Saturday, July 20, 2013

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Maybe I don't "Get it"?

I just finished reading "The Culturally Responsive Teacher" by Ana María Villegas and Tamara Lucas - originally published in the March 2007 edition of Educational Leadership. Though a Google search brings it up here. Anyway, this one didn't really seem to connect with me. In part I'm left wondering if I in fact don't "get it" in terms of culturally responsive teaching. 

It definitely covers an important issue and made good points. However, I was left feeling like ... I don't know ... that for starters it was too stereotypical? Belki is a "competent, responsible, enthusiastic girl" with strong math skills and good english speaking skills, but her closed-minded teachers view her as an "outsider" that was lazy. Curse those teachers! Seemed too artificial...but, I digress as I suppose for the sake of the article the authors had to write in extremes to make a point?

One of the things that has struck me in my years of teaching, particularly the last couple on the EL cluster team, is that what's good for struggling students - be it SPED, EL, or just plain struggling - is good for the whole. I know this isn't some earth-shattering revelation, but I've found it to be very true that the supports provided to struggling students benefit not just them, but most students. Basically, good teaching is good teaching. 

So when the article mentions the import of understanding how learners construct knowledge - yup, that's pretty important to know how our students learn. In some ways they're very similar, in others their wildly different. Regardless, we need to know how young people learn.

When it talks about learning about students' lives - again, you bet that's important! I don't care if it's male, middle class, and white Bob Anderson or not...if I can't connect with you as a student on a personal level, I'm not getting everything out of you that I can. 

Socioculturally conscious? Hugely important. I need to recognize that my worldview is just that - mine. I need to recognize that out of my 110+ students every year that there are 110+ different worldviews that are just that - theirs. We need to coexist, cooperate, learn, and grow together regardless of our backgrounds and views. 

Affirming views about diversity? That's great - as educators we need to know and believe that all our students are capable learners, and they need to be held to high standards all year. 

Appropriate instructional strategies? Or, as I like to think of it - differentiating our instruction so we best meet and serve the needs of all our learners. (Again, good teaching is good teaching.) If that means providing some extra vocab work for a student struggling with the language, then that's what we do. If we need to activate prior knowledge to help students make connections, then that's what we do If we need to provide leveled readings to engage low (and high!) students, then that's what we do. If we need to provide visuals and study aides to help students learn, then that's what we do. If we need to incorporate hands-on activities to help students truly grasp the material, then that's what we do. 

One thing that made me cringe a bit was when the authors write about how students from historically marginalized groups can be engaged. The thought that "Well, I have some students of African descent in my class, so to engage them I'll call attention to their difference by having them examine the chapter on slavery to see if the slave story is properly told...after all, that's your ancestry so you would know!" Yikes. Maybe the authors didn't intend it that way, but it's how it came across to me. But again, why not have all students examine various chapters and look for whose story is and isn't told - after all, that is a huge part of being a historian and "doing history" - analyzing perspectives, gathering evidence, writing "the story" of the past. 

Advocating for all students? Yea...there we go! Finally. That's really what it's all about - advocating for the needs of all students. Recognizing them as unique individuals with their quirks, foibles, strengths, hopes and dreams, views, and challenges. If we as educators (as a society?!) can do that - if we can empathize with one another and make an attempt to "know them" and what makes them tick, to reach out to them and expect the best out o them...well, then if we can do that I think we're making some great progress.

Maybe I'm the one not "getting it" (entirely possible!!!)...but at the end of the day I feel that good teaching is good teaching. Period. 

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