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Diversity and Motivation:

Diversity and Motivation:

Culturally Responsive Teaching

By Raymond J. Wlodkowski and

Margery B. Ginsberg

John Wiley & Sons, Jan. 2003

(second edition), 384 pp.,

$27.00 paperback, ISBN 0-7879-6742-4


Many of my colleagues and I have been teaching for at least 20 years. We have adjusted to larger classes, and to more foreign students with minimal English skills. We have learned the names of new rock stars and realize that our young students no longer read books for pleasure or know much about the Vietnam War or Jack Kerouac. We have learned to take more excuses for work turned in late or in less proper academic format or language. We empathize with single mothers’ hectic lives and with recovering drug addicts’ struggles to stay clean.

Now several education authors are telling us that we have to change even more — that we have to adapt our methods and materials to our students’ lives and interests more. Is no one writing about how students might consider changing to better fit into academic life? This rhetorical question is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, of course, but in reality over the last five to 10 years, students have become more rude, more depressed and sometimes lazier. We understand some of the reasons for this, or at least we try hard to do so. The world is a colder and less peaceful place than when many of us were students. Young people truly have fewer prospects; life is more demanding and isolating.

But some of us are still doing an effective job at teaching in almost the same way we have over the years. Yet many authors keep telling us to change, change, change. Diversity & Motivation by Raymond J. Wlodkowski, a psychologist and teacher, and Margery B. Ginsberg, a researcher, consultant and teacher, in its second edition, follows in this track. They write, “We have more learners than ever before who perceive and believe differently, not only from ourselves but from one another as well.”

The main thrust of this updated book is that we all need to be more culturally aware, tolerant and responsive. The essential ideas the authors promote are that higher education “respects diversity; engages the motivation of all learners; creates a safe, inclusive, and respectful learning environment; derives teaching practices from principles that cross disciplines and cultures; and promotes justice and equity in society.” These are all wonderful goals which most of us already agree with.

However, I learned quite a few things from Diversity & Motivation that I will take with me into the classroom. One of these I’ve already put in practice: Assigning self-evaluations at mid-semester before I do my mid-term student evaluations, to see if the students and I are on the same page.

The entire chapter on assessments was enlightening and gratifying. The methods and actual words recommended to give positive, useful feedback that produces results were excellent. Also, the authors’ list of thought-provoking questions is just that, and I intend to use more of them. Especially with young students who don’t always want to speak up in class, this list could come in handy. There are too many silences these days when teachers ask, “Does anyone have a question or a problem with their research paper, literary analysis or whatever?”

Another overall philosophy that most teachers would wholeheartedly embrace and agree with is this: “One of the main goals that we advocate for postsecondary education, and therefore for any course within it, is to exalt the significance in learners’ lives, to assist them in the realization and enhancement of what is truly important in their world.”

Helping our students achieve purpose — or perhaps hone in on the purpose — is especially rewarding and conducive to great learning opportunities. Making assignments as relevant as possible to our students’ lives and cultures is a goal most of us share.

The early chapter that includes the subhead “Personal Appreciation of the Concept of Culture” is also enlightening. The authors list alternative perspectives (to the classic European-American ones) of basic beliefs and values such as achievement and success and material comfort. It makes us realize that not all our students believe in the typical American dream, or even want to attain it. And that we must keep this profusion of beliefs in mind when we design meaningful readings and other assignments.

Although many of these ideas about being more inclusive and non-judgmental are not entirely new for seasoned faculty, it certainly doesn’t hurt to be reminded of them in case we’ve forgotten one part of this complex science of teaching. The most appropriate audience for this book would probably be new teachers and/or teachers who have been out of the classroom for a while and need to acclimate themselves to some mighty big changes.

— Reviewed by Deborah Straw. Straw teaches writing and literature courses at the Community College of Vermont in Burlington.

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