Understanding culturally responsive teaching and multicultural educ...

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Multicultural education is all about students learning in different modes and about teachers responding effectively to recognize and detect the differences in learning. Culturally responsive teaching always focuses on perceived strengths of students and liaising between mismatch between cultures followed at home and the school.

Culturally responsive teaching is a systematic approach to modern day teaching by taking into consideration many aspects of culture and its values. In a classical study, a professor at the University of Wisconsin, Gloria Ladson-Billings demonstrated the examples of a culturally relevant teaching module. The main goal of this study was to find out why some teachers were successful with teaching African American children what other teachers could not. The researcher also wanted to pinpoint those specific behaviors that made these teachers successful in teaching. For this study, she chose all parents and principals from four schools that exclusively taught African American children, to pick those teachers, who they considered excellent in terms of teaching. As one could guess, the choices made by principals and parents were entirely different.

Principals – They chose teachers, who possessed very low numbers of discipline referrals, who had very high attendance rates and top test scores.

Parents – Parents chose teachers who were helping, enthusiastic, interested in teaching students and those who actually understood that students want to mix with a community that had both white and colored students.

The result – In all, nine teachers, both white and black, were selected for the experiment. Out of them, eight agreed to participate in the study. The researcher conducted this study for several years; after many years of dedicated research, the researcher could observe many conflicting scenarios. Teachers who participated in the program were all different, each with their own teaching styles, strategies and personalities. The results that were pooled from the exercise were too confusing and the researcher just wanted to abandon the program because of these conflicting results. However, the researcher could suddenly find some remarkable, striking and subtle features that were associated with the experimental module.

1) All the eight teachers, who participated in the exercise voluntarily chose challenging schools, those were complex and difficult to teach.

2) All of them felt that they were responsible for the success of their students

3) Teachers were very sensitive and receptive towards race and class discrimination in society.

4) In fact, they wanted to fight bias and prejudice that were so common in schools

5) Lastly, teachers considered both student’s home and classroom as inter-related and connected. This perception helped them to learn from different neighborhoods.

The methods used by the teacher were very interesting and refreshing. All of them respected other cultures, classes and religions. They also honored the crafts, customs and traditions followed in the community. Teachers also invited parents to share traditional experiences and customs of each community. Teachers cajoled students to learn and master both home and Standard English (home English is the one that students speak in their homes). One of the most striking and interesting aspect of the exercise was that even teachers were willing to learn from students’ and parents’ experiences and opinions.

Eventually, the researcher, Gloria Ladson-Billings, could summarize the research findings and arrive at a package of principles for meaningful and community teaching. These culturally responsive principles are as follows:

1. Stronger self-esteem and self-image is possible, only when the students experience academic success and satisfaction. Students who do not believe in themselves or in their abilities may have very poor academic achievements. Students always like lessons that are in consonance with their learning styles. Students also like to learn the basic knowledge and skills those are necessary for achieving success in their classrooms.

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2. To succeed in classrooms and elsewhere, students must develop and retain core competence. A home is where one can find opportunity for learning. Not many teachers teach about educational experiences that students could gain in a community setting. Many teachers teach just the classroom skills and techniques. The researcher made it a point to include community as a foundation for meaningful teaching. She believed that teaching should look beyond the traditional classroom. She wanted to avoid a perceived conflict or friction between the classroom and home. Teachers can create and set up and meaningful and positive academic environment by teaching beyond traditional classrooms and by integrating learning with the concepts, customs and traditions of local community.

3. It is possible to encounter and challenge social injustice by developing highly critical consciousness and awareness. An intelligent and culturally inclined teacher needs to connect and gel with the needs and of the students as well as the local community. He or he may also need to work hard to enhance and improve the quality of life experienced in the school and community.

Stop and Think

Just, ask this following simple questions to yourself – Can you recall an incidence in your school when you felt a disconnection? Did you see an apparent difference between the life portrayed in the textbooks and the “real world” where you actually lived?

Do you feel that the method used in the case study were effective? If effective, why do you think so?

Can you relate students’ skills and experiences with the skills and experiences of the community from where they come from?

Do you feel that culturally responsive principles work in your class?

How do you enhance or develop your students’ core competencies?

Schools are just like a sanitized bubble that is entirely insulated from the problems that are faced in the real world. As a culturally enabled teacher, you should try to break open this bubble, so that students can experience the problems of the exterior world. Culturally relevant classroom will try to confront and eliminate real social problems. You should know and learn what it means to be an effective and culturally responsive teacher, so that you can enhance and broaden your feeling of what it needs to become a successful teacher.

Collate and accumulate the following viewpoints that help you to be a good teacher. To be a good teacher, you may need to consider Ladson- Billings’ three points and later imbibe certain skills, attitudes and knowledge.

1. The type of teaching methods and skills that you need to acquire to become a culturally responsive teacher.

2. An ability to diagnose and detect different needs of students and action plans for different learning styles.

3. Developing and harnessing critical thinking and cognitive skills to help students excel in their studies.

4. Acquire a skill known as “wait time”, where you will remain silent and listen to the answers given by all students.

Note: Previous studies have demonstrated that teachers with the noblest intentions often fail to use effective teaching skills. Chapter 11 of this book, Becoming an Effective Teacher, will provide you additional equitable teaching skills that can help you fine-tune your teaching career.

