A few weeks ago, on the eve of the Muslim holiday Eid ul Adha, a kindergarten teacher inquired into the availability of related reading material. “Are there books about Eid?” she asked. Ms. M, the teacher, had prepared a book on Islam, to share with the students. “Of course, there are!” I exclaimed. Without being conscious of it, Ms. M was employing what Gloria Ladson-Billings terms culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP) (1994). CRP is defined by the following criteria: “an ability to develop students academically, a willingness to nurture and support cultural competence, and the development of a sociopolitical or critical consciousness” (Ladson-Billings,1994, p.483). For the purposes of this brief posting, I will focus on nurturing and supporting cultural competence.
As a first step, Ladson-Billings encourages teachers to learn about the student’s home culture. This teacher, through discussions with her students, Somali colleagues and own research, had learned about the Muslim holiday of Eid ul Adha. Secondly, teachers are encouraged to incorporate this knowledge into classroom activities. Ms. M wanted to ensure that she included the holiday into the activities of that day. Instead of just wishing the students a Happy Eid, she used the all-important kindergarten activity of storytime, to talk about Eid. Positioning the Eid activity in storytime, signaled to the students that their teacher valued them and their cultural heritage. In the absence of books on Eid, she instead selected a book on Islam, and read to the students about the holiday. Through this small activity, students were able to see their own life experiences reflected in the text. Students began offering comments related to their Eid plans, and clothes they would wear. The teacher took her knowledge of her Somali student’s home culture, and brought it into the classroom, thus bridging their home and school cultures. This point is important; researchers have found that a disconnect between home and school cultures has been to blame for lower levels of academic achievement for some groups (e.g., Latinos, African Americans etc. ). In many classrooms, student’s home culture is not brought into the classroom, which can negatively impact a student’s motivation and interest in classroom activities. More on this in a future post.
By going that extra step to learn about our student’s cultural heritages and incorporate this into our lesson plans, we will ensure the classroom becomes a culturally inclusive space. Students will engage more with classroom activities, which will in turn improve student achievement. In working in this classroom for the past 3 years, I have noticed that the children become excited and more expressive when books are presented related to their lives. In this classroom, student’s home culture is not limited to classroom activities, but also in the room’s material culture (i.e. wall hangings). There is a clock with Arabic numerals by the front door, as well as a picture of a Somali flag colored by a previous student. The teacher also uses Somali/Arabic words and phrases from time to time including as salaamu alaikum (peace and blessings be with you), hooyo (mom) and fadhiiso (sit down). These are just some examples of ways in which this teacher practices CRP. Teachers, speech-language pathologists and other readers, what are some things you do to ensure that you are culturally responsive? Please share your experiences below.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal, 32, 464-491.