For children of color to learn and excel, they need to feel comfortable and valued in school. They also need teachers who understand their unique backgrounds and can adapt their instruction accordingly. Culturally responsive teaching is essential when it comes to educating children of color. This type of teaching utilizes students’ cultural differences when planning for instruction and allows Black and brown learners to see themselves reflected in the material. When children are able to learn through their culture and make connections through their lived experiences, it results in higher engagement, self-esteem, and achievement. In this blog, we'll explore the research-based approach of culturally responsive teaching and discover its impact in ethnically diverse learning environments.
What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?
In the 2000s, Geneva Gay built upon the work of Gloria Ladson-Billings’ culturally responsive pedagogy to create a framework which looked deeper into the practices and strategies of teachers with ethnically diverse students. She coined the term culturally responsive teaching to describe the intentional approach of “using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them.” (New America, 2020)
This type of teaching takes into account the lived experiences and culture of each student and uses this information to inform instructional decisions. Culturally responsive teaching is not a single method or strategy, but rather a way of thinking about teaching and learning. It enables students of color to see themselves and their unique backgrounds as part of the school and academic environment and tailors instruction in a way that best meets their diverse needs.
Why Is Culturally Responsive Teaching Fundamental for Educating Black and Brown Learners?
While children of color make up more than half of the U.S. child population, most schools are structured around the mainstream culture of white Americans. For many students, their culture and unique backgrounds are not reflected in their learning environment. Culturally responsive teaching is important because it allows Black and brown learners to feel like valuable members of their school community, provides them with an education that is culturally relevant and engaging, and instructs them in a way that understands their cultural differences.
Research has shown that when teachers integrate academic knowledge and skills into the lived experiences and frames of references of their students, the content is more appealing, its learned more easily, and students are more motivated to learn. This approach to teaching enables children of color to see themselves in the curricula, the activities, and the environment, which fosters deeper connections and links to academic success. It benefits all students as it provides young learners the opportunity to look deeper into the cultures, perspectives, and experiences of their peers as well. Culturally responsive teaching in the early years is essential to help close the achievement gap and ensure that all students have an equal opportunity to succeed.
What Does Culturally Relevant Teaching Look Like?
Through her research, Geneva Gay determined the 5 essential elements of culturally responsive teaching:
1. Developing a Knowledge Base about Cultural Diversity
Teachers should be aware of the different backgrounds and cultures of the students they teach. This includes their values, traditions, and what they have contributed to society. Teachers should also know how different groups learn so they can better instruct Black and brown students. This means having knowledge in many different areas, like the diverse content that is being taught in class, as well as educational techniques.
2. Including Ethnic and Culturally Diverse Content in the Curriculum
Teachers should plan their curriculum and select resources that study a variety of ethnic groups and individuals, incorporate multiple viewpoints and perspectives, and address issues within class, race, ethnicity, and gender. They should also ensure that their classrooms present a wide variety of ethnic groups throughout classroom visuals such as bulletin boards, images, wall displays, and learning materials. It is important to use materials and create a classroom environment that reflects the diversity found in the classroom and in our world. This includes accurate representations as well.
3. Demonstrating Caring and Building Learning Communities
Teachers should care about their students, encourage them to do their best, and help them succeed in school. Having high expectations while still validating their learners' diverse backgrounds is important. Building communal learning environments where students work together and find successes as a group has also been found to increase achievement.
4. Communicating with Ethnically Diverse Students
In order to teach and accurately assess the abilities or needs of diverse students, teachers need to be able to communicate with them. Children from different cultures have different ways of communicating. This can shape how they learn in school. To educate Black and brown learners more effectively, teachers must understand these realities and adapt their teaching methods and interactions to accommodate for different communication styles and preferences.
5. Incorporating Multiculturalism Within Instructional Materials
Teachers should use what they know about their students and their prior knowledge to help them learn new things. They should also think about how different students learn best and use different teaching methods that match those preferences. For example, working together in groups, storytelling, and including music and movement in lessons have been found to work well with African American students. Teachers need to understand how each of their students learns so they can adapt their instruction and materials accordingly.
If you want to improve your teaching and the engagement and achievement of your diverse students, culturally responsive teaching is a great way to do that. This approach has a history of success, and the five essentials we outlined are a great place to begin.
Our shop also offers many classroom resources that can help get you started as well. We create educational games, puzzles, and learning tools that feature Black and brown characters and inclusive content, so be sure to check them out! With the right tools and support, we know you can create a learning environment where children of color can thrive!
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In our next blog post, we'll take a deeper dive into how you can use the culturally responsive teaching approach in your classroom to create an inclusive learning environment, but for now, here’s a FREE DOWNLOAD to get you started!
Our Get to Know Your Learners freebie includes two worksheets your young learners can complete to share more about themselves, their culture, and their learning preferences. These would be great resources to use at the beginning of the year as you’re getting to know your kiddos so you can start using culturally responsive teaching strategies in your classroom!
And finally, best of luck to all the teachers as you make your way back to school. We wish you a safe and successful year!
“Culturally Responsive Teaching.” New America, 23 July 2020, www.newamerica.org/education-policy/reports/culturally-responsive-teaching/teacher-competencies-that-promote-culturally-responsive-teaching.
Gay, Geneva. “PREPARING FOR CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE TEACHING.” Journal of Teacher Education, Vol. 53, no. No. 2, Mar. 2002, doi:https://www.cwu.edu/teaching-learning/sites/cts.cwu.edu.teaching-learning/files/documents/PreparingforCulturallyResponsiveTeaching,%20Geneva%20Gay.pdf.
Will, Madeline, and Ileana Najarro. “What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?” Education Week, Education Week, 10 May 2022, www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/culturally-responsive-teaching-culturally-responsive-pedagogy/2022/04.
Wlodkowski, Raymond J., and Margery B. Ginsberg. “A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching.” ASCD, www.ascd.org/el/articles/a-framework-for-culturally-responsive-teaching.