Trapping Cultural Responsive Teaching

What is cultural responsive teaching?

…. Having an understanding of another’s way of thinking, behaving, and how their actions are influenced by race, ethnicity, social class, and language. In other words, as educators we have to be aware of our students, we have to understand them on a deeper level than simply doing learning inventories, we need to know how they tick and why they tick that way and incorporate that into our classrooms.

Some pointers:

  • We must have an encouraging attitude towards a student’s culturally diverse background
  • We must demonstrate a strong commitment to being active agents of change

Culturally responsive teaching strategies

Table 1. Guidelines for a Culturally Responsive Curriculum (Schmitz, 1999)

1 DefineLearning Goals  ·         What do students in your field need to know about:o   the history of diverse groups: their writings, theories, and patterns of participation?o   the social dynamics of identity formation and change?o   structures of power and privilege in society, prejudice,discrimination, and stereotyping?o   patterns of communication and interaction within and among different cultural groups?o   theories of personal, institutional, and societal change?
2 QuestionTraditionalConcepts ·         Have traditional ways of organizing content in this course obscured, distorted, or excluded certain ideas or groups?·         What new research is available that addresses past distortions and exclusions?·         How will the course change if I include this new research?·         How might a change in this syllabus affect its relationship to the rest of the curriculum?
3 UnderstandStudent Diversity ·         What kinds of diverse perspectives and experiences will students bring to the class?·         How can I assess students’ prior knowledge of race, class, gender, etc.?·         How can I incorporate diverse voices without relying on students to speak for different groups?·         How will my own characteristics and background affect the learning environment?·         Will some students see me as a role model more readily than others?·         How can I teach to all students?
4 SelectMaterials andActivities ·         If the course topics remain the same, what new research, examples, and writings can illustrate these topics?·         Is there a new thematic approach to this material that will help to put cultural diversity in the foreground?How do I integrate new material so that it is not simply an “add-on”?What teaching strategies will facilitate student learning of this new material?
5 EvaluateEffectiveness What are my strengths and limitations relative to the new content and teaching techniques?How will I assess student learning?

Modified from: Schmitz, B. (1999). Transforming a course. Center for Instructional Development and Research Teaching and Learning Bulletin, 2(4), 1–2. Seattle, WA: University of Washington.

What does it look like in the classroom?


Consider classroom use in these steps proposed by Geneva Gay in the article “Preparing for Culturally Responsive Teaching” (2002).

  1. Notice the various cultural characteristics of your students. This will provide a great criteria to help you determine various instructional strategies for modification.
  2. Learning styles do have core structures, and specific patterns by ethnic groups are discernible (see, for instance, Shade, 1989)
  3. Integrating ethnic and cultural diversity into the most fundamental and high-status aspects of the instructional process
    on a habitual basis.


The best way to apply Cultural Responsive teaching in the classroom is through matching instructional techniques to students diverse learning styles, an attribute of building a Personalized Learning Environment (PLE). This ensures cultural responsive techniques are being used constantly and consistently in the classroom. Making an effort to know the learner, guiding your instruction with state standards, and flexing your classroom environment are the first steps to building a culturally responsive classroom.

Notice the PLE triangle used by Guilford County School System


Each piece of the triangle works congruently to augment the individual student’s experience in the classroom.




Example of Cultural Responsive Teaching @ SEMS

See on




What are the first steps to creating a cultural responsive classroom?

Why is this important to 21st century classroom?  

How can you be an agent of change at your school?

21st Century Tools

Using technology in the classroom can be scary. Use three simple steps as your guide to using technology as a form of personalized learning.

In creating technology-based lesson plans, we focus on three major areas: 1) Guided by Standards, 2) flexing the environment, 3) and Knowing the Learner.


Steps to create technology lesson plans:


1-       Start with viewing teacher’s lesson plans to see what their objectives, standards, and EQs are so we can determine how to apply 21st century resources effectively. By establishing the objectives, and assessments, it becomes easier to substitute using best practices.

2-     Flexing the environment is another suggestion offered to teachers, giving students the freedom to move purposefully around the classroom is one way to encourage differentiation. Students are able to use the standards and unit objectives to decide their level of knowledge and growth. Teachers can use this as a formative assessment to construct their summative assessments, further shaping the progression of the unit. This is best to accomplish the target and assessments during the planning phases. Ideally, using the UbD model can make using the flexed environment practically.

3-     Cultural responsiveness is one way to know the learner. Being able to involve community, parents, and student’s lives as designing perfect classroom space—educator can use these tools to establish a personalized environment for each student. The concept of using the student’s background as an incorporation of the unit or lesson is the perfect way to ensure student engagement and community support. This moves the classroom into a student-centered environ.


