Learn about how to enable pupils to make meaningful connections between their lived experiences and the curriculum, with Kaye Jones.

“All instruction is culturally responsive. The question is, to whose culture is it responding?” – Zaretta Hammond

A recent study by the YMCA found that 95% of young Black British children have heard racist language in school. 1 Black Caribbean boys are five times more likely to be excluded from school, while children from Gypsy, Roma and Traveller backgrounds are three times more likely than any other group to leave school without a single qualification. 2  Across the UK, girls experience high levels of sexism, 3 which impacts their school subject choices and leaves many vulnerable to sexual harassment.

If we really want to change the way that young people experience education, then it’s clear that traditional approaches aren’t working. More than ever, we need to put students – and their unique range of identities – at the heart of learning, and that’s where Culturally Responsive Education, or CRE, comes into play.

What is Culturally Responsive Education?

In 1995, Gloria Ladson-Billings developed Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, a framework for teaching and earning that was based on her observations of effective teachers of African American students in the US. Ladson-Billings’ pedagogy consists of three foundational principles: firstly, it is built on academic success for all students. Secondly, it helps students to develop a positive and healthy sense of identity. Finally, it enables students to recognise social and cultural inequalities and, more importantly, empowers them to do something about them.

Since the development of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, educational theorists have built on her ground-breaking work. Today, Culturally Responsive Education is used in schools across the world to raise the achievement of students from all backgrounds by enabling them to make meaningful connections between their lived experiences and the curriculum.

How does Culturally Responsive Education benefit students?

In 1995, Gloria Ladson-Billings developed Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, a framework for teaching and earning that was based on her observations of effective teachers of African American students in the US. Ladson-Billings’ pedagogy consists of three foundational principles: firstly, it is built on academic success for all students. Secondly, it helps students to develop a positive and healthy sense of identity. Finally, it enables students to recognise social and cultural inequalities and, more importantly, empowers them to do something about them.

Since the development of Culturally Relevant Pedagogy, educational theorists have built on her ground-breaking work. Today, Culturally Responsive Education is used in schools across the world to raise the achievement of students from all backgrounds by enabling them to make meaningful connections between their lived experiences and the curriculum.

What does a culturally responsive classroom look like?

There are lots of ideas about how we can implement CRE in the classroom, but here are some guiding principles:

  1. Relationships: CRE is built on solid teacher-student relationships. Teachers not only know the diverse and unique backgrounds of their students but actively weave these different experiences into their teaching.
  2. Representation: CRE demands a fresh take on educational materials. The different range of identities and experiences must be positively represented in textbooks and lesson resources.
  3. Relevance: CRE seeks to make learning as relevant as possible. We know that when the brain encounters new information, it tries to make sense of it by comparing it to what we already know. All students have different frames of reference, depending on their identity and life experience. Culturally responsive teachers are mindful of this and will help students to find relevance wherever possible.

How to get started with Culturally Responsive Education

In my work at The Herstorian, I help publishers to review their existing materials to find missed opportunities for better representation and meaningful relevance. Conducting an open and mindful review of your schemes of work is the first step in becoming responsive.

In my experience, History is a particularly tricky subject. So much of what we already teach tells only a tiny portion of the story. Women, Black and Global Majority voices, those with disabilities and people from LGBTQ+ communities are often missing completely from our lessons.

Restructuring the curriculum, so as to make space for these voices and to recognise their contributions, is a huge and important part of teaching responsive histories. It’s not always an easy task since many of these voices went ignored or unrecorded, but if we want to make a fairer society today then we must start with a reckoning of the past.

References

  1. World Economic Forum (2020) ‘Study: Almost all Black British children have experienced racism at school’. Available at: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/11/racism-united-kingdom-schools-black-children-inequality/ (Accessed 1st September 2021)
  2. DFE (2010)’Improving the outcomes for Gypsy, Roma and Traveller pupils: final report’. Available at: https://assets.publishing.service.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/181669/DFE-RR043.pdf (Accessed 1st September 2021)
  3. Henshaw, P. (2020) ‘Sexism and harassment in schools as gender inequality continues’. Available at: https://www.sec-ed.co.uk/content/news/sexism-and-harassment-in-schools-as-gender-inequality-continues (Accessed 1st September 2021)

Author

  • Kaye Jones

    Kaye is a historian, author, former teacher and culturally responsive education specialist. She is committed to creating history that is equitable, representative and adequately reflects the contributions of historically marginalised groups. At The Herstorian, she works with educational publishers to create culturally responsive resources by addressing the diversity, equity and inclusion issues in their existing content.

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