Culturally Relevant Strategies For The Classroom Pt. 3

E Editor’s Note: This is the third of three articles exploring culturally responsive teaching. See the February and March issues for the introductory articles in this series. This final article covers specific strategies for classroom practices.

Strategies for implementing culturally responsive teaching varies from subject to subject. Some content areas like English and history lend themselves to a more natural integration while others like science and math prove to be more challenging. Culturally responsive teaching happens when teachers connect students’ cultures, language, and life experiences to the content they learn in school. This is important because the most meaningful learning happens when we can apply content to real-life experiences. It can be challenging to do this because we are not always aware of the background experiences and cultures that our students bring with them to the classroom, or how to bridge subject matter with culture. The more strategies are practices in the classroom, the more naturally and organically the integration takes place.

By allowing students to brainstorm what puzzles them or what questions they have you empower them to explore what is important and relevant to them.

Inquiry based learning is a great strategy that can be easily applied to English and Social Studies classes. With inquiry-based learning you allow student questions to guide instruction. Naturally, a student’s curiosity is related to their life experiences and how they perceive the world. This alone makes inquiry-based learning not only a powerful tool but a great example of culturally relevant pedagogy. Their questions will pave the way in highlighting what is relevant and important to them. An example of this could be using Think Puzzle Explore from Making Thinking Visible. Think-Puzzle-Explore encourages students to think reflectively and with more depth than the K-W-L Chart. This routine helps students consider prior knowledge about the subject, generate curiosity, and plan for inquiry. Teachers ask students what they think they already know about a topic, what puzzles them and what they would like to explore further on the topic. Choose one puzzle from the list to focus on and brainstorm ways to learn more about it.  By allowing students to brainstorm what puzzles them or what questions they have you empower them to explore what is important and relevant to them. Make Thinking Visible has several strategies for higher order thinking that also lend themselves to culturally relevant teaching, including CSI (color, symbol, image) and Step Inside.

For subjects like math and science, teachers often need to get creative in implanting strategies that foster culturally relevant teaching. For math, I have seen the most effective examples when teachers connect numbers to real-life. When using word problems teachers can choose to write their own and incorporate scenarios into the word problems that reflect diverse backgrounds and experiences and empower students from all different ethnicities. In a lesson on quadrilaterals, teachers can ask students to identify 3-5 objects in their home that are in the shape of a quadrilateral, or better yet, ask them to walk around their neighborhood and identify this shape on their block or in their neighborhood. What a fun way to get to learn more about your students and where they live even through a math lesson!

Often educators are flummoxed when it comes to the subject of science. Ferlazzo (2021) notes the challenges present in connecting ethnic minority students to the subject. “Science starts with a journey of discovery. Connecting culturally diverse students to a body of knowledge that can promote safe interactions with the natural environment, good health, and a chemical and biological understanding of the world around them will enhance their life outcomes. Students from diverse backgrounds, particularly Black students along with other racial minorities, are underrepresented and poorly served within the scientific community.” Educators can change this cycle by strategically implementing culturally inclusive approaches when teaching science content. Ferlazzo lists several strategies for the science classroom.

  1. Use stories: Teachers can use diverse people, stories or life experiences to present scientific problems and approaches. Students often read about historical or real-life scientist. When students read about a character that shares a similar ethnic background or life experience, it will motivate them to participate in classroom instruction. Teachers can also be intentional about inviting local professionals in the scientific field to share with students. Due to Covid more schools have integrated technology into their classrooms allowing for professionals who aren’t local to still zoom in as a guest speaker for students. Allow your students to see scientists and health professionals who look like them! This representation matters to our students and serves as a powerful tool.
  2. Use Community: “Classroom research and problem solving in the sciences should focus on culturally relevant elements in the students’ local or broader community” (Ferlazzo, 2021). Have students learn about health or science problems that affect their communities so that they can explore ways that science can answer questions in the local world around them. Let students see that science is a useful tool and relevant to their lives as they apply it to their health or the health of their family members.
  3. Break down knowledge barriers: Science has a specific language, vocabulary, and methodology, especially in chemistry or biology. Unfortunately, many students of color have not had the opportunity to be exposed to all of the terminology used, but that doesn’t mean they lack an understanding of the foundational principals used. Teachers can support these students by creating a classroom culture where students can ask questions during instruction. Growth Mindset Language on the part of the teacher can help students feel comfortable taking risks in the classroom. The teacher can designate a time during the class period to address these areas of academic need prior to students working on class projects or assignments. This support creates an authentic dialogue of understanding between the student learner and the instructor.

Lastly, developing relationships play a vital role in culturally responsive teaching. The freedom for students to share their voices, life experiences, cultures and interests is birthed from genuine relationship and connectivity. In order to have a successful classroom culture where culturally responsive teaching is thriving, teachers must foster relationships with students that extend past grades and testing. Students need to know that teachers are truly interested in their lives and who they are as a whole being. An educator’s responsibility is not just to dispense content and information but to inspire our students to succeed. By ministering to the whole child, educators open the door for culturally relevant strategies to succeed in the classroom regardless of the content area.

Reference List:

Ferlazzo, L. (2021, February 14). Ten culturally responsive teaching strategies for the science classroom. Education Week.

Ritchhart, R., Church, M., & Morrison, K. (2011). Making thinking visible: How to promote engagement, understanding, and independence for all learners. Jossey-Bass.

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