Resources available to help:


  1. with using standards….the Bloom’s Taxonomy categories have been re-purposed into a technology wheel. If the Bloom’s level is “Analyze” and your standard skill is compare/contrast it is suggested to use MindMash or ComicLife applications to accomplish that skill. Using the gradual release model, grouping, and blended technology during the integration phase, will assist with student achievement and enrichment. DOK Tech Wheel




  1. with flexing the environment…students are able to use the standards and unit objectives to decide their level of knowledge and growth. Teachers can use this as a formative assessment to construct their summative assessments, further shaping the progression of the unit. This is best to accomplish the target and assessments during the planning phases. Ideally, using the UbD model can make using the flexed environment practically.


Need flexing ideas?


  1. with knowing the learner….“I believe that the student-centered learning environment enables an educator to deal effectively with all types of students in the same classroom. A student-centered learning environment encourages students to become independent learners and ultimately to be in charge of their own education” (“Student-Centered Learning Environments”). Of course, understanding the student will be easier to gauge text complexity and cognitive development.


Do you know your students?



“Bloom’s Taxnomy SAR Wheel” [webpage]. Retrieved  from:  MG8sNexEe88kffHt6-3dLSBhO3VpG1H-S_HGk3Xarhw

“PLE Instructional Practices Matrix” [webpage]. Retrieved  from:

“Student-Centered Learning Environments” [webpage]. Retrieved from:      environments-paul-bogdan


Blending Your Classroom


Technology Resources

About: is an educational online resource that allows educators to use digital content in their classroom. The information is presented as a lesson in title format. Each uploaded piece of information is a separate tile. The tile groupings, or arrangement, are defined as the lesson. For example, teachers can upload pictures, website links, documents, quizzes, videos, etc. and each upload is a tile students can click.

Alternatively, students can view the whole lesson [title by tile completely featured on the whole computer screen] by clicking a play feature. The website is called BlendSpace, because educators can blend varying digital resources in one manageable space. Educators can arrange titles by skill level, information levels, or formative assessment levels.

The website has several different search functions, so you can pull information from varying locations to add instantly to your lesson page. Teachers can add classes and attach specific lessons to designated classes. As an online resource, students can access at home, in the school computer lab, or in the classroom using handheld electronic devices.

Getting Started video. Great introductory source for the website.

My Classroom Use: I am using BlendSpace for an interdisciplinary unit. The unit objective is for students to analyze a literary historical document versus an informational text to notice use of conflicting information. I personalized the lesson through an advanced choice board.

  • I selected materials that offer varying levels of rigor. The first title on the lesson is a historical literary text, that each student must read. For my Advanced Learners each row is a different type of informational text they must analyze to use in their choice board assignments.
  • 21st Century global connection. My Advanced Learners lesson topic is Internment Camps, so I uploaded interviews from varying global perspectives. 21st century skills ask students to become investigators for their academic growth. Teachers can create as many tiles to support the lesson and ask students to choose which titles to select for materials and then teachers can ask students to find materials or sources to complement the BlendSpace lesson as an assessment tool.
  • I plan to share my lessons during ELA Grade Level PLC meetings. (Lessons are private unless you send an electronic invite providing a link.)

Replacement Ideas

In the past teachers may have been limited to the amount of materials they would use in class or consider the amount of copies to make for varying materials, using BlendSpace could eliminate this.

1-    Organize: Teachers can upload as many links as possible to the site and if students are able to make selections based on teacher guidance, there are more opportunities for student growth. Students can make the choice to watch videos or not, decide on what type of informational or literary texts to review, all which benefit their learning style and interests.

2-    Assess: This is use of selection and choice can persist with assessments. Students can take mini-quizzes, title offer a quiz builder option, or teacher can upload previously created quizzes.

3-    Track: But this should open up the class time, where the student is shaping their class day. They are selecting their learning materials and they are able to take their assessments when ready. You are able to track students’ success and choices instantly.

Flipping the Classroom using BlendSpace. Wonderful for more advanced technologically prone educators.


Best Practices

According to BlendSpace mission statement the website aims to help teachers seamlessly blend their current classroom with digital resources. Best Practices can be summarized as teachers presenting multiple materials and resources, student engagement, teachers providing a collaborative student-centered environment, activity based atmosphere and joyful purpose of movement (“Best Practices: A Resource for Teachers”). Therefore, BlendSpace is execution of Best Practices. The website offers a personalized and relevant learning experience for each student in class and it’s a great organizing site that educators can use to supplement their lectures. Educators with any stage of technological comfort can use this website.

