Diverse experiences with culturally responsive teaching

After thoughtful group discussion of our personal experiences with culturally responsive teaching, we’ve come to the agreement that there is no one way to be culturally responsive. These inclusive practices occur across multiple domains (e.g., within the course content, through instruction, in relationships with students). They also look different across different disciplines. Here are a few of our experiences from our disciplines of psychology, architecture, animal science, and engineering. 

Alexis: Topics of culture and diversity are often naturally interwoven in psychology course content. At the same time, much of the existing literature in psychological science is based on very white, middle-class, westernized groups of people. Thus, it can require some extra effort in order to include ethnic and cultural diversity in my classes. I have increasingly tried to be conscious of whose work I am highlighting during class, and to share the work of psychologists from underrepresented backgrounds. However, it can also be difficult to do this in a way that isn’t tokenism. I often wonder how to appropriately approach these issues in the classroom and how to achieve culturally responsive teaching strategies in a thoughtful and meaningful way.

Mahnaz: When it comes to some fields of study such as architecture, differences can become influential and reduce performance. For instance, the different unit system that is used in the United States is completely different from what is used in many other countries. Although it is possible to complete a project with the metric system and change it to English Units at the end, it is not always accepted. Converting the units, which can be a simple issue, can become a huge hindrance even to understanding the scale of your project and know what you are designing. Overall, it can negatively influence a student’s performance.

Mohammed: Saudi Arabia has less diversity in its education system than the United States. However, in Saudi Arabian higher education, most students prefer to work as a group in class discussions and projects to get multiple different experiences and take different viewpoints. Moreover, hands-on experience in engineering colleges in Saudi Arabia has increased in the last ten years. This yields to develop culture education in a class. The integration between hands-on experience and group discussion in a class can be considered as a good teaching strategy in higher education.   

Sara: Integrating individual life experiences is essential to the learning process. When teachers embrace this fact they are likely to be more successful. I try to embrace this in my own classroom, where I attempt to teach 150 new students the basics of Animal Science. The biggest challenge I face is that within my population of students exists individuals that grew up around livestock and then I have others that have only ever had a pet cat. This wide range requires me to make sure that all students get the opportunity to ask questions when they are lost in the material and to keep the advanced students engaged while helping out the other students. Trying to treat all of my students like blank slates in this class would alienate half of my students from the material that I am so passionate about; alternatively, taking the approach that all students are ready to dive into a discussion about species management strategies will alienate the other half. There is no right way to teach this class, my only goal for the class is to have every student ready for the next level of Animal Science classes within the department. 

The “cultural” component of culturally responsive teaching is more than just considering the ethnic or racial background of students within our class. Our experiences highlight this fact and we all feel better having had this conversation.

12 Replies to “Diverse experiences with culturally responsive teaching”

  1. This was a very interesting discussion, and I enjoyed reading the different viewpoints. I agree that there isn’t one way to include diverse experiences in our teaching, especially when each individual in the class can come from a very different background, and trying to incorporate 20+ various identities is a large challenge. I think the best we can do is to be aware of our teachings and try to be as diverse as possible while still seeming genuine. I believe just being thoughtful with our actions will have a large impact on students.

  2. What aspects of teaching do you think are important to treat the classroom based on the different cultural backgrounds, rather than an uniform group?

    1. @nichw16 Strive for the middle ground. It is too much to ask for an individual teacher to work address each individual in a class room of 50+ students; however, it is important to give opportunities for students to offer up their own individual experiences when the situation warrants. Great question!

      1. Thanks. I personally feel that people who come from different backgrounds often have different learning skills. When I teach a class I try to provide the same knowledge in different formats (hands-on activities, youtube videos, reading material, even recorded lectures). That way I can assure that my students will have their preferred material to learn the subject

  3. You have each made several excellent points regarding culturally responsible teaching. I had not even thought about the fact that the teaching culture refers to not only the ethnic or national backgrounds of the students, but also their own views of the material, such as whether they are intrigued or not. Additionally, it is difficult to tell where the line between tokenism and culturally conscious coursework. However, I worry about how to approach this, since what appears appropriate to one person may seem like tokenism to another, or even too little to a third.

  4. I relate to what Sara brings up, having taught in zoology and wildlife sciences. For this field (and I imagine many others) the range of background interests truly make it difficult to develop good examples to incorporate. I still like to bring in my personal work and experiences with wildlife, and another way I have approached this has been through relating to student’s personal interests. At the beginning of class, I try to either interview or survey the students to get a sense of their general interests, and then use that as a platform to find examples in the news, science, pop culture, and etc. in hopes to relate to more people.

    That all said, it does pose a unique challenge to being authentic in the classroom – what happens when your authentic self does not “mesh” with certain students?

    1. @bgrooms128 My authentic teaching self has caused some strife in my classrooms before. When the issue is localized to one or two individuals I try to meet with them one-on-one and figure out what is the issue. I ask them what they are ‘bugged’ by and I take it into consideration. I also make a point of sharing with them what I am hoping to accomplish with my teaching strategies and how my teaching voice enhances my strategies. So far it has all worked out.

  5. Alexis, I really liked your point about wanting to highlight a diverse group of researchers in your class. I think that one way to maybe help with the tokenism issue you brought up would be to explicitly acknowledge what you are doing to your students- I think that admitting that many science fields have historically been dominated by white men, but that diversity is increasing and you want to highlight works done by a diverse group of people, and explicitly stating that to your students may help them understand why you are doing this.

  6. I think the group brings a wide range of discussion on this issue. I agree that there is no one way to solve the issue of culturally responsive for nowadays the classroom usually involves so much diversity. I also enjoy the attitude where the author is trying to take care of all the students in the class. Because it is important that the voice from all the students should be heard so they can feel respected.

  7. I appreciate your thorough review on culturally responsive teaching. There are so many dynamics and aspects to consider when interacting with diverse people in diverse settings. Really, the first step for a teacher is just having the awareness and education about how to address or implement cultural aspects into their teaching or classroom engagement. I think students will richly benefit from the opportunities to be heard, to be seen and to be included.

  8. I totally agree with Mahnaz’s comment. The differences might affect the quality of performance. As an urban planning student in the United States, I experienced this issue many times in different classes, especially in design studios. When I came to the United States, I did not understand the unit system that most of the architecture and planning schools use here. I took time to realize the standers since in my country we use the metric system.

  9. Each of these perspectives are valid in acknowledging the backgrounds of your students to increase their engagement. As a group we brought up the issue of tokenism when it comes with only bringing racially and ethnically diverse examples into the classroom. I never thought about the need or the impact unit conversions could have on students in an architecture environment, it is possible that architecture include a course on unit conversions like intro to engineering does. I think the Saudi Arabian example of bringing in hands-on experiences. The Animal Science example makes me wonder if the instructor should seek an alternative route to connecting with the students. This is a complex challenge as a whole, I think we will develop the best strategies about how to encourage learning along the way on an as needed basis.

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