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Building Culturally Responsive Practices

Building Culturally Responsive Practices


  • Step 1: View introduction to Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay: Step 2: Read Thinking Through the Lens of Windows and Mirrors

    From: What are Windows and Mirrors?  Kimberly Moran, 2018.

    A good teacher works hard to develop relationships with students in order to help them identify their place in the world. A great way to help children do this effectively is to introduce stories and materials that act as mirrors and windows.  You may have heard the term “mirrors and windows” being used more frequently lately, especially when it comes to literacy. But what does this phrase mean?

    What are mirrors and windows?

    The phrase “mirrors and windows” was initially introduced by Emily Style for the National SEED Project. A mirror is a story that reflects your own culture and helps you build your identity. A window is a resource that offers you a view into someone else’s experience. It is critical to understand that students cannot truly learn about themselves unless they learn about others as well.

    Why are mirrors important?

    Multicultural education scholar Rudine Sims Bishop talks about books as mirrors, which are texts in which children can find themselves, their families, and their communities reflected and valued. When students read books where they see characters like themselves who are valued in the world, they feel a sense of belonging. The first step is gathering diverse resources for your classroom. The second step is building a culturally sensitive curriculum that teaches all the things required of any standard-based curriculum. Putting up mirrors for your students merely means setting up the context for them, not doing it in addition to regular learning.

    Question: How can you build windows and mirrors for your students?

    Step 3: Questioning and Interrogating the Curriculum

    As Davidman and Davidman (1994, 2001) proposed, educators must ask at least five questions when designing and assessing curriculum (i.e., lessons, units, materials/resources, and strategies) without biases or being in any way culturally assaultive rather than responsive. These questions help guide practice and needed changes in curriculum, and they promote rigor, relevance, respect, and relationships.

    1. Do materials, lessons, and strategies promote educational equity? For instance, does the lesson help to create a curriculum where all students participate and contribute in substantive ways?
    2. Does the curriculum promote cultural pluralism or intergroup harmony in the classroom? Are students treated as equal members of the classroom community? Are cooperative strategies and group arrangements used to teach lessons and to promote positive, affirming student relationships?
    3. Does the curriculum help to increase all students' knowledge regarding various racial and cultural groups, including their own? Are mirrors (focus on self and own cultural group) and windows (focus on others and other cultural groups) provided (a) so that learning is relevant, motivating, engaging, interesting, and empowering; and (b) so that different perspectives are heard and seen?
    4. Does the curriculum help to correct and challenge distortions about racially and culturally different groups (e.g., are distortions discussed and interrogated)?
    5. Does the curriculum have a social justice focus, where taking on inequities and making a positive difference is the goal?

    From: Ford, Donna. 2011. Multicultural Gifted Education. Prufrock Press, Inc.

    To Do:

    1. Download the CRE scorecard at

    2. Review pages 10-11.

    3. Select 4-5 attributes outlined in the Representation and/or Social Justice sections. Think about the unit of study you are developing/modifying through these lens.

    4. What do you need to do when working on your unit to ensure these attributes are taken into account?

    Step 4: Thinking about your instruction

    A wide variety of techniques for incorporating culturally diverse contributions, experiences, and perspectives into classroom teaching can be extracted from the work of scholars like Gay, Nieto, Freire, and Ladson-Billings. What all the models and incentives have in common are the tried and true practices that research has shown to be effective with all students. Morrison, Robbins, and Rose (2008) synthesized the research into a list of best practices that effective culturally responsive teachers use to support their students. The researchers organized the best practices into the following categories:

    • Modeling, scaffolding, and clarification of challenging curriculum
    • Using student strengths as starting points and building on their funds of knowledge
    • Investing in and taking personal responsibility for students’ success
    • Creating and nurturing cooperative environments
    • Having high behavioral expectations
    • Reshaping the prescribed curriculum
    • Encouraging relationships among schools and communities
    • Promoting critical literacy
    • Engaging students in social justice work
    • Making explicit the power dynamics of mainstream society
    • Sharing power in the classroom

    Researchers have also recommended specific activities as culturally responsive best practices for teaching racially, ethnically, culturally, and linguistically diverse students. Synthesized from the work of Banks and Banks, 2004; Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Nieto, 1999, these specific activities include:

    • Acknowledge students’ differences as well as their commonalities.
    • Validate students’ cultural identity in classroom practices and instructional materials.
    • Educate students about the diversity of the world around them.
    • Promote equity and mutual respect among students.
    • Assess students’ ability and achievement validly
    • Foster a positive interrelationship among students, their families, the community, and school.
    • Motivate students to become active participants in their learning.
    • Encourage students to think critically.
    • Challenge students to strive for excellence as defined by their potential.

    To Do: Share with your group 1-2 strategies you use to include all learners in your classroom. Think about 2-3 ideas outlined above that you are interested in learning more about.  Share with your group.

    From Culturally Responsive Teaching. A guide to evidence-based practices for teaching all students equitably.  Equity Assistance Center and Education Northwest.  2016.

Resources to Promote Culturally Responsive Practices

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