Culturally responsive teaching is a hot topic these days, and one that’s full of complexities and nuance. Start your journey with this overview of the basics, then use our list of recommended resources to deepen your understanding and start using culturally responsive teaching strategies in your own classroom.
What is culture?
Source: Intercultural Solutions
First, take a step back and consider what “culture” means. When you think of culture, you probably picture the way a group of people who share a common background dress, talk, cook, dance, make art and music, practice religion and ritual, and so on.
Beyond those aspects, culture is the deeply embedded shared connections and beliefs of a group of people. Bear in mind that culture is not necessarily based on race, ethnicity, or nationality. For instance, two people who speak Spanish as their native language can have very different cultures, depending on where they come from and how they were raised. Most people have have multicultural backgrounds. Culture is about what’s passed down from one generation to the next, creating a unique identity for a group of people.
Cultural beliefs and practices are something many of us don’t even think much about, until we come into contact with those whose culture is different from our own. Stepping outside our own culture can feel uncomfortable, especially if we feel that other cultures view our own as somehow “less.” While it’s good to learn about different cultures, it’s important that we feel our own is respected.
What is culturally responsive teaching?
Source: Education Week
Culturally responsive teaching is based on the understanding that we learn best when we can connect with the material. For culturally responsive teachers, that means weaving their students’ various experiences, customs, communication styles, and perspectives throughout the learning process.
Geneva Gay first used the term in 2000 in her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, & Practice. She found that students from historically marginalized cultures performed better academically when teachers made an effort to frame instruction “within the lived experiences and frames of reference for students.”
In other words, Gay encourages teachers to consider whether their learning materials, instructional strategies, and classroom environment truly represent the various cultures in their classroom. Are your classroom books written by people from those cultures? Are different communication styles respected? Do you relate your learning objectives to real-world experiences of all cultures? Do you hold all students to high standards, regardless of their background?
By asking these questions, Gay sparked the culturally responsive teaching movement. It’s part of a broader category known as “asset-based pedagogy,” and it has wide-ranging applications and implications. Other related terms include “culturally relative teaching” and “culturally sustaining teaching.”
Does culturally responsive teaching really make a difference?
In short, yes. Many teachers can share anecdotal evidence of how culturally responsive teaching makes a big difference for their diverse students. But if you’re looking for hard facts, consider this study done in 2016. It examined hundreds of students across different cultures and found that “Teaching methods that connect with students’ real lives and interests and promote understanding of other cultures are associated with better academic outcomes.” Other studies concur.
Culturally responsive teaching can help at-risk populations stay in school, see the relevance in learning, and believe they can learn. Culturally responsive teachers feel more connected to their students, especially when they learn to see cultural behavioral differences as an asset rather than a problem. Putting learning into relevant context, using differences to your advantage, and acknowledging inequality and inequity when it exists are concepts every teacher should add to their tool box.
What does culturally responsive teaching look like in the classroom?
Source: New America
While putting this into practice is a little different in every situation, there are some consistent strategies culturally responsive teachers use. Here are some examples:
Embrace background knowledge
Consider this story problem: “Chaoxiang’s family is gathering for this year’s Qingming Festival, and he wants to bring enough qingtuan for every one to have two. If there will be 14 people there, how many dumplings should he bring?”
If you’re not familiar with Chinese culture, you probably see words you not only don’t know, but aren’t even sure how to pronounce. In fact, if you don’t realize that qingtuan is a form of dumpling, you might not know how to find the answer to the problem.
Students from different backgrounds in American schools can face similar situations, making learning unfamiliar and uncomfortable. Think about what your students already know from their daily lives, and use it as you create lessons and materials. Look for the stories, idioms, and beliefs they learn at home, and find ways to incorporate them. Look into the concept of Funds of Knowledge for more ways to bring background knowledge to the forefront.
Bring multiple cultures into your examples and lessons
As the saying goes, “If you can see it, you can be it.” Make sure your students see themselves represented in what they’re learning.Want to explore symbolism? Ditch the same three poems by English poets that you’ve been teaching for years. Instead, find examples of works by writers from your students’ own backgrounds. Better yet, ask them to bring in their own examples.
