Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

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Kids on Stage in a Play

Being a culturally responsive teacher means much more than food, fun, and festivals. It means recognizing and honoring that there are various cultural differences in the classroom. It means reflecting on your own culture and position of power and understanding the assumptions you might make about your students because of your own life experiences. And it means knowing your students as individuals, not as labels or based on racial or cultural assumptions.

U.S. education is based in a particular model of knowing that places not only certain events, but also certain ways of learning and certain ways of behaving as the “right” thing to know, way to be, or way to learn. If school is a place where you don’t learn about things your family talks about nor the accomplishments of people who look like you, if the curriculum does not reflect how you learn with your family and community, and if the way you act with your family and community are not allowed, school is probably not a very comfortable place to be.

As teachers, so many of our exclusionary practices are ones we do not even recognize. Practices we have known and loved our whole lives may have implications for students, simply because of cultural differences. Our favorite books may actually send exclusionary messages to the children that we teach. Culturally relevant curriculum asks us to know and care who our students are as whole people. It asks us to use texts that reflect stories, histories, and characters that our students will be able to relate to. Finally, it asks us to be reflective about our own practices and the cultural assumptions and messages embedded within them.

So what are some general culturally responsive practices to begin with? Try some of these:

  • Greet each and every student with a warm welcome and genuine interest in their wellbeing every day.
  • Run class meeting times by student interests.
  • Institute a reflective process that allows students to write or otherwise express whatever emotions or events they may be grappling with.
  • Communication of high expectations: Send consistent messages, based upon the genuine respect for students and belief in their capabilities, that students will succeed.
  • Active teaching methods: Design instruction to promote student engagement by requiring that students play an active role in crafting curriculum and developing learning activities.
  • Teacher as a facilitator: Within an active teaching environment, see your role as a teacher as a guide, mediator, and knowledgeable consultant in addition to being the instructor.
  • Positive perspectives on parents and families of culturally and linguistically diverse students: Have ongoing participation in dialogue with students, parents, and community members on issues important to them, along with the inclusion of these individuals and issues in classroom curriculum and activities.
  • Cultural sensitivity: To maximize learning opportunities, gain knowledge of the cultures represented in their classrooms and translate this knowledge into instructional practice.
  • Re-shape the curriculum so that it is culturally responsive to the background of students.
  • Culturally mediated instruction: Use culturally-mediated cognition and culturally-appropriate social situations for learning; use culturally-valued knowledge in curriculum content.
  • Student-controlled classroom discourse: Students are given the opportunity to control some portion of the lesson, providing teachers with insight into the ways that speech and negotiation are used in the home and community.
  • Small Group Instruction: Organize instruction around low-pressure, student-controlled learning groups which can assist in the development of academic language.