As an educator, it is of the utmost importance to provide quality education to students from various cultural and socioeconomic backgrounds while creating and nurturing an academic environment that builds cultural awareness, understanding, and respect among students. In order to do so, it is important that all educators have a solid understanding of the concept of culturally responsive teaching and how it can truly change the trajectory of learning in the classroom. To help you get started, we’d like to explore the concept of culturally responsive teaching, strategies that align with its methodology, and examples of culturally responsive teaching in action.
What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?
Culturally responsive teaching is derived from a framework created in the 1990s by Gloria Ladson-Billings, the former Kellner Family Distinguished Professor of Urban Education in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at the University of Wisconsin, Madison. Fueled by the disdain for the stereotypes that had been perpetuated for African American students, she began to research practices that effective teachers of African American students had implemented, specifically those of teachers who were identified by principals and African American parents as being superb. In doing so, Lasdon-Billings found that, though there were variances among each classroom, they all shared the three pillars upon which her framework was built- Student learning, cultural competence, and critical consciousness.
Over the years, this framework developed into the foundation for culturally responsive teaching, a term coined by Geneva Gay, a professor of multicultural education and general curriculum theory at the University of Washington-Seattle. According to Geneva, “when academic knowledge and skills are situated within the lived experiences and frames of reference for students, they are more personally meaningful, have higher interest appeal, and are learned more easily and thoroughly.” In alignment with this, Gay conducted extensive research to identify the following five essential components of culturally responsive teaching:
A strong foundation of knowledge regarding cultural diversity
Teachers must establish an understanding of different racial and ethnic groups to include an understanding of their values and traditions that can then be factored into instruction.
It is important that teachers utilize materials that offer multiple perspectives to represent the wide range of diversity present in our society. This should include representation for varying races, socioeconomic classes, and genders.
High expectations for all students
Teachers should help all students achieve their academic goals while maintaining high expectations for all students.
An appreciation for varying communication styles
Many cultures communicate quite differently, causing somewhat of a disconnect for students in classrooms where teachers simply do not understand this concept. Teachers must ground themselves in the varying communication styles of other cultures so as to properly interpret communication from their students and respond appropriately.
Usage of multicultural examples
The effectiveness of teaching often lies in the ability to connect with students’ prior knowledge and unique experiences. Using this component of her framework, teachers will utilize examples that embody the varying cultural experiences students have had as well as prior knowledge derived from these experiences.
Upon implementing culturally responsive teaching strategies that align with this framework, students will feel a sense of comfort and belonging, allowing educators to foster the right environment to maximize learning for all students.
Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies
As you look to implement culturally responsive teaching methods in your classroom, we’d like to equip you with a few strategies to ease the transition for both educators and students.
Take inventory of prior student knowledge
Each student comes from a different background and possesses a different set of experiences. To continue to make each student feel comfortable enough to share, it is important to encourage them to share their prior knowledge when engaging in group discussions.
Create clear ties between learning in the classroom and real-world experiences
As Geneva Gay mentioned earlier, connecting lived experiences with what students are learning makes lessons more personally meaningful. As such, try to apply what students are learning to their personal experiences by asking thought-provoking questions such as “What similarities does this have to what you experience in your life?”.
Consider your classroom environment
What does your classroom look like? Does it include a balance of representation of varying races, socioeconomic classes, and genders? If not, you may want to consider making some adjustments to help all students feel as though they can see themselves in the materials present in the classroom.
Building and nourishing relationships with students
Regardless of the differences present between the backgrounds of teachers and their students, it is imperative that teachers form and maintain relationships with their students to ensure they feel seen, valued, and heard for who they are. In doing so, teachers will help their students build more of a sense of community within the classroom, allowing them to feel more comfortable with who they are and feel more comfortable approaching new, more challenging subjects in the classroom.
Culturally Responsive Teaching Examples
Teachers that implement culturally responsive teaching strategies will have examples of this instructional approach found everywhere in the classroom. From books that represent a variety of socioeconomic backgrounds, ethnicities, and genders to offering multiple perspectives on narratives regarding historical events, culturally responsive teaching is truly visible throughout the classroom. Examples of this instructional approach also include methods of instruction. For example, as history teachers deliver a lesson focused on Independence Day, they may want to ask students certain questions or foster certain conversations that help students develop a sense of cultural consciousness such as:
- The Declaration of Independence states that all men are created equal. Who were the men created equal to?
- When examining the term “equal”, teachers may demonstrate that the term of equality wasn't equitably applied to people of all racial backgrounds, helping students understand that some individuals were not granted the same rights as a result of the Declaration of Independence.
- Varying classroom conduct to accommodate the differences in how other cultures communicate. For example, some classrooms deem the act of talking while someone else is talking as rude, whereas others see it as a manifestation of engagement in the conversation.
Bridging the Gap
Though culturally responsive teaching is a multi-faceted approach that can be a little overwhelming, you are certainly not alone. The makeup of the modern classroom includes a variety of students from vastly different backgrounds, which requires educators to adapt to evolving student needs while maintaining comfortability in the classroom for all students. To aid in this process, we’ve created Meaningful Conversations, an award-winning add-on to Raz-Plus that acts as a Social-emotional Learning solution that eases the transition to culturally responsive teaching. Carefully crafted to foster age-appropriate, inclusive, and respectful discussions about real-world topics, Meaningful Conversations truly acts as the perfect companion to implement culturally responsive teaching methods in the world we live in today. As you continue to learn more about cultural responsiveness, we recommend that you explore what Meaningful Conversations has to offer.
Effortlessly Transition to Culturally Responsive Teaching
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Will, Madeline, and Ileana Najarro. “What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?” Education Week, Education Week, 10 May 2022, https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/culturally-responsive-teaching-culturally-responsive-pedagogy/2022/04.