Culturally Responsive & Inclusive Curriculum Resources: Creating Culturally Responsive Curriculum

Helpful Questions for Creating Culturally Responsive & Inclusive Curriculum

The following reflective prompts were contributed by Lisa Grady-Willis, Director of Diversity Education & Learning, Global Diversity & Inclusion, here at Portland State University.

  • How does my pedagogy reflect intentional efforts to engage diverse and/or underrepresented populations?
  • How does my curriculum acknowledge various perspectives and/or voids within the field?
  • What did I take into consideration in choosing my course materials?
  • How does my syllabus reflect the desire to foster an inclusive classroom community?
  • How do my course materials reflect my current students? 
  • How do my course materials reflect the students I hope to serve?
  • How is attention to diverse perspectives in course content distinct from diversity engagement? Does your proposal reflect this distinction?

"Reflects a Diversity of Voice"

Here are a few ways to begin to make your class or program reflect a diversity of voice:

Start with the Syllabus: Include university and personal values that show your embracing of and expectations for a culturally responsive classroom. You can also include communication ground rules such as:

  • "Discussion in this class will be conducted in adherence to the University nondiscrimination policy."
  • We should respect diverse points of view. We do not need to come to an agreement on any particular issues: we can agree to disagree.
  • Our use of language should be respectful of other persons or groups. (As your instructor, I will not let injurious statements pass without comment.)
  • You need not represent any group, only yourself, though you may choose to represent a group if you wish.
  • If you feel uncomfortable about any aspect of the class environment, it is your responsibility to discuss it with the instructor." (1)

Selection of Textbooks and Course Materials: Culturally accountable offers a better strategy for evaluating and changing curriculum. Culturally accountable means -- recognizing the frame, the "same voice over and over." 

When choosing course materials make sure the voices of people from different cultures, genders, classes, sexualities and with differing abilities are heard - not just talked about by others. For example Seattle University MSW program assessed readings in the curriculum and aimed for only 1/3 of reading to be written by the dominate culture. This strategy helps "disrupt the canon" and focuses on the presence of the perspective of non-dominant groups as opposed to non-dominate groups as the topic.

Assignments: "Assignments can represent a vehicle for students to personalize a course and give it individual meaning....Soft versus hard assignments allow students to select their own topics - ones they are comfortable with exploring." (2) Here is a  Rubric for Culturally Responsive Lessons/Assignments  created by Dr. Jean Aguillar-Valdez at PSU.

Student's Voice and Experiences: Are they a valued part of the classroom? Allow students, in assignments and in class, to bring their worlds and their experiences to bear on the discussions at hand. Small group work  can support more inclusive leaning. Learn how teachers' assumptions can influence class dynamics.

Course Evaluations: If cultural diversity and inclusion is important to your class then you should assess for it, right? Some example evaluation question are:

  • "To what extent did the instructor foster a class environment in which diverse points of view were respected.
  • To what extent did the course content incorporate diverse voices and populations?
  • To what extent did the assignments allow students to incorporate content related to diverse and/or underserved populations?" (3)

See more tips at:

(Many thanks to Humboldt State University's Office of Diversity & Inclusion for many of the above tips. For even more visit their website.)

(1) Branche, Jerome., Mullennix, John W, and Cohn, Ellen R. Diversity across the Curriculum : A Guide for Faculty in Higher Education. Bolton, Mass.: Anker Pub., 2007, p. 20.

(2) IBID, p 21.

(3) IBID, p 22.

"Culturally Responsive"

What kinds of cultural identities can we respond to in our classroom? Here are only a few, to get you thinking. This list is not meant to be exhaustive — you will find many other dimensions of diversity in your classrooms.

Students from different ethnic groups, social classes, nations, and regions abound in our classrooms. Many cultures such as Native American, Chicano, African-Americans, etc. originate from within the United States. International students from Saudi Arabia, China, India, and other countries also add variety to PSU's classroom cultures. Indigenous scholars and Critical Race , Post-Colonial, and Critical theorists study pedagogy and curricula in these areas.

See:Schaefer, R. T. (Ed.) (2008). Encyclopedia of race, ethnicity, and society (Vols. 1-3). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.  (Online)

Mosley, M. (2007). Anti-racist teaching. In G. L. Anderson & K. G. Herr (Eds.), Encyclopedia of activism and social justice (Vol. 3, pp. 173-175). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.  (Online)

Linder, C., Harris, J. C., Allen, E. L., & Hubain, B. (2015). Building inclusive pedagogy: Recommendations from a national study of students of color in higher education and student affairs graduate programs. Equity & Excellence in Education, 48(2), 178-194. (Online)

Phillion, J. (2010). Multicultural curriculum theory. In C. Kridel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of curriculum studies (pp. 591-592). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.  (Online)

Fox, H. (2004). When Race Breaks Out : Conversations about Race and Racism in University Classrooms. New York, NY, USA: Peter Lang Publishing.(Oonline)

Gender is another way cultural differences can manifest in the classroom. Scholars in Women Studies and Feminist scholars will often research the intersection of gender in the classroom.

