Create a Culturally Relevant Classroom

Grades K-12 15 min
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Develop your understanding and learn how to engage in strategies that will make your class more culturally relevant.

If you have a culturally relevant and responsive classroom, students will learn more and be more engaged, and you can be better at embracing differences and establishing community. Geneva Gay (2010), a professor of education and associate of the Center for Multicultural Education at the University of Washington, stated: “Culturally responsive teaching can be defined as using cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant and effective for them. It teaches to and through the strengths of these students.” Getting to know your students will help you do this.

You can build your awareness around how culturally relevant your classroom is by doing the following:

Offer Students Voice and Choice

By providing your students with voice and choice, you will build student agency and have a more culturally responsive classroom. We live in a technology-rich world, where almost everything can be answered by asking Alexa, Google, or Siri. Teachers are no longer the sole possessors of knowledge. Students are no longer expected to learn through compliance alone, nor should they be. Students and teachers should be working together, as partners, with a common goal. This may take some shifting for both teachers and students.

The teacher needs to shift to the role of lead learner. According to Code.org, “As the lead learner, the role of the teacher shifts from being the source of knowledge to being a leader in seeking knowledge.” You need to partner with your students in seeking knowledge in the way that works best for them.

When providing students choice in how they learn and share their learning, you will need to think through what you want students to know and learn. Remember to build learning experiences around problems that students can and want to solve. Here are some resources to help you think through what types of choices you might provide, or students might suggest, to demonstrate their learning:

While giving students voice and choice, you still need to provide students with clear structures and guidelines around what success looks like. It is important to support and help students hone their academic skills, including note-taking, organization, time management, and critical thinking. They also need support developing critical future-ready skills, such as communication, collaboration, critical thinking, creativity, citizenship, and character. You will need to provide them with opportunities to practice and develop these skills in a low-stakes environment.

Provide Feedback

How might you provide more equitable feedback? Just as students have diverse learning styles, they also have preferences in how they receive feedback. The purpose of feedback is to support student learning and help them improve, while building confidence that will lead to a love of lifelong learning. Feedback should enable and inspire. It should be both instructive and corrective. It should contain specific information that helps the student improve and be actionable. Feedback should not overwhelm a student; it should be timely and delivered in a supportive way. Explore our collection, Teach Remote Lessons and Assess Student Progress, for additional resources to help you develop feedback strategies for your virtual classroom.

Extend Your Learning

References

  • Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice (2nd ed.). Teachers College Press.
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