Select materials that represent your students
Look around your classroom. Does your library contain books by diverse authors, on topics that appeal to the cultures represented by your students? What about your classroom decorations—do they show faces and cultural elements similar to those of your own students’? Kids should see that their teacher knows not everyone has the same experiences and values, and that’s OK.
Bring learning into context
No matter what their culture, all kids eventually ask the same question: “Why does learning this even matter? What does it have to do with my life?”
So, take some time to address that. Perhaps you’re learning about ancient Greek civilization. Talk about how life then was similar or different to today’s. Consider the social divides, the political events, and family structure. Discuss how your students today can learn from the mistakes made then, or what elements of their society they think we could benefit from today.
Accommodate different communication styles
“Don’t interrupt.” “Wait to be acknowledged before you speak.” “Look directly at someone when you talk to them.” These are all pretty standard classroom guidelines, yet they’re specific to only a few cultures. In some cultures, interrupting isn’t rude, it shows interest. Making eye contact can be hard for some, even culturally discouraged.
Explore how different cultures communicate, and learn to accommodate them in your classroom. That doesn’t mean no rules it all. It means understanding that there could be cultural reasons for why it’s harder for some kids to wait their turn to talk, while others are reluctant to speak up. Don’t get angry—understand, learn, and adapt.
Set high standards for all students
Studies into implicit bias reveal that some teachers expect less from students who are from non-white communities. They assume they haven’t had the same advantages as their white peers and therefore won’t be able to achieve as much.
But research tells us that’s exactly the wrong way to think. Teachers need to overcome their implicit bias, and set equitable expectations for all students. You’ll always need to take individual situations into account, of course. But don’t make assumptions based on culture. Hold every student to high standards, and take each case as it comes.
Acknowledge inequity, bias, and injustice
This is getting harder to do in some places, as states ban teaching about things like critical race theory. But inequity, bias, and racial injustice exist, and ignoring them won’t make them go away. What’s more, allowing students from different cultures to hash these things out in the classroom lets them feel seen. And this opens them up to more learning.
There’s no easy answer for navigating these topics in more restrictive states. Teachers can only do their best in the classroom, and continue to fight for the ability to teach vital topics in meaningful ways.
How can I become a more culturally responsive teacher?
As we said earlier, culturally responsive teaching is a complicated topic. You can’t learn everything you need to know from one article or even one book. Learn more about your students’ rich cultures, and find out what interests them. Open yourself up to new ideas, do more research, and start trying out the principles in your classroom. Here are some resources to help you:
- Prioritizing Culturally Responsive Teaching in the Classroom
- 10 Anti-Racism Professional Development Books for Teachers
- What Are Mirrors, Windows, and Sliding Glass Doors?
- Education Week: What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?
- Understood: How To Use Culturally Responsive Teaching in the Classroom
- Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning
Culturally responsive teaching is a complex topic, so come talk it over and ask for advice in the WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.
Plus, What Culture Day Gets Wrong and What To Try Instead.
What is culturally responsive teaching and why does it matter? ›
Culturally responsive teaching is a research-based approach to teaching. It connects students' cultures, languages, and life experiences with what they learn in school. These connections help students access rigorous curriculum and develop higher-level academic skills. Our brains are wired to make connections.How would you define the culturally responsive education in your own words? ›
What is Culturally Responsive Education? Culturally responsive education (CRE) is an approach to schooling that promotes student engagement, learning, and achievement by centering their knowledge, cultural backgrounds, and everyday experiences in the classroom.What does it mean to be culturally responsive in the classroom? ›
Cultural responsiveness is the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of one's own culture as well as those from other cultures. Culturally responsive schools offer a learning environment where every student's cultures, languages, and life experiences are acknowledged, validated, and celebrated.Why is culturally responsive teaching important quizlet? ›
Shared perceptions of a group's values, expectations, and norms. What is Culturally Responsive Teaching? An approach that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impact knowledge, skills, and attitudes.Why is it important to be culturally responsive in education? ›
Culturally responsive teaching promotes the success of all students equally—something that traditional education methods often fall short on. When students' cultural backgrounds aren't thoughtfully considered, classrooms suffer from issues like language barriers, systemic discrimination, and lack of representation.Why is culturally responsive teaching important in schools? ›
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy helps students to uphold their cultural identities while developing fluency in at least one other culture. Culturally Relevant Pedagogy is a theoretical model that focuses on multiple aspects of student achievement and supports students to uphold their cultural identities.How do you demonstrate culturally responsive teaching? ›
- Build a positive classroom culture. ...
