Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions (2023)

Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions (1)

Listen to my interview with Zaretta Hammond (transcript):

Sponsored by Raymond Geddes and Kids Discover

The term “culturally responsive teaching” has been around for decades, but it seems to have gotten more attention in recent years. That’s good news: With our classrooms growing more diverse every year, teachers should be more interested in how they can best teach students from different backgrounds.

The not-so-good news is that in some cases, teachers think they’re practicing culturally responsive teaching, when in fact, they’re kind of not. Or at least they’re not quite there. And that means students who might really thrive under different conditions are surviving at best. We all want to do better for these students, but how to do it still hasn’t become common knowledge.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions (2)

Zaretta Hammond

To move the needle forward a bit more, I invited Zaretta Hammond to share some common misconceptions teachers have about culturally responsive teaching. She is the author of the 2015 book Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, which offers a neuroscience-based teaching framework that goes beyond surface changes to really build cognitive capacity in our students from diverse backgrounds. When I read it, I realized that true culturally responsive teaching isn’t as simple as I thought it was; it’s much more holistic. In fact, in most cases, it wouldn’t even look “culturally responsive” to an outside observer.

(Video) Teachsimple Podcast: 4 Misconceptions of Culturally Responsive Teaching with Evan Sawyer (Explicit)

Regardless of where you are in your own understanding of this subject, taking a closer look at these four misconceptions should help you refine it a bit more.

Misconception 1: Culturally responsive teaching is the same as multicultural or social justice education.

Educators’ efforts to create classrooms where all students succeed can be sorted into three categories. Although the groups can overlap, they are not interchangeable; each one approaches diversity from a completely different angle. Understanding their differences will help you label the work you’ve already done and figure out your next steps.

Multicultural Education is, according to Hammond, “the celebration of diversity,what we usually see in schools. While those are really noble things and critical to a high-functioning classroom and school climate, it doesn’t have anything to do with learning capacity.” Although there is value in students’ seeing their own cultures reflected in places like the classroom decor, it won’t impact their cognitive abilities.

“I call it the ‘It’s a Small World’ approach,” Hammond says. “That does not have anything to do with instruction.” Rather than focus on what she calls students’ “surface culture,” teachers would get more from learning about collectivism, an ideology common in many of the cultures our students come from. “Most schools are centered around an individualistic orientation,” Hammond explains. “Keep your eyes in your own work. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps. Whereas collectivism is,I am because we are.It’s interdependency.” If teachers understand what motivates students who come from collectivist cultures, they will be able to reach these students more effectively. (Both resources at the bottom of this post have information about collectivism.)

Social Justice Educationis about building a lens for the student, really being able to look at the world and seeing where things aren’t fair or where injustice exists,” Hammond explains. Again, while this kind of teaching is necessary and important, it’s not the same as culturally responsive teaching, which focuses on learning capacity. “You can have a student have a critical lens,” Hammond says, “but if he’s reading three grade levels behind, (social justice teaching) is not going to do much to accelerate that.” (Learn more about social justice resources here.)

Culturally Responsive Teachingis about building the learning capacity of the individual student,” Hammond says. “There is a focus on leveraging the affective and the cognitive scaffolding that students bring with them.” The simplest way to judge whether your teaching is culturally responsive is whether your diverse students—students of color, English language learners, immigrant students—are learning. If they are not succeeding academically within your classroom norms, your approach might need to be more culturally responsive.

To learn more about the differences between these three approaches, download Hammond’s Distinctions of Equity chart.

Misconception 2: Culturally responsive teaching must start with addressing implicit bias.

Many diversity trainings and other efforts to build teachers’ cultural competence start by having teachers examine their own implicit biases. Although this is essential, Hammond says, it may not need to be the very first step, because that can delay (or sometimes replace) a shift in instructional practices.

“You do need to get to implicit bias at some point,” she says. “It’s just not the starting point. If you start there, you can’t pivot to instruction.Whereas when you understand inequity by design, you can actually talk about instruction but also come back to talk about microaggressions. The sequencing of that is really important.”

(Video) Zaretta Hammond: Culturally Responsive Teaching 101 | #PLtogether

When the time comes to address implicit bias, Hammond’s tools for interrupting implicit bias will help.

Misconception 3: Culturally responsive teaching is all about building relationships and self-esteem.

While healthy relationships and student self-esteem are necessary factors in setting the stage for learning, they do not directly increase students’ ability to do more challenging academic work. “There’s a big effort afoot in terms of social emotional learning programs, trying to help students gain self regulation and build positive relationships with students,” Hammond observes. “Here’s what the schools are finding that do surveys: After a few years of this kind of work, their positive climate has gone up, satisfaction surveys among adults as well as kids are really high, but the achievement doesn’t move.”

