Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Culturally Relevant Instruction for Latinos

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Culturally Relevant Instruction for Latinos

Article excerpt


Based on a two-year study of Latinos' attitudes and experiences using an academic library, this article discusses an information literacy course designed for Latinos and considerations for instructing Latinos. Included in this discussion are implications for making courses culturally relevant to students, as well as the impact of having a responsive and caring instructor.


The need to develop more connections with diverse library users is of growing importance in college and university libraries, especially in areas of information competency skills. To assist in the effort to reach out to one of our diverse groups at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the author created an information literacy class for Latinos. This article will describe part of a two year, primarily qualitative, study with Latinos (Mestre 2000) engaged in the course: "Essentials of Library Research." The importance of establishing relevancy and relationship in such a course will also be discussed.

Description of the Course

The overall objective of the course, Education 190R, "Essentials of Library Research" (conducted in Spanish and English) was to develop the knowledge and skills needed to access, evaluate and retrieve appropriate information from the various print and electronic resources in the library and through the Internet. Classes consisted of demonstrations, discussions, and hands-on computer exercises, with a web portfolio due at the end of the semester.

The course met weekly in the library computer lab and was capped at 15 to allow each student their own computer. Coordination for enrollment for the class was done through the Bilingual Collegiate Program (BCP) on campus. At this institution, 3.9% (635 students) of our student population report themselves as Hispanics (Office of Institutional Research) with 427 of them enrolled in BCP for support services. Thus, by targeting the BCP students, we would be able to reach a large percentage of Latinos on campus.

Cultural Considerations

During my tenure teaching this class, my cultural awareness progressed extensively as I learned ways to make the class culturally and pedagogically relevant to the students. Trueba (1997) critiques various educational strategies that have been used with Latino students and suggests alternatives that may be more successful, while taking into consideration the differences in cultural capital. He states that some of the reasons for the historic academic underachievement of Latino students could be due to inappropriate cognitive, cultural, and linguistic teaching methods. He asserts that social power relations among cultural groups need to be recognized by educators and changes made so that the environment and methods are more conducive to all students. Other researchers have addressed the need for instruction to be culturally relevant as well (Gay, 2002; LeCompte, K.N. & McCray, A.D, 2002; Sleeter, C.E., 2001; Wlodkowski, R. J. & Ginsberg, M. B., 1995, September). Educators must learn to count Latino experiences and cultural capital as strengths, rather than gearing a session towards the majority. Thus, making sessions relevant culturally to the students is of importance, as is using students' examples and possible digressions as learning experiences and opportunities to explore other topics.

In my teaching, I learned to use examples related to the student's interests. For example, we started each day with a student's selection of a headline in a Latino online newspaper and then used that topic in selected databases, print and Internet sources. This led to conversations about subject headings and comparisons and evaluations of results from the various sources slated for the day. These headlines often sparked students' personal stories. After observing a Latino professor's "Internet for Latino Studies" class, I observed that these asides are important for students and instructors. …

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