How to Easily Start Incorporating Culturally Responsive Teaching in Your Classroom

Culturally Responsive Teaching can help us build community in our classrooms and include all students.  When I was learning about cultural diversity in the classroom Culturally Responsive Teaching seemed like it was the most natural way to build a classroom community.  In a lot of ways teachers do a lot of pieces of Culturally Responsive Teaching, but if you incorporate it into your classroom it will be a little more intentional. 

Why I Needed Culturally Responsive Teaching as a Student

I grew up in a mostly white community, but we have some culturally diverse cities close by.  I graduate from a state school that represented diversity well.  It was at this school that I took a course on African American Literature.  The professor was new and was trying to prove his worth by overstacking the curriculum.  However, the books he chose for us to read opened my eyes to the issues of race in a way I had never seen before.  Even though we only read about half of what he had planned I was thankful for the course and all it taught me.

When I Learned About Culturally Responsive Teaching

Then in graduate school, I had a professor who picked her home to ensure her kids had a culturally diverse experience.  She challenged us to face our own biases and think about how we would deal with different races and cultures in our classrooms.  She taught that though it can be challenging and even though we might not have the answers, we must talk about diversity and race.  Ignoring it is the biggest mistake we can make.  

I looked a the different approaches she offered for how I could do better than past teachers. I read the methods and ideas that currently existed to help with these conversations. I searched for a method that fit me as a teacher and I found it – Culturally Responsive Teaching.

What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Since I first wrote my final research paper on Culturally Responsive Teaching it has evolved.   There are three ideologies that exist around Culturally Responsive Teaching, they are slightly different but share the same heart issues of wanting to serve students better.  Let’s break these down as simply as possible.  If one of these resonates with you a lot then research it further.   This breakdown is meant to help you better understand the similarities and differences.

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Gloria Ladson-Billings introduced Culturally Responsive Teaching because the common belief was that black children were deficient and deviant.  She wanted to know what was right and wonderful about their communities.  She looked at teachers that were excellent according to principals and parents.  These teachers had high expectations for their students and became part of their students’ communities.  The culturally relevant pedagogy that she defined was made of three components.

Student Learning 

Prioritize students’ intellectual growth and problem-solving skills.

Cultural Competence 

Create an environment that affirms and accepts student culture and helps them learn about other cultures.

Critical Consciousness

Help students learn how to identify and solve real problems especially social justice issues.

Culturally Responsive Teaching is Formalized

Geneva Gay took all of this information in 2000 and defined Culturally Responsive Teaching.  She broke it into five parts.   A lot of the unit I will share with you below is based on Gay’s work.

A Strong Knowledge About Cultural Diversity

Teachers need to know about, understand, and incorporate the different racial, ethnic, cultural, and traditions of their students into learning.  

Culturally Relevant Curricula

Instruction should include multiple perspectives on the topics and the classroom should represent the world’s diversity and the local area.

High Expectations for All Students

Academic success should allow students to represent and love their culture.

Appreciation for Different Communication Styles

Different cultures communicate differently and teachers need to understand that students might be respectful, not rude while they communicate differently.  Teachers need to understand and welcome different styles of communication.

Use Multicultural Instruction

Teachers should connect new lessons and information to what students know and their cultural experiences.

Culturally Relevant Teaching 

Student learning and achievement are a huge focus of Culturally Relevant Teaching.  However, students should be able to be academically successful while embracing their culture and identity. At the same time, students and teachers are working on developing cultural competence to develop positive ethnic and social identities.  Basically, they are working to understand the cultures in the classroom.  If teachers are not part of helping their students develop ethnic and social identities then they are likely discouraging it.  It’s hard for students to confidently find who they are and teachers can be part of students successfully and confidently determining their identity.  

Culturally Relevant Teaching also focuses on critical consciousness.  Critical consciousness is the ability to identify social injustices.  As students are able to identify them they will be able to discuss, and work through social injustices towards solutions or simply how to cope with them.  So many students see social injustices every day and they need to know what to do when facing them.

Culturally Sustaining Teaching  

Culturally Sustaining Teaching acknowledges that different races, cultures, and groups are different which means that students of color should not be allowed and encouraged to embrace their culture, rather than adhere to white cultural norms.  The teacher should encourage and nurture the cultural journey of their students.  Having students of different colors and cultures adds value to the classroom and is not something that should be educated students.

Culturally Sustaining Teaching values the community languages and practices.  It encourages student input and participation.  The curriculum uses students’ roots and history to support lessons.

More Articles on Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally Responsive Teaching Guide (+ 10 Examples)

5 Steps to Become a Culturally Responsive Teacher

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Empowering Students Through Respect

How to Use Culturally Responsive Teaching in Your Classroom

It can be intimidating to start culturally responsive teaching in your classroom.  It’s a challenge to see your students through a new lens and maybe change old habits.  I am going to layout for your a strong starting point to bring culturally responsive teaching into your classroom.

