Culturally Responsive Teaching

cultural diversity

Table of Contents

  • Definition of Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • Relevant Themes of Culturally Responsive Teaching
  • Emerging Evidence-Based Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices
  • Recommended Culturally Responsive Teaching Approaches and Considerations
  • Voices from the Field

The diversity in culture and in society is reflected in the classroom. Students have different languages, interests and abilities. Students come from different social and economic backgrounds. We cannot ignore these differences; indeed, we should celebrate them, as they can become a vehicle for learning more about each other and the world beyond our own experience. All students have the right to an education and the opportunity to learn.

We all have prejudices and views about others that we may not have recognized or addressed. As a teacher, you carry the power to influence every student’s experience of education in a positive or negative way.

Whether knowingly or not, your underlying prejudices and views will affect how equally your students learn. You can take steps to guard against unequal treatment of your students.  (TESS, 2015)

To be fully effective, instructional planning has to take into account the diversity in students’ cultural backgrounds, whether the differences are observable or subtle. Planning also has to work deliberately to reduce the social biases and prejudices that sometimes develop about cultural differences.   (Kelvin Seifert and Rosemary Sutton)

Adapted from Aceves, T. C., & Orosco, M. J. (2014). Culturally responsive teaching (Document No. IC-2). Retrieved from University of Florida, Collaboration for Effective Educator, Development, Accountability, and Reform Center website:  (public domain)

Terms and acronyms to know

  • CLD- culturally and linguistically diverse
  • CRT- culturally responsive teaching
  • SES- socioeconomic status
  • enculturation is the process by which students become knowledgeable of and competent in their communities throughout life.
  • socialization is the process of behaving based on the accepted norms and values of the culture or society the individual experiences.
  • racial identity is the sense of one’s cultural and linguistic beliefs and values; it can entail a group of people united or classified based on history, nationality, or geographic distribution.
  • social justice is the ability to understand and think about the social and political challenges that societies, communities, and individuals face and proactively act upon these challenges.

A large and increasing proportion (i.e., 48% in 2011 compared to 39% in 2001) of the student population in the United States comes from homes that are culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD; U.S. Department of Education, 2014). This demographic change has created cause for concern as research shows that a student’s race, ethnicity, cultural background, and other variables (e.g., poverty, assessment practices, systemic issues, lack of PD opportunities for teachers, institutional racism) significantly influence the student’s achievement (e.g., Harry & Klingner, 2006; Orosco & Klingner, 2010; Skiba et al., 2011).

Addressing the unique needs of CLD students is one of the major challenges facing public education today because many teachers are inadequately prepared (e.g., with relevant content knowledge, experience, training) to address CLD students’ learning needs (e.g., Au, 2009; Cummins, 2007). This inadequate preparation can create a cultural gap between teachers
and students (Gay, 2010; Ladson-Billings, 2009) and can limit educators’ abilities to choose effective instructional practices or materials because way too often, teachers and instructional contexts are developed to benefit students from White middle and high socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds, voiding the cultural and linguistic characteristics of diverse learners (Orosco, 2010; Orosco & O’Connor, 2011). CRT, defined in the next section, can help address this disparity.

Definition of Culturally Responsive Teaching

In defining CRT, it is important to draw from the work of Gay (2010), Nieto, Bode, Kang, and Raible (2008), and Ladson-Billings (2009). Teachers who utilize CRT practices value students’ cultural and linguistic resources and view this knowledge as capital to build upon rather than as a barrier to learning. These teachers use this capital (i.e., personal experiences and interests) as the basis for instructional connections to facilitate student learning and development. Teachers who use CRT apply interactive, collaborative teaching methods, strategies, and ways of interacting that support CLD students’ cultural, linguistic, and racial experiences and integrate the methods with evidence-based practices (EBPs; e.g., Harlin & Souto-Manning, 2009; Hersi & Watkinson, 2012; Nieto et al., 2008; Santamaria, 2009).

The student population in United States public schools is becoming increasingly CLD; however, teachers and school leaders remain fairly monoracial (U.S. Department of Education, 2013). In 2012, 83% percent of full-time public school teachers were White, 7% were Black, 7% were Hispanic, and 1% were Asian (Aud, Hussar, Johnson, Kena, & Roth, 2013). This one-sided shift has led practitioners to examine research on CRT for CLD students. Research is slowly emerging to identify EBPs for students from CLD backgrounds (Orosco & O’Connor, 2011). For this IC, we reviewed empirical research articles from the current professional literature for the purpose of identifying effective CRT practices. We restricted our review to studies that included at least 50% of CLD students in the sample to ensure adequate representation for interpretation of findings to CLD populations. We also reviewed studies that examined instructional practices with K-12 student outcomes. We did not include in our review any essays, literature reviews, policy and opinion papers, books, or book chapters, although we referred to these resources as part of an established CRT literature base. In this review, we found six general CRT themes (i.e., instructional engagement; culture, language, and racial identity; multicultural awareness; high expectations; critical thinking; and social justice); four CRT practices (i.e., collaborative teaching, responsive feedback, modeling, and instructional scaffolding) that were considered emerging EBPs; two recommended teaching approaches (i.e., problem solving and child-centered instruction); and two instructional considerations
(i.e., assessment and materials). The CRT literature supports our findings (see Table 1).

