Culturally Responsive Teaching: It Begins with Responsiveness

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Early last fall, I had the opportunity to sit with a team of sixth grade teachers at a middle school serving a large number of low-income Latino and African American students. Many of those students were at least two grade levels behind in reading. Their low literacy levels were wreaking havoc on their ability to learn content, engage in higher-level thinking, and build background knowledge.

A year earlier, in their PLC, this team decided that the solution was to use culturally responsive teaching (CRT) as a way to improve student learning and increase achievement.

When I visited with them, they were a bit perplexed why things hadn’t changed, because they’d instituted fun “call and response” chants at the beginning of class and created multicultural bulletin boards about music from different cultures and social justice topics. They’d spent time having “courageous conversations” about implicit bias. They’d tried this for a year, but reading scores didn’t improve and they couldn’t understand why.

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Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain

Podcast anewkindofPD

Editor’s Note: Interested in Culturally Responsive Teaching? Listen to our #anewkindofPD podcast episode featuring Zaretta Hammond. Subscribe here on iTunes or Stitcher for reminders of new podcast launches.

This school year, I have the privilege of working shoulder to shoulder with teachers who are rolling up their sleeves and asking hard questions about how they can better serve their under-performing students who are disproportionately English learners, poor students, and students of color. They are working to incorporate culturally responsive practices into their classrooms.

I believe culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is a powerful method for accelerating student learning. But truth be told, most educators are not really sure what it is or what it looks like. For some, it seems mysterious. A number of leaders discount it because it seems too “touchy feely” or only focused on raising students’ self-esteem, when they need to raise achievement levels. But CRT is so much more than that. It’s the reason why I wrote Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.

Two of the biggest challenges I see teachers struggle with when first embracing CRT, is understanding the role culture actually plays in instruction and how to operationalize culturally responsive practices. They worry that they have to learn 19 different cultures — everyone’s individual customs, holidays, foods, and language. This simply isn’t true. Here are four other big ideas about culturally responsive teaching to keep in mind: Read more