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#ELNC19 Sneak Peek: Accelerate Learning with Culturally Responsive Teaching

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    EL Education

“Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) done well looks a lot like a duck gliding across the water—it looks smooth and effortless, but underneath the water there’s lots of paddling and effort,” Zaretta Hammond.

We sat down with Zaretta Hammond, author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, to get a sneak peek into the intensive she’ll facilitate at EL Education’s 2019 National Conference. Read on to hear from her about what culturally responsive teaching is, why it’s important, and the difference it can have on students’ learning.

How do you define culturally responsive teaching?

There are a lot of misconceptions about what culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is. Most often, people think about it as an engagement strategy. In reality, CRT is a multifaceted approach to supporting students in increase their brain power and learning muscles in order to take on more rigorous content. It’s an integrated approach that connects the dots between relationships, social-emotional learning, academic mindset, and rigorous instruction that builds student competence over time so students are able to accelerate their learning. 

What are the biggest roadblocks you see teachers encounter when adopting culturally responsive teaching? How can they get past them?

There are a couple of important roadblocks. First, I see many educators confine CRT too narrowly to “relationship building” and ignore the instructional side. Which brings me to the second roadblock, most educators don’t know how to use “culture” as a cognitive scaffold, that is, use elements of students home collectivist cultural practices and/or pop culture to help students make new content more comprehensible. Too often this gets reduced to “group work.”

CRT continues to be confused with multiculturalism—food, fabric and festivals as an approach to diversity and inclusion. That’s a gross oversimplification of CRT. We typically don’t associate culturally responsive practices with instructional equity even though Dr. Ladson-Billings and Dr. Asa Hilliard centered academic success squarely as the core of culturally responsive teaching.

What is the greatest opportunity that culturally responsive teaching creates for students?

When done effectively, the greatest opportunity culturally responsive teaching creates for students is building their capacity to carry more of the cognitive load during instruction. Over time, CRT builds learning muscles that increase student competence. Once students feel more competent, confidence rises. Too often, we flip it and want to use CRT to build confidence first.  

Tell us what culturally responsive teaching looks like in action. What is an example of success?

I think this is a trick question. I am saying that facetiously but there’s truth in that statement as well. On the surface, to the untrained eye, culturally responsive teaching done well looks like good teaching. Consequently, it’s oversimplified and trivialized. But it’s sort of like looking at a duck glide across the water—it looks smooth and effortless, but underneath the water there’s a lot of paddling and effort. The same is true with culturally responsive teaching. It’s not a one size fits all approach to success. Instead, it is responsive to who the students are in front of you and the ways inequity have played out in your school context. It requires preparing the classroom with routines, rituals, and protocols to help students move in and out of their zone of proximal development in ways that lead to academic growth.

What will participants take away from your #ELNC19 session?

In my session, participants will take away a deeper understanding of the multifaceted nature of culturally responsive teaching, especially the instructional side. In addition to a deeper understanding, I want them to leave with practical ways to use collectivist cultural practices in how they design lessons and deliver instruction so their students are empowered to become the leaders of their own learning.

You can hear more from Zaretta Hammond and other experts at The EL Education 2019 National Conference, taking place in Atlanta, Georgia from October 16-19th. Hammond will facilitate a session at #ELNC19 titled, “Using Culture as a Scaffold to Accelerating Learning and Support Academic Mindset.” Participants will examine the core practices and principles of culturally responsive pedagogy and understand how culturally responsive design principles work within the EL Education framework. Learn more and book your conference hotel rooms today to take advantage of the early bird rate.