CRT practices

Relevant Themes of Culturally Responsive Teaching

Instructional Engagement

The literature indicates that CRT with EBPs can have a powerful impact on CLD students’ development because it provides teaching that draws from CLD students’ relevant schemas, background knowledge, and home languages; it also allows students to practice what they are taught (e.g., August & Hakuta, 1997; August & Shanahan, 2006). For example, various classroom studies have indicated that students make greater improvement in reading comprehension when teachers’ intertwine instructional engagement approaches with skills-based
practices (i.e., connections between students’ cultural and linguistic knowledge and lessons) that assist CLD students with integrating new learning information (e.g., Orosco & O’Connor, 2013).

Culture, Language, and Racial Identity

Culture, language, and racial identity refer to the complex constructs that develop from psychologically and socially inherited knowledge and experiences. Enculturation and socialization continually shape culture, language, and racial identity (Irvine & Armento, 2001). Enculturation is the process by which students become knowledgeable of and competent in their communities throughout life, and socialization is the process of behaving based on the accepted norms and values of the culture or society the individual experiences (Pinker, 2002). Language is a body of linguistic knowledge; it is a communication system common to people who are of the same culture (Tomasello, 1999). Language, the communication medium of culture, can be shaped by culture. Racial identity is the sense of one’s cultural and linguistic beliefs and values; it can entail a group of people united or classified based on history, nationality, or geographic distribution (Irvine & Armento, 2001). Culture and linguistic experiences can help shape students’ identities. Learning may be difficult for many CLD students because many of them encounter formal schooling as separate from their cultural, linguistic, and racial experiences (Au, 2005; Gipe, 2006). Culturally responsive methods provide teachers with the critical understanding of how students’ cultural, linguistic, and racial identities develop and how these constructs impact learning.

Multicultural Awareness

CRT requires teachers to use critical multicultural awareness skills to objectively examine their own cultural values, beliefs, and perceptions. This critical reflection provides teachers with a greater understanding, sensitivity, and appreciation of the history, values, experiences, and lifestyles of other cultures. Multicultural awareness becomes central when teachers must interact with students from other cultures. It provides teachers with the skills to gain greater self-awareness, greater awareness of others, and better interpersonal skills; it also helps teachers to more effectively challenge stereotypes and prejudices (Banks, 20)

Fully effective multicultural education has several features. The most obvious and familiar one is content integration: the curriculum uses examples and information from different cultures to illustrate various concepts or ideas already contained in the curriculum (Vavrus, 2002). In studying holidays, for example, an elementary school teacher includes activities and information about Kwanzaa as well as Christmas, Hanukkah, or other holidays happening at about the same time. In studying the US Civil War, another example, a middle-years teacher includes material written from the perspective of African-American slaves and Southern landowners. In teaching language arts, students learn basic vocabulary of any non-English languages spoken by some members of the class. (Kelvin Seifert and Rosemary Sutton)

High Expectations

In order to help students attain academic success and reach their potential, those practicing CRT must have high expectations for their students. High expectations refer to the ability to communicate clear and specific expectations to students about what they are expected to know and be able to do (Cahnmann, 2005; Cahnmann & Remillard, 2002; Mitchell, 1998). CRT includes creating classrooms that promote genuine respect for students and a belief in their learning capabilities (e.g., Scheurich, 1998). They also provide instructional strategies and curricula that are driven by standards through the use of challenging, engaging exercises that take place within the context of students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds (e.g., Hillberg, Tharp, & DeGeest, 2000).

Critical Thinking

An important component of CRT is the ability to instruct students to think critically. Critical thinking is the ability to think for oneself, apply reasoning and logic to new or unfamiliar ideas, analyze ideas, make inferences, and solve problems (e.g., Diaz-Rico & Weed, 2006). CRT methods provide teachers with the skills to teach students how to become critical thinkers by integrating their cultural and linguistic experiences with challenging learning experiences involving higher order thinking and critical inquiry. For example, in Funds of Knowledge, a well-researched critical thinking mediation (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2013), researchers showed teachers how to integrate their teaching with students’ home experiences. One example from this method involved using students’ international traveling experiences, along with their parents’ skills and knowledge, to reinforce classroom-skills-based instruction by forming native language literacy circles with parents to explain and foster critical analysis skills. In return, the parents applied these skills in conversations with their children to reinforce classroom EBPs. This CRT allowed teachers to look past their own views of the world, better understand the thoughts of others, and form more cogent and well-rounded teaching, which allowed them to improve CLD students’ critical thinking skills.

