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Rethinking Urban Education: Welcoming Culturally Responsive Classrooms

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Is the 21st Century classroom ready for culturally relevant education?

What is culturally responsive teaching?

It is an approach that empowers students intellectually, socially, and emotionally by using cultural experiences to impart knowledge, skills and attitudes.

One of the biggest misconceptions about culturally responsive teaching is thinking you have to tie the lesson’s content to African American or Latino students’ racial background. The common belief is if you mention Africa, Mexico, or famous high achievers of color, it will spark students’ attention. It is then they will become so inspired and engaged in the classroom.

In reality, culturally responsive teaching is less about using racial pride as a motivator and more about mirroring students’ cultural learning styles and tools in the classroom.


Where do we start?

The key to transforming the classroom environment is taking the time to learn from your students on a personal level. As an educator, you must ask the questions that enable you to know who your students really are. You want to design an approach that celebrates culture and history, which doesn’t require students to give up parts of their identities in order for them to succeed academically.

The educator can use the cultures and experiences of various groups as resources for teaching and learning; such as utilizing present strengths and accomplishments of all students and enhancing them through further instruction. Culturally sensitive education empowers and transforms students by helping them to develop the knowledge, skills and values needed to become social critics.

The educator must consistently communicate high expectations through instructional strategies, which are connected to different learning styles, such as student-controlled learning groups. Reshaping the curriculum does not mean one-time activities or sprinkling the curriculum with a few minority students. It is authentic, student-centered and connected to the student’s real life. The educator should build bridges of meaningfulness between home and the classroom, between curriculum and social reality, while incorporating multicultural information, resources and materials in all subject areas.

Are you, the educator, culturally responsive?

How can you start building a developmentally appropriate framework? Patricia Schmidt (2005), author of Culturally Responsive Instruction: Promoting Literacy in Secondary Content Areas, provided 10 initial recommendations:

  1. Create a classroom culture that is welcoming for all learners
  2. Provide student choice on assignments
  3. Create lessons that connect the content to your students’ culture and daily lives
  4. Present content in multiple forms (videos, manipulatives, etc.)
  5. Intentionally address visual, tactile, and auditory learners in lessons
  6. Allow students to collaborate and work in groups
  7. Communicate and work with parents/guardians on a regular basis (email distribution lists, newsletters, phone calls, notes, meetings, etc.)
  8. Use instructional materials that relate to a variety of cultures
  9. Encourage student support for one another for the success of the entire class
  10. Include multiple question formats on assessments

Additional activities to increase cultural sensitivity:

  • Autobiographical writing assignments
  • Oral presentations on students’ native countries
  • Discuss current events from a multicultural point of view
  • Organize a talent show to display diverse student cultures
  • Build ongoing dialogue with students, parents and the larger community on issues important to them

Ultimately, the educator’s role is to affirm students’ cultural connections, stress collectivity as well as individuality, and manage the classroom with firm, consistent, caring control. The educator’s active teaching methods should promote student engagement, such that students play an active role in creative curriculum and develop their own learning activities.

Empower the Student

How do you reach students who are culturally and racially different from you? A teacher should explore their own assumptions about race, class, and culture – uncover personal beliefs and learn strategies for creating classrooms that are culturally inviting to all.

The teacher must teach students to understand and praise their own and other’s cultural heritage. For instance, the teacher can initiate activities that explore historical and personal perspectives: what groups were empowered to take part in government when the Constitution was drafted? What voices have been added to the conversation since then, and how has a history of disenfranchisement affected the ways in which we view each other?

A student is truly empowered with knowledge of self and tolerant of others when educated in a well-structured inviting classroom. The classroom should include several components (Schmidt, 2005):

  • High expectations
  • Positive relationships with families and community
  • Cultural sensitivity
  • Active teaching methods
  • Teacher as facilitator
  • Student control of portions of the lesson
  • Instruction around groups and pairs

“There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings” – Hodding Carter

Resources: — In 2013, NYU Steinhardt hosted a Summer Institute on Boosting Teacher Cultural Responsive in the Classroom. Video is available. — How Leaders Can Improve Their Schools’ Cultural Competence | Edutopia — Culturally Responsive Teaching | The Knowledge Loom — The Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching 
and Learning (CCRTL) — Video presentation on culturally sensitive child care — ESL Classroom and Cultural Sensitivity — Culturally responsive classroom articles and 
resources | Scholastic — Culturally Responsive Teaching Final Group Project Broward College | 
Educator Preparation Institute 0030 Diversity – Ms. Hall April 23, 2009

Los Angeles Unified School District — A checklist to help you determine if your classroom 
is culturally inclusive | Lesson Planning Resources

Lesson Plans/Activities:



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PE Consulting is a New York based consulting firm that focuses on developing and implementing culturally relevant educational programs that enhance school districts, schools, and most importantly students. Our mission is to bridge the gap in education and provide students with tools of empowerment to become global citizens.

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