Five years ago, diversity in public schools reached a turning point. For the first time in history, the majority of students in the US public school system were from racial and ethnic minorities.
Since then, classroom diversity has continued to increase across the country. But the curricula taught in these classrooms don't always follow suit. This leaves many students feeling disconnected, marginalized, and disinterested in the educational process—feelings that can have serious and lasting consequences.
Culturally responsive pedagogy creates a strong link between classroom instruction and the diverse backgrounds of students. By developing strategies to design and deliver culturally appropriate lessons, teachers can better include diverse students and promote the success of all students.
What is culturally sensitive teaching?
Culturally appealing teaching is a student-centred approach to education. It is based on the idea that each student brings unique cultural strengths to the classroom. Recognizing and nurturing these strengths not only fuels success, but fosters an open-minded and supportive environment that celebrates cultural differences.
To be successful, culturally-responsive teaching strategies need to be integrated into all phases of the learning process, from curriculum development to assessment. Culturally appealing education is not a secondary or complementary approach to education. Instead, all learning opportunities and school activities must take into account students' ancestral and contemporary cultures, beliefs and traditions. This may include looking at your students' important holiday traditions in the classroom or understanding how and why your students and their families may value certain subjects more than others.
Benefits of culturally-responsive teaching
Culturally sensitive teaching promotes the success of all students equally - which traditional educational methods often fail to achieve. If students' cultural backgrounds are not carefully considered, classrooms suffer from problems such as language barriers, systemic discrimination and lack of representation.
- language barriers: According to the National Center for Education Statistics, nearly 10% of public school students were learning English in 2016. In an English language school, students who are not fluent in English may not fully understand the subject matter. Also, they may be afraid to ask questions and share ideas because they lack the English skills needed to express abstract concepts.
- Systemic Discrimination: Many underrepresented students have experienced discrimination in schools, hospitals, libraries and other public spaces. Excessive expectations and punishments in the classroom can trigger the same feelings and make students feel unsafe or unwanted in school.
- lack of representation: Many educational materials are unintentionally biased. White protagonists often appear in the books. Movies often show mostly white classrooms. Even standardized test questions are often unconsciously written to favor the experiences of racial and ethnic majorities. Situations like these teach black students that schools and classrooms are not really designed for them.
These problems can cause students to become distracted from the learning process, among other things – misbehaving in class, neglecting homework, skipping class, or even dropping out altogether. Ultimately, these behaviors lead to underperforming that becomes chronic and can have lifelong repercussions, affecting everything from college admissions to career success and socioeconomic status. Culturally-responsive instruction helps to bridge these gaps by including students from underrepresented cultures (which can be influenced by race and ethnicity, religion and ability) in the learning process in ways that are meaningful and relevant to them.
The benefits of culturally-responsive teaching are undeniable. Not only does it improve the overall student success rate, but it also promotes positive relationships between families and school communities and promotes inclusion in schools and education systems.
How to Create a Culturally Appealing Classroom
Teachers can use many methods to encourage cultural responsiveness in the classroom, from empowering students to make decisions about their own education (see below) to designing lessons that honor students' diverse backgrounds. Culturally appealing teaching strategies can build trust; promoting cooperation; improve communication; and create a supportive and respectful atmosphere in which all students can thrive.
Get to know your students and their families
Demonstrating an interest in your students' ethnic and cultural backgrounds is critical to creating a culturally appealing classroom. Be sure to learn the correct pronunciation of your students' names and encourage them to share their family traditions with their classmates. This could take the form of a family history report, in which students explore their cultural heritage and present what they have learned. Or you could take a less formal approach and ask your students to bring one of their family's favorite dishes to share with the class. Remember, you are leading by example. Model what it's like to appreciate and appreciate differences.
It's also important to get to know your students' families. Family involvement can have a significant impact on academic success. However, it is important to remember that participation is not the same for all families – cultural attitudes, family background and other factors can influence how and in what way a family decides to participate.
quick tip: Arrange a visit with your students and their families outside of regular school hours to build trust and gain insight into each student's unique background.