- Get to know your students and families. ...
- Provide opportunities for students to see themselves in the learning. ...
- Set high expectations for all students.
Being culturally responsive requires having the ability to understand cultural differences, recognize potential biases, and look beyond differences to work productively with children, families, and communities whose cultural contexts are different from one's own.Which is or are characteristics of a culturally responsive teaching? ›
These four practices are: (1) that teachers are empathetic and caring; (2) that they are reflective about their beliefs about people from other cultures; (3) that they are reflective about their own cultural frames of reference; and (4) that they are knowledgeable about other cultures.How can teachers be more culturally responsive in the classroom? ›
using students' cultural experiences in daily instruction. embracing native language and students' families as assets. creating a classroom environment that represents and respects all students. communicating clear high expectations for everyone.
What impact does a culturally responsive classroom have on classroom management? ›
Culturally responsive classroom managers filter their decision making about the environment through the lens of cultural diversity. They think about ways the environment can be used to communicate respect for diversity, to reaffirm connectedness and community, and to avoid marginalizing and disparaging students.What are the four areas of culturally responsive teaching? ›
The Culturally Responsive-Sustaining (CR-S) Framework outlines four principles and embedded strategies to help educators create student-centered learning environments that: affirm racial, linguistic and cultural identities; prepare students for rigorous and independent learning; develop students' abilities to connect ...Why is it important to be a responsive teacher? ›
Motivating and engaging students
Culturally responsive teachers connect academic concepts to the everyday lives of their students, a strategy that makes learning experiences more personally meaningful, engaging, and effective. Research back this idea.
Cultural competency is critical to providing equitable, effective and respectful care and services. It includes but is not limited to being responsive to diverse beliefs and values related to health and well- being, delivering services in preferred languages, and being mindful of health literacy and numeracy.What are the benefits of using culturally responsive teaching and restorative practices? ›
There are numerous studies that point to the benefits of culturally responsive teaching (CRT). CRT has been shown to increase student engagement, cultivate critical thinking and problem solving skills, and ultimately improve a students' sense of belonging in the classroom.Why is important to make culturally responsive teaching a top priority in early childhood education? ›
Making Culturally Responsive Teaching a Top Priority
In order to meet the diverse needs of students who come from different economic and cultural backgrounds, teachers are learning to identify, respect, and take advantage of these differences to improve student learning and self-awareness.
Responsive teaching is setting clear goals and planning learning carefully based on needs and current levels of understanding. It's identifying what pupils have understood and where they are struggling.What are the benefits of teaching culture? ›
Students who learn about different cultures during their education feel more comfortable and safe with these differences later in life. This allows them to interact in a wider range of social groups and feel more confident in themselves as well as in their interactions with others.What is a way to promote cultural responsiveness and inclusion in the classroom? ›
Commit to learning about your students, including their families and their interests. Involve families with take-home letters or phone calls. Use surveys and short form assignments to understand their values and habits in their own words.What is the goal of culturally responsive practice? ›
A primary goal of culturally responsive teaching is to ensure that students from diverse backgrounds have meaningful opportunities to experience quality instruction that consistently incorporates cultural components to support learning.
