversity has emerged as part of a broader concern about the effectiveness of ITE in preparing work-ready graduates. More recently, the issue of teacher readiness for work in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms has been subsumed by the discourses of quality and, related to this, standardization of ITE curricula. Professional standards for graduate teachers have been increasingly used to set the key parameters of professional knowledge and skills that should be developed and evaluated during the course of teacher preparation. Given the relational nature of teaching, most professional standards require preservice and graduate teachers to know their students and to develop a repertoire of effective strategies to be used in classroom contexts (Santoro and Kennedy 2016). However, professional standards do not explicate specific knowledge and skills that are needed for culturally responsive teaching. This provides an important space for the agency of teacher educators in facilitating the development of particular capabilities, knowledge, and skills in order to prepare preservice teachers for diverse classrooms.

Developing Intercultural and Critical Capabilities

A number of international studies revealed that the most frequently stated motivations for choosing teaching as a career were desire to work with young people and desire to make a difference in their lives (OECD 2005). These motivations, however, do not necessarily predispose preservice teachers toward culturally and linguistically responsive practice. In fact, the motivation to make a difference can be often linked to a culturally encapsulated view of difference as some kind of abnormality that needs to be corrected. It is important, therefore, that ITE programs help preservice teachers overcome, at least to some degree, their misrecognition of difference and encourage them to develop a socially critical perspective on “othering” and its effect on learning and well-being of CALD students. ITE programs that draw on inquiry-based approaches to the formation of the professional self and knowledge hold the promise of fostering critical and intercultural capabilities of preservice teachers.

Teacher education has traditionally been based on a training model that has little effect on preservice teachers’ dispositions toward difference. The inquiry-based approach to ITE curriculum shifts attention from knowing-about-ness to a critical analysis of one’s dispositions and practices in educational settings. In this regard, a critical and responsive pedagogy in teacher education is a pedagogy that prevents from domesticating teacher candidates in ways that align with their firmly held dispositions toward others. Rather, it produces effects (e.g., discomfort or surprise) that, in turn, can trigger reflection on one’s beliefs and raise teacher consciousness. Critical pedagogy provides tools for identifying one’s own biases toward CALD students, as well as for seeing schooling as a space of cultural-linguistic politics and power. It is from this critical standpoint that the intercultural capability of preservice teachers can emerge as their ability to relate to and interact with different others in socially just ways. Both critical and intercultural capabilities are a key to transitioning into profession and establishing relations with students. It has been widely recognized that establishing relations with students is one of the primary concerns of both beginning and established teachers.

Developing Content and Pedagogical Content Knowledge

ITE programs vary in how they prepare preservice teachers to address CALD students’ needs in increasingly plurilingual and multicultural contexts. The learning of additional languages is usually supported by specialist language teachers who have content knowledge and are able to apply this knowledge in the classroom. Usually, specialist teachers are required to have a subject-specific knowledge in linguistics or applied linguistics. They can develop this content knowledge through courses that are external to or structurally linked with ITE programs (e.g., double/dual programs). Acquiring content knowledge means knowing, understanding, and using the major theoretical approaches and research related to the structure and acquisition of an additional language. Increasingly, the subject-specific programs also develop social and cultural awareness of additional language learning and bilingual education so that specialist teachers understand the implications of globalization, such as diversification of linguistic conventions and translanguaging for language use and identity work.

Next phase in teacher education, which is more specific to ITE programs, is the development of pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). As a construct used in the ITE curriculum design, PCK reflects the belief that teaching requires considerably more than delivering subject content to students. PCK is an amalgam of subject expertise and effective teaching of that particular subject. Although the PCK of language teachers is not bounded to any particular phase in their professional life, its foundation is usually laid in “method” units of ITE programs. In most Western countries, communicative language teaching (CLT) and task-based language teaching (TBLT) are generally accepted as the prevailing additional language teaching methods. The underlying pedagogical principles of these methods are an emphasis on communication and student-centeredness, rather than on grammar and knowledge transmission. Increasingly, language teacher preparation has been effected by the “social turn” in pedagogy and assessment, making language education more relevant to the CALD students’ practices, identities, and cultural values. Together, the features of these teaching methods can be used to develop the linguistically and culturally responsive PCK of specialist teachers so that a variety of students’ sociocultural needs is addressed in language learning.

However, faced with the sweeping challenges of catering for diverse classrooms, employers can no longer rely on specialist language teachers and multicultural support personnel alone. Urban schools, in particular, see a whole-school approach to diversity as the most effective way of improving student outcomes. They demand that all graduate teachers have capabilities to engage with and respond to diverse learners in mainstream classrooms. As a result, jurisdictions across the world have strengthened ITE program accreditation processes to ensure that the programs provide evidence of preparing all preservice teachers for diversity.

Building Teacher Responsivity to Diversity as a General Capability

ITE providers address the professional demand for preparing linguistically and culturally responsive teachers by attending to issues of diversity across ITE program. In doing so, the aim is to develop general capabilities that would enable teachers to respond to diversity. These include, for example, the development of cultural-linguistic sensitivity and intercultural understanding, ability to create and maintain positive relations and safe learning environments, pedagogical ability to promote equity and social justice in relation to difference, and ability to plan and implement lessons that provide spaces for intercultural learning by drawing on diversity of resources and materials. These general capabilities are developed through more recent perspectives on pedagogical practice, such as participation- and collaboration-based pedagogies in which culturally responsive teaching builds on what students already know and how they construct knowledge.

