A key understanding of teaching social studies is that the world around us is constantly changing. This change is impactful and affects us all depending on where we live. Because the world is changing, education will need to change as well. Gone are the days where teachers primarily stood in front of the room and told students exactly what they should know: no thinking needed. We are living in a world that requires students to be able to interact with all types of information and people at a moment’s notice. Teachers are going to have to shift the way in which they teach to include methods that create relevance and maintain student engagement.
What is culturally responsive teaching?
In his article, 7 Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies and Instructional Practices, Dr. Tyrone C. Howard provides teachers with seven strategies to help them create a classroom environment that is conducive to culturally responsive teaching.
Some teachers have begun to shift their instructional pedagogy to include culturally responsive teaching practices as a means to engage and prepare students for thinking in the twenty-first century classroom. Social studies has always been the discipline in which we taught and stressed to students the value of understanding culture. This is exactly what culturally responsive teaching does!
Culturally responsive teaching encompasses those moments when a teacher uses the experiences, characteristics, and customs (i.e. culture of their students) to build and design learning experiences. The goal is for students to “see” themselves in the classroom. Culturally responsive teaching requires a teacher to “know” their students, including their background and experiences. It also requires a teacher to be aware of themselves in regards to race, biases, and prejudices. Since we use our own perspective to view the culture we are surrounded by and introduced to through our interactions with students, teachers who are interested in using this practice should truly start with self reflection on what biases and prejudices they may have that could be getting in the way of student learning.
Making culturally responsive teaching personal
I can definitely cite my own personal example of what this means. I grew up in a small, middle-class community in east Texas. The majority of the parents spent a lot of time working, and really focused on what they could do to impact their student’s educational experiences. I walked into my first year of teaching with the misconception that parents of minority students in my community did not have time to “care” about what their students were expected to do at school. Through ongoing interactions and conversations with both parents and students, I realized that my parents really did care and that I needed to find intentional ways to include them in the process (i.e. poll questions on the best amendment in the Bill or Rights or family discussion prompts that gave the parents to opportunity to discuss their experiences in history class with their child).
In my own experience with teaching, the next step was to find times and ways to interact and get to know my students on a deeper level. I consistently used interest surveys and get-to-know-you questionnaires, but the best method was inviting my students to join me for monthly dinner at a restaurant of their choice. We would talk about everything! Food, music, clothes, their home lives, and problems they were facing. I was then able to use these experiences to connect ideas and classroom content that was relevant for them. They loved rap music and I loved Drake, so they had an assignment of creating a history rap to help them remember the important dates using the instrumentals of one of Drake’s album hits. Their issues and concerns about the 2016 presidential election became the criteria we used to evaluate the effectiveness of the first five United States presidents. Bringing student’s culture into my classroom created an environment that made me and my students excited to learn and interact with each other. It made me realize that students truly have to see themselves as a part of the classroom in order to invest in the learning.
These culturally responsive strategies are simple for teachers who want to ease into this type of instruction. No matter where you are in the process, if you fundamentally believe that all students can learn and that they in turn will enrich your classroom experience, then you are at a good starting place!
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Shronda L Fletcher is a K-12 Social Studies Curriculum Coordinator and former social studies teacher in Texas. She has been in education for the past 17 years. Shronda truly believes in the power of social studies education and strives to be an active advocate and educator.