Culturally responsive teaching is much more than simply recognizing the cultural background of your students (although that’s a good start). As a teacher in today’s multicultural world, fostering culturally responsive teaching practices is becoming more and more necessary to successfully create a learning environment that is engaging and accessible to a broader range of students.
By 2020, the Census Bureau has projected that more than half of all students in US public schools will be minority students. Figuring out how to meet the diverse needs of students with differing economic and cultural backgrounds, not to mention varying learning styles, has increasingly become a top priority for educators. In light of these rapidly-changing student demographics, teachers must be able to understand and resolve potential conflicts that may arise due to cultural differences between students in the classroom.
Feel like it’s time to bring more culturally responsive teaching practices into your classroom? We’ve put together five steps for teachers to work on to make that happen.
1. Assess your own behavior
It’s important to bear in mind that your attitudes are influenced by your own culture. If your students’ cultures differ from yours, you need to be sensitive to the differences in attitudes that may arise in the classroom. The first step to creating a culturally responsive classroom is being aware of your own actions and working to shift your mindset into ones that are culturally inclusive and open minded.
This also applies to your interactions with students’ families and their communities. Being sensitive to how certain cultures may stress different ways of learning is a key first step towards building a positive, respectful relationship with families from diverse cultural backgrounds.
2. Get to know your students
Be proactive when it comes to learning about the different cultural backgrounds of the students in your classroom. Do your research, either online or by talking to your teaching colleagues.
As a teacher, you cannot create a culturally responsive classroom if you don’t take the time to get to know your students as individuals. Establishing set times to sit down with a student can give them a chance to speak about themselves in a more personal setting. Some students may not feel comfortable talking about their life outside of school with the whole class listening.
Be sure to show a genuine interest in each student's understanding of content and their general well-being. Creating a culturally responsive classroom is all about creating an environment in which students of all cultures feel comfortable and ready to learn.
If there is a student in your class who has recently immigrated from another country, for example, sit down with them to ask if there were any activities or traditions they enjoyed at school in their home country. This will not only help put your new student at ease, it can also breathe life into your lesson activities.
3. Make your classroom a judgment-free zone
Students must be able to look at situations regarding culture with an unbiased opinion and be comfortable asking questions to further their understanding. If a conversation arises about a current event or behavior a discussion should be welcomed, but be sure the discussion is directed towards learning, not criticizing.
Encourage students to ask questions and challenge the status quo. Make critical thinking the norm and teach your students to value each other’s differences. It’s common for many students to not want to speak up, but encouraging them to voice their opinions and questions what is happening in the world around them is one of the best ways to help them understand and overcome some of their preconceived notions.
4. Adapt your teaching
Culturally responsive teaching is an approach that is student-focused. It identifies not only the differences between students but the unique strengths of each child to encourage their academic achievement and sense of belonging in the classroom. As a teacher, there are some important questions you should ask yourself, including the following:
- Are there any activities in your classroom that don’t benefit all students?
- What activities seem to engage all students and get them participating?
- What actions have you noticed seem to get the best reactions out of your students?
It’s important to honestly assess your current teaching practices and modify your instruction and curriculum to consider all students’ backgrounds and readiness levels. Research on culturally responsive teaching has shown that students are more engaged in learning and learn more effectively when the knowledge and skills taught are presented within the context of their own experiences and cultural frames of reference.
As a result, it’s critical to learn how to adapt your teaching strategies and techniques to the needs of students of all cultural backgrounds in your classroom. Incorporating learning strategies that have a sense of familiarity for foreign students, for example, can not only help them better connect to the classroom environment, but feel more comfortable sharing their own experiences with classmates.
Make learning as interactive as possible. Educational games are not only fun for students, they also require active listening and provide a greater chance for memory retention. Puzzle-solving, making connections, story telling and visuals and repetition are all tools that can be used in the classroom and are commonly seen across a lot of cultures.
5. Include all cultures in your teaching
In your lessons, choose content that reflects the different cultures of your students. Lessons should incorporate multicultural information and approaches whenever possible.
If a teacher continually references people from a specific cultural background or uses people of a particular nationality or ethnic background exclusively in class examples, students may feel as if their cultural background is being sidelined and can consequently feel disengaged from their learning.
Now more than ever, teachers should be looking to making their classrooms a space in which students of all cultures feel supported to learn and succeed. By embracing implementing culturally responsive teaching principles effectively, your classroom can, over time, become a more positive learning environment for all of your students - it all starts with you!