The demographic composition of students in U.S. institutions of higher education is rapidly shifting. We know that 21st century learners are more digitally adept and more socially, economically, and culturally/linguistically diverse than at any moment historically. The University of Texas at El Paso's (UTEP) student body reflects these broader demographic changes taking place nationwide: more than 80% of UTEP students are Latina/o, with the majority identifying as bilingual; more than 50% of students are the first in their families to attend college; and roughly half of students are Pell-eligible (e.g., many of whom have annual family incomes of less than $20,000). For these reasons, UTEP is poised to be a pedagogical leader in approaches to maximizing 21st century student learning at the postsecondary level across disciplines, with a particular focus on linguistically diverse student populations.
Traditionally, Latina/o students in the K-20 pipeline -- not unlike those at UTEP -- have had to contend with deficit notions surrounding their academic performance and achievement. This deficit thinking has placed emphasis on students' deficiencies -- whether in terms of language, cognition, or motivation, among other factors -- rather than the structural conditions, such as inequitable funding for schools, that have tended to contribute to the persistent under-achievement of certain groups (Valencia, 2010).
As a challenge to deficit explanations of Latina/o student academic under-achievement, the recent 10-year student success framework adopted by UTEP, known as the UTEP Edge, advocates an asset-based approach to working with students both inside and outside of the classroom. Drawing on educational research as well community development literature, these asset-based pedagogical approaches emphasize students' individual and collective strengths, skills, and capacities as the starting point for learning and engagement. Such approaches do not claim to resolve the systemic conditions that contribute to persistent inequities experienced by minoritized students in the K-20 pipeline; rather, they are focused on reconfiguring teaching and learning to promote equity at the classroom level.
This paper provides an outline of the conceptual underpinnings of an asset-based framework for teaching and learning (ABTL), highlights key characteristics of ABTL with culturally and linguistically diverse learners, and provides examples of ABTL in the classroom, across disciplines.