Visit Educational Technology bloggers perspective on BlendSpace.

Self-pace Classroom on the Membrane

Trying to understand students on a personalized level takes a lot of hard work. But after investing time and energy into my classroom I figure why not give them all of the paperwork and worksheets and say go.

Tips to creating a self-pace classroom:

  • Start laying down the groundwork at least one unit ahead. This includes knowing your students data– learning styles, for ELA, reading and writing levels.
  • Have a strong discipline or classroom management system in place before the self-pace begins.
  • Parent support, think of a way to incorporate parent acknowledgement during the first week of self-pace environment. I gave extra credit on their Assignment Logs if a parent signs it before they turn it in, and I double dared students to show their Dinner Menu [assignment rubric] to their parents and with a signature they would receive extra points on their Day 1 notes.

I Love It When a Plan Comes Together

Ok so with a diverse group of students, how can this be done for every level of reading and comprehension provided? Many teachers lament the perfect plan, but I’m learning how silly perfection is in life. Although I can intellectually understand I am not a perfect person in a perfect world, I know things may not go together.

This type of classroom environment takes weeks of planning. Also, for middle school communities, it may only work on certain units. As an ELA educator, I had to identify the right time for a self-paced unit, and for me it developed from our Real Life Heroes unit. Students must evaluate and analyze informational texts and determine the advantages and disadvantages of various mediums. The best way to show mastery of these concepts– a Museum Exhibit. The reason being, of course, everyone loves doing a Museum Exhibit. However, I had to decide the best way to provide choices and options to students so they could customize the information. We have already learned about heroes in literature, we have already discussed research and textual evidence, and we have already created our own products. So why not seize the moment and move on momentum. I gave them a personalized learning Dinner Menu assignment. Making this unit tailor-made for self-pace.

Rules of Engagement:

  1. Same base materials for every class.
  2. Students have to be assigned seats based on their reading comprehension level and  their least talkative partnerships.
  3. Students have to complete an Assignment Log daily highlighting what they worked on to be initialed by me daily.
  4. Students could not get out of their seats unless they raised their hands.
  5. Students are able to choose their topic/theme, but I provided the recommended class structure.
  6. I had to demonstrate guides immediately for suggestive assignment lengths to help them along their way.

Carpe Diem

How comfortable are you with allowing self-pace in the classroom?

Do you think your students will react with enthusiasm?


What is multiculturalism in today’s classroom?

Often wonder what exactly is multiculturalism and what it looks like in my classroom. First I need to start with what I know.

Creating Global Leaders

I know  our district developed a multicultural program called The Cultural Infusion Project. This program is district wide and as a result is implemented in my school site. This project directly relates to the “important for all children” and “basic education” characteristics defined by Dr. Nieto. Dr. Nieto specified that it is problematic how students are placed in boxes. Her belief is that educators should be thinking of “how all students are included, of all backgrounds, races and ethnicities, etc. Of course, the major concern is that by not following these precepts that educators are doing students a disservice because they are not becoming world learners (“Intro to multicultural education”).  This sounds like a no brainer, but how many of us are really thinking outside of our worldview. Common Core wants our students to be 21st century global citizens. I often think about local or national issues but linking it back to global and considering how my students may react to global is different.

Classroom Management is now 70% teaching?

The Cultural Infusion Project is multifaceted and covers large areas of educator issues; one area covered is directing educators to develop a culturally responsive classroom. Teachers’ are recommended to use five classroom management strategies (Faces of Change, pg. 19).  At this point the research is suggesting classroom success and student growth is dictated through classroom management, so I can buy into the idea that a strong classroom presences is effective in every facet of learning.

Personalized Learning is apart of multiculturalism?

So I know that the Cultural Infusion Project ties to “basic education” characteristic because it is a multiphase curriculum and instruction initiative designed to modify the standard curriculum for social studies so that content and instructional resources reflect the demographics of the students, from African-American males to refugees and immigrants. Students who stay engaged in what they are reading are more likely to advance their academic and other literacy needs. (Faces of Change, pg. 19).

As educators we have to be proactive and understand that “basic education” is defined as recognizing how this is not a fad expecting to disappear because demographics are more diverse than ever before. Our district numbers supports this theory because our numbers are growing (“Intro to multicultural education”).  Long-term teachers have a way of putting their head in the sand and pretending that changes and trends are just flashes– most of that thought is true but not always.

So I know that “basic education” is “more than inclusion, or discussions of contributions approach. Instead, monocultural education is the best alternative to racism. We should expect students to be fluent in a language other than their own.” (p.48). The Cultural Infusion Project plans for this by encouraging educators to reach out to parents and multicultural community and speak to parents in their language and to understand our diverse students and their diverse needs—these reflections should be offered in the sensitivity of our lesson plans and daily ongoing school environment.

“Failing Superman”


After viewing “Failing Superman” a short video clip that discusses the issue of a one-size fits all model in education. I strongly agree with the ideas that because students are all different, born difference capacities and environments that we cannot afford to teach blind to their natural aptitudes and interest.  The video outlined how our system only values limited myopic view of knowledge. Educators need to stop being blind to natural aptitudes and interest. Watching the video, I started to question how can we let students engage in individual passions, while maintaining the academic rigor?

  • The biggest suggestion from the video is that we need to start asking questions that students cannot find from Google. Instead, we can skip step that go straight into skills. Respect how the mind flourishes in different ways.
  • Also, we need to open the curriculum—teachers help build student competencies and help the students grow by asking them the right questions and teaching them how to find it. Teachers should coach and encourage.
  • Consider students weaknesses as kryptonite and consider how to make sure they can overcome this. I intensely trust that standards based education (SBE) and grading (SBG) can help accommodate these deficiencies.  SBG helps teachers on three levels: establish better learning goals, making sure students master concepts, that assessments are aligned perfectly to our daily classroom activity, and proscribing powerful feedback. SBG helps us give better feedback to students. We can be clear with students with how well them mastered standards. Focus is on skills instead of points.  (“Standards Based Grading Overview”


Faces of Change. Guilford Education Alliance. Retrieved from

Marc-André Lalande (2013, October 18). Failing Superman [Web log video]. Retrieved from

Nieto, S., & Bode, P. (2008). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural


education (Laureate custom edition). Boston: Pearson.

Nieto, S. “Introduction to Multicultural Education”. Retrieved from

Thomas Whitby (2013, December 4). Standards Based Grading Overview [Web log video].

Retrieved from

Shifting the Text in ELA Classroom

Our district indoctrinated Common Core State Standards last school year, and with it came another educational trend the Educational Shifts. Educational Shifts using CCSS and personalized learning is a new educational trend, one that has definitely disrupted our current process is unquestionably worth trying. The idea is that to best implement the CCSS and Shifts effectively educators will need to incorporate more personalized learning into the classroom. The Educational Shifts help facilitate the personalized learning needs— it has been researched that this trend in education is important because “there is great evidence that one-on-one differentiation of instruction helps students progress—even in cases where the individual attention is given by a tutor, rather than a teacher” (Newsted 2010).

Keeping this educational trend in mind, I want to dissect a current 8th grade unit to determine how well the ELA Educational Shifts are being enforced in my classroom. A personalized learning model is intrinsic to recognizing how the Educational Shifts are used. Therefore, my unit focus contains analyzing informational texts, creating informational texts, and presenting information about real life heroes. Students chose to focus on the Civil War, Civil Rights Movement, Apartheid, WW II Resistance Fighters, or  Women and Education, etc. and finding real life heroes from those causes they build Museum artifacts about their subject.

Shift #1: Building knowledge through content-rich nonfiction and informational texts

“The standards address reading and writing across-the-curriculum that complement the content the standards in history/social studies, science, and technical subjects, thus offering new grounding in informational text and placing a premium on students building knowledge from that reading.”

Considering the Educational Shift above, I used the personalized learning strategy of the Dinner Menu to provide guided choices for students. They choose the theme, topic, of their project and the Menu guides them to complete the project. Students are studying informational texts and learning how to analyze these texts at their own pace. This is all incorporated through the personalized learning model because, this type of assignment variety sparks personalized learning and students deftly handling these cross-curricular supports the Shift (Waldeck 2006).

Shift #2: Reading and writing grounded in evidence from text

“…the reading standards focus on students’ ability to read closely and grasp information, arguments, ideas and details based on text evidence. Students should be able to answer a range of text-dependent questions, questions in which the answers require no information from outside the text, but instead require inferences based on careful attention to the text.”

Students use their pre-assessment data to determine which standard they should focus on and then incorporate what the standard activity into their project. Students must find informational texts to support the product they are conducting. They must analyze this data closely in order to create an informational text. Moreover, students are using, reading, analyzing, and studying information texts through the standard mini-activities. This is all a self-pace unit. Once students have been given the menu they are told the unit length and have the flexibility to decide what activities to work on which days.

