Teachers, Here are Four Approaches to Creating a Multicultural Curriculum

Multicultural Education By James Banks https://www.amazon.com/Multicultural-Education-Perspectives-James-Banks/dp/1118360087

By Dr. David Childs Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

As our society becomes increasingly more diverse, it is important that schools strive toward developing a more inclusive curriculum in public schools that goes beyond simply patronizing people of color. James Banks offers four levels of multicultural curricular reform that is effective and meaningful and integrates social justice into the lesson. Below I have included the four approaches outlined by Banks. I encourage teachers to move beyond the first level (The contributions approach) to the more thoughtful, meaningful and transformative approaches to multicultural curriculum design.

From “Four Approaches to Multicultural Curriculum Reform
By James Banks

Contributions Approach
This approach reflects the least amount of involvement in multicultural education approaches. This is incorporated by selecting books and activities that celebrate holidays, heroes, and special events from various cultures. For example, spending time reading about Dr. Martin Luther King in January is a common practice that falls into this category. In this approach, culturally diverse books and issues are not specified as part of the curriculum (Banks, 1999).

Additive Approach
In this approach content, concepts, themes, and perspectives are added to the curriculum without changing its basic structure. This involves incorporating literature by and about people from diverse cultures into the mainstream curriculum without changing the curriculum.  For example, examining the perspective of a Native American about Thanksgiving would be adding cultural diversity to the traditional view of Thanksgiving. However, this approach does not necessarily transform thinking (Banks, 1999).

The Transformation Approach
This approach actually changes the structure of the curriculum and encourages students to view concepts, issues, themes, and problems from several ethnic perspectives and points of view. For example, a unit on Thanksgiving would become an entire unit exploring cultural conflict. This type of instruction involves critical thinking and involves a consideration of diversity as a basic premise (Banks, 1999).

The Social Action Approach
This approach combines the transformation approach with activities to strive for social change. Students are not only instructed to understand and question social issues, but to also do something about it. For example, after participating in a unit about recent immigrants to North America, students may write letters to senators, Congress, and newspaper editors to express their opinions about new policies (Banks, 1999).”

Here are some other resources for teachers that highlight Dr. James Banks’ work on multicultural curriculum.

Multicultural Education: Goals and Dimensions
Approaches to Multicultural Reform
Approaches to Multicultural Curriculum and Reform
Stages of Multicultural Curriculum Transformation
On Educating for Diversity: A Conversation with James A. Banks
Bloom-Banks Matrix: Design Rigorous, Multicultural Curriculum for the Diverse 21st Century Classroom

Banks, J.A. (1999).  An Introduction to Multicultural Education (2nd ed.). Boston: Allyn and Bacon.


  1. I am so glad that Dr. Childs took the time to discuss the various ways that we, as teachers, can work towards creating a multicultural curriculum. As Dr. Childs said in the article, many teachers work at the first level, the Contributions Approach. From personal experiences, when I think of my experiences in elementary school, and even in higher education, and compare them to the various approaches used for creating a multicultural curriculum, most of these experiences fall in the Contributions Approach. While these experiences have been memorable, I believe that if teachers took the time to create lessons that fall into the other categories of multicultural curriculum, the lessons would be more transformative. With both definitions and examples, this is a great way to introduce teachers to creating multicultural curriculum.

  2. This is a pretty eye opening article. As someone who grew up in a predominately white school in a rural farm town, I’ve never really seen multicultural education modeled. I don’t think my teachers growing up would have even been considered at the contributions approach. Even the schools that I have visited recently are only in the contributions approach. We could make a lot of change if all our new educators strived to reach the social action approach.

  3. I really enjoyed reading this article and found it very eye-opening. When I think back to when I was in school there was never much diversity in the classrooms. Teachers would talk about Martin Luther King Jr. or mention other holidays but the diversity was never actually included in the curriculum. As a future teacher who wants my classroom to be diverse so that all children feel welcome, this article really showed me that I cannot just do this by reading books with diverse characters or by celebrating holidays. I need to do more for my students and include diversity in all aspects of my classroom and teaching. By reading about these approaches and what they mean and entail will help me achieve my goal.

