Culturally Relevant Teaching: Strategies & Definition

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  • 0:00 What Is Culturally…
  • 0:37 Background of CRT
  • 1:58 Three Elements of CRT
  • 3:21 CRT in the Classroom
  • 4:46 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Marin Carlson
This lesson will define culturally relevant teaching and illustrate how this approach to instruction can boost student engagement, increase students' feeling of belonging within their school, and positively impact student achievement.

What Is Culturally Relevant Teaching?

Gloria Ladson-Billings defines the concept of culturally relevant teaching (CRT) as 'a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes.' This approach to teaching involves teachers building a bridge from students' experience at home to their experience in the classroom, bringing elements into their daily learning at school which validate their culture and make lessons 'hit home' because of those connections.

Background of CRT

The philosophy of CRT is based in part on the 1993 research by Cornel Pewewardy who sought to find out why so many Native American children were unsuccessful in school. He concluded that, instead of honoring and exploring the variety of different cultures that students brought to school with them, educators ignored this in their students and attempted to teach mainstream white, middle class culture to students. Several other researchers in the 1990s then theorized that students suffered from a disconnect between their home and school experiences and that this made them less likely to engage in and excel at school.

The term culturally relevant teaching is a term coined by Gloria Ladson-Billings in 1992. Ladson-Billings described this approach as a way that would empower students to excel because the way in which they experience the curriculum makes sense in the context of their lives and helps them to develop confidence as learners. Ladson-Billings found that students were put more at risk for academic failure if they did not see themselves or their culture represented in the classroom or felt they had to assume another culture (that of their mostly white, middle-class teachers) to be able to fit in and excel in school. From this research, she created a framework which teachers can incorporate to make learning relevant to students, particularly students of color.

Three Elements of CRT

When Ladson-Billings explained her research on culturally relevant teaching (also referred to as culturally relevant pedagogy) in 1992, she broke it down into three essential parts:

  • Academic success: Students who are the most likely to struggle in school (her work looked at African American students in particular) must find a way to excel in spite of the multitude of obstacles they face. Ladson-Billings found that teachers who had the highest-achieving African American students had unwaveringly high expectations for these students and helped students build confidence based on their own achievements.
  • Cultural competence: Teachers who can use student interests and culture as a bridge to learning new curriculum create an engaging learning environment and honor students' cultural backgrounds. This helps students not to feel like they have to reject their own culture in order to succeed at school.
  • Critical consciousness: Ladson-Billings argues that excelling in school and having a sense of one's own cultural self is important but needs to be taken one step further, moving the success from the individual level to a level that impacts the greater society. Having critical consciousness means that students are able to identify how inequities in society make it more difficult for people of color to succeed and how that larger structure can be changed to make a fairer world for everyone.

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