Developing Attitudes to become a culturally responsive teacher

Attitudes are very important for every teacher. What type of attitudes do you want acquire, so that you can become a culturally responsive teacher? Do you have any meaningful methods that help you teach students, whose cultural background is entirely different from yours? Most of your students may come from similar race, ethnicity and classes. Most of us may share a common set of values and opinions, while the way in which we socialized in the past may also be quite similar. As you get ready to teach, you may work hard to go away from your familiar territory and search for different viewpoints. The more different you become, the more likely you will be capable to welcome diverse life experiences and attitudes that are meaningful and agreeable.

To become a culturally responsive teacher of very high caliber, you may need to acquire skills and knowledge about various groups and their experiences. The amount of skills and knowledge sets that you possess may be insufficient enough to teach your students. The skills and methods that you use may be inaccurate as well. To become a successful teacher, you may need to educate about yourself, your students and their requirements. Try to know and understand the educational implications of your student’s cultural backgrounds.

This chapter will assist you traverse this unique path. Just consider this example. A number of African American community members often prefer aural and participatory learning to writing. If you are adamant and bent on using writing activities only, then your students’ performance may come down. Research findings also suggest us that girls and women have the habit of personalizing knowledge, skills and prefer learning by the way of experiences and first hand observation.

Make sure that you create personal connections and events that will definitely enhance the success rates of female students. The big challenge that all teachers face is the ability to acquire beneficial and accurate cultural insights that eventually assist them to connect their classroom with the underlying culture. This needs to be done while preventing the likelihood of falling into the trap of stereotypic thinking. Do you know that difference between a useful cultural insight and a destructive stereotype? If you do not know, the next section will assist you learn the essential difference between them.

Knowing Stereotypes

The second chapter demonstrated the essential differences between different stereotypes and generalizations. Here, we will attempt to evaluate and analyze them very closely.

What are stereotypes?

Stereotypes are the firm and absolute beliefs that all members of a particular group possess; stereotypes will have a fixed set of parameters and characteristics. The word stereotype took its birth in a print shop. It is almost like a type. It is also like a one-piece plate that repeats a particular pattern without any individualism. Today, stereotypic thinking relates to cultures that neglect individuality and is applied consistently to every member of a group.

Stereotypic thinking is rigid and non-flexible. It is set on a particular form of thinking that is unfair and unjust. Stereotypic people always try to save their time bypassing their normal thinking process. Stereotypes are a set of special characteristics those are attached to a group of individuals, based on their allegiance to a certain group with no qualification of thinking process.

People who are stereotypes always use highly simplistic words that border on a sense of rigidity. For example, they may use words like “…. All Blacks are” or “…..All Hispanics are” or “… All Asians are”. In fact, these preconceived expressions are applied to certain groups without making any distinction; most of them are pre-conceived ideas and expressions. In fact, stereotypes are the way of thinking in a sloppy and unfair manner that undermines the basic values of a culturally different school. Consider the following examples:

A typical stereotypic line of thinking may be:

1) All Hispanics are very poor in studies

2) All Asians are academically very smart and intelligent

3) Jews are very rich

4) African Americans are very good in sports

Note: Stereotypes are impermeable to contradictory information.


1) Go and find a very poor Jew

2) Find me a Hispanic person with a doctorate degree

3) Give me an example of an Asian student who fails in math test

4) Find an African American, who is not an athletic.

5) Find a European American, who is not clean and hygienic

Each of these strings of thought process is a perceived anomaly and every one of them is an exception to the set rule. As a result, the stereotypes always endure and persist. A typical stereotype is very dangerous and it can hurt and damage people’s egos. Stereotypic thinking in a school can even more be dangerous, as it can impede learning process. It also inhibits the ability to search for new information, not just ordinary and contradictory ones.

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Threat posed by Stereotypes

Just consider the following example of stereotype and try to assess its damaging nature. Opinion polls published in the recent past inform us that about 50% of white Americans agree and endorse typical stereotypes relating to blacks and Hispanics, like most of them are not intelligent and skilled. Such stereotypic thinking acts like a double-edged sword; they can influence whites, blacks and Hispanics in equal measures. They can adversely influence the expectations, behaviors of whites, while blacks and Hispanics should live in a society that professes such beliefs.

Consider the following case study published sometime back: In a study, the researchers asked both the whites and African American students to take somewhat difficult verbal examinations. Two groups took the verbal skill test – a control group and an experimental group.

In the control group, students took tests in a typically normal manner to measure the intelligence. On the other hand, the experimental groups consisted of students and they did not know that they were taking tests. Here, the psychology of their verbal problems was put to test. The researcher made sure that the two groups were matched to keep variable parameters like abilities of the students, time to test and the quality of tests almost similar.