Social Justice

Social justice is the ability to understand and think about the social and political challenges that societies, communities, and individuals face and proactively act upon these challenges (Cochran-Smith, 2004). CRT guides teachers’ practices and curricula because it is centered in students’ cultures, and it provides an active process for students to seek out information about what is happening in the communities around them, which guides them to better understandings of and better solutions for the inequities encountered in their communities (Irvine, 2002). However, cultural responsiveness goes beyond remedying mismatches from mishandled differences; it uses explicit instruction to help students access valued cultural capital, and it acknowledges that structural inequalities, including disparities in political and economic power, inhibit diverse students from succeeding (Ladson-Billings, 2009). For example, some teachers have taught students about the connections between their indigenous cultural heritages in the United States and Mexico, the history of injustice they have encountered, and the acts of resistance and strength by their people (Arce, 2004). Consistent with CRT is a pragmatic focus on what students can do given their current contexts, noting that structural change is a long, slow process (Anyon, 2005; Ladson-Billings, 1994). Nonetheless, even if starting at the micro level, culturally responsive educators contribute to structural change (Gay, 2010).

Culturally responsive teachers include a strong social-justice component in their instruction through which they help students identify and confront sociopolitical inequities and issues of social power and class privilege. Teachers with a culturally responsive practice also nurture a sense of agency and action in their students (Nieto & Bode, 2012); that is, they instill in them a will and sense of efficacy to foster social change.

Emerging Evidence-Based Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices

Research during the past few decades has developed the foundation for EBP that supports teaching for students who struggle with learning basic academic skills. However, despite this research, CLD learners continue to underachieve in United States public schools. This\ underachievement has led researchers and educators to examine research on the development of EBPs with CRT methods. Although empirical research investigating EBPs for diverse students with learning difficulties has increased, a scant research base in this area remains (Aceves et al., 2014). Research is slowly emerging to identify effective, culturally responsive EBPs for students from CLD backgrounds. From the literature we reviewed for this IC, we identified four emerging EBPs for students from CLD backgrounds: (a) collaborative teaching, (b) responsive feedback, (c) modeling, and (d) instructional scaffolding.

Collaborative Teaching

Collaborative teaching is an umbrella term for instructional methods (e.g., cooperative learning, differentiated instruction, peer teaching, reciprocal teaching) that involve joint intellectual effort (i.e., requiring individual accountability, positive interdependence, and strong interpersonal skills) between students and teachers (Klingner & Vaughn, 1996, 1999; O’Connor & Vadasy, 2011; Vaughn et al., 2011). Collaborative learning methods are a key component of CRT; they enable participants to share and learn from their collective experiences and challenges. Research indicates that practitioners who use direct and explicit collaborative-based approaches to learning to reinforce students’ background knowledge (e.g., interdependence, sharing, collaboration) improve student literacy engagement and motivation (e.g., Au, 2011; Genesee & Riches, 2006).

In collaborative-based instruction, teachers provide a common introduction to lessons and then distribute learning assignments based on students’ academic skills (e.g., reading language level). Although all students learn about the same topic, the assignments may vary according to student ability. Teachers collectively organize students into heterogeneous learning teams by grouping based on learning abilities. After students have read and identified the assignment, they discuss the topic with their group members, share their knowledge, and complete the lesson as a whole group. Teachers monitor and review the key concepts and skills all students should have acquired. If learning challenges persist, teachers may need to reciprocate and teach specific skills for student understanding. For example, there have been several studies (e.g., Calhoon, Al Otaiba, Greenberg, King, & Avalos, 2006; Klingner & Vaughn, 1996; Sáenz, Fuchs, & Fuchs, 2005) that have used collaborative-based learning approaches to engage CLD students in small groups in content-related strategic discussion to assist students in understanding concepts, deriving the main ideas, asking and answering questions, and relating what they are learning to their own cultural backgrounds. When students did not have the background knowledge to understand concepts and text passages, they were encouraged to generate questions for understanding that were discussed in small groups with the teacher facilitating comprehension.