Christodoulou, N. (2010). Embodied curriculum. In C. Kridel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of curriculum studies (pp. 332-332). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.  (Online)

Miller, J. (2010). Feminist theories. In C. Kridel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of curriculum studies (pp. 372-376). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.  (Online)

Davis, M. (2009). Social foundations of education: feminist perspectives. In E. F. Provenzo & A. B. Provenzo (Eds.), Encyclopedia of the social and cultural foundations of education (pp. 725-726). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.  (Online)

Our students also have a variety of sexual orientations. Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Queer students bring more varieties of culture to our classrooms, and many scholars use Queer theory to investigate issues in higher education.

Goldberg, A. (Ed.) (2016). The SAGE encyclopedia of LGBTQ studies (Vols. 1-3). Thousand Oaks,, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. d (Online)

Averett, P. (2016). Training of teachers in lgbq sensitivity and competence. In A. Goldberg (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of LGBTQ studies (Vol. 3, pp. 1204-1205). Thousand Oaks,, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.  (Online)

Many instructors are also attempting to be more inclusive of students who have different abilities, for the benefit of all the students in the classroom.

Ware, L. (2006). Pedagogy and curriculum design. In G. L. Albrecht (Ed.), Encyclopedia of disability (Vol. 5, pp. 1223-1226). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412950510.n618 (Online)

Intersectionality explores the relationship between multiple identities. Our students do not belong to just one culture, depending on their race, ethnic or national background, gender, sexuality, abilities, or class they may inhabit many cultures simultaneously.

Nair, R. (2016). Intersections between sex, gender, and sexual identity. In A. Goldberg (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of LGBTQ studies (Vol. 3, pp. 602-609). Thousand Oaks,, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.  (Online)

Falcon, S. (2009). Intersectionality. In J. O'Brien (Ed.), Encyclopedia of gender and society (pp. 468-469). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Intersections - a bibliography of writing on internationality by APA

Looking at the dominant culture in a university or classroom can also make our pedagogy more responsive and inclusive. Assumed and invisible cultures permeate academe, which is often seen as supportive of white, male, middle class, heteronormative, and abled ways of knowing and being.

McIntosh, P. (1988). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible knapsack. Race, class, and gender in the United States: An integrated study, 4, 165-169.

Boostrom, R. (2010). Hidden curriculum. In C. Kridel (Ed.), Encyclopedia of curriculum studies (pp. 440-440). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.

Jeppesen, S. (2016). Heteronormativity. In A. Goldberg (Ed.), The SAGE encyclopedia of LGBTQ studies (Vol. 3, pp. 493-496). Thousand Oaks,, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd.

(Hans) Bakker, J. (2010). Epistemology. In A. J. MillsG. Durepos & E. Wiebe (Eds.), Encyclopedia of case study research (pp. 332-335). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. 

"A Wide Variety of Learning Styles"

"Learning style is a term used to portray individual differences in the way that people prefer to learn. Learning styles are typical patterns individuals use to process information or approach learning situations. These learning style preferences are thought to occur naturally. According to learning style theory, when an individual's learning preferences are met, the individual learns more easily and effectively. There are more than 70 theories and models of learning styles. Each model describes how particular kinds of individual differences influence learning. However, the kinds of individual differences and the ways that these differences influence learning vary considerably among theories." (1)

Teaching to reach students who have different preferred learning styles is a sound pedagogical practice. There are a variety of models to investigate.

Examples of Learning or Cognitive Styles:

Lingham, T. (2008). Experiential learning. In S. R. Clegg & J. R. Bailey (Eds.), International encyclopedia of organization studies (Vol. 4, pp. 488-492). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. doi: 10.4135/9781412956246.n171

An Experiential Learning Theory: A Dynamic, Holistic Approach to Management Leaning , Education and Development.

Pritchard, Alan. Ways of Learning Learning Theories and Learning Styles in the Classroom. 3rd ed. Hoboken: Taylor and Francis, 2013. (Online)

Morgan, Harry. Cognitive Styles and Classroom Learning. Westport, Conn: Praeger, 1997.

Articles About Learning Styles

Salkind, N. J. (2008). Learning style. In Encyclopedia of educational psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 598-603). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. (Online)

Salkind, N. J. (2008). Cognitive and cultural styles. In Encyclopedia of educational psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 153-159). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. (Online)

Desmedt, E., & Valcke, M. (2004). Mapping the learning styles “jungle”: An overview of the literature based on citation analysis. Educational Psychology, 24(4), 445-464. (Online)

Cassidy, S. (2004). Learning styles: An overview of theories, models, and measures. Educational psychology, 24(4), 419-444.

Wilson, Vicki A., and Educational Resources Information Center. Learning how they learn a review of the literature on learning styles. S.l.]: Distributed by ERIC Clearinghouse, 1998. (Online)

(1) Salkind, N. J. (2008). Learning style. In Encyclopedia of educational psychology (Vol. 2, pp. 598-603). Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE Publications Ltd. (Online)

Difficult Dialogues

Opening up a classroom to the potentially sensitive topics around culture and inculsivity is bold, invigorating, and sometimes scary. The resources below will help you navigate the tensions that can arise in classrooms around these topics, and help to maintain an open and civil space for learning:

     Difficult Dialogues  Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching and Learning

     Difficult Dialogues University of Alaska

     Responding to Difficult Moments Center for Teaching and Learning, University of Michigan

Mindful Choices in Talking about Diversity

In this 6 minute video, Carolyn Nielsen shares ideas for discussing diversity with students. Produced by The Center for Instructional Innovation and Assessment (CIIA) at Western Washington University