Culturally Supported Students

On a recent visit to Apache Innovative School in the Shawnee Mission School District, students were actively engaged in the building’s Makerspace. The student featured in this photo was particularly happy as she and her classmates sorted through a bin of Lego shapes and characters.  As she found her favorite Lego she shrieked, “I just love it here!” Drawn to her excitement, we asked, “Why do you love it here?”

Her reply? “I love this school because they have Legos that look like me.”

According to the National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems (NCCRES), “…effective teaching and learning occur in a culturally-supported, learner-centered context, whereby the strengths students bring to school are identified, nurtured, and utilized to promote student achievement.” We EdCats certainly want to be effective teachers, so what are some strategies for creating a culturally-supported, learner-centered context?

  1. Self-reflection. The Cornell University Center for Teaching Excellence has some excellent strategies for self-examination of our own cultural-bound assumptions about other cultures and the assumptions that may influence our teaching. We want to constantly ask ourselves how our course materials, resources (yes, even Legos), activities, assignments, grouping configurations, and assessments are relevant and accessible to all students.
  2. Overcome Stereotypes. We need to know our students as individuals rather than relying on cultural/racial/ethnic stereotypes or prior experiences with other students of the same background. Find some good ideas and resources for mythbusting stereotypes here from Teaching Tolerance Magazine’s great website and resources.
  3. Conduct a scavenger hunt in your classroom and building. Do you see all of your students’ cultural backgrounds represented? Do each of your students look around and think, “My teacher sees me and values me.” Posters, photos, guest speakers, multicultural literature representing your students, flags, maps, and opportunities for students to bring in beloved objects from their families can teach students to value their own cultural heritage and gain appreciation of classmates’ communities as well.  Keep in mind our featured student photo. One of the reasons she loves her school is a Lego that looks like her.  Does your classroom contain items that make your students feel happy and valued?
  4. Get to know the biographies of your students. It’s never too late! Students move in and out. Most “get acquainted” activities happen at the beginning of the year and a lot may have changed since August. We like the activity Everyone Is Unique: Spin a Classroom Web that 5th grade teacher Melissa Walker has posted on Scholastic’s website. The activity can be modified for all grade levels and is a powerful way to build community. Jennifer Gonzalez has a clever, 4-part system for getting to know students on her blog, Cult of Pedagogy that we think EdCats will like.
  5. Finally, don’t forget our ever-growing Pinterest board on Diverse Learners where you will find additional ideas for meeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse learners.

The topics of diversity, culturally competent teaching strategies, and meeting the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse students and families are certainly too vast to cover in a single blog post–or a single college course for that matter. As lifelong learners, EdCats will always need to seek new and different ways to reach and teach all learners. Let’s keep the conversations going!