Educators linguistically diverse (CLD) students (Kirby 20167, 175). However,

Educators
need to recognize ability as a factor of diversity, in the same way we count
race, ethnicity, religion, language, gender identity, socioeconomic status, and
sexual orientation. Though today’s teachers celebrate the latter factors of
diversity in their students, that has not always been the case. Historically,
the American educational system has forced assimilation and perpetuated the
marginalization of certain groups, most obviously culturally and linguistically
diverse (CLD) students (Kirby 20167, 175). However, the theory of Culturally
Responsive Teaching (CRT) is a way to rewrite the school structures and
practices that previously oppressed CLD students. CRT uses the backgrounds, characteristics, perspectives,
and resources of the CLD students in the classroom as the lenses through which
both teaching practice and subject content are designed and modified (Gay 2002,
106). By doing so, CRT reframes students’ diverse cultural experiences as the
key to their achievement, instead of as an obstacle to overcome or an identity
to stifle. CRT makes education equitable for all students, regardless of their
cultural background and societal standing. And it is successful: a review of
research conducted on the learning experiences of CLD students from a range of
backgrounds shows that socioculturally centered teaching increases student
achievement (Santamaria 2009).

However,
anecdotally, it seems that CRT is generally implemented only with students who
are culturally and linguistically diverse—ignoring the nation’s largest
minority, people with disabilities. But if educators acknowledge that ability
is a factor of diversity, in the same way that culture or language is, it
immediately becomes evident that people with disabilities are marginalized by
discrimination and inequity in schools in the same way that CLD students used
to be (and still are, in many ways). It also then becomes clear that we can and
should apply values of CRT to teaching students with disabilities. CRT is the
best way to support students with disabilities because it responds to each
student holistically. It addresses all of a student’s learning needs, strengths,
and styles, no matter where or how that student developed them (Ford, Stuart,
& Vakil 2014, 57). CRT should also be combined with Differentiated
Instruction (DI), the approach typically used when teaching students with
disabilities. DI directs teachers to individualize instruction according to
each student’s needs, so that all students learn the same concepts but at
different degrees of complexity (Santamaria 2009, 5). Both DI and CRT are
designed to support marginalized students, but DI does not focus on the
cultural backgrounds of students, and is therefore unable to fully address all
of a student’s needs (Santamaria 2009).

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