A Journal of Teaching English Language and Literature

ISSN Print : 2229-6557, Online: 2394-9244

Exploring the Panchatantra /Jataka Tales as a Culturally Relevant Resource to Enhance L2 Development

Gadam Susan Suma Bala


Teachers when faced with a heterogeneous mix of learners in their classrooms must be prepared to teach all students irrespective of their cultural, ethnic, linguistic, racial, and social class backgrounds. The term “culturally relevant teaching” was originally introduced by Gloria Ladson-Billings in 1992. However, other anthropologists, socio-linguists, and teacher educators, who searched for ways to find links between the students’ home culture and the school, described this type of schooling as culturally appropriate, culturally congruent, culturally responsive, and culturally compatible.

Culturally Relevant Pedagogy:

Culturally relevant teaching is a term coined by Gloria Ladson-Billings (1994) to describe “a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes.” Teachers create a bridge between students’ home and school lives, while still meeting the expectations of the district and state curricular requirements. Culturally relevant teaching utilizes the learners' background knowledge, and experiences to help the teacher’s in planning the lessons and methodology.

This approach to teaching incorporates knowledge from student’s cultural background into the instructional strategies and course content in an effort to improve educational outcomes. One of the primary ideas behind culturally relevant pedagogy is to create learning environments that allow students to utilize cultural elements, capital cultural, and other recognizable knowledge that they are familiar with to learn new content and information in order to enhance their schooling experience and academic success.

Principles of Culturally Relevant Teaching:

Ladson-Billings contends that culturally relevant pedagogy has three criteria:

  • Students must experience academic success.
  • Students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence.   
  • Students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order.

Academic Success: Regardless of social inequities, students must be provided with the tools to achieve academic proficiency. Furthermore, in order to participate in a democratic society, students need to develop skills in literacy and numeracy and to expand their technological, social, and political abilities. Ladson-Billings maintains that culturally relevant teaching “requires that teachers attend to students’ academic needs, not merely make them ‘feel good’” and that it is imperative to have students “choose academic excellence.” By focusing on the importance of academic success in the world, teachers can foster a desire for intellectual achievement.

Cultural Competence: Teachers, who focus on developing cultural competence, encourage students to learn to maintain their “cultural integrity.” In their study of African American students in a Washington, D.C., Signithia Fordham and John Ogbu noted that African American students feared “acting White,” which meant they would try not to show interest in and succeed in school-related tasks.Many African American and other non-white students perceive school as a place where they cannot be themselves because their culture is not valued in American schools. Ladson-Billings contends, “Culturally relevant teachers utilize students’ culture as a vehicle for learning.” Teachers who use culturally relevant pedagogy provide students with a curriculum that builds on their prior knowledge and cultural experiences.

Critical Consciousness: Ladson-Billings contends that culturally relevant teachers “engage in the world and others critically,” and in order to do this, ““students must develop a broader sociopolitical consciousness that allows them to critique the cultural norms, values, mores, and institutions that produce and maintain social inequities.” Simply having individual success is not engaging in citizenship, and Ladson-Billings suggests that providing opportunities for students to critique society may encourage them to change oppressive structures.

Aim of the study:  To explore the ways in which Panchatantra/Jataka tales could be used in the ESL classroom in order to enhance the linguistic, cognitive, social and emotional literacy skills of young ESL learners (from regional medium background) through tasks designed around culturally familiar content. 

Hypothesis of the study:  As culturally familiar content sustains optimal participation in the enterprise of classroom learning it offers children the linguistic scaffolding required to function reasonably well. So we could hypothesize saying that meaningful interaction with the Panchatantra tales promotes L2 development.

Review of Literature:  Culturally relevant teaching can be helpful in learning outcomes because it can be intellectually stimulating for students. When students have a prior intellectual or emotional connection to a concept it can make critical connection in content that can lead to improved outcomes. Such connections may be identified by the student or mediated by the teacher, and can serve as a "hook" into new concepts, issues, and knowledge to be learned. Culturally relevant teaching can also shape outcome because it is connected to real life. Students want to know how what they are learning "fits" into the real world, as well as how it fits into their own frame of reference. It actively engages or involves students. Even if a topic or task is not immediately relevant to students, active engagement with it can act as a catalyst to develop personal interest.Hollins (1996) adds that education designed specifically for students from diverse cultural background incorporates "culturally mediated cognition, culturally appropriate social situations for learning, and culturally valued knowledge in curriculum content" (p. 13).

