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 really enjoyed this article, because it really highlights how to implement the cultural differences in the classroom. I plan on teaching at a relatively diverse school when I graduate and these tactics can definitely be implemented in the classroom. I believe seeing history from different perspectives is incredibly important. Also using historical knowledge to try to make changes in modern society is a very interesting way to keep society from repeating their mistakes.

  2. This article really stuck out to me because it has always been one of the most concerning things to me about my future classroom. I want to make sure my students all feel at home and comfortable in my classroom and that might mean changing up how we do some things. I feel that each one of these approaches should be used. Not only should we incorporate diverse talks in the classroom but we need to encourage participation in their lives in the present and the future.

  3. I find all of these approaches interesting, but I personally like the Transformation and Social Action approach. It is my own personal opinion that we need to move away from a Eurocentric point of view in terms of education, especially when other cultures have contributed so much.

  4. As someone who will be entering the teaching profession in the next year, I believe that it is extremely important that teachers are taking the Social Action Approach. In Social Studies classrooms especially, teachers have a unique opportunity to actively work to encourage students to work for social change through the curriculum they choose to teach. The Transformation Approach is also a unique way of creating a multicultural curriculum. While in theory this approach is very interesting and a great way to institute change, much of the responsibility to execute this will fall directly on the educator. When working in the public school sphere, teachers must keep in mind the various standards they are require to hold their lessons to and find ways to incorporate ideas of social change.

  5. As a future educator, especially a history educator, it’s important to understand multicultural viewpoints. The adage “history is written by the victor” is an ugly truth that I diligently want to combat. Going to college and learning global viewpoints, I understand how wording can really impact our thoughts and notions on history. Getting a micro-credential in global awareness has allowed me a deeper understanding of history as you assess historic events from every viewpoint. I think James Bank’s “Transformation Approach” is what I aim to have in my classroom. I really want to hone in on the “other” point of view, not just offer it as extra education. Its so important to develop a rounded sense of history and whitewashing it only limits us and turns us against one another. My job as an educator is to teach without bias and with love! That’s not possible without multicultural education and curriculum.

  6. For those of us in Secondary Education, one of the most difficult tasks our students can face would fall under the Transformation Approach. As such, this could be an excellent exercise in learning empathy and acceptance of multiple cultures. Students just coming into their executive functions as well as many adults have a difficult time remembering that the world is not centered upon themselves and that there are other cultures, economic backgrounds, and social circumstances that are beyond the visual scope. By allowing students to safely explore these new perspectives, we can gently challenge biases and preconceived notions of different peoples, places, and views.

  7. Since I am a Senior at NKU majoring in Elementary Education and am quickly approaching having a classroom and students of my own, this article is particularly important for me to read and learn from. As I plan my lessons and begin to think about how I want to approach teaching, I must remember that my classroom will be diverse, and using these multicultural approaches will only enrich my curriculum and allow my students to become better thinkers and make a difference in the world. I want my students to be able to think and learn beyond their own cultures and experiences and these approaches are the perfect way to do that. I thank Dr.Childs for posting this and James Banks for developing these as they will only make me a better and more impactful educator to my students.

  8. As a future educator, I believe it’s important to integrate multicultural curriculum into the classroom. Especially for those of us teaching at the elementary level, where these students don’t get to study social studies as often or as in-depth until they get into upper grade levels. When teaching about history at a younger level I think it’s important to not just read a story to tell why an event is important but talk to our students and have them tell us their thoughts. It’s important for these students to see different viewpoints from different cultures. For example, when teaching students about thanksgiving, finding a book or an appropriate short video showing the native American’s viewpoint about these new people coming onto their land. Have the students do a compare and contrast on how the viewpoints from the natives and the settlers were similar or different. It would also be interesting to have to students write in a journal as if they were a settler or as a Native American. These are great ways to get students more involved in other cultures.

  9. After reading this article, I realized, as I went through school I do not remember a time that a teacher taught much about other cultures. Being that this is my last year of college and I will be teaching young students in the near future, I want to use these approaches within my classroom. Although, it may be hard to use some of these approaches with young children, I am sure I can use at least one in the classroom. The additive approach stuck out to me when thinking about how I would use it in my lesson planning. Changing and shifting the way students learn about different ethnic perspectives, can allow for more understanding and appreciation of others. Which is something we are heavily laking right now, all over the United States.