Responsive Feedback

Culturally responsive feedback is provided when teachers offer critical, ongoing, and immediate feedback regarding students’ responses and participation. Through culturally responsive feedback, teachers supply individualized support regarding performance in a manner sensitive to students’ individual and cultural preferences. This strategy includes incorporating students’ responses, ideas, languages, and experiences into the feedback that is provided (Gersten & Geva, 2003) while inviting students to construct new understandings regarding what they are learning (McIntyre & Hulan, 2013).

Providing responsive feedback is an instructional strategy recommended as a necessary practice in effective instruction with students experiencing academic difficulty (Fuchs & Vaughn, 2012). Responsive feedback has also been implemented as an important strategy within studies involving English language learners (Carlo et al., 2004; Gerber et al., 2004; Kamps et al.,  2007; Vaughn et al., 2006). Prompting students with both affective and cognitive feedback encourages teachers to validate the students’ contributions while also clarifying and expanding students’ statements during instruction (Jiménez & Gersten, 1999).

In order to engage in this critical feedback exchange, teachers must create multiple opportunities for students to respond and fluidly dialogue throughout the day. Scheduling opportunities for individualized teacher-student conferences allows students opportunities to receive individualized teacher feedback. Overall, students benefit from ongoing, specific feedback to increase their self-esteem, monitor their understanding, and challenge their thinking.


Teacher modeling has long been viewed as an essential component of effective teaching. As a culturally responsive practice, modeling involves explicit discussion of instructional expectations while providing examples based on students’ cultural, linguistic, and lived experiences. Culturally responsive modeling requires teachers to exemplify learning outcomes of CRT, which include strategy use, content learning, metacognitive and critical thinking, and interest and respect for cultural and linguistic diversity.

Research has established the modeling of skills, strategies, and new content as an essential and effective method for teaching English learners (Gerber et al., 2004; Gersten & Geva 2003; Kamps et al., 2007; Vaughn et al., 2006). Similarly, research on CRT practices emphasizes modeling as a key strategy for specific cultural groups (Hilberg, Tharp, & DeGeest, 2000). For example, within American Indian and Alaskan Native communities, learning through observation is an important tradition (Lipka et al., 2005).

In an investigation involving indigenous Alaskan youth, researchers observed expert apprentice modeling during math problem-solving activities reflective of this indigenous group’s cultural practice (Lipka et al., 2005). Engaging in an essential cultural practice within instruction can validate students’ group heritages while demonstrating its importance to academic tasks.

Culturally responsive modeling serves to illustrate specific cognitive strategies while drawing from students’ cultures, languages, and everyday experiences (Jiménez & Gersten, 1999).

Instructional Scaffolding

Culturally responsive instructional scaffolding occurs when teachers control for task difficulty and promote a deeper level of understanding using students’ contributions and their cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Scaffolding skills include using different types of questions (e.g., open-ended questions, analytic questions); providing appropriate wait time and taking turns; extending and acknowledging students’ responses; and using supporting instructional materials (e.g., visual organizers, story maps; Jiménez & Gersten, 1999).

Researchers have integrated scaffolding methods in studies involving students experiencing academic difficulty, including students who speak a second language (Gerber et al., 2004; Goldenberg, 2013; Vaughn et al., 2006). For instance, scaffolding may include reference to English language learners’ primary languages or cultures. In this example, teachers may use relevant cognates while teaching English language development or provide primary language explanations to support English comprehension (Carlo et al., 2004).

Culturally responsive research further demonstrates the effectiveness of this strategy in facilitating students’ success and self-esteem during teaching episodes (Garza, 2009). Students have reported that teachers who provide this level of specialized assistance welcome a variety of student discourse and show genuine interest in their students’ successes (McIntyre & Hulan, 2013).

Recommended Culturally Responsive Teaching Approaches and Considerations

In addition to the instructional practices previously described and supported by emerging research, the existing literature base describing CRT encourages other approaches that may have the potential for enhancing diverse student-learning outcomes. As previously stated, current empirical research with diverse populations investigating the effectiveness of these practices in conjunction with examining its effects on student outcomes is lacking. Teachers, however, are encouraged to consider these areas of instruction supported by this literature base with diverse students. Specifically, these include using a problem-solving approach and child-centered practices during instruction and making special considerations during the assessment of CLD students and the selection of instructional materials that support students’ cultural and linguistic experiences.

Problem-Solving Approach

Problem solving requires teachers to create opportunities for students to investigate real, open-ended problems; formulate questions; and develop solutions to genuine challenging situations. Engaging students in solving meaningful problems allows for complex and higher order thinking while increasing students’ motivation to learn and resolve authentic issues in their daily lives. Teachers create opportunities for students to critique, challenge, and transform examples of injustice or inequity in their daily lives and communities (Ladson-Billings, 2001). Therefore, problem solving becomes culturally responsive when students address problems that touch upon cultural and linguistic issues for the purpose of improving their daily lives. Some examples may include gathering and critiquing additional sources to supplement textbook curriculum to better reflect students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds, investigating colleges with supportive programs for diverse students, and collecting oral histories from community elders regarding topics of study.

