Eugene Butler Jr., contributing writer for Education Week, discusses the importance of a culturally responsive curriculum for all students, but especially students of color. In this article, Butler considers the foundational definition of culturally responsive teaching (CRT) from Geneva Gay who defines it as, “using cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective,” a strengths-based approach to teaching and learning.
What does a culturally responsive classroom look like? To Butler, it’s a classroom with a climate “characterized by respect and care.” A teacher in a culturally responsive classroom generates a safe learning environment by establishing trust that allows “all students to take risks and to challenge the perspectives of others, including the teacher.”
Butler suggests that the “persistent disparities in the national graduation rate” implies that “the current curricular approaches do not provide an equitable education for all learners.” Therefore, in order to promote student engagement in learning there should be curricula that reflects the student population; Butler furthers this argument by suggesting that “it is just as important for students in the majority population to be provided with a broader scope of literature and history outside of their experiences.”
Butler’s article provides suggestions on how to incorporate CRT in your classroom regardless of content-area:
For literature classes, Butler suggests including “prose, essays, and novels by diverse authors in our lesson plans, and [requiring] students to write letters to those historical figures,” or using graphic organizers to prompt students to “compare and contrast their lives with an author, inventor, or scientist of a different race or gender.”
For math, science and elective classes, Butler recommends embedding “historical facts in the curriculum related to minorities who had made major contributions in their respective fields.” These practices provide relatability to the students as they’ll begin to understand “that they [have] many traits, characteristics, experiences, and goals in common with yesterday’s heroes.”
But Butler considers the practicality of implementing these practices in the confines of a school district that does not consider culturally responsive practices. To this point, Butler advocates for administrative overhaul of the curriculum framework in addition to professional development for teachers and administrators.
To conclude, Butler states that he saw the effects of a culturally responsive instruction on a districtwide scale as the director for middle schools and as the assistant superintendent for student support services in Tucson Unified School District: “After the district introduced culturally relevant courses, graduation rates and standardized test scores measurably improved for some students who took the aforementioned courses.”