Culturally responsive teaching is the recognition that culture is a strength that can be used as a resource in the classroom to improve academic and social achievement. But what does this teaching approach look like, what historical methods is it influenced by, and what specific outcomes are achieved for students?
Magnus O. Bassey, Professor in Secondary Education and Youth Services at Queens College, explains how this method can help teachers to create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for all students. In becoming culturally responsive, teachers may help to bring about wider social change.
Read the original article: https://doi.org/10.3390/educsci6040035
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Hello and welcome to Research Pod. Thanks for listening and joining us today.
In this episode we’re talking about culturally responsive teaching and its implications for educational justice. For this, we will be looking at the work of Magnus O. Bassey, Professor in Secondary Education and Youth Services at Queens College, The City University of New York.
The study explores the potential for culturally responsive teaching to help achieve educational justice. The author explains how this method can help teachers to create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for all students. In becoming culturally responsive, teachers may help to bring about wider social change. But what does this teaching approach look like, what historical methods is it influenced by, and what specific outcomes are achieved for students?
Culturally responsive teaching is the recognition that culture is a strength that can be used as a resource in the classroom to improve academic and social achievement. Culturally responsive teaching celebrates each student as part of the learning community and recognises the role that students’ real-life experiences and cultural traditions can play in the classroom. It recognises that students bring with them knowledge and experiences that are essential to their construction of concepts in the classroom.
By using culturally responsive teaching, educators create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment for all students. Creating learning experiences that build on students’ strengths and individual experiences can help students achieve to their fullest potential because students take more interest in learning when they see themselves and their cultures reflected in the curriculum. This approach encompasses teaching practices, ways of understanding, and social relationships, with an overall emphasis on relating the curriculum to students’ backgrounds. Teachers may establish connections with families or the local community to better understand students’ cultural experiences or create shared learning environments with members of the community.
In so doing, teachers can disrupt the cycle of educational inequality, where the curriculum and its delivery are skewed towards privileged classes, races, and other identities, providing unfair advantage to certain groups. In this way, culturally responsive teachers acknowledge that education is not an apolitical activity that respects universal truths, meanings, and values, but, instead, reflects the knowledge and experiences of particular social groups. As a result, culturally responsive teachers cultivate sociopolitical awareness in their students and encourage them to be active participants in the learning process and the fight for social change.
A seminal study on culturally responsive teaching by Professor Gloria Ladson-Billings describes a lesson in which cultural music was used as vehicle to teach poetry to some minority students. This method boosted the students’ knowledge of the subject to the point where they outperformed students from other schools. In another instance a culturally responsive teacher created an ‘artist or craftsperson-in-residence’ program, where parents shared their creative knowledge with students and thus provided a local role model to better engage students with a potentially alienating subject.
Ample evidence suggests that drawing on students’ experiences when teaching leads to fewer problems with discipline, higher attendance, and better test scores. Although many studies focus on improved outcomes for minority students since minority students are severely marginalised by schooling, there is also evidence suggesting that all students can benefit from culturally responsive teaching because of its common appeal and principles which include: valuing the contributions of each individual student, building on common grounds among students while celebrating their uniqueness, and pursuing active learning and problem solving for all students.
While many of the benefits of culturally responsive teaching relate to academic achievement, the approach also encourages social critique and civic engagement. Culturally responsive teaching conceptualises the connection between education and social justice and creates the space needed for discussing social change in society. These include discussing social issues relevant to students’ environment and facilitating student involvement in local social activism, charity work, and civic duties. Through these activities, students gain critical knowledge and consciousness about the conditions in which they live and learn to identify the social and political structures that shape their world and how to change them.
In the process, culturally responsive teaching turns students’ previous disadvantages into educational opportunities. Indeed, those students most alienated by mainstream teaching are often well placed in culturally responsive classes to discuss issues and become highly valued members of the class.
Culturally responsive teaching borrows many of its principles from the innovative instruction developed in Freedom Schools established in the 1960s to remedy the poor quality of education that Black students received in segregated schools in Mississippi. The most prominent Freedom School advocate Charles Cobb, envisioned education for Black Mississippians that would provide mental stimulation that linked education with freedom, intended to transform the South’s segregated society. The philosophy of the Freedom schools was based on the principle that “the overall theme of the school would be the student as a force for social change.” Indeed, students’ direct experiences was to provide the subject matter for problem-solving and case studies, supplemented by the study of African American history and culture that would provide a wider context on solving social problems.
The Freedom Schools taught students how they could organise to dismantle Jim Crow, entrenched racism, and the struggle for equality. Freedom Schools provided participants with education for democratic, active, and participatory citizenship. It was an endeavor aimed at supplanting entrenched systems of oppression, exploitation, and disenfranchisement. The Freedom Schools demonstrated how culturally relevant teaching can identify the link between students’ socio-political environment and their academic achievement and invited students to use academic endeavors to improve outcomes in different domains.
On the more practical side, culturally responsive teaching involves students in active civic engagement. For example, students may be invited to take part in campaigns designed to address various problems encountered in their schools. A leading advocate of such teaching recounts how he collaborated with his African American fifth graders to acquire needed learning resources for their school. The students identified the causes of the problems they encountered in the poor conditions of their school building and worked on implementing strategies to bring about change.
This included writing to local newspapers and magazines to publicise their plight. The students also became aware of the key decision-makers around, including law makers, members of the school board, school administrators and their staff, and political leaders to whom they wrote letters and circulated surveys and petitions. This experience demonstrates how culturally responsive teaching can involve students in tangible social activism. Not only does this method enculturate the spirit of civic engagement by familiarising students with the social and political system they inhabit and the various means of bringing about change, but it also channels their enthusiasm into developing writing skills, problem-solving, and mathematical analysis.
Professor Bassey maintains in his work that: ‘a truly transformative agenda of social justice can be achieved by using culturally responsive teaching in our classroom because culturally responsive teaching activates civic citizenship of all students, keeps students awake, and makes them active participants in the fight for social change.’ Moreover, this teaching approach is further authenticated by the improvement made by students in their academic performance, particularly for minority students. By drawing on the otherwise neglected knowledge, experiences, and role models of minority groups, teachers can engage their students in otherwise alienating academic subjects and impart highly valued and useful skills and understandings.
That’s all for this episode – thanks for listening. Be sure to view Professor Bassey’s original article in the show notes for more of the details from this study. And, as ever, stay subscribed to ResearchPod for more of the latest science.
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