As a teacher in training, I am learning multiple strategies to become an effective teacher and have a welcoming, engaging classroom for all my students. I hope to employ many, if not all, of these strategies, but in order to do so, I need to better organize them so that they can be referenced when I need them. The following are strategy checklists I have created that focus on three aspects of teaching: implementing culturally responsive teaching, differentiating instruction, and empowering students to take ownership of their learning. I chose these three aspects because I believe they are integral to effective teaching, and because I feel I need to focus on these three areas in particular.
Strategies for Implementing Culturally Responsive Teaching for Teachers
- Pronouncing students’ names correctly
For many immigrant students, school is their first point of contact with a new culture. Learning how to pronounce students’ names shows that the teacher respects them as individuals and respects their culture. According to Professor Rita Kohli, when teachers do not take the time to learn students’ names, they invalidate the students, which builds “walls” between the student and the school and can hinder learning (Mitchell, 2016).
- Visiting students in their homes and communities
By going out into the community in which students live, teachers can see what life is like outside the classroom for their students. Seeing students in their home environments can open teachers’ eyes to the kids’ economic realities and can quash any stereotypes the teacher consciously or subconsciously has. Knowing the culture and home life of the students is one of the most effective ways a teacher can prevent themselves from succumbing to the dangers of the “single story” that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie warns against in her TED Talk (Adichie, 2009).
- Tapping into funds of knowledge
When teachers get to know their students, their students’ families, and their students’ cultures well, they have access to a wealth of knowledge and human experience that can add multiple perspectives to the learning experience. Dr. Mandy Stewart states that teachers should adopt an “asset mindset” when teaching English language learners (ELLs) in order to learn about the funds of knowledge that ELLs can offer their teacher and classmates. Not only can culturally diverse students offer new and different realms of knowledge, but also different approaches to learning familiar subjects (Krutka, 2015).
- Evaluating textbooks and supplemental material to insure a diversity of perspectives are represented
It is so important for teaching materials to represent a diversity of perspectives for two reasons: to let students know that people like them are important and matter in the worlds of literature, science, history, etc., and to open up new worlds and experiences to students when they encounter other cultures in their learning (Adichie, 2009). This can be taken a step further by discussing the diversity of perspectives and teaching students about the bias inherent in all sources of information. In a video titled “Callie,” a fifth-grade teacher effectively discusses how the historical facts in textbooks and spoken by teachers have elements of opinion to them since they are seen from the perspective of another person (P., 2014).
- Holding affirming views about cultural diversity
Teachers should believe that all students are capable learners and have positive contributions to make to the learning environment. If teachers respect cultural differences and see these students in an affirming manner, they will hold them to higher expectations. In turn, these higher expectations will generally translate into a more rigorous learning environment, greater self-confidence, and higher achievement (Villegas & Lucas, 2007).
- Developing sociocultural consciousness
Most of the time, teachers should look at the student and his family to see past the stereotypes that come from looking at cultural groups as a whole; however, in order to develop sociocultural consciousness, a teacher must step back from the individual and look at the student’s culture on a broader level. Understanding the social and economic systems of a student’s culture is imperative in understanding the values held by the student and in understanding some of the educational inequities a student may face, since economic and educational equity are so closely connected. Developing a deep understanding of sociocultural issues can be done through reading and being trained by an experienced facilitator (Villegas & Lucas, 2007).
- Using analogies and examples that are pertinent to the students’ lives and cultures
Using students’ interests and issues that are important to them can help them understand new material. Teachers can help students build bridges between what they already know and what they need to learn and can also use these interests to increase engagement, motivating students to learn. An excellent example of this cultural bridge-building happens in “Callie,” in which Callie ties her lesson on immigration to her students’ current concerns about immigration issues in America that affect themselves and their families (P., 2014).
Strategies for Differentiating Instruction for Teachers
- Providing multiple means of representation
Students learn in a variety of ways, and providing multiple means of input will insure that students are being given an equal opportunity to acquire knowledge (Barrett, 2013). For example, it can be particularly helpful for English Language Learning (ELL) students to have visuals such as graphic organizers or to participate in hands-on learning activities (Krutka, 2015).
- Providing multiple means of expression
Means of student output is just as crucial as input when it comes to differentiating instruction. Students should have a variety of options in which they can demonstrate learning; teachers should not rely on a single means of gauging students’ understanding, especially when some students require modifications or are ELL students (Barrett, 2013). Some examples of multiple means of expression include allowing students to use verbal as well as written responses and using hands-on demonstrations of knowledge (Ebeling, Deschenes, Sprague, 1994).
- Increasing wait time
All students can benefit from greater wait time after being asked a question, but especially ELL students. Waiting three seconds for an answer may seem like an easy task in theory, but can actually be quite challenging. There are other techniques for eliciting responses in which additional wait time is built in naturally for students who need it, such as journal writing and small group discussions (Krutka, 2015).
- Gathering background information on students prior to the school year
Providing students with multiple means of engagement is an important strategy for differentiating learning so that all students are more motivated to learn. One of the ways to do this is to base lessons and assignments on student interests (Barrett, 2013). In order to learn more about students interests before the school year starts, teachers can send out a parent letter with questions or a survey about their children’s preferences.