  10. I chose to read this article as it caught my eye because it could help me learn new ways to create a multicultural curriculum in my future classroom. You pointed out that the world is always going to continue to grow more diverse. These four approaches will create a more meaningful approach to this curriculum that our classrooms need. I love how the Social Action Approach actually has the students do something physical towards the social issues they just learned. Thank you for listing more teacher resources at the bottom of this article for us to look further into!

  11. As someone who is currently student teaching in classrooms as well as having a bachelor’s in social issues such as racism, I’ve often wondered how I could marry my degree with teaching in the classroom. Seeing the possibilities lined out as thus is a great help. I would like to incorporate multicultural curriculum as much as I am able in my classroom and I plan to use this article as a point of reference when I am doing so.

  12. This article was really interesting to me. It really opened my eyes to the diverse needs of classrooms. It gave really good insight on how to approach diversity in the classroom. I want to make all my students feel welcome and included in the classroom, this article gave me good ideas on how to make this change better.

  13. My number one goal as a future educator is for all of the students I encounter to feel welcome in my classroom. One of the biggest pushes I have had from professors is to build classroom community in order for all students to feel welcome. While it is extremely important, I don’t think the community will be sustained throughout the school year without providing an inclusive learning environment for my students. Each of the approaches listed above are great reminders to the many ways teachers can provide their students with an inclusive, multicultural environment.

  14. One of the most important things to me when it comes to teaching social studies is that I provide students with a thorough education. Sometimes, it can be rather intimidating to me when I think about how to teach my students about other cultures and people of color. I want to ensure that my students get more than the “fluff.” Coloring a picture of Martin Luther King Jr. or coloring a Kinara is not enough. There is no substance to those things. I want my students to really think about the world they live in and how they can make it a better place. The approaches discussed in this article are a great way to begin to focus on better education practices.

  15. I really liked how this article pointed out different ways to make sure classrooms are learning about different cultures. All of these methods are great and should be included in the classroom but one that specifically stood out to me was the social action approach. I like this approach because I feel like sometimes people don’t feel like they have a voice or get nervous to stand up for what they believe in. I think students would enjoy the activity of writing to senators, congress and newspaper editors about the policies and it would help them understand and remember different policies. It would also help them practice using their voice and taking a stand for what they believe in, which could change the world one day.

  16. This article was such a great read. It is a great resource for me to add to my toolkit. This article provided me with ways to make sure that ALL students feel welcome in my classroom, which is something that has always been super important to me. It provided me with great ways to do so and I can’t wait to use the resources in my classroom to make sure that it is a diverse learning environment.

  17. This article is very good for current and future teachers. I believe it is very important for all schools to teach a diverse curriculum. Students need to see the different sides of history, not just from one point of view. As a future educator, I plan to incorporate multicultural education into my curriculum. This article give many resources for teachers to use to developing a more diverse and inclusive curriculum.

  18. This article is such a helpful resource. Classrooms are becoming more and more diverse and being able to accommodate your students and make them feel comfortable is so important. These approaches are greats thins to develop into every lesson and give another viewpoint on basic things you usually teach but in a way that is educational and culturally appropriate.

  19. I actually found this article more interesting the more I read it. I think this article can be very helpful to general education teachers as well as special education teachers. I think that these approaches are important because teachers can choose which approach will fit best with their classroom and their students’ needs for successful learning. Having these approaches can help all teachers, especially when the classroom’s will be diverse. I also think that other than the approaches, having all of the other resources that highlight Dr. James Banks’ work is very helpful as well. This article is something I could definitely use in my classroom.

  20. I really liked this article and found it very helpful as it provided a lot of great tips and insight on how to be culturally diverse in the classroom. When I start teaching, I really want to teach in an inner-city school – which are normally very diverse. This article really helps shine some light on some wonderful ways to teach to a culturally diverse classroom through each of the approaches that are talked about. I plan to use these in my classroom as I learn to accommodate to the many different students in my classroom.

  21. 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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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.

  24. 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.

  25. 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 !! 🙂

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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.

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