Culturally Responsive Teaching

Critical self-reflection may be more difficult for some White teachers beause race is not often spoken about by those from racially priviliged or dominant positions.
Dr. Tyrone Howard
What is it?

Gay (2000) defines culturally responsive teaching as using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these students.

Dr. Tyrone Howard builds on this to focus on what this means for students of color. He focuses on two things. First, culturally responsive teaching requires that instead of attempting to be colorblind, teachers need to recognize and talk about race in the classrooms. That they, further, need to engage in constant self-reflection to identify and understand their own prejudices, their own stance towards race and how that affects what they believe about their students.

Second, Dr. Howard recommends teaching that does not merely cater to white norms as though they were superior, but that uses texts, projects, discussions, and assignments that are relevant to the specific students in the room, as individuals. He also suggests that this is difficult, if not impossible to do, without first tackling the daunting first task of self-reflection.

Why is it important to have in the classroom?

There is a structural and unconscious message in schools and among teachers that “those kids” cannot learn, which becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Without consciously dismantling this message, children of color, particularly boys, are at much higher risk of dropping out.

Culturally responsive teaching breaks the cycle of teachers trying to change a child to be more in line with white values, which causes resistance, which leads to discipline challenges, which may well lead to dropping out, even jail.

How does it support intrinsic motivation and ownership?

By making learning relevant, giving it meaning to students, and by teachers showing genuine caring for students, students find within themselves the motivation to work for those teachers. When using materials that are relevant to students’ experiences and culture, students find themselves successful, leading to a virtuous cycle of increased mastery.

What does it look like in practice?

In practice, culturally sensitive teaching involves student-centered, authentic learning experiences that relates to their own experiences. Texts may be stories of three young black men, or other stories where students recognize their family structure, their neighborhood, experiences from their lives. There is frank discussion about race that forces students to grapple with their own understanding of the concept and how they see and think about people of other races. Projects may be based in the students’ own communities or centered on their specific concerns and interests.