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Centre for Urban Schooling

Performing Policy

Critical Multicultural Education in a Diverse Classroom

Big Questions:

1. How does a schoolteacher place the identities and experiences of marginalized students at the centre of their curriculum and pedagogy?

2. What are the important and transferable features of this teacher’s practices and approaches to multicultural education that can be used in diverse classrooms?

Researcher: Dr. Dominique Rivière
Research Theme: Schooling and Social Equity

My earlier research focused on how students’ performances in a drama classroom could offer important contributions to how “identity” was conceptualized in provincial multicultural curriculum and policy (Rivière, 2006). As part of that work, I rewrote the Ontario Ministry of Education’s six objectives of multicultural curriculum (Ontario, 1993) into six reflective practices that would highlight the performative nature of both students’ and teachers’ identities. This case study looks at a master teacher’s reflective practices in a Junior-level classroom for students with “exceptional needs,”2 in order to highlight the aspects of teaching and learning that might be transferable to “regular” diverse classroom contexts.

Watch the full interview with
Dr. Dominique Rivière

Theoretical/Conceptual Frameworks

This case study draws upon three theoretical frameworks:


The notion of socially-constructed identity presupposes its fluid nature, in that identity-construction is a dialectical, relational process. According to Giles and Middleton, “The identity positions within which we locate ourselves, or are located by others, are neither neutral nor equal” (1999, p. 34). That is, identities are defined as much by what they are not as by what they are. Further, LeCourt (2004) reminds us that relations of identity are also inextricably linked to relations of power and, often, of domination.

Socialization and Schooling

McCarthy (1998) maintains that to understand how racial inequality operates in education, a link must be made between social structures (e.g. economic, social, political, or ideological) and what real people (e.g., students and teachers) actually do in schools. Yon’s (2000) notion of the “discursive space of schooling” is a useful framework for making such links because the power of socio-cultural and political discourses of racial, cultural, or ethnic identity structures the ways in which students are perceived to engage (or not) in school.

Critical Multiculturalism

Critical multiculturalism challenges the conventional understanding of multiculturalism as “celebrating” diversity, by arguing that it serves to mask the structural inequalities inherent in Canadian society. As described by scholars such as Nieto (2004) critical multicultural education requires that schools’ curricular, pedagogical, and policy practices are oriented towards non-essentialist conceptions of students’ cultures; towards challenging Western hegemonic knowledge in all school contexts; and towards recognizing the broader social, political and economic contexts in which education takes place.


Research Questions and Methods

  • How does a model school educator place the identities and experiences of her marginalized students at the centre of her curriculum and pedagogy?
  • What are the salient and transferable features of this teacher’s curricular and pedagogical approaches to (multicultural) education in diverse classrooms?
  • What does using a “performative” lens bring to the analysis of those features?

The methods comprised three two-hour classroom observations; two one-hour semi-structured interviews; and document analysis.

Read significant findings


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