Culturally Responsive Teaching Essay

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The conceptual foundation of culturally responsive teaching is the belief that culture plays a critical role in how students receive and interpret knowledge and instruction. The pedagogical principles of this approach use cultural knowledge and students’ frames of reference to facilitate learning and achievement. Concerns with how to effectively educate diverse student populations leads to conceptualizations of culturally responsive practices that situate teaching and learning within students’ values, languages, and cultural orientations. This entry describes how the system works and what research contributes.

Knowledge, Roles, And Practices

The theory of culturally responsive teaching holds that incongruence between students’ ethnic culture and school culture leads to dissonance, disengagement, and underachievement. Advocates argue that teachers should develop and use knowledge of diverse cultures to create classroom environments that are not in conflict with students’ cultural referents.

Teachers are expected to learn about interpersonal communication styles, language, and cultural norms and incorporate facets of students’ cultural life into the curriculum. In this approach, they also reflect on their biases and examine the broader social, economic, and political implications that contextualize the use of culturally responsive practices. They consider how their views of culturally diverse students affect their teaching practices. By developing self-awareness of their cultural values and norms, advocates of this practice believe teachers will better understand the worldviews of diverse student populations. They are expected to engage in cultural reflexivity in more than precursory ways and understand that difference cannot be neutralized when students are forced to adopt the hegemony of normative instructional approaches.

A responsive instructional framework places students at the center of teaching and learning. Teachers nurture students’ intellectual, social, emotional, and political identities. They use cultural attributes and references to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes. Teachers facilitate cross-cultural interaction and help students articulate their cultural assumptions and values. As they compare these with assumptions and values of the dominant culture, greater competency in understanding cultural orientations present in the classroom become obvious. Practices promote student engagement in learning and take into account value orientations, motivations, standards of achievement, and interpersonal patterns embedded in the cultures represented and studied in their classrooms.

Culturally responsive classrooms provide opportunities for students and teachers to interact with each other as a way to understand culturally diverse human beings. Cultural differences in worldviews, communication patterns, and customs are examined without perpetuating stereotypes or essentializing cultural differences. Books and other materials used are ethnically and culturally relevant and offer layered and multiple perspectives. Such exposure is believed to help students articulate their cultural assumptions and values and make comparisons across cultures.

Teachers in the culturally responsive mode incorporate culturally congruent assessments that give students the opportunity to demonstrate their learning. Instructional strategies target students’ strengths, and students recognize that knowledge is subjective, value laden, and culturally constructed. Teachers display a commitment to structure content, instruction, and assessment in ways that support student achievement and demonstrate a belief in students’ abilities. Teachers assist students in negotiating conceptual bridges between cultural knowledge and new information. They recognize bias in assessment systems. So do their students.

The essential components of culturally responsive teaching are characterized as: (a) learning environments that are productive, rigorous, and aware of cultural diversity; (b) comprehensive approaches that demonstrate cultural relevance, equitable access, and instructional flexibility; (c) classroom communities based on caring, collaboration, open communication, and understanding of cultural interpersonal differences; and (d) instructional strategies that target students’ strengths, habits of mind, and learning styles.

Research On Pertinent Issues

Researchers examine culturally responsive teaching and provide educators with specific strategies for addressing the needs of a diverse population of students. They document the potential salience of culturally responsive practices. By researching how cultural values, norms, and traditions affect particular learners, researchers provide information about the effect of teaching practices on particular groups of learners. In addition, researchers examine differences of individuals within cultural groups, providing rich details that help avoid stereotyping of group characteristics.

Researchers apply culturally responsive teaching principles and practices to classroom management and attitudinal work. This adds a new dimension to the literature by establishing that student resistance and behavior problems may be culturally induced. Research on the use of cultural communicative strategies affirms that students who use their native languages or dialects are significantly affected in motivation and/or achievement. The confluence of language, beliefs, values, and behavior are examined in several studies with specific populations. For example, one study focuses on acts of disclosure and demonstrates how self-disclosure is incompatible with cultural values of many Asian Americans, Latinos, and American Indians, Researchers focus on trying to understand the impact of the high percentage of urban teachers who are middle-class, White, European Americans on minority student populations. Research studies highlight the need for a diverse teaching staff as a potential resource for advancing culturally responsive practices. Other studies examine the effects of teaching culturally responsive practices on pre-service teachers’ practices. This research will be important to teacher educators and has programmatic implications.

The literature on culturally responsive pedagogy provides a compelling case for centering curriculum and instruction on what is good and just for all students with the belief that a tacit understanding of students’ cultures and lives are at the center of teachers’ work.


  1. Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.
  2. Hollins, E. R. (1996). Culture in school learning: Revealing the deep meaning. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
  3. Ladson-Billings. G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32, 465–491.
  4. Macedo, D., & Bartholomé, L. (2000). Dancing with bigotry: Beyond the politics of tolerance. New York: St. Martin’s.

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