Results – In the experimental groups, black test participants were successful in solving twice as many unique problems, as the ones those among the control group. On the other hand, the white test participants could solve almost the same number in both the groups. In another similar experiment, researchers found out that performance level of black test takers was very bad, when the examiners asked them to enter their race and ethnicity type on the test form.

The outcome that you see here in this study is very simple. The outcome relates to the stereotypic threat. A number of factors like can influence academic performance:

Self image

Trust on others

A Sense of belonging towards others

When you learn that there is stereotype, you are more likely to act like a stereotype than when it does not exist. When you care most about your academic performance, you are more likely to be vulnerable to stereotypic threat. Many research studies demonstrate that why African American and other ethnic students tend to perform very well in college tests than their SAT scores predict. In many cases, the standardized test scores cannot be taken as an indicator and they are more often misleading. Likewise, many other people often fail as victims of stereotype threats especially Latinos in English tests, females in math tests and elderly people on short-term memory tests.

Sometimes, even a bright student with very strong test scores may fall a victim to stereotype mentality. In fact, even a bright white student is not immune to stereotype; white students failed to perform to their expected levels, when they heard about their comparison with the Asian students. In fact, no one is immune from stereotype threat. Stereotype can limit a student’s ability to perform well in academics. Stereotype can convince a student that intellect is a fixed trait, that some ethnic groups are more intelligent than others are, and that his or her future is determined at the birth itself. Mind you, your intellect is just like your brain and it can change and transform over time.

Your potential is truly amazing. If you believe that you can teach your brain to become smarter and intelligent, to grow like what you can do to your muscles through exercises, you can easily eradicate stereotypic thinking from your mind. Similarly, you can even enhance your test score, as well as the academic excellence. As a teacher, you are also dealing with ethics, values and characters of your students. When stereotypes exist among your students, they can damage your students and their learning potential beyond repair. When you give proper instruction, your students can overcome any type of stereotype.

A good anti-stereotype course curriculum is the one that represents unique diversity across all races, ethnicity, genders, religions and socio-economic status. If you have the ability, you can even confront stereotype directly, head on with full conviction. You may just need to explain what stereotype is and how students can neutralize it. Never ever, ignore the perils of stereotype and its ability to damage your student’s mind and academic career.

Dealing with generalization

Generalizations recognize that there are special trends within a wide swath of people. Al members of religious, racial and ethnic groups have something that is common to them. They also share many things together. Generalization has many special characteristics:

1) They can give you some insights

2) They do not signify hard and fast conclusions like stereotypes

3) They do not consider that everyone in a group possess a fixed set of characters.

You can never apply this axiom to everyone. You can modify it, as and when you collect fresh and new information. There will be many exceptions to generalizations. It is so common to see people using most common words like “many”, “commonly”, “often” or “tend to”, as different forms of generalizations. They also recognize that people may belong to different groups almost simultaneously.

Example – You can find Israeli Jews, Asian Jews, Arab Jews and even Polish Jews. Yet, they are all Jews altogether. Similarly, you can find African Indians, Caribbean Indians, Fiji Indians or even East African Indians. Yet, they are all Indians altogether.

You can get a hunch or clue about a group through generalizations. These clues could form very important links, when you are planning to teach your class. When you do not know anything about your students or when you know very little about them, generalizations could be very useful tools to feel the pulse of the classroom. Generalizations provide you an educated guess to learn more about your students. As time passes and when you learn more about your class, you can then reject those generalizations that are vague and false.

Using generalizations to create a culturally responsive teaching module

Is it possible to develop a culturally responsive classroom by using generalizations in the teaching modules? Assume that you have a number of Native American students in your classroom. Now, let is also assume that you conduct some research on the learning preferences of these students. After conducting that research, you will discover that these students prefer to learn their lessons in a highly cooperative group that cherishes community and family values to individual competition.

With available results, you will decide to modify your teaching methods that actually cater to the demands of students. Rather than using the same old model of teacher centric approach, you may start working on several academic topics at the same time. You will design a teaching module that specifically asks open-ended questions that demand answers related to student experiences of life. You may also wish to wait for some time for your students to answer your questions. Usually, Native Americans tend to wait for some time to give their answers. Native American students also tend to respect natural and supernatural forces very much.

They also like to see native Indian expressions, words and syllables apart from legends and signs in their course curriculum. When you give them a chance to learn, by the way of sharing rather than competition, your students can learn well and perform better. Generalizations are always flexible. With experiences of teaching a diverse group of students, you can easily acquire better skills and techniques that help you in confronting any type of stereotypes. With valued experiences, you can also become the most productive teacher, who can be culturally responsive and sensitive as well. Let us kick start that process right now in the next section.

Journal Activity

Why generalizations and stereotypic thinking is dangerous for the society? List some important reasons and find solutions to overcome them. Is it possible to create culturally responsible teaching module by overcoming stereotypes and generalizations? Think of some teaching modules that you feel are good for you and study them in detail.

Pause and Reflect

Have you come across instances of stereotypes and generalizations, when you were studying in your school? If yes, write them down and analyze them. Do you feel that your present attitude towards a culturally diverse classroom is conducive enough to teach without any inhibitions or limitations? Give reasons why you are capable enough to teach a diverse classroom.


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