Shift #3: Regular practice with complex text and its academic vocabulary

“Rather than focusing solely on the skills of reading and writing, the standards highlight the growing complexity of the texts students must read to be ready for the demands of college and careers.

For this self-paced unit, one requirement is for students to determine their own vocabulary list and to teacher another student their vocabulary words. Students get to decide what words they need to know using the PAVE reading strategy and the words must be incorporated into their Museum artifacts. Students are defining their own needs and learning how to set their classroom goals, obtain those goals and respond with intelligence in class. This is all a part of the CCSS/Shift process through personalized learning.

How are you using the different Educational Shifts in your ELA classroom?

What changes can be made to your current instruction to incorporate more self-pace personalized learning?

Reluctant Readers Tripping on Personalized Learning

Recently, many educators have struggled with the conceit of personalized learning with reluctant readers, or students with low level reading fluency and comprehension. Instead of changing the students, perhaps teachers need to re-imagine the classroom model.

(YouTube 2012)

Reclassifying the Old Model

When teachers create personalized learning environments for their struggling readers, several questions must be asked: How can class time become more productive as student-centered? Is it possible with current classroom arrangement and management? How can I change my environment for one group of students, but have that environment model work for my other courses? I contend educators need to back away from the traditional classroom model of direct instruction, and embrace whole group instruction focused on student-centered discussion and facilitation. The shift in models should allow for higher student engagement for meaningful participation in activities and student-crafted interactions.

What is the biggest misconception of personalized learning for struggling readers? That lower-level reading groups need extreme structure and guidance in an environment with differentiation only.  My personal vested interest in the topic developed because, in 2012, our district shifted it’s educational application and motivation towards personalized learning, and many teachers were stumped.

(YouTube 2012)

Learners as Experts

A student loves the feeling of being a know-it all. The personalized learning approach guides and mentors students own faculties to understanding their educational development. The context for this discussion developed from my own struggles with getting the lower reading ability students to become more engaged. Some of my students had small behavioral issues but they also scored below 40% on the reading fluency percentile. I was concerned with the upcoming fiction unit because students needed to become purposeful readers. My past demonstrations for this type of learners was broad, whole class read aloud and notation instruction. Each student had to follow along to the teacher’s directed voice, at the same time, taking the same exact notes, reading the material in the same exact way. However, after the call to change from our district’s Superintendent, I knew I had to try something different to hook my students. So, how can students who don’t read at home, care about a book in class without me reading it to them and without them doing everything the same time the same way? The obvious answer was that I could make class enriching and more valuable, by using self-pace and flexible seating.

It was terrifying, relinquishing control so that I knew exact pace of the reading. However, I was relieved at the thought that students could take ownership for their reading development. For example, I had one student that barely spoke and barely read words on the page. He would sit in class and wait for me or a classmate to provide answers. At first there was slight hesitation with this model because as students remarked, “I’m scared with reading in class because I’m a slow reader,” but after a week I created student buy-in. Students filled out reading surveys, I created blog post entries featuring the book selected for class, and asked them to make blog posts around the topic. I showed a book trailer to the class and made predictions based on the images. We spent an entire week on the structure of the unit. Rotating activities that are student selected—and students will work at their own pace until the assignment is finished. Soon students had no choice but to do the work, and they were learning and discussing in the process.

For more information of what personalized learning is visit


Even though my unit became personalized, it was heavily differentiated using older teaching strategies and models. For example, the fiction unit was formatted in literature circles. Students had choice between 4-different rotation activities that focused on the reading areas and skills concentrated on throughout the unit. I used students testing scores to determine how the flexible seating will work for them. One group was completely independent learners, high flyers—or fast readers who need little prompting from me to move forward. Their assignments were structured to start with the hardest assignment first, with the most flexibility. Another group of pairs and threes worked for students who need partners to discuss material, they had the easiest assignments to complete first, and even turn-in assignments together. Lastly, there was a circle group, of students the lowest reading level, they could do read aloud in their group and work on worksheets as a singular unit. Students had the option of which activities to complete, and they determined how to work with their peers groups to complete the task. Students even worked within the construct of a learning contract so they understood the external structure.

Another link to check out:

My questions for you:

  • If you have already used personalized learning in your class, what was your biggest hurdle?
  • If you haven’t used personalized learning strategies in your class, what do you think would be your biggest hurdle?


Blackboard, Inc. (August 12 2012). The Voice of the Active Learner. Retrieved from

Spencer, John (June 9 2012). Personalized Learning Video. Retrieved from

Teacher as Professional


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