September Newsletter | Culturally Responsive Classrooms

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Culturally Responsive Classrooms

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Intentional recognition, respect, and knowledge of different cultural values and expressions can help build community among diverse learners, and research has also linked it to improved outcomes in students’ academic and social skills. Dr. Geneva Gay, Emeritus Professor at the University of Washington School of Education, explains that culturally responsive teaching “is based on the assumption that when academic knowledge and skills are situated within the lived experiences and frames of reference of students, they are more personally meaningful, have higher interest appeal, and are learned more easily and thoroughly.”

Building Understanding Through Communication

Learning and communication styles reflect more than just an individual’s preferences—they are also closely tied to ethnic and cultural practices. For instance, some Western models of classroom education reflect a passive-receptive style: A teacher presents content while students listen. Many cultures, however, gravitate to an active-participatory style, which hinges on communal conversation, feedback, and commentary. For African Americans, this style is referred to as call and response, while Native Hawaiians call it talk story. With an awareness of cultural communication styles, we might understand a student who could otherwise be perceived as disruptive or disrespectful as acting in accordance with their own culture’s expectations for learners.

Culturally Responsive Classroom Practices Checklist

How can you be sure that members of diverse cultures in your classroom are served equally and equitably? The first step is to ask your students and their families about their cultures so you can learn more about their individual cultural considerations. Use this checklist (English | Español) to help take stock of inclusive practices in your classroom. This resource is a great way to think about considerations such as curricular representation and terminology.

Classroom Resources

Our monthly Links Academic Teaching Units feature discussion stories with unique cultural focuses for secondary students. This month's unit includes a story about Deaf Awareness Month (English | Spanish). Use the resources released each month on their own or as starting points for your own cultural teaching and learning opportunities. For primary students, the Media Center offers monthly social studies lessons in Themes First! for leveled activities that integrate cultural awareness and academics with essential skills. Check out this fun activity (English | Español) to teach and encourage good citizenship in your primary classroom.

Holistic Teaching

Fostering inclusivity among your students involves looking at the whole student and their life experiences. Dr. Gay writes, “The process begins with understanding the role and prominence of examples in the instructional process, knowing the cultures and experiences of different ethnic groups, harvesting teaching examples from these critical sources, and learning how to apply multicultural examples in teaching other knowledge and skills—for instance, using illustrations of ethnic architecture, fabric designs, and recipes in teaching geometric principles, mathematical operations, and propositional thought.” How can you guide your students to share their own cultures more deeply and experience and honor the cultures of others?

Learn More About Culturally Responsive Teaching

Check out the following resources for more insights from the experts: