Foundations and Assessment of Education/Edition 1/Foundations Table of Contents/Chapter 4/4.4.2

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Culturally Responsive Teaching

Learning Targets[edit]

The reader should be able to understand and describe culture and culturally responsive teaching.

The reader should be able to describe the importance of culturally responsive teaching.

The reader should be able to identify strategies for teachers to facilitate culturally responsive teaching.

What does Culturally Responsive Mean?[edit]

In a classroom of culturally diverse students, do all students perceive information in the same manner? How does having students of varying cultures affect learning opportunities and the teaching methods of teachers? These questions have become a reality to consider since the US population currently consists of over 30% minority cultures and that number is projected to be greater than 50% by the year 2060, according to the 2000 US Census (Hosp & Hosp, 2001). Encountering cultural diversity in the classroom is becoming more and more common.

Pat Burke Guild considers culture and learning in the following quote:

We know that culture and learning are connected in important ways. Early life experiences and the values of a person's culture affect both the expectations and the processes of learning. If this relationship is true, could we then assume that students who share cultural characteristics have common ways of learning? Does culture create a way of learning, and how would we know this? Do African American students have similar ways of learning? Do girls learn differently than boys? These questions are both important and controversial. (n.d., p. 10)

According to Websters dictionary (1997), a definition of culture is the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group ("Culture", p. 282). Therefore, teachers who use culturally responsive teaching respond to the beliefs, social forms, and traits of students. Gay (2000) defines culturally responsive teaching as using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these students (Culturally, 2008, para. 2). Such teachers realize the impact that they have on students, reflect on students cultures and their own in order to see areas that may facilitate or interfere with teaching or learning, and then provide meaningful and beneficial experiences for students(Morrier, Irving, Dandy, Dmitriyev, & Ukeje, 2007; Peregoy, S., 2008).

I heard the teacher, but she didn't like my answer. Why not?[edit]

If a teacher does not seek to understand a students background and culture, there are likely to be misunderstandings that occur. Some areas where behavior could be misinterpreted due to cultural differences are in attention-getting strategies, ways of responding to questions, and ways of interacting (Coballes-Vega, 1992, Information para. 3).

Value differences may arise through behavior relating to informality, individualism, and egalitarianism. Some cultures value being spoken to using formal names whereas others value an informal, relaxed setting (Copeland, 2007). Some cultures value individualism in which a student offering a contradictory opinion to the teacher is viewed as being independent and of value; whereas, those cultures who value egalitarianism more may view a public disagreement as being arrogant and would expect the teacher to be the strong authoritarian who uses constant direct instruction (Copeland, 2007).

A student from such an authoritarian culture may have learned only to speak to adults when asked by the adult. When at school and the teacher requests volunteers, this student may have difficulty freely speaking (Peregoy, 2008). The silence could be interpreted by the teacher as disinterest or uncertainty, but the student may be waiting for the teacher to call on him/her.


Teachers may need to consider alternative means of assessment based on their students cultural backgrounds. Currently, much of reading/literature assessment is based on western values of literacy. Some cultures, such as those in Morocco and Western Samoa, value storytelling or oral tradition (Coballes-Vega, 1992). Students from such cultures may learn easily orally through memorization—and may score poorly in traditional western reading assessments. Altering curriculum to allow for these non-traditional skills may be an option to highlight strengths in such students and encourage them.

Strategies for Teachers[edit]

Culturally responsive teaching fosters competence in students' home and school cultures, utilizing a students' home culture as a building block for new knowledge and skills ("Principles," n.d.). Sample activities that could promote such cultural understanding, include having students:

  • Share about an object from home that shows their culture
  • Write about a family tradition
  • Research varying features of their culture ("Principles," n.d.)

Using a variety of teaching strategies can help to meet the needs of students of varying cultures. Cooperative grouping is one potential teaching strategy that may assist African American, Native American, and Hispanic students because it is more similar to their culture (Coballes-Vega, 1992). Making multicultural information about different ethnic groups available to students can help encourage cultural heritage and acceptance ("Culturally," n.d.). This can be done through having literature books from many cultural perspectives. Teachers can also verbally express differences and explain them as being equally true but just different ways of doing something. In this way, cultural differences among students can be encouraged as opportunities to learn and as rich sources of information instead of as points of conflict.

Interaction with Parents[edit]

Culturally responsive teachers will recognize that their students parents also come from varying cultures and have varying expectations of parental involvement. Parental cultural values may be distinctly different than those expressed in schools. Copeland (2007) offers an example in which a parent from the Netherlands and Sweden said to a teacher regarding a teachers request for parent volunteers, In my country, we leave teaching to teachers, just as we leave surgery to surgeons. We don't expect to be invited into the operating room, and we don't expect to be invited into the classroom(p. 68). Coballes-Vega (1992) describes another example of Southeast Asian parents valuing the individuals role within the family more so than any one family members personal desire. When their child—a student—chooses to watch siblings for the parents instead of completing homework, the student is doing so because of cultural values.

To help alleviate confusion and misunderstandings, Coballes-Vega (1992) encourages teachers to seek to understand child-rearing practices, family relationships, and interpersonal communication of their students cultures in order to understand parents (Information par. 5). Teachers can also encourage parental involvement by communicating in the parents first language via translators to write notes or during conferences (Coballes-Vega, 1992).


From classroom management to teaching strategies, from perceiving behavior to assessing performance, culture impacts the view and understanding of both teacher and student. We, as teachers, need to understand and appreciate the diverse cultural identities of our students to ensure that they feel safe and appreciated for who they are and that they have access to learning opportunities in school (Percival & Black, 2008, 152).


1. Which term describes the set of customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group?

A. Culture

B. Diversity

C. Group

D. Multiculturalism

2. Why is culturally responsive teaching important?

A. It meets the quota on standardized teaching and keeps teachers on their toes.

B. It shows that schools are modern and up-to-date, able to keep up with changing times.

C. It shows awareness of students' cultures and how that may influence learning and understanding.

D. It makes students of minority cultures more special than those of the majority culture.

3. Lim is a 3rd grade student whose family immigrated from Vietnam six years ago. Her US teacher, Mrs. Hurd notices that Lim doesn't answer questions when she asks the class but when Lim is with her friends, she talks frequently. Mrs. Hurd is concerned about her. What advice might you give to her about helping Lim?

A. Lim doesnt understand and should be referred to a specialist.

B. Lims family may show respect by only talking when asked.

C. Lim is just quiet and you shouldn't push her.

D. Lim is lazy and doesn't care. Just leave her alone.

4. Hasan, a student from Morocco, gets excited whenever Mrs. Flannigan reads stories orally to the class. He likes to repeat the phrases after her. Mrs. Flannigan gets annoyed at his behavior and believes he is doing it to be disrespectful. Based on the reading, what advice might you give Mrs. Flannigan to better understand Hasans behavior?

A. He has a reading disorder and is trying to learn new words.

B. He is just an annoying child trying to get the teachers attention.

C. Hes enjoying learning as his culture encourages oral storytelling through memorization.

D. He will stop if you yell at him and then ignore him.

Answers to multiple choice questions: 1.A, 2.C, 3.B, 4.C


Coballes-Vega, C. (1992). Considerations in teaching culturally diverse children. Washington DC: ERIC Clearinghouse on Teacher Education. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED341648) Retrieved September 24, 2008 from ERIC database.

Copeland, A. (2007, Winter). Welcoming international parents to your classroom. Kappa Delta PI Record, 43(2), 66-70. Retrieved September 24, 2008 from Education Research Complete database.

Culture. (1997). In Merriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary, (10th Edition, p. 282). MA: Merriam-Webster, Inc.

Culturally responsive teaching, {n.d.}. Retrieved September 24, 2008, from InTime Web site:

Guild, P.B. (n.d.). Diversity, Learning Style and Culture. Retrieved September 24, 2008 from

Hosp, J. & Hosp, M. (2001, August). Behavior differences between African-American and caucasian students: issues for assessment and intervention. Education and Treatment of Children, 24(3), 336. Retrieved September 27, 2008 from Education Research Complete database.

Morrier, M., Irving, M., Dandy, E., Dmitriyev, G., & Ukeje, I. (2007, Spring). Teaching and learning within and across cultures: educator requirements across the United States, Multicultural Education, 14(3), 32-40. Retrieved September 27, 2008, from Education Research Complete database.

Percival, J., & Black, D. (2000, July). A true and continuing story. Social Studies, 91(4), 151-158. Retrieved September 24, 2008, from Education Research Complete database.

Peregoy, S. F. & Boyle, O. F. (2008). Reading, Writing, and Learning in ESL. New York: Pearson.

Principles for culturally responsive teaching. (n.d.). Retrieved from The Education Alliance: Teaching Diverse Learners Web site on September 24, 2008 from

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