Culturally Responsive Literacy – Instruction, Best Practices and Insight from Educators

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From racial injustice to culturally responsive curriculum, the education experts at Achieve3000’s 2020 virtual National Literacy Summit tackled some of the toughest issues facing today’s educators. Here’s a glance at some of the insight and best practices shared by three respected educators at the Summit.

Breaking Down Barriers to Equity in the Classroom

Equity is about giving kids what they need to be successful. It’s about acknowledging that the academic needs of a child are related to their social, physical, and emotional needs.

One of the most common barriers to equity is complacency. We’re engaged in a game of blame, and we’re not taking responsibility. We blame the students, parents, administrators, teachers, school boards and superintendents. We shift responsibility to the state governors, Washington, and even global warming, junk food and video games. We’re not focused on the things we do control, because we are preoccupied with the things we don’t control.

Poverty is certainly an obstacle. There are lots of kids, especially right now during this pandemic, who have basic needs that are not being met. But here’s the good news: We don’t have to wait until we eliminate poverty to educate kids because poverty is not a learning disability. We do have to address the needs.

You’ve got to also know how to relate to those children, because kids learn through relationships. And one of the things that gets in the way of relating to the children is bias—racial bias, cultural bias and linguistic bias. But kids will learn from any teacher they know cares about them, regardless of their race. Kids can also tell if you don’t like them, are afraid of them or don’t believe in them. So as an educator you need reflect on whether or not you can focus on the outcomes. Are you willing to treat the children you serve the way you would want your children to be treated? Ultimately, that’s the question we’ve got to answer, because that’s where equity really enables us to meet the needs of all students.

Dr. Gholnecsar Muhammad on Why Cultivating Literacy Skills Isn’t Enough

Teaching culturally and historically responsive literacy means going deeper than simply cultivating skills. Literacy has to be connected to action.

We have racial injustice, problems with education, virtual learning, and a pandemic. We have so much going on right now, it’s time our curriculum writing can be responsive to the times we’re living in. When’s the last time your school did a curriculum evaluation? Is it culturally responsive or culturally destructive in the words of the NYU Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecard?

Don’t just stay comfortable with the teaching of worksheets and skills and textbooks. When the curriculum isn’t good enough, what do you do? When the standards aren’t responsive to Black children, what do you do? Do you keep them? Is it ethical? You know how doctors take the oath of doing no harm. If you keep them, that’s a source of harm. If you do more with them, that’s better. You have to study the history of your discipline across different cultural contexts. You have to know yourself and your bias. You have to cultivate your own genius. In other words, cultivate your mind and your heart, and then move to your pedagogy.

Dwayne Reed on Building Better Relationships with Your Students

The difference between a good teacher and a great teacher is intentionality. You don’t just end up with a positive classroom or school environment by accident.

As an educator, one of the easiest things that you can do to foster a positive relationship with your scholars is talk about yourself. I tell my scholars as much as I possibly can about myself so that they can find something to latch onto. For example, my boys like that I play basketball, and that I’m generally into sports. My girls like that I know about different hairstyles, the types of hair that they have, and I keep up with some of the famous singers and entertainers that they’re super into and that I’m super into.

Being the educator your scholars need means answering the question of “Who am I?” to your kids, so they can get to know you and like who you are as a person. If you tell them nothing, they’ll like nothing. But if you tell them everything, I promise, they’ll find something that they like. And, more than that, they’ll be more willing to listen to you, because they like something about you.

How to Build Equity and Culturally Responsive Literacy In the Classroom and In Your School

Achieve3000 is committed to working with our partners to create a culture of learning and equity and supporting social justice in the classroom. Together, our mission is to unlock the potential for every student. To access the entire free informational guide The Power of Culturally Responsive Literacy Instruction, download here.