This instructional approach not only identifies and challenges de facto community inequities that may exist, but also allows students to devise solutions toward meaningful change. For example, one teacher engaged her students in investigating zoning laws using math and reading skills in order to reduce the number of liquor stores and their associated problems (i.e., drug trafficking, prostitution, and public intoxication) around a school’s campus (Tate, 1995). With the results of their research, students lobbied the state Senate and made formal presentations to the city council, which resulted in numerous citations and the closure of two liquor stores near the school. Culturally responsive problem solving encourages students to care about their communities. Literature documenting the implementation of culturally responsive problem solving with diverse populations is emerging.

Child-Centered Instruction

Students’ contributions drive the teaching and learning process in a culturally responsive classroom as teachers develop culturally responsive learning opportunities and outcomes focused on student-generated ideas, background knowledge, values, communication styles, and preferences. Through student-oriented practices, teachers respond to students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds and learning needs. Student-centered instruction, choice, and participation are central to CRT practices (Kea, Campbell-Whatley, & Richards, 2006).

Research conducted with indigenous groups and later adopted for use with a variety of other diverse student populations has long established child-directed activities as essential to the instruction of CLD learners (Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence [CREDE], 2013). Researchers studying American Indian educational systems and communities found that given that these children are “allowed a high level of autonomy and decision making in their homes and communities, Indian students may be more comfortable and more motivated to participate in activities that they generate, organize, or direct themselves” (Hilberg, Tharp, & DeGeest, 2000, p. 33). This practice is true for many diverse communities.

In culturally responsive classrooms, teachers provide opportunities for choice in classroom activities, encourage child-directed learning, and assist students as they engage in these activities. Teachers create opportunities for students to make decisions regarding the content and form of instruction and support that students need to self-regulate their learning. Instructional Conversation (Saunders, 1999; Saunders & Goldenberg, 1999), an example of a child-centered practice, focuses on facilitating student dialogue in which students engage in conversations about academic content while establishing connections to personal, cultural, family, and community knowledge. Research support for these practices is emerging; for example, the What Works Clearinghouse (WWC) found Instructional Conversations and Literature Logs to demonstrate the promising effects on reading achievement and English language development in English language learners (U.S. Department of Education, 2006).


While assessing diverse students, teachers should select informal measures and assessment procedures and formal (i.e., standardized) assessments that consider students’ linguistic and cultural identities. Selected assessment tools and procedures should be designed for the purpose of uncovering what students already know and understand in order for teachers and families to capitalize on students’ strengths (Richards, Brown, & Forde, 2006). While interpreting assessment results, teachers must recognize that norms regarding expected student performance may vary depending on students’ cultural backgrounds and experiences. Research shows that school personnel often ignore this variation or view differences as examples of deviance in need of correction (Klingner et al., 2005).

*Inappropriate instruction, referral, and assessment procedures with diverse populations have been indicated a key contributors to the overrepresentation of CLD students in special education programs (Klingner et al., 2005; Linan-Thompson & Ortiz, 2009; Ortiz & Artiles, 2010; Ortiz & Yates, 2002). However, the examination of these practices within culturally responsive research is extremely limited. Recommendations related to culturally responsive assessment practices call for teachers to select measures and procedures validated for the population being assessed, recognize the influence of classroom instruction and the potential for teacher bias, integrate multiple ongoing performance assessments, tap into students’ strengths, involve qualified and trained representatives from students’ cultural groups and communities in assessment procedures and recommendations, integrate appropriate ongoing curriculum-based assessments, and recognize that learning is demonstrated by a continuum of performance rather than by discrete skills displayed at designated points in time (Gay, 2013; Klingner et al., 2005).

*The study Minorities Are Disproportionately Underrepresented in Special Education: Longitudinal Evidence Across Five Disability Categories, (2015) contradicts this finding for some ethnic and linguistically diverse groups.


CRT requires teachers to integrate research-developed and teacher-selected materials that validate and consider students’ cultural, linguistic, and racial identities. As critical consumers of these resources, teachers and students should review this material for the appropriate reflection of the diversity represented within the classroom community. When representative diversity is absent from this material, teachers should supplement as necessary to provide resources that reflect the cultures, languages, and lived experiences of the students they support (Banks, 2004; Gay, 2010, 2013; Ladson-Billings, 2009).

