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.