  4. I found this article very interesting and informative. As a future teacher, I found this article to be very helpful because I have always wondered if there are specific approaches that I can use to create a more inclusive classroom for the diverse students that I will have in my own classroom in the near future.Before reading this article,I was very concerned about how to create an inclusive and welcoming classroom for students that are more diverse than others. However, after reading this article and the four different approaches that can be used to create a more inclusive classroom environment, I am now a little less concerned about creating my own classroom environment that is inclusive and welcoming for all of my future students. I will definitely be using one of these approaches in order to create the most supportive classroom environment that I can for the students in my own classroom, so thank you for sharing this article with our class, Dr. Childs !! 🙂

  5. I like these approaches to a multicultural curriculum. I want to strive for the social action approach. I think that would not only teach students effectively, but inspire social change in our country.

  6. As a white middle-class female, I thought it was very important to learn more about how to create a multicultural experience for my future classroom. As an elementary student years ago, I think my school used the contributions approach, if any, to teaching us about different cultures and races with very little opportunities given to see things from other perspectives. From my observations in the classrooms, the transformation and social action approaches are two aspects of achieving a multicultural classroom that still need a lot more work to be integrated into the elementary curriculum. I will do better for my future students by designing lesson plans that allow students to view the world from many different aspects and establish a classroom where all people are celebrated.
    Also, The University of Washington article titled “Multicultural Education: Goals and Dimensions” was very interesting. It highlighted 5 aspects of multicultural education. One was prejudice reduction, where teachers are challenged to create lessons that contribute to multicultural positivity and to give information on different ethnic and racial groups to help bring more understanding among students of different races and cultures. Now more than ever, we need educators who teach students to work together to bring positive change to our society.

  7. The article outlines some wonderful ideas and provides excellent examples of each approach. Just as the article said, most classrooms tend to stay within the Contributions Approach. I think one of the main reasons this happens is because of the mindset that it is difficult to incorporate culture beyond that, well as we can see, it is not. I only had about one or two classes that went beyond the Contributions Approach and into the Additive Approach, which disappoints me because in every class we should focus on critical thinking and looking beyond a one viewpoint methodology.
    Tapping into the Transformation Approach should at least be the minimum goal for a teacher to reach. This approach will allow students to at least see multiple sources from different cultures and lessen the biases that may come along without incorporating different sources and accounts. One example that comes to mind is the way the Romans viewed the Celtic peoples. In their literature you would think of the Celts as nothing more than war hungry barbarians, as you look at other multiple ethnic viewpoints you can see beyond this and realize that yes, although they were involved in many warlike conflicts, their culture was much more diverse and beautiful than just that. Using the Transformation Approach, I think students can really weave out biases and better understand a given event.
    The Social Action Approach is something that I found to be very interesting. I have heard of examples that fit into this approach, and think it is a great way to show students that they can make a difference. Although assigning a paper is great, letting your students write a letter to congress for example is a much better way to let them apply their knowledge. This allows the students to see that what they are learning and researching can actually make a difference in the communities around them. Although it is important to incorporate a multicultural curriculum, to me it seemed intimidating. Just by seeing these approaches and realizing the lack of multicultural learning I have had in the past helps me recognize how important, but also how easy it can be for me as a future educator to reach higher levels of inclusive teaching.

  8. Hi, my name is Ashley Collins and I am a senior at NKU The article I chose was “ Teachers, here are four approaches to creating a multicultural curriculum.” I chose this article because I felt it would give me more insight into better improving the curriculum to include more multicultural information. I liked that it gave multiple approaches that could be aligned with the different possible types of curriculum. For instance it provided information on how to add it into an already written curriculum in the cases where one is provided by a school or district. It also provides tips on how to transform an existing curriculum to better fit the multicultural goal curriculum. My favorite piece was how it pointed out that regardless of the cultural makeup of the class it was still relevant to have a multicultural curriculum including backgrounds of peoples who are not represented in the class so that the student can have a new and unique perspective in the world.

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