Culturally Responsive Teaching is a tremendous shift in the way schools have operated in the past. The teacher has traditionally disseminated knowledge while the students take on a passive role in the classroom. This mindset and teaching philosophy needs to be changed if we are to reach all learners.
According to Gloria Ladson-Billings, a pedagogical theorist and professor at UW-Madison, Culturally Responsive Teaching is is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. We are going to outline how Culturally Responsive Teaching should become part of your teaching philosophy and practice on a daily basis.
Teacher as Facilitator
It is our belief that most teachers have shifted from straight lecture to being more of a facilitator in the classroom, but we do know there are pockets of resistance still in all corners of the United States. In most cases the teacher does not want to give up “control” of his/her classroom. This mentality has to stop. The teacher does not have to be on center stage all the time. In fact, students work harder and are more motivated when the teacher is a guide for student learning. Teachers need to recognize this and allow for student discussion, collaborative group work, and allow for students to show what they learned in ways that make sense to them.
Connections with Families
In order to increase student engagement, teachers need to make sure that their students’ families are connected to the classroom. We can remember as kids being afraid every time our parents went to conferences. This was basically the only time during the school year that our teachers communicated with our parents. Home and school communication should not be like this, especially in today’s technological world. It is important to set up the lines of communication even before your students step foot in your classroom. You can obtain home addresses for most, if not all, of your students from the secretary, or online grade book. Send out a welcome letter before class begins. Let the students and parents know your interests and what you plan to accomplish for the school year.
You need to develop a way to communicate with families on a consistent basis. It may be an email distribution list, using a district approved app, or simply calling on the phone. But there needs to be this connection with home so families know you are vested in their child’s educational experience during the school year, and that you care about their child.
Setting High Expectations
All students can learn. You need to have this philosophy ingrained each and every year before your students enter your classroom. You need to believe that your students can exceed expectations. Setting the bar high gives the students something to aim for, and shows them that they are capable of working hard to achieve a goal. It is not OK to limit expectations based on your pre-conceived notions about a child. Students will perform to the height of the bar that you set. If it is low, they will most likely under perform. Students will be more intrinsically motivated when they see that they can accomplish tasks that were difficult. Believing every child can learn is paramount for this to occur.
Connecting with Cultures
Probably the biggest mistake that a teacher can make is assuming which way students learn best. There is no “one size fits all” approach to which teaching strategy is most effective. The teacher has to allow for choice in the classroom. Based on cultural backgrounds some students may prefer to work in cooperative groups, while some may prefer to work alone. The teacher has to recognize that choice plays a huge factor in student learning. By limiting options for students, the teacher is limiting the child’s academic and social growth in the classroom. The teacher needs to adapt lessons so there are multiple ways for a child to show understanding. Understanding a child’s culture and background is a huge first step in this.
Once again this is a shift from the traditional mindset of the teacher being the sole source of knowledge. In student-centered instruction, learning is driven by the student. Students are given a choice in how they want to show what they learned. It is collaborative, cooperative and led by the student. Students become more engaged and intrinsically motivated to learn when they are given choice. This teaching philosophy is inquiry and discovery based and allows for students of all cultures and backgrounds to succeed.
We have developed some Culturally Responsive Teaching Activity Cards that will allow you to use different teaching strategies in the classroom. There are a wide variety of choices included that will allow your students to show their learning in different ways.
Our hope is that you implement the steps above and continue to educate yourself on culturally responsive teaching. Your students deserve the best from you.
Please make sure to check out our other blog posts on how to increase student engagement.
Engaging Students the First Week of School
How to Engage Students at the End of the Day
How to Engage Students When They Finish Early