Preservice teachers across content areas should develop their awareness of language and cultural demands that their subjects place on CALD students. It is important, therefore, to know how to integrate content and language development into curriculum planning, teaching, and assessment. ITE programs offer special units, albeit often as electives, to familiarize preservice teachers with a range of models that make a dual commitment to content- and language-learning objectives. More recent models and associated pedagogies include content- and language-integrated learning (CLIL) and content-based instruction (CBI). While CBI has been largely promoted in the North American context of teacher education, CLIL has been widely used in Europe, South America, Asia, and Australia as an effective approach to integrating content and language. Recognizing that content learning and language learning go hand in hand, one of the emerging new directions in ITE is the conceptualization of subject literacies. These developments call for a need to integrate a pluriliteracies approach to teacher preparation in content areas.

As the professional knowledge base of teachers is becoming more complex, more attention is shifting to a meaningful connection between theory and practice in ITE programs. A practice-based approach to teacher education is now widely used to support teacher preparation for diversity in ways that are sustainable beyond graduation. Beyond the political debates about theory-practice divide in ITE, the practice-based approach is informed by research into teacher education and the related concept of “powerful programs” in which preservice teachers spend extensive time in schools throughout their entire program, “examining and applying the concepts and strategies they are simultaneously learning about in their courses” (Darling-Hammond 2006, p. 307). Professional experience of preservice teachers, in this regard, is a key to building culturally and linguistically responsive teachers.

Practicing Responsive Teaching in Teacher Education

Professional learning experience in diverse schools presents both challenges and opportunities for teacher education. Preservice teachers can become immersed in school practices, cultures, and politics of teaching diverse students that are not necessarily responsive. This may present challenges in bridging theory and practice. Spending more time in diverse schools may not result in becoming more prepared for diversity. One of the solutions to this challenge is developing partnerships with schools in which responsive pedagogies are practiced and in which there are no discrepancies between what school leadership and teachers say and what they do.

Strong school-university partnerships provide opportunities for ongoing professional learning. The practice-based arrangements are now becoming a central component of ITE programs around the world, rather than delivering professional experience as a discrete or culminating requirement for graduation. As such, the ongoing professional experience in diverse schools repositions intercultural capacity building to a third space of professional education in which university teacher educators and school teachers collaborate in the formation of responsive preservice teachers. In the third space of professional learning, teacher candidates are challenged to infuse multicultural content in their teaching as they cannot just retreat to the comfort of mainstream and more familiar teaching practices. It is important to partner with schools that have a strong tradition of, or commitment to, culturally and linguistically responsive education and engagement with families and communities in which they are situated. Importantly, practice-based teacher education highlights the complexity of teacher work in which accountability for outcomes and responsiveness to diverse learner needs mean that teachers have to be more sophisticated in how they navigate often contradictory demands: demands to teach by numbers and demands to teach justly.

Developing Professional Ethics

In the professional pursuit to prepare culturally and linguistically responsive teachers, it is critical to recognize that there are no recipes and “best practices” that work across differences in schools, content areas, and school-university partnerships. What remains incessantly constant across diverse contexts is the demand that comes from others (difference) in particular leaning and teaching events. Preservice teachers should develop ethical sensibility as their professional obligation to respond to difference. Professional ethics, in this sense, is about opening up pedagogical spaces for socially just relations with diverse students. Professional ethics can be equated with hospitality that teachers offer to the students and to the multiplicity of identities, knowledges, languages, and meanings that they bring with them into the classroom (Kostogriz 2011).

Developing ethical teachers is probably the most challenging aspect in ITE, insofar as the committed to diversity teachers are always pressed to question their dispositions, understandings, and skills related to their socially just engagement with diversity. To be ethical one needs to respond to the changing and situationally specific demands and make decisions rather than following recipes. Grappling with tensions in how to respond ethically throughout one’s teacher preparation can be quite productive for preservice teachers and teacher educators, as Cochran-Smith (2010) demonstrated arguing for holistic teacher education programs. While, traditionally, professional ethics is addressed sporadically in the structure of ITE programs, holistic programs embed issues of social justice coherently in all units and professional experiences. Some common characteristics of such programs are explicit engagement with social justice and emphasis on diversity and difference across units, critical inquiry and action research projects, collaboration with others, and engagement in knowledge (re)construction (cf. Cochran-Smith et al. 2009). Developing ethical professionals requires a coherent approach to the ITE program design so that teachers can interrupt cultural, linguistic, or epistemological injustices toward diversity in and through education.


Preparing teachers who are responsive to cultural and linguistic diversity requires coherent efforts throughout ITE programs. The efforts should be directed to building teachers’ relevant content and pedagogical content knowledge and skills so the they are able to recognize the complex needs that CALD students have both within and across particular subject areas. These needs range from access to powerful discourses and literacy and to understanding how these discourses work in (re)producing relations of power and domination. ITE programs should challenge and, ideally, transform dispositions of preservice teachers so that they develop socially just and ethical relations with the students, welcoming their identities and knowledges to the classroom. Preservice teachers should have meaningful and appropriate professional experience opportunities to bridge theory and practice and to learn how to practice professional ethics. And, finally, developing responsive teachers requires collaboration between teacher educators, school teachers, and school communities to achieve an effective preparation of graduate teachers and, in turn, to reach the goals of culturally responsive and just education.


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© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Monash University Clayton, MelbourneAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • Jane Wilkinson
    • 1
  1. 1.Faculty of EducationMonash UniversityClaytonAustralia