The Culturally Responsive Classroom: From Wanting to Doing

February 26, 2020


Reading through reports from schools we work with, we see the impact achieved when principles of the CR-SE framework are implemented in the classroom. It was this understanding that led us to change the criterion for the Rohatyn Prize this year. Our experience at one elementary school is illustrative of what can happen when a school commits to moving the needle on equity.

Equity in expectations of all students; and engaging students’ cultural knowledge, experiences, practices, and perspectives are two of the six tenets of culturally responsive teaching outlined by Geneva Gay (2010). We use these tenets to set our course as we begin to work with schools. At this specific school, we were asked to coach K-2 teachers in the area of literacy. The school is 73% black and brown students and for 19% English is a new language (ENL). 

Learning at the K-2 levels was completely transformed by addressing the literacy standards (speaking, listening, reading and writing), students became engaged and empowered in the teaching and learning process. Rigorous content was created rooted in the expectation that students could and would perform (teacher mindset) and assessment of mastery was demonstrably evident.

Learn More: CR-SE Offerings

In the 2nd grade, teachers wanted to introduce immigration in New York City. The teachers decision to incorporate texts (narrative nonfiction as well as realistic fiction) such as: The Storyteller's Candle/La velita de Los Cuentos written by Lucia Gonzalez; Xochitl and the Flowers/La niña de las Flores written by Jorge Argueta; and  Islandborn written by Junot Díaz during Read-Aloud; was reflective of the work done with Teaching Matters. Taking their students’ racial and cultural identities into account when deciding on new material is the desired outcome of the commitment to Culturally Responsive Education.

The Read-Aloud turned out to be a powerful way to engage these second-graders. These books offered students a different way of understanding immigration and provided teachers and students the space to jointly own the learning. Student work and artifacts, honoring their names, home culture, and language, background, experiences, and perspectives were now on display. While this was not the case when we began our work, teachers were now eager to use responsive and engaging instructional strategies that put student learning at the center and employ approaches that adapt to diverse learning styles as well as increase the sociopolitical consciousness of students. As part of their end-of-unit task, students were asked to interview family and/or community members with regards to their immigration experiences, bring artifacts to the class, and collaboratively create (write) a class performance that detailed the varying immigrant/migrant experiences of their school community and addressed relevant, immigration issues bringing sociopolitical consciousness to the forefront for these 7 to 8-year-olds.

Teaching Matters’ strives for all teachers to impact and transform their classrooms like in the experience of this school. The Rohatyn Prize is an opportunity for a school to win $25,000 to support them in reaching their goals for equity, and commitment to aligning and implementing culturally responsive curriculum. All teachers should be equipped to move from having some conversations and common language around their pedagogy and best practices to being able to consistently implement instructional strategies that are more student-centered empowering their learners by being multimodal, and culturally responsive to student needs while addressing diverse learning styles in all grades.

Maria Underwood                                                                                                                                            Senior Educational Consultant | Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Leader                                                 

Interested in learning more about the Rohatyn Prize?  Join us March 11th from 1:00 - 1:30 for an online information session:


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