- Assigning time limits to homework
If students are given a math worksheet for homework, some students might finish in twenty minutes, while others may take significantly longer. One way to make sure that some students are not getting bogged down by homework that takes them longer to finish is by imposing a limited amount of time that students should be working. For example, a math teacher assigns a worksheet, and tells her students to either complete it or work on it with an honest effort (maybe having a parent sign off) for twenty minutes, whichever comes first. Homework time limits are the equivalent to adapting the number of items a student must complete, which is a common modification in inclusive classrooms (Ebeling, Deschenes, Sprague, 1994).
Strategies for Empowering Students to Take Ownership of Their Learning for Teachers
- Allowing them to work independently on projects that follow their interests
In a traditional public school, it is unrealistic for students to always follow their own interests (like students at A.S. Neill’s Summerhill School), or even design their own learning for a semester like the students in the Independent Project. The biggest benefit for the students in the Independent Project, is the complete ownership the students have over their learning (Tsai, 2013). This ownership translates to greater motivation and greater understanding. Even if independent, student-driven work comes in smaller doses such as Genius Hour, it still increases students’ motivation to learn (Carter, 2014).
- Collaborating with students at the beginning of the year to formulate classroom guidelines and structure
Creating democratic communities in the classroom can empower learning and engage students who might otherwise just come to class and go through the motions. The writing of a “class constitution” or a group behavior contract can also make students accountable to each other for their behavior. Deciding together what the class finds most valuable in the structure of and guidelines of the classroom is a good first step for creating a community of empowered learners (Brodhagen, 1995).
- Tracking student progress through portfolios
Saving the work of students in an organized portfolio allows them to look back at the end of a unit/semester/year in order to reflect upon and evaluate what they have learned. Self-evaluation is a necessary step for students to become self-regulated learners. Portfolios also serve as a tangible demonstration of their learning, so that they can see the results of the effort they have put forth in their learning (Brodhagen, 1995.)
- Guiding students as they write their own learning goals
If students are to take true ownership of their learning, then they must understand what they are working towards. Setting their own short and long-term goals will help inform the student of what and why they are learning. Setting goals will also help in their self-assessment and reflection; as they look back, they can determine how and if their learning goals were reached (Brodhagen, 1995).
- Offering students choices in their learning
If possible, involve students in making decisions about the curriculum and use their interests to inform what will be learned. If this is not possible, give students choices in other ways that relate to their learning. For example, give them choices about how they would like to be assessed at the end of a unit. When students are given the opportunity to direct their learning, they will be more motivated to learn and more productive (Kohn, 2015).
- Asking students to take part in the parent-teacher conference
It seems counterintuitive to leave the learner out of a conversation about his/her own learning. If students are to have true ownership of their learning, then they should also be involved in the evaluation of their learning and should be able to reflect upon it (Krutka & Milton, 2015). Student-led conferences also shift power in the conversation of the student’s learning, thereby giving the student more control over what is said about the their own learning (Brodhagen, 1995).
Adichie, C. N. (2009, July). The danger of a single story. Retrieved May 01, 2017, from https://www.ted.com/talks/chimamanda_adichie_the_danger_of_a_single_story
Barrett, L. (2013). Seamless teaching: Navigating the inclusion spectrum. Teaching Tolerance, 52(43), 53-55.
Brodhagen, B. (1995). The situation made us special. In M. Apple & J. Beane (Eds.), Democratic schools (pp. 83−100). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Carter, N. (2014, August 04). Genius Hour and the 6 Essentials of Personalized Education. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/genius-hour-essentials-personalized-education-nichole-carter
Ebeling, D.G. Deschenes, C., & Sprague, J. (1994). Adapting curriculum and instruction
Kohn, A. (2015, June 22). Progressive Education (#). Retrieved May 02, 2017, from http://www.alfiekohn.org/article/progressive-education/
Krutka, D. (2015, September 10). Approaches to Bilingual Education. Retrieved May 01, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oyoUy1yW2NQ
Krutka, D., & Milton, M. (n.d.). Episode 43: Student-led Conferences With Cathy Whitehead. Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://soundcloud.com/visionsofed/episode-43-student-led-conferences-with-cathy-whitehead
Mitchell, C. (2016, May 10). Mispronouncing students’ names: a slight that can cut deep. Retrieved May 01, 2017, from http://mobile.edweek.org/c.jsp?cid=25919841&bcid=25919841&rssid=25919831&item=http%3A%2F%2Fapi.edweek.org%2Fv1%2Few%2F%3Fuuid%3D73BA86AA-13AA-11E6-9D11-71C9B3743667&cmp=SOC-SHR-FB
P. (2014, February 05). Callie. Retrieved May 01, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JNq0gu-eb4
Tsai, C. (2013, February 13). If students designed their own schools… Retrieved May 02, 2017, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RElUmGI5gLc
Villegas, A. M., & Lucas, T. (2007). The culturally responsive teacher.Educational Leadership, 64(6), 28-33.