Culturally Relevant Teaching Part 1

November 5, 2007 at 5:40 pm | Posted in behavior, best practices, culturally relevant teaching, education, elementary, inner city | 4 Comments

As a teacher, we’ve all heard the terms. We’ve all been told to use it. We’ve all been trained. I know I have. We’ve even piecemeal integrated one or two strategies into our teaching. Many of us are still VERY confused as to what it is and how it’s any different from what we’ve been doing. I know I was!

Here is an exploration of Culturally Relevant Teaching from the perspective of one teacher who is beginning to take ownership and really see direct impact in his classroom.

Primary Resources: Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay and How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis. Geneva Gay’s book really explores the theory and the whys of CRT(Culturally Relevant Teaching). Bonnie Davis’s book explores YOUR experiences and gives practical strategies.

What is Culturally Relevant Teaching?

It goes by a few name. Culturally Responsive Teaching. Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Variations thereof. In a nutshell, CRT is respecting the student’s complex culture and individual strengths to teach in a rigorous manner that will lead to academic success. That’s a mouthful.

We want all of our students to be academically successful. Every year, the faces that look back at us in the classroom is more and more diverse. The numbers from standardized tests tell us that there is a persistent “achievement gap”, meaning students of color are not doing as well as white American students. The students are becoming more and more disconnected from education, with worsening behavior problems, and less and less motivation to succeed in school, or so it seems. Many teachers feel frustrated, some even hopeless.

CRT proposes a very convincing argument as to why that achievement gap persists and how we can change our teaching so that our students of color has the best chance of academic success.

Culture Counts

Culture counts. That is a premise of CRT and two powerful words that truly affected me. Culture counts. The culture of the diverse students, absolutely, but also the culture of our educational institution and the teachers teaching.

The American educational institution was built by and for the dominant culture, white, middle class, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants. That culture has been entrenched into education to such a degree that we, as fish, don’t see the water through which we swim, nor do we see the cultural norms that exist and force upon our students who DON’T in fact, come from a white, middle class background.

Two examples

We expect students to sit and listen attentively. That sounds perfectly logical to those of us raised in a middle class educational environment. It is, in fact, logical in all culture. It just looks different. When we say “sit and listen attentively”, we mean sit straight up in the chair, eyes on the speaker, hands still, mouths quiet. In many other culture, African American culture for one, “sit and listen attentively” means moving, nodding and clapping in agreement, yelling out encouragement, nudging the person sitting next to you, and quite often, being really attentive means standing up, not sitting at all. So, when our little black students start moving in class when we speak, we yell at them to sit still. We’ve also just told them to stop listening.

We expect, and teach our students from a young age, to raise their hands and take turn to speak so that it is fair to everyone. Conversation in the classroom is between the teacher and one other student only. Everyone else is expected to listen until it’s their turn. In our individualistic society, that makes sense. In other, more communal society, it doesn’t make sense at all. Everyone is expected to contribute to the conversation. In the classroom, what this looks like is that our students of color call out to the teacher and to each other during discussions. Once again, we tell our students to raise their hands before speaking…and we’ve also told them to stop contributing to the conversation.

Two of our most basic assumptions about teaching clearly clashes with the cultures of our diverse students and tell our students to stop learning! And our students obey. They stop learning. A little at a time until, by fourth and fifth grade, teachers throw their hands up in despair, wondering what they could do.

How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You by Bonnie M. Davis does a great job of helping us to examine our cultural lenses and then readjust our teaching so that we can actually teach our students. Do take a look at it and see what other assumptions about teaching that we hold as logical norms, when in fact it is detrimental to our students of color.

Why should we be mindful of CRT and actively seek to integrate it into our daily classroom instruction? I won’t go deep into this discussion. I figure, if you’ve read this far, then you already want to do it, you just want to know how. Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay does a fantastic, and thorough job of discussing why we should use CRT. I highly recommend that every teacher should read Geneva Gay’s book.

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4 Comments »

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  1. This is some serious food for thought. :: rubs beard:: I like this seriously. I’ll be right back …

  2. […] education, elementary, graphic organizers, strategies, teachers, thinking maps, writing | My previous post explores some of the philosophy behind Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), or the whys.  This […]

  3. I have read some books on CRT and feel that I do have high expectations. I am not a sit up absolutely straight and be quiet kind of teacher, but I do get distracted myself and sometimes this causes conflict with my kids who need to stand and move around. They may not be distracting each other, but I find it hard to teach with the movement. I have lengthy workshop time and do a good deal of group work. The problem is when I need to do direct instruction (ex. blending or word knowledge) movement distracts me. Do you have any strategies about how to mesh styles?

  4. If I’m doing direct instruction then I don’t have students moving around (they do need to learn to sit still at times) but I make sure that direct instruction is swiftly paced and that I mix in visual and kinesthetic learning in between those still moments.


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