This is not to suggest that relationship building should be tossed out. “For students who have been marginalized and don’t feel welcome,” Hammond explains, “that relationship becomes important, because you want them to actually do the heavy lifting of the cognitive work, (and) that’s not going to happen if you can’t get the student to be in a trusting relationship. So the trusting relationship is just one part, and not the part. It is the on-ramp to the kind of cognitive high-level problem-solving and higher-order thinking we want students to do. I see a lot of people just doing the relationship piece.

Misconception 4: Culturally responsive teaching is about choosing the right strategies.

When working with teachers, Hammond is often asked to provide an actionable set of strategies that teachers can simply integrate into their practice. But true culturally responsive teaching is more complex than that. “It’s really a challenge to try to say, ‘This is it in a nutshell,'” she says. “Teachers need to interrogate their practice a little more robustly, because it’s not an off-the-shelf program, it’s not two or three strategies. It’s notplug and play.”

This “plug and play” misconception can lead teachers to do things like adding call-and-response to their classroom routine, then assuming they have done enough to reach diverse students. While this strategy is often included in culturally responsive toolboxes, if a teacher doesn’t take the time to learn how to use call-and-response to deepen student thinking, it might never serve a purpose beyond fun.

And oftentimes, the instructional shifts that will make the biggest differences don’t always look “cultural” at all, because they aren’t the kind of things that work only for diverse students. “This kind of teaching is good for all brains,” Hammond says. “So what you’re doing to actually reach your lowest performing students is going to be good for your highest performing students.” To get a closer look at the kinds of shifts that make a big difference, these three tips for making lessons more culturally responsive can start you in the right direction.♦

More Resources

Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions (3)

Zaretta Hammond

Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions (4)

(Video) Misconceptions of Responsive Teaching and Learning

The Diversity Kit: An Introductory Resource for Social Change in Education
published by Brown University
(Part 2 on Culture is especially relevant to the topics discussed above.)

You can learn more about Zaretta’s work at Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain.

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Categories: Book Reviews, Equity, Learning Theory, Podcast

(Video) Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies for ELLs

Tags: cultural competence, social justice


What are four ways you could make sure your lesson is culturally responsive? ›

4 ways to practice culturally responsive teaching
  • Build a positive classroom culture. ...
  • Get to know your students and families. ...
  • Provide opportunities for students to see themselves in the learning. ...
  • Set high expectations for all students.
17 Mar 2022

What are the four principles of culturally responsive sustaining education? ›

Student-Led Civic Engagement. Critical Examination of Power Structures. Project-Based Learning on Social Justice Issues. Student Leadership Opportunities.

What is the problem with culturally responsive teaching? ›

The challenges for culturally responsive leadership

Bias, fear, lack of cultural awareness, the absence of professional strategies and adequate support structures impede the ability of some educators to develop culturally responsive learning environments.

What are the four 4 domains of the Responsive classroom? ›

The Four Key Domains of Responsive Classroom

Basing all decisions for teaching and discipline upon research and knowledge of students' social, emotional, physical, and cognitive development.

What are 4 strategies that support cultural competence? ›

How do I become culturally competent?
  • Learn about yourself. Get started by exploring your own historical roots, beliefs and values, says Robert C. ...
  • Learn about different cultures. ...
  • Interact with diverse groups. ...
  • Attend diversity-focused conferences. ...
  • Lobby your department.

What are 3 ways you can be a culturally responsive teacher? ›

7 Culturally Responsive Teaching Strategies
  • Activate students' prior knowledge. ...
  • Make learning contextual. ...
  • Consider your classroom setup. ...
  • Form relationships. ...
  • Discuss social and political issues. ...
  • Tap into students' cultural capital. ...
  • Incorporate popular culture.
19 Nov 2020

What is the most important element in culturally responsive teaching? ›

Competency in multicultural communication is an important goal and component of culturally responsive teaching.

What are the values 3 and tenets 4 of Germán's framework for culturally sustaining practices? ›

In her new book, Textured Teaching: A Framework for Culturally Sustaining Practices, Germán proposes four principles for classroom engagement: flexibility, interdisciplinary design, experiential learning, and a student-driven and community-centered approach.

What are the four elements of cultural competence outlined in the EYLF? ›

The guidance to cultural competence within the EYLF encompasses the following: • “Being aware of one's own world view; • Developing positive attitudes towards cultural differences; • Gaining knowledge of different cultural practices and world views; and • Developing skills for communication and interaction across ...

What are culturally responsive methods? ›

Culturally-responsive practices involve recognizing and incorporating the assets and strengths all students bring into the classroom, and ensuring that learning experiences, from curriculum through assessment, are relevant to all students.

What are the main challenges of cultural interactions? ›

Six key barriers for cross-cultural communications
  • 1- Ethnocentrism. We all have a natural tendency to look at other cultures through our own lenses. ...
  • 2- Stereotyping. ...
  • 3- Psychological barriers. ...
  • 4- Language barriers. ...
  • 5- Geographical distance. ...
  • 6- Conflicting values.
9 Jul 2018

Is culturally responsive teaching Effective? ›

The benefits of culturally responsive teaching are undeniable. Not only does it improve student success rates across the board but it also fosters positive relationships between families and school communities and promotes inclusion in schools and education systems.

What is culturally responsive problem solving? ›

The purpose of culturally responsive problem-solving is to embed strategies into the problem-solving process that bring team members' cultural attitudes and beliefs into the discussion .

What are the 4 C's in teaching? ›

According to the report, the cornerstone of becoming a successful learner at any age comes down to the four C's: critical thinking, collaboration, creativity and communication.

What are the 4 A's in teaching? ›

The 4As of adult learning: Activity, Analysis, Abstraction, and Application is illustrated in Figure 6-1. The constructivist approach to teaching asserts that a Learner gains and builds knowledge through experience. It recognizes that life experiences are rich resources for continued learning.

What is the first A in the 4's approach in teaching? ›

Choose a topic that you want the children in your class to learn and apply the 4-A's of activating prior knowledge, acquiring new knowledge, applying the knowledge, and assessing the knowledge.

What are the 4 types of acculturation strategies? ›

When these two dimensions are crossed, four acculturation strategies are defined: assimilation, separation, integration, and marginalization.

What are the 4 capabilities of cultural intelligence? ›

Four CQ capabilities. Ang, Van Dyne, & Livermore describe four CQ capabilities: motivation (CQ Drive), cognition (CQ Knowledge), meta-cognition (CQ Strategy) and behavior (CQ Action).

What are the four stages of cultural competence? ›

The Cross framework emphasizes that the process of achieving cultural competency occurs along a continuum and sets forth six stages including: 1) cultural destructiveness, 2) cultural incapacity, 3) cultural blindness, 4) cultural pre-competence, 5) cultural competency and 6) cultural proficiency.

What are the 8 elements of culturally responsive teaching? ›

Culturally and Linguistically Responsive Teaching
  • Reflect on one's cultural lens. ...
  • Recognize and redress bias in the system. ...
  • Draw on students' culture to shape curriculum and instruction. ...
  • Bring real-world issues into the classroom. ...
  • Model high expectations for all students. ...
  • Promote respect for student differences.
11 Feb 2022

What is an example of culturally responsive teaching? ›

Encourage students to talk in pairs or small groups before sharing their own experiences with the whole class. Learn about your students' traditions, holidays and family or other cultural activities, and try incorporating some of these traditions or activities into classroom activities.

What is a great strategy for culturally responsive teaching? ›

Relationship-building is a key culturally responsive teaching strategy. To build rapport with your own students, ask questions about their strengths, how they learn best, their personal and professional goals, and what they hope to get out of the course.

Why is culturally responsive teaching so important in today's classrooms? ›

Since CRT focuses on inclusive curriculums, it helps teachers and students understand different perspectives, appreciate each other's strengths, and build empathy. It also helps teachers to introspect how their own identity and experiences impact their attitudes and teaching practices.

What is the role of a teacher in a culturally responsive classroom? ›

The teacher must be the leader in this. “We need to consider the issue of affect, that is, how the students feel about the learning process. Students need to feel that the teacher really cares about them; if students feel supported and valued, they are far more likely to be motivated to learn” (Harmer, 2007, p.

What is the role of the teacher in a culturally responsive teaching? ›

In culturally responsive classrooms, teachers provide opportunities for choice in classroom activities, encourage child-directed learning, and assist students as they engage in these activities.

What are the 4 dimensions of multicultural teaching? ›

The Dimensions of Multicultural Education

They are: content integration, the knowledge construction process, prejudice reduction, an equity pedagogy, and an empowering school culture and social structure (Banks, 1995a).

What is the 5 practices framework? ›

The five practices are the follow- ing: (1) Anticipating, (2) Monitoring, (3) Selecting, (4) Sequencing, and (5) Connecting. Smith and Stein contend that Planning/Goal Setting could be called “Practice 0,” as this is some- thing teachers need to do before orchestrating a productive discussion.

What are the 3 three principles that are required of you to be culturally competent within your work space and or personal environment? ›

These attributes will guide you in developing cultural competence: Self-knowledge and awareness about one's own culture. Awareness of one's own cultural worldview. Experience and knowledge of different cultural practices.

What are the 4 basic elements of cross cultural communication? ›

What are the basic elements of cross-cultural communication? The easiest way to overcome hurdles and avoid misunderstandings in cross-cultural communication is to first get to know the basic elements of this type of communication. These are: awareness, preparation, language, humor, and openness.

