Frequently Asked Questions About Culturally Responsive Instruction

Students and teacher in a study group collaborating

Why is it important to address student diversity?

Today’s students are increasingly more diverse in their cultures, languages, abilities, interests and learning styles. As educators we are held accountable to ensure that all learners achieve at least minimum state standards. Thus we must create classroom environments where student differences are supported and celebrated so that all students have the best opportunity to learn.

Are traditional instructional strategies effective for all learners?

No. A one-size-fits-all instructional strategy does not exist. Therefore, teachers must have a wide variety of instructional strategies within their repertoire. We know today’s learners differ in their abilities, experiences, interests, and learning styles. This specific student information is critical to know which instructional strategy will best facilitate each student meeting his or her learning goals.

What is culturally responsive instruction?

Simply put, it is responding to the cultural diversity of students within instructional activities. To accomplish this teachers must be culturally proficient in relating to their students. This knowledge of students is incorporated into curriculum, instruction and assessment in order to meet the needs of all learners. Building trusting relationships with students and their families extending beyond the school is at the core of culturally responsive instruction.

How can teachers become more culturally responsive?

This is a personal journey of becoming unbiased in their instruction and knowledgeable about their own culture and the culture of their students. Reflection and journaling about the interactions and behaviors that take place in the classroom is a great place to start understanding the motivation behind the behaviors and planning for effective change. The more we plan to validate student achievements, similarities, and differences we create an environment that demonstrates the value of including student differences rather than excluding.

Is there a need for culturally responsive discipline as well as instruction?

Yes. Today’s diverse students come to school with a variety of expectations and repertoires of behaviors. Students have different reactions to the classroom environment that are directly related to their levels of both comfort and skills in demonstrating expected school behaviors. We can strengthen their comfort levels by creating a classroom environment of mutual expectations and respect. Maintaining supportive relationships with students and their families will provide structure, monitoring and emotional nurturing. Provide students with frequent opportunities to experience recognition and rewards that are meaningful to them. It’s equally important to directly teach expectations and behavioral skills as well as provide a safe environment to engage in healthy conflict resolution strategies.

Why is there so much emphasis on the achievement gap among groups of students?

It is a direct result of the nature and organization of school systems, which are designed around European American middle class standards and expectations. Historically, schools were not addressing the needs of students who did not fit into this system of standards. A sink or swim mentality has been largely in effect which resulted in less than acceptable outcomes for increasing numbers of students. Thus legislation has been enacted to address this issue. Most recently, NCLB focuses on increasing schools accountability for ensuring more acceptable academic outcomes for groups of students with ability and/or cultural diversity. Effective and research proven instructional strategies implemented across education is the best way to respond.

What is disproportionate representation in special education?

It is the measure of increase in the number of students of various cultures or ethnicities qualifying for special education services compared to their peers who do not qualify for special education services. We know that cultural bias exists within curriculum and assessment measures. Teacher awareness of this bias and supplementing variables that align with student needs is a culturally responsive way to decrease this bias effect on students. 

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