C2C Digital Magazine (Fall 2023 / Winter 2024)

Book Review: Equitable and Inclusive Teaching for Diverse Learners with Disabilities

Reviewed By Robert Bruce Scott

A Call to Action

Dr. Natasha Reyes and Dr. Leonard Steen recently collaborated on a chapter “Reframing Our Thoughts and Actions Through an Exceptional BDI Foundation: A Call to Action,” in a new book, “Equitable and Inclusive Teaching for Diverse Learners with Disabilities: A Biography-Driven Approach” (Teachers College Press, 2023). Biography-driven instruction (BDI) is a teaching approach innovated by Socorro Herrera and defined in the glossary of this new text:

Biography-driven instruction (BDI): A research-based instructional framework that captures how the four interrelated dimensions of the culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) student biography, situated within the context of the learner’s biopsychosocial history, influence and are continually influenced by the teaching and learning dynamics of the classroom. BDI applies the principles of cultural responsiveness (Gay, 2018) and cultural sustainability (Paris, 2012) to achieve the goals of liberatory praxis as a result of this humanistic, learner-centered, and adaptable approach to teaching and learning in diverse spaces.

Reyes and Steen suggest that a school psychologist – the person who traditionally and often still leads and controls a process sometimes called “pre-referral” and other times, more recently, called Response to Intervention (RTI) or Multi-tiered Systems of Support (MTSS), through which a student receives increasing degrees of intensive “intervention” as he or she is assessed to be failing to learn – ought to shift the focus to the student’s “assets” by valuing cultural and linguistic diversity as well as family and community perspectives. 

Reyes and Steen describe research showing that general assumptions and preconceptions tend to feed attitudes among teachers and other school personnel that end up working against a culturally and linguistically diverse student’s best interests, conflating cultural differences and “checkbox” lists used to identify likely disablity status. Their research and the premise of this entire book are supported by numerous studies in addition to the ones cited in their bibliography. For example, the problem-solving process described in their argument is derived from Skrtic’s 1986 contention that problem-solving is at the heart of the special education process and, in his words, “student-diversity is not a liability in a problem-solving organization; it is an asset, an enduring uncertainty, and thus the driving force behind motivation, growth of knowledge, and progress.” Reyes and Steen, and the other authors of their 2023 text, similarly echo findings from Garcia and Ortiz (1988) and Browning Wright (2005), who have argued that a problem-solving orientation requires a predisposition to see a learner in context and, when there is a mismatch between the learner and the curriculum, first look for ways of adapting the curriculum to the learner’s needs.

Two Tenets of Biography-Driven Instruction (BDI)

Reyes and Steen provide essential guidance for schools and MTSS teams seeking to implement Herrera’s 2016 BDI framework, namely two tenets of BDI they emphasize: 1) The importance of attending to the biopsychosocial histories of students; and 2) The importance of considering data and sources of knowledge outside of standardized assessments or benchmark screeners to determine levels of development and ability.

A key problem preventing school teams from providing relevant and useful interventions to culturally and linguistically diverse students (and accurately identifying and responding to low-incidence and high incidence exceptionalities, and/or giftedness) are team members’ “lack of awareness, knowledge, and consideration of the impact of a student’s biopsychosocial history within the academic setting” (Reyes, 2022). This unconscious bias, according to Reyes and Steen, stems from four factors impeding effective education and support for CLD students: 1) assumptions held by classroom teachers about parents and about behaviors expected from those parents; 2) teachers’ self-perceptions, that is, “the perceived importance of teacher knowledge over, or without, consideration of the family/parent perspective”; 3) how or even whether a student’s personal story was utilized during considerations for interventions and during interpretation of data; and 4) classroom teachers misunderstanding the BDI-based problem-solving process, that is, “mindsets of classroom teachers around [so called] ‘struggling’ students and the desire to ‘hurry up and test’ [to obtain data promoting a referral to special education].”

These findings by Reyes and Steen also echo suggestions in 2010 by Simpson and Mundschenk in their book, “Working with Parents and Families of Exceptional Children and Youth: Techniques for Successful Conferencing and Collaboration” (Pro-Ed), including a chapter in that book titled “Accommodating Cultural, Linguistic, and Family-Structure Diversity.”

One key contribution from Reyes and Steen, and their crowning crescendo concluding this new book from Socorro Herrera, Diane Rodriguez, Robin Morales Cabral, and Melissa Holmes (with a foreword by Alfredo J. Artiles), is a chart titled “Alignment of IDEA and BDI,” which lays out what the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act says on specific aspects of the special education process, why each aspect is important, and how schools can ensure lawful practice with CLD students. 

As someone myself who has trained prospective general education and special education teachers, and improvised my own additional resources to bring multicultural and multilingual awareness into my classes, I would have greatly appreciated having a textbook like this new one by Herrera, Rodriguez, Morales Cabral, and Holmes, and its concluding “call to action” by Reyes and Steen, to use as a companion text. Also, as someone who has introduced hundreds of teacher candidates to the CREDE Standards of Effective Pedagogy for At-Risk Students from Roland Tharp's Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence, I am overjoyed to find two key CREDE standards -- joint productive activity (JPA) and the instructional conversation (IC) -- greatly detailed and applied to Herrera's Biography-Driven Instruction (BDI) model. 

Note: The author of this book review, Robb Scott, knows and has worked at the Center for Intercultural and Multilingual Advocacy (CIMA Center) at Kansas State University with three of the primary authors of this new book, which may have affected the objectivity of his reporting.

Herrera, S.G., Rodriguez, D., Cabral, R.M., & Holmes, M.A. (2023). Equitable and Inclusive
          Teaching for Diverse Learners with Disabilities
Teachers College Press,
          New York and London.


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