What are the 4 components of cultural humility? ›

Key Attributes of Cultural Humility*
  • Openness.
  • Self-Reflection/Awareness.
  • Lifelong learning.
  • Institutional accountability.
  • Empathy and compassion.
  • To be “other-oriented”
  • Acknowledging Power Imbalances and Balancing power imbalances.

What are the three 3 key factors to Analysing children's records using the EYLF? ›

The Early Years Learning Framework has a structure provided by three key elements – Principles, Practices and Learning Outcomes. These help us to reflect about our work, to appropriately plan our programs for children and guide us on how we work with children, their families and our community.

What is a culturally responsive lesson plan? ›

Matthew Lynch (2011) culturally responsive instruction is, “a student-centered approach to teaching in which the students' unique cultural strengths are identified and nurtured to promote student achievement and a sense of well-being about the student's cultural place in the world.” There are several components to a ...

How do you implement culturally responsive practices? ›

How do you become Culturally Responsive?
  1. Develop cultural self-awareness.
  2. Appreciate the value of diverse views.
  3. Avoid imposing your own values on others.
  4. Examine your own teaching for cultural bias.
  5. Build on students' cultural strengths.
  6. Discover your students' primary cultural roles; incorporate culture into your teaching.

What are some examples of cultural misunderstandings? ›

So, here are some of the most common cultural misunderstandings one may have to face.
  1. 1 - Hand Gestures: It is always advised to mind your body language when in an unknown company especially if you in a foreign country. ...
  2. 2 - Embracing: ...
  3. 3 - Mind your feet: ...
  4. 4 - No Shoes: ...
  5. 5 - Using Words Carefully:
12 Jan 2017

What 4 factors affect cultural sensitivity? ›

Certain factors can affect cultural sensitivity. These factors include religion, ethnicity(race), national origin(language), or gender. Others areas to look at include age, education, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, and mental/physical challenges.

What are the three examples of cultural barriers? ›

Five causes of cultural barriers
  • Language. Not speaking the same language (well) can cause a myriad of misunderstandings and is considered the most crucial barrier in cross-cultural communication. ...
  • Stereotypes and prejudices. ...
  • Signs and symbols. ...
  • Behaviors and belief. ...
  • “Us” versus “them” (ethnocentrism)

Why is culturally responsive instruction important? ›

In addition, students who embrace their role as powerful actors inside the classroom may go on to act as change agents outside of the classroom. In this way, a culturally responsive curriculum makes room for service learning opportunities that connect classrooms to many cultures inside and away from school.

What does culturally responsive teaching look like in the classroom? ›

Cultural responsiveness is the ability to learn from and relate respectfully with people of one's own culture as well as those from other cultures. Culturally responsive schools offer a learning environment where every student's cultures, languages, and life experiences are acknowledged, validated, and celebrated.

What are culturally responsive classroom management strategies? ›

7 culturally responsive classroom management strategies
  • Build a caring classroom community. ...
  • Embrace cultural diversity. ...
  • Set a positive tone. ...
  • Get to know students personally. ...
  • Involve families and communities in supportive and positive ways. ...
  • Set clear classroom expectations. ...
  • Provide continuous support.
26 Jun 2019

How do teachers create culturally responsive classrooms? ›

Culturally responsive teaching is: using students' cultural experiences in daily instruction. embracing native language and students' families as assets. creating a classroom environment that represents and respects all students.

What are culturally responsive teaching methods? ›

Culturally responsive teaching is an approach that “empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Ladson-Billings, 2014).

What is the primary goal of culturally responsive teaching? ›

Culturally Responsive Teaching is an approach that leverages the strengths that students of color bring to the classroom to make learning more relevant and effective. A major goal of Culturally Responsive Teaching is to reverse patterns of underachievement for students of color.

What are four reasons why teachers should support a culturally conscious curriculum? ›

Why is it Important to Teach Culture in the Classroom?
  • Students Become More Empathetic. ...
  • Students Gain a Better Understanding of Lessons and People. ...
  • Students Become More Open-Minded. ...
  • Students Feel More Confident and Safe. ...
  • Students Are Better Prepared for a Diverse Workplace.


1. Culturally Responsive Teaching in Action: Photosynthesis
2. Zaretta Hammond: Coaching for Instructional Equity
(A.J. Juliani)
3. 5 Possible Misconceptions
(Inspiring Young Learners Beth Vaucher)
4. Culturally Responsive Teaching: A Much Needed Awakening... with Yaritza Villalba
5. Panel: Understanding Culturally Responsive Teaching
(Education Week)
6. Culturally Responsive Teaching: It’s Not Magic, It’s Science!
(Ed Post)
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