Design an inclusive resume
Every student in a classroom should feel represented and involved in school lessons and activities. Consider the different cultural backgrounds of your students and think creatively about how to celebrate those differences. Try to include books and other media that highlight your students' cultural background or, as mentioned earlier, ask your students to write about their cultural heritage and share it with the class.
quick tip: Assign a family history project to encourage students to learn more about their cultural heritage and share what they learn with their classmates.
Consider language differences
A culturally informed classroom needs to recognize that English may not be the primary language for some students. Rather than expecting non-native English speakers to overcome language barriers themselves, teachers should find ways to offer additional support. Consider providing additional materials in the student's main language to help with tests and assignments. Or create a personalized education plan to encourage English language learning.
quick tip: Send each student home a private survey asking questions about what language they use at home or how often and in what language they read with their parents. Use this information to strategize how to support non-native speakers year-round.
Consistently communicate high expectations
While all students have their own strengths and challenges, it is important that each student is motivated to excel. Make sure your students know you expect them to engage in class, challenge themselves, and achieve a high level. Unconscious personal biases may lead some teachers to place lower expectations on minority students or assume that underachievement is the result of family circumstances, race, or cultural differences. If you notice that a student is underperforming, take the time to find out why. Stay open and implement a personalized intervention strategy to help get you back on track.
quick tip: Make a list of reasonable expectations and post it outside the classroom. Refer to this list regularly to create an atmosphere of openness, transparency, and encouragement, especially when sharing about other cultures.
Enable student empowerment
Authoritarian classrooms — where student behavior is constrained by a long list of strictly enforced rules — can be problematic. Restrictions on personal exploration can make some students feel their teacher is being socially unfair. This applies in particular to students from underrepresented backgrounds, who are more likely to be confronted with unequal treatment and discrimination. To avoid this, try to see your role less as a coach and more as a facilitator. Allow students to provide feedback on what they have learned by focusing lessons on topics they find interesting, allowing them to choose their own reading material, and encouraging them to share thoughts and ideas in an open and supportive environment exchange.
quick tip: Swap lectures for classroom discussions or collaborative projects to explain different learning styles and cultural backgrounds and make students feel like an important part of their own education.
Address your own prejudices
Every educator brings some kind of personal bias to the classroom. These biases (racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic, to name a few) can be difficult to recognize, let alone overcome, but addressing them is essential to becoming a culturally sensitive teacher. Discover your own cultural heritage, family history, education and privileges. Try to look at your experiences from an objective point of view to understand how other people's experiences might be different. For even more information, you can find books, articles, films, and other media that help you understand the world from a variety of perspectives.
quick tip: Make a list of your cultural assumptions, however uncomfortable they may make you. Then read the list and ask yourself, “Do I really feel this way? And if so, why?" Stay open and ready to change your preconceived notions.
A training in cultural responsiveness
American University Online Master of Arts in Lehre(MAT) helps students become culturally informed educators. Courses such as Effective Teaching for Diverse Students offer students the opportunity to engage in first-hand training in cultural responsiveness. Through action research and curriculum design, students explore ways to support diverse students and learn to understand the role that family and community play in educational success.
According to the doctor. Traci Dennis, director of Graduate Teacher Education at American University, the MAT program was designed to prepare culturally sensitive teachers who are passionate about educational equity. The program emphasizes student-centered, culturally-mediated instruction and helps teachers explore their role as enablers of student success.
Additionally, the MAT program is located in Washington, DC, the ideal environment to make a difference through education policy. Many MAT and MEd (Master of Education) graduates become educators, providing equivalent education to students across the country. And other educators support justice through policy reform and education.
Are you ready to make a difference with culturally appealing teaching strategies? Learn more about howAmerican University Online Master of Arts in Lehreprogram can help you become an egalitarian educator and enabler.
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