When choosing curricular materials, consider:

Who is the intended audience? Who is this going to be praised and affirmed?

Research on the content of texts and other instructional materials shows that many materials provide poor, inaccurate, and absent representation of diverse cultural and linguistic groups (Gay, 2010). Integrating materials reflective of students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds is a strategy implemented within research examining CRT practices. In order to more directly address the inadequacies of curricular material for diverse students, Gay (2013) outlined the following explicit strategies in which teachers and students should engage:

  • conducting analyses of textbooks, mass media, Internet, literary sources, and personal narratives;
  • exploring how personal backgrounds and environmental factors influence authors’ scholarship;
  • examining multiple ethnic descriptions and interpretations of events and experiences;
  • investigating how different knowledge sources affect teaching and learning; and
  • reconstructing or replacing existing presentations of issues and situations in the various resources with their own acquired cultural knowledge and insights (p. 59).

These practices allow teachers and students to critically evaluate the materials and resources used to guide instruction, correct any misrepresentation, and validate diverse students’ histories and lived experiences.

Overall, the literature base describing CRT highlights problem-solving and child-centered approaches as representative of a culturally responsive classroom. Teachers who carefully select and critique the assessments and materials used for evaluation and instruction do so with their students’ cultural and linguistic needs in mind. Although highly recommended, these CRT approaches and considerations require further empirical study with diverse populations for a better understanding of their influence on student achievement.


Overall, rigorous empirical research examining the effectiveness of CRT on the academic achievement of diverse learners in K-12 settings is severely lacking. Despite the dearth of studies in this area, available research to date provides the field with emerging practices and other relevant approaches and instructional considerations. Many educational professionals may conclude that the practices outlined in this review encompass examples of “just good teaching” (Au, 2009). This way of thinking, however, presumes a generic universality of what is considered good teaching practice while ignoring the understanding that teaching and learning are culturally situated, varying across and within cultural and linguistic groups (Gay, 2010). While implementing these practices, teachers must consciously make connections to students’ cultures, languages, and everyday experiences in order for students to experience academic achievement while preserving their cultural and linguistic identities. “Academic success and cultural identity can and must be simultaneously achieved, not presented as dichotomous choices” (Klingner et al., 2005, p. 23). To ensure the academic achievement of diverse learners in urban, rural, and suburban communities across the United States, institutions of higher education and school districts must provide a rigorous continuum of ongoing PD to support beginning and experienced teachers in their understanding and implementation of culturally responsive teaching practices.

voices from the field

Voices from the field

Culturally Responsive Teaching

Before moving to NH, I taught middle school in a multicultural district for 12 years. Our learners were from diverse backgrounds and having multiple ESL/ELL students in a class was not uncommon; we had twelve languages in which school documents were translated and translators were provided at school conferences and meetings. In NH I am currently at a homogeneous school. Anecdotally, something that I have experienced at schools in NH for their spirit days is crazy hair day. In the NJ school this would not work as it is inherently exclusive. For the students who wear hijab or for students whose hair has historically been used to control, punish, or judge such a day would not be welcome. The diversity in my NJ district readily lent itself to educators being able to learn about our students’ cultures. Due to the homogenous nature of the current school in NH, educators may need to work slightly harder to learn about a student’s culture and how best to support the student and their family.  Kate Appolonia


I will admit this week’s reading was difficult and very personal.  In doing this week’s reading I found it very surprising that 83% (as of 2013) of public-school teachers are white. Having lived in mostly non-urban areas, I always assumed that in urban areas there were a higher number of ethnic teachers. I thought it would make the numbers a little more balanced on a national level. Having something called culturally responsive teaching seems counter intuitive from the outside. Teachers should be taught to teach all children – race or ethnicity should not matter, but unfortunately, it does. As an ethnic women, mother, and educator it matters greatly.

New Hampshire is 94% white and despite that I find I have a diverse classroom. In my class of 14 students, I have 1 African American, 1 Indian, 1 Egyptian, 2 Latino/white and 1  Asian/white student.  I have also noticed, and so has my principal, that most of the ethnic students in the school find a reason to speak with me. Sometimes I do find it an uncomfortable spot to be in. But I think it would have been nice if my children had had someone they could connect with when they were in K-12.  I remember what it was like being the only ethnic student in my school growing up. So, when I read the words “Representation absolutely matters and it matters for … almost every educational outcome you can think of” (Meckler & Rabinowitz, 2019) it struck a chord, and I cannot agree enough. Barbara Holt

Meckler, L., & Rabinowitz, K. (2019, December 27). America’s schools are more diverse than ever. But the teachers are still mostly white. The Washington Post.


