As educators, we want students to be excited to learn and engaged in the work. But many students are disconnected or turned off to education because they don’t see school as related to who they are and the world they inhabit. That’s where culturally responsive teaching strategies come into play. These are part of an approach that uses the experiences and strengths of a diverse student body to make school more relevant, and it’s backed by research that shows that people learn most successfully when new information is linked to what they already know.
The concept of culturally responsive teaching was introduced by education scholars Gloria Ladson-Billings and Geneva Gay. It incorporates attributes and knowledge from each student’s cultural background into instructional strategies and curricula in order to improve educational outcomes. A key element is a learning environment that values the strengths students bring into classrooms, rather than focusing on deficits. Students are encouraged to use familiar ways of speaking, thinking, knowing, and analyzing in order to learn new content and ideas.
By creating a conducive learning environment, offering relevant content, and using culturally responsive teaching practices in your pedagogy, you can help students make connections between their lives in the world and their lives at school that will increase their engagement and improve outcomes.
What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?
Culturally responsive teaching depends on a learning environment that affirms our students and helps them feel included, validated, valued, and safe. The following elements are crucial:
- A fundamental belief in the ability of all students to learn. Educators must have high expectations for every student, accompanied by a set of positive attitudes about them.
- A wide range of curricular content. Education scholar Rudine Sims Bishop suggests that in the English language arts classroom, literature should provide “mirrors and windows” for all children. In other words, students should have access to characters that look like them and settings that look like their communities. In other disciplines, they should read texts or consult resources that help them learn about others’ worlds.
- Dynamic instruction. Students learn in a multitude of ways, so teaching strategies should be dynamic and diverse. Students should have whole-group instruction, paired activities, and small group activities that require them to share, discuss, disagree, and think individually and collectively. Students should be allowed a multitude of ways to participate and demonstrate mastery of content.
- Community involvement. Parents, caregivers, grandparents, and community members should be asked to share stories, give historical overviews of a community, offer supports, and provide cultural bridges between the larger community and the school community.
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