A culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy provides opportunities for students’ own family experiences, cultural heritage, intersectional identities, and unique lived experiences to be sources of strength and knowledge in their learning experiences. Gloria Ladson-Billings (1995) developed the concept of culturally relevant pedagogy to show how educators can help close racial disparities in educational outcomes. One of her key insights was shifting from deficit- to asset-based models to draw upon the different lived experiences of minority students.
Culturally responsive teaching practices value students’ personal experiences and cultural backgrounds as strengths and assets (Gay, 2018, p.32). Building on Ladson-Billings’ work, Geneva Gay finds that teaching practices that give ethnically diverse students learning experiences that are more relevant to their lives, deepens their engagement and learning (Gay, 2010). These practices help create learning experiences that are more affirming, validating, and representative of the lives of students. Culturally responsive teaching also involves examining ourselves as educators for our own cultural biases, the class climate, the nature of relationships with other students and the instructor, and the course content.
Attempting to understand other cultures, particularly those at play in the lives of your students, prepares teachers to be alert to the differences at work in classrooms and to respond with care and empathy. For example, how many religious observances require fasting which might impact the performance of some of your students? Beyond making appropriate accommodations for religious holidays, culturally responsive teaching recognizes that the ways students interact with adults and authority figures, what constitutes appropriate gaze or eye contact, vary across cultures. Consider the simple act of speaking up in class - teachers grading students on participation need to consider the possibility that interjecting or volunteering one’s opinion will come more easily to some than others based on culturally learned habits.
These teaching approaches are relevant and more necessary than ever because of the well-documented change in undergraduate demographics. According to a new report by the American Council on Education, Race and Ethnicity in Higher Education: A Status Report, students of color made up just 29.6 percent of the undergraduate student population in 1996, increasing to 45.2 percent in 2016. The greatest increase was in Hispanic and Asian students. And this change is not going away: the National Center for Education Statistics says that students from ethnic minority groups make up 50% of the pre-K-12 population, our future college students (Pew 2019).
Culturally relevant pedagogy helps teachers nourish a student’s sense of belonging which are critical for motivation, engagement, and learning outcomes. Who your students think they are matters, so why not ask them? A simple pre-course survey can invite students to share more about their backgrounds and provide a pathway to a one-on-one conversation.
Another way consists of thinking about your syllabus as a message as well as a roadmap. What message does it send to students of different cultural backgrounds? How do your course content, activities, assessments, and policies reflect an asset-based understanding of the diversity of your students? As you think about your syllabus and course design, consider going through these exercises, adopted from Jenny Muniz’s Culturally Responsive Teaching: A Reflection Guide:
If you would like to learn more about how you can apply these frameworks in your own classes, we invite you to set up a consultation with a Faculty Developer at the CAT.
Gay, Geneva. Culturally Responsive Teaching : Theory, Research, and Practice. 2nd ed. Multicultural Education Series (New York, N.Y.). New York: Teachers College, 2010.
Ladson-Billings, Gloria. “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” Theory Into Practice, 34, no. 3 (1995).
Muniz, Jenny. Culturally Responsive Teaching. New America. Washington, DC 2018.
Linda Hasunuma is Assistant Director of Temple's Center for the Advancment of Teaching.