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Responsive Schooling for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

reviewed by Susan Sonnenschein - November 16, 2020

coverTitle: Responsive Schooling for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students
Author(s): Debbie Zacarian & Ivannia Soto
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company, New York
ISBN: 0393713520, Pages: 208, Year: 2020
Search for book at Amazon.com

How should one judge an academic book? Three ways include: whether the coverage of content is accurate and sufficiently exhaustive, whether the writing is easy enough to read, and whether the content and style are appropriate for the audience. The answer to each of these three questions for Responsive Schooling for Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students is yes. This is an excellent book, one that should be a useful supplement to teachers’ libraries.

As the authors state in a note for readers at the outset of the book, this work is intended to serve as a general resource for those who work with culturally and linguistically diverse students. There is clearly a need for such books given that our schools have gone from a student body with a white majority to one with a minority majority (Maxell, 2014). There is also a critical need to improve the academic skills of certain demographic groups of students (Sonnenschein & Sawyer, 2018). That is, children from certain demographic groups enter school significantly behind children from other groups. This gap is maintained or even increases as children go through school (Serpell et al., 2015; Sonnenschein & Galindo, 2015). One important means of closing, or at least narrowing, the gap is for teachers to be more sensitive to the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students.  Although the authors do not explicitly state so, they take a strengths-based perspective to understand the needs of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (Rogoff et al., 2017).

The book consists of seven chapters which really could be grouped into two parts. The first three chapters present the relevant research and theory on the topic and how the findings apply for educational issues. The remaining four chapters discuss how one can build culturally responsive networks through partnerships and collaboration with family, school, and community.

Chapter One makes the case that a culturally/linguistically responsive approach to teaching is needed because of the changing demographics of the U.S. student body. Learning occurs in a sociocultural context. Therefore, in order to maximize students’ learning, such an approach is needed. The authors also argue that such an approach is necessary for social justice issues.

Chapter Two discusses how one’s identity is constructed in a sociocultural context. Although they do not explicitly discuss the issue of intersectionality by name, they do discuss that students can identify with more than one group. For example, a student’s identity can include being male, Latinx, a Spanish speaker, and a first-generation immigrant to the United States.

Chapter Three discusses the need for a balanced approach to culturally responsive teaching. The title of this chapter is not as transparent as the titles to the other chapters. The authors are trying to make the point that teachers need to constantly reassess what they are doing to take into account their changing student populations and even the changing needs of individual students.

Chapter Four discusses how to build family-school partnerships that are responsive to the cultural background of the student and family. This is an important issue that has been raised in some form by researchers and theorists such as Bronfenbrenner, Epstein, Moll, and others (Sonnenschein & Sawyer, 2018). The authors present some examples of successful partnerships.

Chapter Five focuses on how to build culturally responsive schools. Important aspects of that chapter are the need to avoid implicit biases when working with students and families from backgrounds different from the teachers’ and the need for teachers to avoid using microaggressions.

Chapter Six moves beyond family and school relations to discuss how to build culturally responsive school and community connections. Thus, not only do the authors make the case for the importance of such connections, they also talk about what to do to develop such connections. One example they also discuss is community schools, which are examples of schools that are based on school/community connections. They review what could be barriers to establishing and maintaining school-community partnerships and connections, and how to circumvent or avoid such barriers.

Chapter Seven discusses how service learning is or can be a culturally responsive practice. In some ways, this was the most innovative chapter given that service learning, as noted by the authors, is not necessarily used throughout schools in the United States, and when it is used, it is generally not to address issues of cultural and linguistic diversity.

Returning to the questions posed at the outset of this article, the answer to all three questions is yes. The authors do a particularly good job presenting the relevant research and theory without overwhelming their target audience.

No book is perfect, and this one is no exception. I would have liked to see more concrete suggestions for what teachers could do in the classroom; that is, how they could implement the authors’ excellent suggestions. I also would have liked to see more discussion including pertinent examples of issues of intersectionality and how teachers could address the needs of students whose identities fall into more than one category (a common issue for all of us). That said, this is an excellent book. It should be part of all teachers’ libraries. I would recommend it as part of in-service and preservice training for all teachers.


Maxell, L. (August 9, 2014). U.S. school enrollment hits majority-minority milestone. Education Week. https://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/08/20/01demographics.h34.html?tkn=MNXFC%

Rogoff, B., Coppens, A. D., Alcala, L., Aceves-Azuara, I., Ruvalcaba, O., Lopez, A., & Dayton, A. (2017). Noticing learner’s strengths through cultural research. Perspectives on Psychological Science,12(5), 876–888.

Serpell, R., Baker, L. & Sonnenschein, S. (2005). Becoming literate in the city: The Baltimore Early Childhood Project. Cambridge University Press.

Sonnenschein, S., & Galindo, C. (2015). Race/ethnicity and initial math skills: Relations between home, classroom, and math achievement. Journal of Educational Research, 108, 261–277.

Sonnenschein, S., & Sawyer, B. E. (Eds.). (2018). Academic socialization of young Black and Latino children: Building on family strengths. Springer.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: November 16, 2020
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23514, Date Accessed: 11/30/2020 8:42:07 PM

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About the Author
  • Susan Sonnenschein
    University of Maryland, Baltimore County
    E-mail Author
    SUSAN SONNENSCHEIN, Ph.D., is a professor and graduate program director of the Applied Developmental Psychology program in the Psychology Department at UMBC. She has a Ph.D. in developmental psychology, an M.S. in educational psychology, and is a certified school psychologist. Her scholarly interests focus on the educational development, and ways to facilitate such development, of children, particularly children from demographic backgrounds often placed at risk for difficulties. She has published extensively on this topic and conducted many program evaluations as well.
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