As I have learned, even families from the same country have very different cultural beliefs.  For example, a student from Northern India celebrates completely different holiday’s than a student from Southern India.  I cannot begin to understand their experiences just because they are from the same country, I must get to know and understand each individual student. This requires time.

How do we allow the time for students to connect with a subject and share their differences when we are mandated to complete a set curriculum in a short amount of time? In second grade we have 30 mins a day for either social studies or science.  After reading these articles there is so much I would like to incorporate into my day but there is so little time.  As an educator we need to be thoughtful and use every extra minute to connect with our students in a meaningful way. Sheri Gauvin


Teachers may find it uncomfortable or difficult to reflect upon their own culture. Some might even believe that they do not have a culture—that is, their opinions, values, and expectations about education and behavior are part of the dominant cultural perspective and, therefore, are regarded as the norm. As a result, many teachers do not recognize that their own culture influences their expectations about students and, in turn, affect their students’ performance (IRIS, 2009).” In addressing different cultures, teachers should also avoid showcasing a student as a representative of a whole minority group; this is called “tokenism.” Alicia Jobson

The IRIS Center. (2009). Cultural and linguistic differences: What teachers should know. Retrieved from


I work in a very affluent town as a paraprofessional and while I realized it was more affluent, I did not realize how much different the curriculum was compared to the curriculum in the school that my children attend in the neighboring town. In the town where I live I do not see any of the techniques being used in the culturally responsive teaching article (Aceve & Orosco 2014),  however in the district where  I work these approaches are commonplace and welcomed. Jennifer Wylie


When I took Assessment of Students with Disabilities over the summer, a very important thing that I learned was the importance of making sure assessments used to identify students with disabilities are culturally responsive to the student being assessed. This is imperative so the students are not misdiagnosed because of a language barrier or the tests that are not intended for non English language learners. Michelle Shaw


I remember a book I used when I taught 4th grade, Encounter by Jan Yolen. It’s a juvenile fiction book told from a point of view of a young child. It talks about Christopher Columbus from the perspective of an indigenous child’s point of view and as this child ages into an old man. It discusses the distrust and the crimes committed against indigenous people by Columbus and those who came before and after. It’s a book that needs to be used only when supported by a strong social justice curriculum. I don’t use it now, as I work with much younger kiddos, but it’s a good book. Lara Provencher


It is great to read books from other cultures and backgrounds, include holidays from children’s nationality, and treat them equally, but that is not enough.  As Braelan stated we need to understand their culture and how this changes their responses in the classroom.  She discussed her family and how they are loud, boisterous, and emotionally expressive.  This really stood out to me as I am working with a second grader that is loud, boisterous, and emotionally expressive.  The classroom teacher likes the class quiet all day. She has long blocks of independent work where she expects the class to be quiet and not talk.  Working with special education I know this is not possible for many children, especially seven and eight-year old’s.  However, I never considered the family’s culture to be part of this need to impact the classroom in such as significant way.  It became clear to me that we need to look beyond what we think we are doing to be inclusive and understanding of all our students, but take a deeper look at our entire approach to how we interact with the students.

Braelan Martin also talked about the resources we use to teach.  Its more than including cartoon pictures with culturally diverse names and features, it’s about honesty.  For example she talked about the Pilgrims and Native Americans and how we show historical pictures of their costumes.  We should also show actual pictures of Native Americans then and now.  How do they dress now?  Do they still wear feathers, or do they dress just like us?  Discussing the differences and similarities without judgement should be included in all lessons.

In order to successfully reach all of our students, we need to first think about our own culture and expectations.  How does this impact our teaching style?  We need to first learn from our students about their culture and their lives.  We need to give them opportunities to share and make connections to the material we are studying.  The two articles I read “Culturally Responsible Teaching: What you need to know” and “15 Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies and Examples” offered steps to think about and include in our lessons.  These are all great tools but if we don’t take the time to allow our students to share and make connections, we are not really being culturally responsive.  Sheri Gauvin

[That Special Educator/Braelan Martin], (2020, Jun. 8). Anti-Racism in the Classroom- My Ramblings. [Video File], Retrieved from


I think that is an important reminder for educators to not only learn more about their students, but to reflect on their culture and how it may be influencing their teaching. I work with students who are in a residential court ordered placement and I spend every day reminding myself how different our upbringings were. It helps me to empathize and to come up with different teaching strategies to effectively educate them.  Anonymous


When I got my master’s degree in education, I went through a program that taught education through a Social Justice model (World Education Linked, I think it might be called Thrive now). Learning to teach from a social justice model was difficult in the beginning, but as the program went on it became more natural. When I teach Vermont geography, we compare it to China (because my daughter goes to college there and my little kids are mesmerized by it). When we study climate, we also study cultural differences by Climate Zone. Little things, we may not have time to really jump into these issues, but any time we can make a child notice and accept differences we are a step closer to our diversity goal. Lara Provencher