What is culturally responsive teaching relationship? ›
One important aspect of a culturally responsive approach to teaching is that school curriculum, instruction, and learning are tied to students' experiences, realities, identities, histories, and in many ways their expertise. High performance is an expectation and consequently the norm.What is culturally responsive teaching around the world? ›
This mode of teaching aims to be aware of how culture, ethnicity, race, socioeconomic status, language, gender identity and religious background may impact students' learning experiences. In many school contexts, student diversity far exceeds the diversity of teachers.What are the challenges of culturally responsive teaching? ›
Bias, fear, lack of cultural awareness, the absence of professional strategies and adequate support structures impede the ability of some educators to develop culturally responsive learning environments.What are the questions for culturally responsive teaching? ›
How will you incorporate your students' life experiences into the lesson? How will you foster/encourage critical discussion during your lesson? What authentic learning tasks have you developed for this lesson? How do the learning tasks relate to your students' lives outside of school?How can schools be more culturally responsive? ›
Ensure that principals and teachers have professional development opportunities to help them assess their own cultural viewpoints and biases, set high expectations for all students, acknowledge diverse learning styles, use culturally responsive pedagogy, and effectively engage diverse families and community members.What is the key principle of culturally responsive classroom management? ›
A key principle of culturally responsive classroom management is explicit instruction about rules, delivered in a caring way. If students fail to adhere to a rule, contact is initiated in a caring fashion.What is the most important element in culturally responsive teaching? ›
Ladson-Billings (1995) notes that a key criterion for culturally relevant teaching is nurturing and supporting competence in both home and school cultures. Teachers should use the students' home cultural experiences as a foundation upon which to develop knowledge and skills.What are the 3 main components of cultural responsiveness? ›
Displaying the cultural competence behaviors of active listening, demonstrating empathy, and effective engagement is important when moving beyond tolerance. These three components will help us to create a welcoming environment and establish the appreciation of similarities and differences among cultures.What are the 7 principles of culturally responsive teaching? ›
- Activate students' prior knowledge. ...
- Make learning contextual. ...
- Consider your classroom setup. ...
- Form relationships. ...
- Discuss social and political issues. ...
- Tap into students' cultural capital. ...
- Incorporate popular culture.
Setting clear goals and planning learning carefully. Identifying what students have understood and where they are struggling.
What is an example of cultural responsiveness? ›
For example, many societies and cultures have fireworks festivals. While such a festival runs, you could teach how to calculate speed using fireworks in sample questions. Establishing inclusion also involves regularly grouping students with different classmates, encouraging discussion to solve problems.What is an example of culturally responsive care? ›
- understanding trauma and its impact on individuals, families and groups.
- creating environments where people feel physically and emotionally safe.
- employing culturally competent staff and adopting practices that show respect for specific cultural backgrounds.
Culturally responsive care includes creating a culturally safe environment, using cultural negotiation, and considering the impact of culture on patients' time orientation, space orientation, eye contact, and food choices.Why is cultural responsiveness important? ›
Cultural responsiveness enables individuals and organizations to respond respectfully and effectively to people of all cultures, languages, classes, races, ethnic backgrounds, disabilities, religions, genders, sexual orientations, and other diversity factors in a manner that recognizes, affirms, and values their worth.How to use culturally responsive teaching in the classroom? ›
- Build a positive classroom culture. ...
- Get to know your students and families. ...
- Provide opportunities for students to see themselves in the learning. ...
- Set high expectations for all students.
Developing cultural competence helps us understand, communicate with, and effectively interact with people across cultures. It gives us the ability to compare different cultures with our own and better understand the differences.What is a key element of culturally responsive teaching? ›
The Culturally Responsive-Sustaining (CR-S) Framework outlines four principles and embedded strategies to help educators create student-centered learning environments that: affirm racial, linguistic and cultural identities; prepare students for rigorous and independent learning; develop students' abilities to connect ...What are the 4 characteristics of culturally responsive teaching? ›
These four practices are: (1) that teachers are empathetic and caring; (2) that they are reflective about their beliefs about people from other cultures; (3) that they are reflective about their own cultural frames of reference; and (4) that they are knowledgeable about other cultures.