Culturally relevant teachers realize not only the importance of academic achievement, but also the maintaining of cultural identity and heritage (Gay, 2000). Students need not sacrifice or compromise with their own cultural identity in the pursuit of academic excellence. Culturally relevant teaching helps in promoting ethnic and cultural diversity in today’s schools. Students from culturally diverse backgrounds continue to make a large portion of today’s population, particularly in large urban areas. Finally, culturally relevant teaching is guided by a belief that teaching is an art form and not a science. This idea suggests that teaching is a rich and complex endeavor that is built on a wide range of knowledge and skills about students, pedagogy, culture, and the intersection of each of these domains into a unique approach to engaging students in content. It also operates from a standpoint that teachers must have a firm and authentic belief in students’ ability to succeed.

Research Questions:

  • How does culturally situated cognition increase student engagement, effort, and comprehension?
  • How does culturally relevant teaching facilitate better education performance among L2 learners?


  • Scope: This paper examines how Panchatantra tales (the culturally familiar content) can be used to facilitate L2 development with special focus on reading, writing and vocabulary.
  • Setting: The present study was conducted at the Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies, Idulupaya, Kadapa. 
  • Subjects: 30 learners who secured high scores in the class X public exams but who studied in the regional medium schools were considered for this study. They all belonged to the Basic group of language proficiency at the beginning of the study. After a year they all promoted to the advanced group of language proficiency. Comparison of their linguistic proficiency at these two intervals of time proves that content familiarity enhanced L2 development even among regional medium learners. 
  • Tools: Classroom Observation, Informal Interviews and Field Notes were used. Teaching was carried out online. Tasks prepared by the teachers were supervised and observed. Constructive feedback was provided. Notes were taken as a record of the activities done in the class. Finally, interviews were conducted.

Data Collection:

To make data collection easier, learners were divided into groups, thereby ensuring cooperative learning as well.


S.No Culturally Relevant Principle Referenced in Content Standards (BASIC)

Referenced in Content Standards


1. Involving learners in the construction of knowledge Basic vocabulary is learnt by guessing the meaning of the word from the context Learners feel confident about the basic vocabulary an d do not hesitate to discover the knowledge on their own
2. Building on Students interests and linguistic resources Topics of interest such as; Favourite festival, Ambition in life and general awareness topics such as health, sports, politics, social issues...

Slightly complicated topics of interest could be selected for discussion/ debate etc.Essay writing, report writing, note making, study skills etc could be taught.

3. Tapping home and community resource Learners are motivated to introduce themselves and their families, community. Educational tours, field trips, picnics etc to places such as factories, reservoirs etc could be carried out.
4. Understanding Students Cultural Knowledge Teacher should be aware about the various linguistic, socio-economic and geographical background the learners come from Teacher plays the role of a friend, philosopher and guide keeping in view the diversity in the class.
5. Using interactive and constructivist teaching strategies Teachers prepare tasks based on the constructivist approach and facilitate the teaching-learning process. Teachers’ role is confined to that of a facilitator to promote learning and enhance construction of knowledge.
6. Examining the curriculum from multiple perspectives. Teachers understand the heterogeneous situation prevalent in the class and cater to the needs of all the learners.

Learner centered learning takes place and each learner actively takes responsibility of his/her own learning. In other words learner autonomy is promoted.


The data collected from the above table (for various lessons) is collected and analysed.

Findings: In the areas of reading and writing instructional practices increased students’ interest and enjoyment of literature; and expanded their vocabulary, sentence patterns, decoding abilities, comprehension, reading rate and fluency. Further, in the areas of writing CRP enhanced learners’ confidence, development and organization of ideas, and clarity of thinking. 


  • As this approach is very effective in successfully enhancing L2 development, it is applicable in EFL contexts too.
  • Parents and Community could also be made a part of this study. Their voices could be heard too.
  • This approach could also be applied to content across the curriculum.

Conclusion: Through this study we learn that traditional tales such as Panchatantra/ Jataka are culturally relevant content that has the potential to develop L2 among regional medium learners.


Ladson, BillingsG. (1992). Culturally relevant teaching: The key to making multicultural education work. In C.A Grant(ed). Research and multicultural education (pp 106-121). London. Farmer Press.

Ladson, Billings G. (1995). But - That’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory Into Practice, 34 (3), 159-165.

Uzarski, J and Barfield C. Susan. (2009). Integrating indigenous cultures into English language teaching. English Teaching Forum, 47(1),2-9.

Wilford, J. (2007). Languages die: But not their last words. New York Times, Retrieved from.


Wlodkowski. J. Raymond and Margery B Ginsberg. (1995). A framework for culturally responsive teaching”.Theory in Practice, 63 (1),17-21.


    Gadam Susan Suma Bala is pursuing PhD from University of Hyderabad, Gachibowli, Hyderabad and has worked at Rajiv Gandhi University of Knowledge Technologies (RGUKT) as an English Mentor. Her research interests include Teacher Education, Professional Development, Curriculum, Syllabus and Critical Pedagogy.