Being culturally responsive is a critical and necessary feature of our interactions with one another. It is also vitally important in the context of education. The following practices provide five essential strategies for how educators can make their learning environments more culturally responsive.
1. Know your students
Learning about your students is critical in how you design your curriculum and deliver it. As instructors, you must understand your students’ behaviours, backgrounds, and challenges to address them.
An effective way to learn about students is to break the ice in the first few class meetings. This can be accomplished by brief survey questions, student inventories, interviews, or questions that can be tailored to be increasingly sophisticated depending on student level. Questions might include information about students’ likes and dislikes, personal interests, responsibilities outside of school, and especially their opinions about courses and/or teachers they perceived as effective or ineffective.
Very often, students will share personal experiences that have deeply affected them. Getting this kind of information can assist educators in better meeting their students’ needs. Engaging in regular check-ins with your classes helps keep your knowledge about your students up to date.
Sometimes during a semester or school year, situations may change. Students may end up homeless, deal with a parent remarrying or divorcing, or cope with their own life-changing circumstances. The more we know about them, the better we can empathise with their situation and assist them.
2. Be aware of your own biases
Bias can exist in many forms and often stems from inherent world views taught in us during childhood. Our beliefs and preferences are shaped by our education, family, friends and peers. They may take many forms such as religious, gender, cultural, academic, or something less consequential as food or size.
In an educational setting, teacher bias is often a genuine issue.
It happens pretty often that a student perceives the teacher as being unfair or that grading practices are not consistent from one student to another. This perception may or may not be accurate, and being unaware of your biases may influence pedagogical decisions. For example, teachers may lower expectations based on a student’s culture and/or colour in a predominantly white, middle-class community.
Unconscious biases can also contribute to flawed thinking. For example, implicit bias may result in a teacher thinking women can’t excel at maths or that introverted, quiet students don’t understand the lesson because of their limited participation. Recognising the fact that we all have biases will not change them. Still, it may help us make more informed decisions and value differences from various perspectives so we are not perpetuating inequality.
3. Transform your pedagogy and curriculum
Teachers are now more mindfully revisiting how to facilitate culturally responsive lessons due to the critical need in these changing times. While some begin to work toward meaningful changes, there are specific steps teachers can take to transform both course curriculum and pedagogical practices.
Several different strategies can be implemented in the curriculum in three areas: course content, methodology, and assessment.
3.1 Cultural course content
First, when it comes to content, materials and readings used in the classroom should reflect the diversity of the students in class and the diversity of the contributors in the field of study or discipline.
Teachers should also recognise how their choices of readings, examples, analogies, videos and other content may be biassed or reinforce stereotypes.
The curriculum should also be reviewed to ensure there are no hidden forms of oppression.
And activities used in class should be created to be mindful of their impact on students.
3.2 Meaningful methodology
Second, pedagogy should be inclusive, which means that course work should be meaningful for students, designed to encourage them, effectively meet their needs, and invite collaboration.
Teachers should ensure that varied and frequent active learning techniques are being used. This can include discussions, group work, experiential learning, debates, presentations, and team projects, to name a few.
Activities and lessons should be presented in multiple ways to address students’ varied learning styles. Allowing students to reflect on what they have learned can provide insight into their progress and areas that may need more attention, but it can also reinforce learning and help them make connections to their own life experiences.
3.3 Assess assessments
Finally, in the assessment area, we can use multiple measures to assess student learning and acquisition of knowledge.
Students should be invited to share knowledge in various ways, including traditional tests and quick writes, homework, responses to class questions, group discussions, and authentic assessments such as life history interviews or personal stories to demonstrate and personalised learning.
Students should be allowed to accumulate grade points in several ways, not just through midterms and a final. Finally, teachers should communicate the purpose of assignments and activities and the knowledge and skills gained by doing these.
4. Respect and reinforce student culture
Each student comes to our classroom with a set of behaviours, beliefs, and characteristics that make that student unique. Coupled with this are the value systems, languages, religious beliefs, and ways of life that also contribute to their self-identity. By valuing each student’s culture, we contribute to their self-concept, which in turn influences their academic success. There are many ways that teachers can embrace culture in the classroom.
Students should be encouraged to listen effectively, and this is something a teacher can model with good listening skills. Students should be given opportunities to share their feelings, beliefs, values, and perspectives. They should be taught to receive and embrace this information while still honouring the differences of their classmates. Activities and learning opportunities that allow students to celebrate their own culture and those of others should be incorporated into lessons.
Teaching methods and instructional practices are another way to support and appreciate a student’s culture and language. Include readings, videos, poems, songs, and other materials where students will see and hear people who look like them. Inviting guest speakers to class or joining an online event is another way to embrace your student’s culture. Spend time understanding your students so you can teach different cultural backgrounds and interests.
5. Involve family and community
Making a classroom more culturally responsive means engaging families and communities in the academic lives of students. Research has shown when parents and communities are involved, students are more likely to attend school regularly, complete homework and earn better grades, to name a few findings. Involvement can occur in several ways, including parenting, communicating, volunteering, learning at home, decision making, and collaborating with the community.
Educators should communicate with families, not just when there is a discipline issue but also when something positive occurs. Open and honest communication with families can lead to greater trust and develop a nurturing relationship that allows teachers to ask questions and learn more about their students.
Reaching out before the school term begins and providing ways parents can communicate with you can be very helpful. Teachers might even invite parents to complete an interest survey to understand their students better. Many schools also ensure translators are available for families and provide transportation vouchers to enable them to attend school meetings and events. Finally, making time for spontaneous conversations and organic check-ins would allow families to feel more included and comfortable.