Culturally responsive teaching – A perspective for improving student learning

by Kendra Auguste
Ph.D.  student, University of Florida

Kendra Auguste

Kendra Auguste

Culturally diverse students face additional challenges associated with adjusting to an unfamiliar or predominately white culture. As a result, educational attainment at the collegiate level remains an issue for minority students.

Contributing stressors include:

The imposter syndrome: Students may feel like they aren’t smart enough and question if they belong on a college campus. “Surely the admissions committee made a mistake!” They may struggle with meeting some performance measure or find difficulty fitting in.

First-generation condition: Those students who are the first in their families to attend college may lack family support and find difficulty adjusting to a culture different from their own.

Acculturation anxiety: Students’ fear of losing their ethnic identity as they become more exposed to mainstream society can be overwhelming. As they evolve as individuals it may be difficult for them to stay true to self.

To help alleviate these anxieties, teachers should adopt a culturally responsive teaching perspective by incorporating knowledge of ethnically diverse cultures and groups in their facilitation of learning.

Culturally responsive teaching calls for self-introspection of one’s knowledge, beliefs and attitudes towards different cultures (including their own).  In her article “Teaching To and Through Cultural Diversity,” Geneva Gay suggests educators ask themselves four questions:

1.     What do I believe are the underlying causes of achievement difficulties of various culturally diverse students?

2.     Am I able and willing to articulate and scrutinize my beliefs about cultural diversity in general and about particular ethnic groups?

3.     Can I discern how specific beliefs about different ethnic populations are embedded in particular instructional decisions and behaviors?

4.     Am I willing to consider making significant changes in my attitudes, 
beliefs, and behaviors, and, if so, do I know how to proceed?

Responses to these questions (and tweaking of attitudes if needed) can guide adjustments to one’s teaching style and foster a positive learning environment for students from diverse backgrounds.

Strategies for culturally responsive teaching include:

  • Maximizing the benefits of diversity: View diversity as a learning opportunity. It will create a positive environment for students and encourage them to participate in dialogue.
  • Match Student Learning Styles: Learn more about your students preferred learning styles. In smaller settings, take time learn more about each student. Both will be helpful for adjusting and delivering content.
  • Incorporate ethnic, racial, and cultural perspectives: Assignments and activities should reflect a variety of cultural or social topics where possible.
  • Use a variety of instructional strategies: This can include use of formal lectures, seminars, varied exam formats and a mix of group and individual projects.
  • Assist students in developing skills for crossing cultural borders: Engage them in small talk, ask probing questions or provide assignments that lend to these activities.
  • Be accessible: Respond to emails and provide opportunities for students to meet with you outside of class.

Assuming a culturally responsive teaching perspective can improve learning among students from diverse backgrounds thus decreasing anxieties stemming from differences in culture.

Resources

Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice (2nd ed.).             NY: Teachers College Press.

Gay, G. (2013). Teaching to and through cultural diversity. Curriculum Inquiry, 43 (1), 48-70.

Krogstad, J. M., Fry, R. (2014). More Hispanics, blacks enrolling in college, but lag in bachelor’s degrees.

McKeachie, W.J., & Svinicki, M. (2014). McKeachie’s teaching tips: Strategies, research, and theory for college and university teachers (13th ed.). Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin Company.

Kendra Auguste is a doctoral student in the College of Journalism and Communications and a student in Mass Communication Teaching (MMC6930). This post is based on a teaching presentation she made in class.

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