I was drawn to exploring Culturally Responsive Teaching for this forum. In this week’s resources, I connected to what Braelan Martin said, “This is just a way in which you view children and the way in which you view education… It’s not necessarily an administration-driven initiative. It’s you, as a teacher, educating all children and thinking that every one of their cultures and their experiences are valid… There is no curriculum or specific product that will transform your classroom into an anti-racist classroom. It’s you, as an educator, doing the work. ([That Special Educator], 2020).” I agree with her feelings on this. All of the specialized, anti-racist resources and curriculum would not create an anti-racist classroom if the teacher was not modeling respect and appreciation for all students, and promoting cultural inclusivity regularly.

I was also reminded about an IRIS module that I read for another course titled, “Cultural and linguistic differences: What teachers should know.” In the section ‘Teacher Reflection’ it reads, “Another way for teachers to become culturally responsive is to practice on-going reflection—an undertaking through which teachers identify their thoughts, values, and behaviors about their own and other cultures. Such reflection allows teachers to gain deeper levels of self-knowledge and recognize how their personal worldviews can influence their teaching and shape their students’ concepts of self. It creates opportunities to reconsider stereotypes and gives teachers the chance to consider how their instruction might be improved. Teachers may find it uncomfortable or difficult to reflect upon their own culture. Some might even believe that they do not have a culture—that is, their opinions, values, and expectations about education and behavior are part of the dominant cultural perspective and, therefore, are regarded as the norm. As a result, many teachers do not recognize that their own culture influences their expectations about students and, in turn, affects their students’ performance (IRIS, 2009).” In addressing different cultures, teachers should also avoid showcasing a student as a representative of a whole minority group; this is called “tokenism.” My daughter is Native American, but also adopted. She wants to be treated as a unique individual, and expecting her to speak on behalf of all Native Americans or all people who have been adopted would alienate her. This would only serve to highlight the differences between her and her peers, which is something that she already feels and struggles with daily. I feel that this would be true for other students as well who are underrepresented.  Alicia Jabson


 I think back to a time my daughter was 13 and we were visiting my sister’s YMCA camp in the Poconos.  She had a ‘work weekend’ for her camp and about 50 people from Newark, New Jersey volunteered along with my family and some friends.  My daughter was so overwhelmed by the cultural differences of the 50 or so people of African American descent that she had a panic attack.  She had never been around people of color where she was the minority.

I imagine that is how some of our minority children feel if they move to our cities and towns and are surrounded by a different culture. While making sure we engage students with comfortable names of culturally diverse people etc. in word problems and reading selections I think it is equally important to know how to weave the cultures of all children in your class throughout a regular day to day curriculum. In today’s age it’s not ok to just do a few things here or there, but to be aware of all the lifestyles and cultures of the families we work with and make them always part of the class. Jacqueline Godin


I remember once going to lunch at Denny’s with my young daughters in a busy Connecticut city.  There was a man with a beard and wearing clothes we don’t see in New Hampshire much – I am assuming he was from the Middle East.  My youngest thought he was from the Bible.  All I could think about was how I need to get my daughters out in the world more!  Kari Grimes


I work in a K-3 elementary school that is not very culturally diverse, but offers a great opportunity for exploring other cultures near and far through books, activities, and projects.  The age group that I work with is just at the beginning of their educational journey and is at the perfect place to begin exploration of the world around them, the similarities and the differences.  Judith Moore


I work in a very affluent town as a paraprofessional and while I realized it was more affluent I did not realize how much different the curriculum was compared to the curriculum that my children attend in the neighboring town. In the town where I live I do not see any of the techniques being used in the culturally responsive teaching article (Aceve & Orosco 2014),  however in the district where I work these approaches are commonplace and welcomed.

My hope for the future to help our students and communities heal from the trauma of this pandemic, schools across the nation implement trauma focused approach which mirror culturally responsive teaching.   In trauma informed education it starts with the administration, provides professional development, builds relationships with families, allows students to receive supports and services when they need it regardless of coding and providing students with strategies to manage their academics and emotions (flexible framework).  This mirrors culturally responsive teaching as that approach is based on instructional engagement, using culturally sensitive language, teaching critical problem solving, allowing for multicultural awareness and social justice.  Many of these aspects could be intertwined, which would create an extremely safe and thoughtful environment for students to thrive in.  Jennifer Wyie

Other references can be found on the original document at

Image by Madhana Gopal from Pixabay – chapter heading

Updated 6.22.22