My Culturally Responsive Teaching Unit

I created a culturally responsive teaching unit for the beginning of the school.  This unit is comprised of five lessons.  The goal of these lessons is to help you get to know your students on a deeper level.  

Personal Narrative Writing Prompt

Personal Narratives are a great way to kick off the school year.   However, simply having your students write a personal narrative is a little boring.  This lesson is a literature-based activity that helps students see how to use their personal memories to tell a story.  The class reads the book Wilfred Gordan McDonald Partridge by Mem Fox.  After a class discussion of the book, the students have the task of finding their own special memories which they will share with the class.  From there, students will write a personal narrative based on the book, discussions, and special memories.   

Not only does this lesson provide a great writing sample, but it also requires students to reflect on who they are.  As students think and reflect on what’s important to them.  It helps them see what’s important to them is different from their classmates.   And it helps them get to know their classmates better.  It shows the students that all students are valued in the class.

Building My Family Tree Activity

The modern family tree is complicated and intricate.  There are so many different connections that intertwine a family.   In this activity, the class will read and discuss two books about families.  Then students will build their family tree using the technical markings which are reserved for family trees.  The goal is to help the students see that every family is different and unique.  A family is created by all kinds of people.   

Free Verse Poetry Template

This is one of my favorite lessons.  Students reflect on who they are and write a poem about it.   The format is simple, each line starts with I AM.   Students use who they are, where their from, their family, and traditions to create a masterpiece of writing.   This poem is meant to have rhythm, and increase in intensity.  Students will take ownership of who they are as they write this poem.

Making Connections in Reading

After reading three books and discussing them as a class the students must think about their most unique qualities.   They will choose one to share with the rest of the class.  This lesson is simple, but guides students through reflection and embracing themselves.   

My Ethnic Identity & Where I’m From Culturally Responsive Teaching

Students are so focused on the things they want and what comes next in their schedule that they don’t know their family’s history.   The goal of this lesson is to have students start this conversation with their families at home.   If they don’t know the answers because of their family situation that’s okay.  They can simply talk to the adult or legal guardian in their life.   

When I taught this lesson I emailed parents to ensure that they understood the purpose of the lesson was that students would get to know about their family history and traditions.  One of the things I like most about this lesson is that the teacher learns early in the school year which holidays to include as part of classroom celebrations.  It’s a simple way to give the teachers and students a better understanding of who they are.

Culturally Responsive Teaching Starting Point

If you decide to use these lessons and activities in your classroom you need to remember that they are a starting point. They are a guide to help you start the process and get to know your students in a different way.

Any steps you take towards culturally responsive teaching in your classroom are positive steps.   Enjoy the process and let it transform your teaching.

Culturally Responsive Teaching All Year

Culturally Responsive Teaching can direct and improve your teaching all year long.  Once you’ve gotten to know your students in a different and personal way it’s a lot easier to think about who they are and let that influence your teaching.  With every lesson, you teach you to need to think about who your students are.  You need to consider their background knowledge and experiences and use those to teach.  It’s not about filling in gaps of knowledge, but using the knowledge they already have to help them retain and connect with the lessons you are teaching.

Don’t be afraid to change or rethink the lessons you’ve always taught so your students can access the material better.  Studies have shown that when teachers are culturally responsive, relevant, or sustaining their students learn more

Culturally Responsive Teaching Looks Different in Every City

The culture, ethnicity, and life experiences of children change in different cities, states, and countries.  This means that their isn’t a set curriculum or way to be a culturally responsive classroom.  

The teachers are an integral part of learning about the students so they can connect the curriculum to their culture.  Instead of teaching to one people group, stereotype, or average middle-class white person, the teacher is teaching to the students in front of them.  Of course, this looks very different in every city.   My town looks very different from the town one mile away.  It would be a mistake to teach these two groups the same way.  Instead, the teacher needs to learn about their students in an authentic way and use that knowledge to create meaningful lessons.

Culturally Responsive Teaching is One Option

Culturally responsive teaching isn’t the only way to teach our students in a positive and impactful way.  The research has proven that culturally responsive teaching and its counterparts are effective in the classroom, but I don’t want you to think if you struggle to start using these concepts in your classroom that you are a failure.  There is never one pedagogy that is 100% correct for everyone.  Implementing culturally responsive teaching is a process.  I firmly believe that using these ideas in your classroom will help you grow as a teacher and improve your classroom culture.  Take baby steps to get started and find your groove.

Here is Your FREE Prompt for Writing Poetry

I know that you needed a prompt to help kickstart your students’ writing.  Here is an entire lesson for FREE.  My Our School Poem guides students through using sensory language to describe their school. The step-by-step directions guide your class through the writing process with all the necessary worksheets making this the perfect lesson for your classroom.

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