Module 19: “Leveling Up” Your Instruction with the Banks Framework

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Module 18: Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy
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Module 19: "Leveling Up" Your Instruction
Module 20: Student Voice & Agency

After working through this module, you will be able to:

  • Describe the levels of Dr. James A. Banks’s framework for the integration of multicultural content.
  • Reframe a content area or information literacy standard (or public library program theme) into a lesson or unit plan at each level of this framework.
  • Act in your library or classroom to “level up” existing lesson or unit plans (or public library program plans) using Banks’s framework.


As we discussed in the previous module, Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy is a valuable approach that helps us recognize the skills and knowledge our students bring to school with them as resources to honor and extend, but it can feel a bit abstract. Creating culturally sustaining instruction and programming requires us to value students’ traditional, heritage practices and their current, community practices. It can be hard to figure out how to do this.

Dr. James A. Banks has created a useful model that helps us evaluate our existing lessons and find ways to make them more culturally relevant and sustaining. The goal of Dr. Banks’s model is to enable students from diverse racial and ethnic backgrounds to fully engage with and access the curriculum. It challenges the Euro-centric traditional curriculum and recognizes the contributions of BIPOC to society. It takes advantage of the cultural assets students bring to the classroom and works toward prejudice reduction. This model is a powerful tool for dismantling structural racism in schools and libraries.

Who is…

Dr. James A. Banks

Profile photo of Dr. James A. Banks

Dr. James A. Banks is regarded as the founder of the multicultural education movement. Now retired, he was a professor for 50 years and is the Kerry and Linda Killinger Endowed Chair in Diversity Studies Emeritus at the University of Washington, Seattle.

To learn more about Dr. Banks and his work:

  • Watch this video, in which Dr. Banks is interviewed about multicultural education in America.
  • Read one of Dr. Banks’s books (we recommend starting with An Introduction to Multicultural Education).


  • Read this brief journal article naming and describing the different levels of integration of multicultural content.
  • Read this brief interview [PDF] with Dr. Banks in which he explains the foundations of multicultural education and gives examples of what it looks like in the classroom.


Watch this video in which Project READY staff offer a specific example of transforming an existing curricular unit at each level of integration and how the transformed unit addresses information literacy skills and the American Association of School Librarians’ shared foundations.


Images of Practice - Icon by Adrien Coquet from Noun ProjectImages of Practice

In the video below, three elementary educators – Christine Zaccardi (a school librarian),  Sarah Mills (a Spanish teacher), and Martha Hayes (a magnet coordinator) – share a unit they collaboratively planned and taught that focused on citizenship, government services, and community. By connecting this content to equity issues in the students’ own community and guiding students in sharing their voices with county officials, these educators were able to reach Level 4 (the Social Action approach). Are there similar units of study or program opportunities in your community that you might transform using the Banks framework?

The Padlet mentioned in the video can be accessed here.


For School Librarians and Classroom Teachers: In your journal, brainstorm how you would transform the lesson described below at each level of the Banks framework: contributions, additive, transformation, and social action.

 Content area standard: CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.6
“Analyze multiple accounts of the same event or topic, noting important similarities and differences in the point of view they represent.”

Topic: Recent hurricanes (Harvey, Irma, & Maria)

Current Lesson (Level 0): Students read and compare two different news stories about the hurricanes from major news outlets.

When you’re done, click here to see our ideas. There isn’t a single correct answer; a single standard could be taught in many different ways and still meet the criteria for each level of Banks’s framework.

For this particular example, we think that it’s most difficult to think about what a Level 1 unit might include, since this topic doesn’t easily lend itself to a “heroes and holidays” approach. You could potentially make sure to choose articles written by or about first responders (the “heroes” of hurricane relief). It’s easier to think about moving this unit up to a Level 2, 3, or 4. To reach Level 2, you would need to incorporate additional content and themes highlighting new perspectives. One way to do this might be to have students read first-person accounts of the storms in addition to the news articles. These first-person accounts could be purposefully chosen to represent a diverse array of people impacted by the storm (for example, a wealthy person whose vacation home was damaged and a poor person whose home was destroyed). To move this unit to Level 3, you might have students examine differences in how the three hurricanes were covered by the media and/or responded to by the government and the public. Students could take on the role of a journalist and create a report synthesizing multiple perspectives, needs, and challenges related to one or more of the hurricanes. At Level 4, students might also write letters to congresspeople, senators, or local news media about the issues they identified in their research.


For Public Librarians: In your journal, brainstorm how you might transform the library program described below at each level of the Banks framework: contributions, additive, transformation, and social action.

Program Theme: Poetry

Current Program (Level 0): Participants read and discuss a famous poem and then write their own poem in the style of the model poem.

