The Center for Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning (CCRTL) describes culturally responsive pedagogy as an “approach to living life in a way that practices the validation and affirmation of different cultures to move beyond race and move below the superficial focus on culture.” (WHAT WE DO, n.d.) Culturally responsive pedagogy is often misunderstood due to a lack of understanding of its development and purpose (Sleeter, 2012). Simply put, teaching and learning both benefit from a better knowledge of students’ cultural backgrounds. In the academic literature, there is a growing body of evidence suggesting students benefit from culturally responsive teaching, and they do so in a variety of ways. However, there is a great need for further research in this area, primarily focused on professional and curriculum development and outcomes on both minority and non-minority students. The purpose of this paper is to draw attention to the research behind this trend in modern teaching, with the hopes of gaining a broader understanding and appreciation of culturally responsive teaching.
This article is the first of a three-part series that looks at the growing body of research into culturally responsive pedagogy. Part one will look at its historical development and context by highlighting early research in the field. Part two will highlight studies related to the impact of culturally responsive teaching and its effect on curriculum and student outcomes. Part three will describe recent research on culturally responsive professional development. Of note, the full abstract of the articles discussed are included for your consideration.
Part 1: Historical development of culturally responsive teaching
Early research into this pedagogy was mostly descriptive. In 1995, Gloria Ladson-Billings summarized initial works in her seminal work: “Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy.” Due to this and other writings, she is credited for the term culturally responsive pedagogy. The motivation for her works was to understand why ethnic and racial minority students did poorly compared with White students. In her works, she highlights numerous projects in African American and Native American communities with varied success (Ladson-Billings, 1995). Her early research into this subject, along with others, often hailed brave, forward-thinking minority teachers innovating for the sake of their students. From her work, three key concepts emerged: first was the importance of academic achievement for minority students. Second, she posited that developing a strong cultural identity for students will help students achieve academically. Finally, she felt students must create awareness of social inequalities (Ladson-Billings, 1995).
Decades later, Geneva Gay, an education professor at the University of Washington, coined culturally responsive teaching. She defined it as an approach that emphasizes “using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them” (Gay, 2010).
An acknowledged weakness in early research in this field is the predominance of descriptive analysis. An excellent example of this is a 2006 study that evaluated two African American teachers in urban areas and their success with culturally responsive teaching. She depicts a strict, loving teacher that increases minority student success in the classroom by being rigid, firm, commanding, yet full of love (Ware, 2006). These caricatures of the stern but loving urban teacher are found throughout the academic literature of the seventies and eighties and even memorialized in Lean on Me, a 1989 American biographical film written by Michael Schiffer starring Morgan Freeman. Lean on Me is based on Joe Louis Clark’s real-life story, an urban high school principal in New Jersey.
In a fascinating study in 2011, Richard Milner describes a White science teacher who found success in an urban classroom through culturally responsive teaching. He explains how this teacher built relationships with students through increased cultural competence of himself, his students, and his teaching practices. While much of the research had focused previously on minority teachers, Milner’s work was an early look at how a non-minority teacher can benefit from increased cultural competency.
While descriptive studies have their place in academic research, they are often difficult to apply to educational policy, curriculum, and professional development programs. These studies also feature educators who appear to be passionate about cross-cultural engagement and are intrinsically motivated. Their successes may not easily be replicated in a programmatic or policy-driven way. They also paid little attention to culturally responsive teaching with non-minority students to increase their cultural awareness.
Scholars like Gay and Ladson-Billings deserve much credit for taking such an abstract, complicated problem and helping the education community think about cultural engagement in education in a productive way. However, the predominance of descriptive research in this pedagogical development means much more work is needed to develop healthy, evidence-based practices and policies.
Part two will look at more recent research into developing a culturally responsive curriculum. As in many educational theories, educators will see how transitioning from good sound theories into practical implementations can prove difficult and see promising improvement opportunities.
Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy
Abstract: Amid discussions about improving education, teacher education, equity, and diversity, little has been done to make pedagogy a central area of investigation. This article attempts to challenge notions about the intersection of culture and teaching that rely solely on microanalytic or macroanalytic perspectives. Instead, the article attempts to build on the work done in both of these areas and proposes a culturally relevant theory of education. By raising questions about the location of the researcher in pedagogical research, the article attempts to explicate the theoretical framework of the author in the nexus of collaborative and reflexive analysis. The pedagogical practices of eight exemplary teachers of African American students serve as the investigative “site.” Their practices and reflections on those practices provide a way to define and recognize culturally relevant pedagogy.
Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in a Diverse Urban Classroom
Milner, H. Richard
Abstract:While it is well established that the ability of teachers to build cultural competence is a critical aspect of their work especially in urban and highly diverse settings, the kinds of experiences that help them build cultural competence is less clear. The author attempts to contribute to this void by showcasing a White, science teacher’s experiences in building cultural competence in a highly diverse urban school. Culturally relevant pedagogy is used as an analytic tool to explain and uncover the ways in which the teacher develops cultural knowledge to maximize student learning opportunities. The basic premise of the article is that this White teacher was able to build cultural congruence with his highly diverse learners because he developed cultural competence and concurrently deepened his knowledge and understanding of himself and his practices. Practicing teachers, teacher educators, and researchers are provided a picture of how the teacher builds relationships with his students, how he deepens his knowledge about how identity and race manifest in the urban context, and how he implements a communal and collective approach to his work as he builds cultural knowledge and cultural competence about himself, his students, and his practices.
Warm Demander Pedagogy: Culturally Responsive Teaching That Supports a Culture of Achievement for African American Students
Abstract: This study operationalizes warm demander pedagogy as a component of culturally responsive teaching. These instructional methods emerged during a study that examined the pedagogy of two African American urban teachers as compared to the literature. Through observations and interviews, the study examined the following: (a) How did each teacher describe her instructional practices and beliefs? (b) What similarities and differences existed between the teachers’ practices and beliefs? (c) Was there evidence that the shared cultural/ethnic background of teachers and students influenced instructional practices? The study proposes warm demander and culturally responsive pedagogy to support a culture of achievement for students of color.
Geneva Gay, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice (New York: Teachers College Press, 2010), 31
Gloria Ladson-Billings, “But That’s Just Good Teaching! The Case for Culturally Relevant Pedagogy,” Theory Into Practice, 34, no. 3 (1995): 476
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a Theory of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32(3), 465–491. https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312032003465
Milner, H. R., IV. (2010). Culturally Relevant Pedagogy in a Diverse Urban Classroom. The Urban Review, 43(1), 66–89. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11256-009-0143-0
Sleeter, C. E. (2012). Confronting the Marginalization of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy. Urban Education, 47(3), 562–584. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042085911431472
WHAT WE DO. (n.d.). Https://Www.Culturallyresponsive.Org. Retrieved March 4, 2021, from https://www.culturallyresponsive.org/what-we-do
Ware, F. (2006). Warm Demander Pedagogy. Urban Education, 41(4), 427–456. https://doi.org/10.1177/0042085906289710
Benjamin Waddell, MDIV, DO, FAAP, is a board-certified Pediatrician practicing in Hampton Roads, Virginia. After earning an MDIV at Liberty University, he attended medical school at the Via College of Osteopathic Medicine at Virginia Tech (VCOM). He went on to complete a pediatrics residency in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he served as chief resident. He is a member of the clinical faculty at VCOM, where he enjoys teaching and clinical research. He lives in Williamsburg, Virginia, with his wife and three children.