Culturally Responsive Teaching

Culturally responsive teaching is:

    Validating, - anchor

    Comprehensive, -anchor

    Multidimensional, - anchor

    Empowering, - anchor

    Transformative, - anchor

    and Emancipatory (Gay, 2000). - anchor


Culturally Responsive Teaching is Validating

    Gay (2000) defines culturally responsive teaching as using the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these students.  Gay (2000) also describes culturally responsive teaching as having these characteristics: 

  • It acknowledges the legitimacy of the cultural heritages of different ethnic groups, both as legacies that affect students' dispositions, attitudes, and approaches to learning and as worthy content to be taught in the formal curriculum.

  • It builds bridges of meaningfulness between home and school experiences as well as between academic abstractions and lived sociocultural realities.

  • It uses a wide variety of instructional strategies that are connected to different learning styles.

  • It teaches students to know and praise their own and each others' cultural heritages.

  • It incorporates multicultural information, resources, and materials in all the subjects and skills routinely taught in schools (p. 29). 

    Using these characteristics to improve culturally responsive teaching would involve considerations to the classroom environment.  Literature in the classroom would reflect multiple ethnic perspectives and literary genres.  Math instruction would incorporate everyday-life concepts, such as economics, employment, consumer habits, of various ethnic groups.  In order to teach to the different learning styles of students, activities would reflect a variety of sensory opportunities-visual, auditory, tactile (Gay, 2000).


Culturally Responsive Teaching is Comprehensive

    Ladson-Billings (1992) explains that culturally responsive teachers develop intellectual, social, emotional, and political learning by "using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes" (p. 382).  In a sense, culturally responsive teachers teach the whole child (Gay, 2000).  Hollins (1996) adds that education designed specifically for students of color incorporates "culturally mediated cognition, culturally appropriate social situations for learning, and culturally valued knowledge in curriculum content" (p. 13).  Culturally responsive teachers realize not only the importance of academic achievement, but also the maintaining of cultural identity and heritage (Gay, 2000).

    Ladson-Billings (1994) studied actual instruction in elementary classrooms and observed these values being demonstrated.  She saw that when students were part of a more collective effort designed to encourage academic and cultural excellence, expectations were clearly expressed, skills taught, and interpersonal relations were exhibited.  Students behaved like members of an extended family-assisting, supporting, and encouraging each other.  Students were held accountable as part of a larger group, and it was everyone's task to make certain that each individual member of the group was successful.  By promoting this academic community of learners, teachers responded to the students' need for a sense of belonging, honored their human dignity, and promoted their individual self-concepts (Gay, 2000).

Culturally Responsive Teaching is Multidimensional

    Multidimensional culturally responsive teaching involves many things: curriculum content, learning context, classroom climate, student-teacher relationships, instructional techniques, and performance assessments.  Teacher from various disciplines (language arts, science, social studies, music) may collaborate in teaching a single cultural concept, such as protest. Students can also participate actively in their own performance evaluations (Gay, 2000).

Culturally Responsive Teaching is Empowering

    Culturally responsive teaching enables students to be better human beings and more successful learners.  Empowerment can be described as  academic competence, self-efficacy, and initiative.  Students must believe they can succeed in learning tasks and have motivation to persevere. Teachers must demonstrate ambitious and appropriate expectations and exhibit support for students in their efforts toward academic achievement.  This can be done through attribution retraining, providing resources and personal assistance, modeling positive self-efficacy beliefs, and celebrating individual and collective accomplishments (Gay, 2000).

   Shor (1992) characterizes empowering education as:

a critical-democratic pedagogy for self and social change.  It is a student-centered program for multicultural   democracy in school and society.  It approaches individual growth as an active, cooperative, and social process, because the self and society create each other. . . The goals of this pedagogy are to relate personal growth to public life, to develop strong skills, academic knowledge, habits of inquiry, and critical curiosity about society, power, inequality, and change. . . The learning process is negotiated, requiring leadership by the teacher, and mutual teacher-student authority.  In addition, . . . the empowering class does not teach students to seek self-centered gain while ignoring public welfare. (pp. 15-16)

Culturally Responsive Teaching is Transformative

    Culturally responsive teaching does not incorporate traditional educational practices with respect to students of color (Gay, 2000).  It means respecting the cultures and experiences of various groups and then uses these as resources for teaching and learning.  It appreciates the existing strengths and accomplishments of all students and develops them further in instruction.  For example, the verbal creativity and story-telling that is unique among some African Americans in informal social interactions is acknowledged as a gift and contribution and used to teach writing skills.  Other ethnic groups of  students prefer to study together in small groups.  More opportunities for them and other students to participate in cooperative learning can be provided in the classroom. Banks (1991) asserts that if education is to empower marginalized groups, it must be transformative.  Being transformative involves helping "students to develop the knowledge, skills, and values needed to become social critics who can make reflective decisions and implement their decisions in effective personal, social, political, and economic action" (p. 131).  

Culturally Responsive Teaching is Emancipatory

    Culturally responsive teaching is liberating (Asante, 1991/1992; Au, 1993; Erickson, 1987; Gordon, 1993; Lipman, 1995; Pewewardy, 1994; Philips, 1983).  It guides students in understanding that no single version of "truth" is total and permanent.  It does not solely prescribe to mainstream ways of knowing.  In order to accomplish this, teachers make authentic knowledge about different ethnic groups accessible to students.  Gay (2000) states, "The validation, information, and pride it generates are both psychologically and intellectually liberating" (p. 35).  This freedom results in improved achievement of many kinds, including increased concentration on academic learning tasks. Other improved achievements can include: clear and insightful thinking; more caring, concerned, and humane interpersonal skills; better understanding of interconnections among individual, local, national, ethnic, global, and human identities; and acceptance of knowledge as something to be continuously shared, critiqued, revised, and renewed (Chapman, 1994; M. Foster, 1995; Hollins, 1996; Hollins, King, & Hayman, 1994; Ladson-Billings, 1992, 1994, 1995a and 1995b; Lee, 1993;  Lee & Slaughter-Defoe, 1995).  


            Asante, M.K. (1991/1992). Afrocentric curriculum. Educational Leadership, 49(4), 28-31.

            Au, K.H. (1993). Literacy Instruction in Multicultural Settings. New York: Harcourt Brace.

            Chapman, I.T. (1994). Dissin' the dialectic on discourse surface differences. Composition Chronicle, 7(7), 4-7.

            Erickson, F. (1987). Transformation and school success: The politics and culture of educational achievement.Anthropology and Education Quarterly, 18(4), 335-383.

            Foster, M. (1995). African American teachers and culturally relevant pedagogy. In J.A. Banks, & C.A.M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education (pp. 570-581). New York: Macmillan.

            Gay, G. (2000). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, & Practice.  New York:     Teachers College Press.

            Gordon, B.M. (1993). African American cultural knowledge and liberatory education; Dilemmas, problems, and potentials in a postmodern American society. Urban Education, 27(4), 448-470.

            Hollins, E.R. (1996). Culture in School Learning: Revealing the Deep Meaning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.

            Hollins, E.R., King, J.E., & Hayman, W.C. (Eds.). (1994). Teaching Diverse Populations: Formulating a Knowledge Base. Albany: State University of New York Press.

            Ladson-Billings, B. (1992). Reading between the lines and beyond the pages: A culturally relevant approach to literacy teaching.  Theory Into Practice, 31(4), 312-320.

            Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers for African-American Children.  San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

            Ladson-Billings, G. (1995a). But that's just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy.  Theory Into Practice, 34(3), 159-165.

            Ladson-Billings, G. (1995b).  Multicultural teacher education: Research, practice, and policy.  In J.A. Banks & C.A.M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education (pp. 747-759). New York: Macmillan.

            Lee, C. (1993). Signifying as a Scaffold to Literary Interpretation: The Pedagogical Implication of a Form of African-American Discourse (NCTE Research Report No. 26). Urbana, IL: National Council of Teacher of English.

            Lee, C.D., & Slaughter-Defoe, D.T. (1995). Historical and sociocultural influences on African American education. In J.A. Banks & C.A.M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education (pp. 348-371). New York: Macmillan.

            Lipman, P. (1995). "Bringing out the best in them": The contribution of culturally relevant teachers to educational reform.  Theory Into Practice, 34(3), 202-208.

            Pewewardy, C.D. (1994).  Culturally responsive pedagogy in action: An American Indian magnet school. In E.R. Hollins, J.E. King, & W.C. Hayman (Eds.), Teaching Diverse Populations: Formulating a Knowledge Base (pp. 77-92). Albany: State University of New York Press.

            Philips, S.U. (1983). The Invisible Culture: Communication in Classroom and Community on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation. Prospect Heights, IL: Waveland.


            Shor, I. (1992). Empowering Education: Critical Teaching for Social Change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.