When you’re done, click here to see our ideas. There isn’t a single correct answer; a single theme could be addressed in many different ways and still meet the criteria for each level of Banks’s framework.

Historically, poetry has often been used by writers within marginalized communities to express their emotions, communicate their lived experiences, and speak out against injustice. This makes poetry a rich site for exploring issues of equity and social justice. To take the example poetry program up to a Level 1, you could simply choose a famous poem written by a prominent person of color – for example, Langston Hughes. A Level 2 program might involve bringing in multiple example poems, spoken word, and music including ones from lesser-known authors of color or other marginalized voices and modern-day musicians and spoken word artists. It’s important for youth to experience poetry in the many different mediums it comes in and it’s important for youth to hear spoken word, songs, and poetry read by the creators. Engaging participants in comparing the perspectives represented in these poems is important at this level. A Level 3 program might ask youth to critically engage with an equity issue through reading and writing poetry, spoken word, or songs. Participants themselves could then take the lead on moving this program to a Level 4 by planning their own course of action based on the themes in their poetry, spoken word, or songs.  



Select a content area standard and related lesson/unit that you currently teach or, if you’re in a public library, a program you currently offer, then brainstorm how you might transform that lesson/unit/program. In your journal, write notes on how you would transform it at each level: contributions, additive, transformation, and social action. Next, make a plan based on your brainstorming, then implement it.

But Wait!

In this section, we address common questions and concerns related to the material presented in each module. You may have these questions yourself, or someone you’re sharing this information with might raise them. We recommend that for each question below, you spend a few minutes thinking about your own response before clicking the arrow to the left of the question to see our response.

Won’t a Level 4 unit take much more time than a Level 1 unit? How can I integrate this into an already jam-packed curriculum?

Time is always a precious commodity for school librarians and classroom teachers. However, it’s not always the case that a lesson or unit at a higher level of the Banks framework would take more time than a lower-level lesson or unit. Consider our statues and monuments example. The original plan, which required students to choose a monument from a teacher-provided list, research the monument, and write a report, would likely take several days of class time. The suggested plans at Levels 3 and 4 could both be accomplished within that same time period. It is true that additional planning time may be needed to develop a unit at the highest levels of Banks’s framework. However, just as with other types of planning, you will eventually become more efficient at this over time. If you are limited to a very short period of time – say, a 30-minute mini-lesson on source selection – you can still use the Banks framework to “level up” that individual lesson so that it reaches at least Level 2 (the additive approach) without extending the time required. Remember – not every lesson can or should be at Level 4, but where possible, it’s great to use the Banks framework to think about where you can efficiently and effectively improve your current practice.

Teachers in my school aren’t ready for Level 4 units. Where do I start?

Transforming teaching and learning in the ways that Banks and the Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy model propose will not be an overnight process. It may be true that most of the teachers in your school aren’t prepared to dive into a Level 4 unit plan – but some might be. Start by approaching a teacher who is already on board with equity pedagogy, or one you think might be receptive to learning about this way of teaching. Even then, you might not start with a Level 4 plan, but rather aim for a level that is just beyond what you and this teacher have previously implemented. Share the results of successful collaborations; as we know, teachers can be some of the best advocates for our library programs. Consider attending a department, team, or grade level meeting to share the Banks model with small groups of colleagues. If you’re still having trouble getting teachers involved, use the Banks framework to inform and transform the instruction that you develop independently, such as mini-lessons, book talks, or afterschool programs.

How do I move public library programs to a level 4? Is that even realistic?

Level 4 of this framework centers on facilitating youth engagement with real-world issues, and this is something that public library programs can definitely accomplish if carefully planned. Consider the “Make a Difference” series that Youth Services Librarian Monicah Fratena and Technology Librarian Pam Okosun developed at the La Porte County Public Library. Fratena and Okosun worked with teens to brainstorm ways that their library makerspace could be used to help marginalized members of their community. The teens came up with ideas including making bracelets showing support for the LGBTQ+ community, designing light-up cards for homebound community members, and even building prosthetic hands in partnership with Enabling the Future using the library’s 3D printers. Over the following months, around 250 people – mostly teens, but also other community members – helped to complete six different projects. You’ll see another example of a Level 4 public library program in Module 22 (the Woke Teen Forum and Unconference led by Teen Services Librarian and YOUmedia Coordinator Gabbie Barnes).


These resources can help you begin to “level up” your existing lessons and units.


Go Back:
Module 18: Culturally Sustaining Pedagogy
You Are Here:
Module 19: "Leveling Up" Your Instruction
Module 20: Student Voice & Agency