What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

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  • Culturally responsive teaching weaves students' cultures into learning activities.
  • This teaching methodology can motivate students and improve academic success.
  • Culturally responsive teaching can help to close learning gaps for disadvantaged groups.
  • Culturally responsive teaching celebrates student experiences and identities.

States and districts are constantly looking for ways to close learning gaps among students. Many theories exist about the origins of learning gaps, but research has shown that low-income students and students of color tend to frequently have low expectations for academic success set for them.

To address these learning gaps, academic scholars in education developed teaching methods and strategies that bring children's lived experiences and cultural identities into classroom learning. By employing these strategies, teachers can engage in culturally responsive teaching.

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What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT)?

Research shows when students see themselves represented in school, they are more likely to become more engaged in learning, and thus, more successful.

Many schools and curriculums are based on white American culture, which can create a disconnect for a large portion of students of color. They may not see their culture or community represented at school.

Culturally responsive teaching was developed by Gloria Ladson-Billings in the 1990s. She sought to change the narrative about Black children and their misbehavior and lack of success in school. Ladson-Billings spent about two years observing teachers who had success holding high expectations for students and integrating elements of the students' communities into classroom learning.

From these observations, she developed components of culturally responsive teaching, which use students' culture — language, beliefs, and customs — to enhance and support classroom instruction.

7 Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies

  1. Celebrate cultural differences among students.
  2. Make students feel welcome in the classroom.
  3. Be mindful of your classroom setup, making it physically and culturally inviting.
  4. Set and hold high expectations for all students.
  5. Make accommodations for different modes, speeds, and styles of learning.
  6. Exercise strong classroom management strategies.
  7. Encourage collaboration and teamwork.

What's the Difference Between Culturally Responsive and Traditional Teaching?

Culturally responsive teaching has always stood in stark contrast to more traditional forms of instruction. Traditional methods consider the teacher the controller of the environment, with students learning through memorization and recitation.

In these learning environments, teachers rely on students' memory and use lectures and oral and written assessments to disseminate information and assess students' mastery of concepts.

But many criticize traditional teaching methods for not providing students with the opportunity to develop critical thinking, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

Traditional Teaching

  • Teacher controls the learning environment, and students are passive learners
  • Relies mainly on lectures, memorization, and oral and written assignments
  • Regimented and routine with little day-to-day change
  • Often lowers student engagement levels and increases feelings of boredom

Culturally Responsive Teaching

  • Both teacher and students actively contribute to the learning environment
  • Promotes more interactive, collaborative, and culturally conscious learning activities
  • Fosters a sense of belonging for students of all backgrounds
  • Facilitates brain processing and student engagement

Moreover, the practice fails to take into account the diversity of learning styles and how culture influences learning. Traditional teaching methods also view the teacher as having primary responsibility over the learning environment and students as being passive recipients of knowledge rather than active participants in their education.

Simply put, traditional teaching tends to be very regimented and routine, decreasing student engagement and collaboration while increasing boredom.

Why Culturally Responsive Teaching?

As the U.S. grows more racially and ethnically diverse — and with continued improvements to the technological infrastructure — there's been a shift from relying on more foundational teaching methods to more interactive and innovative learning approaches.

Given the diversity of learning styles and our rapidly evolving economy, instruction must provide students an opportunity to engage in inquiry-based and interdisciplinary learning, collaborative activities, hands-on activities, and problem-based learning. Teachers and schools can facilitate this by incorporating group work, technology, multimedia, flipped classrooms, and both traditional and digitized forms of assessment.

Innovative and interactive forms of teaching should also accompany cultural competency, and teachers should understand how students' cultures impact and enhance the learning environment.

Pros

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    Culturally responsive teaching improves relationships among students and between the teacher and students.
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    By incorporating elements of their culture, students are able to celebrate their culture and who they are.
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    Focusing on diversity can make students open-minded and eliminate racial and cultural discrimination.

Cons

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    If there is little diversity in the classroom, students from the minority culture may feel like their culture is perceived as negative or discussed less often.
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    If a teacher is teaching about a culture other than their own, students may feel the teacher lacks the authority and experience to teach about that culture.
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    Parents may have a negative view of culturally responsive teaching and the teacher's authority to teach it.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Getting Started

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    Use resources that represent diverse populations.

    When using textbooks, images, videos and other classroom resources, make sure people from different groups are represented. Include diversity in age, gender, ethnicity, and other identities. Encourage students to make connections to the people represented. When discussing history or modern events, incorporate different perspectives, especially those traditionally left out.

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    Activate students' prior knowledge.

    Create opportunities in the classroom for students to connect to prior experience and knowledge. Encourage students to share ways that they connect to the content. This can also promote a more student-driven environment, as this strategy allows the teacher to learn from students, too. The teacher then becomes the facilitator of learning, fostering student motivation.

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    Develop relationships with students and families.

    Getting to know students and their families can create additional opportunities for the teacher to learn about the student's culture and the characteristics that make that student unique. Supportive relationships can create a safe environment where students feel comfortable sharing more about their lives, allowing them to bring more elements of their culture into the classroom.

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    Have relevant conversations in the classroom.

    Incorporating social and political issues in classroom conversation can prompt opportunities for students to engage in critical consciousness, a key component of culturally responsive teaching. Giving students the opportunity to critique and analyze social inequities can allow them to draw on their own cultural experiences and open the door to important conversations.

Frequently Asked Questions About Culturally Responsive Teaching

What does culturally responsive practice mean?

Culturally responsive practice is an implementation of culturally responsive teaching principles. These principles include allowing students to draw on their unique cultural experiences and their cultural identity to enhance learning in the classroom. Students can then connect more deeply to activities and concepts, increasing their motivation for learning.

Engaging students in culturally responsive practice can make students more academically successful. Teachers are typically responsible for engaging in culturally responsive practice and leading students in culturally responsive activities. However, this practice can also come from a school-wide, district-wide, state-wide, or federal level.

What does a culturally responsive classroom look like?

Culturally responsive teaching can look different in many different classrooms, especially depending on content area and age. In an elementary school, a culturally responsive classroom may require students to bring in artifacts from home or paint portraits of their family or community. A culturally responsive high school English classroom may require students to read literature from diverse authors. Culturally responsive classrooms will introduce opportunities for students to connect learning activities to their culture and learn about new cultures. A culturally responsive classroom will also hold high expectations for all students.

How can students be culturally responsive?

If a teacher creates a culturally responsive learning environment, students may begin to engage in culturally responsive behaviors. They may begin to show more respect for and interest in cultures other than their own. A culturally responsive classroom may be collaborative, encouraging, and respectful. Students also may start to engage in more critically-conscious conversations, questioning how power has traditionally been distributed and guarded by those who make the laws. Being able to engage in uncomfortable conversations respectfully could be another clear indicator of a culturally responsive student.

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