8 Features of “Culturally Responsive” Materials

Image by Heejin Jeong from Pixabay 

As schools are tackling all of the demands of educating students during Covid-19, teachers continue to focus, and re-focus, on building relationships with students and providing supportive environments. Part of providing a safe, supportive learning environment is providing a culturally responsive classroom. “Culturally Responsive” is a term frequently heard in educational circles today. It goes beyond building relationships to ensuring academic growth for all students. While culturally responsive teaching is a complex topic, there is one piece of it that does not have to be challenging. Consider how you would answer this question: “Do students see themselves in the instructional materials I am using?” In formulating your answer, think about the following factors:

Connections: To what degree do the materials I am using enable students to connect to the learning? While instructional materials cannot do this work in isolation, a student’s ability to see themselves, their culture, their experiences, or their interests in the materials fosters a feeling of belonging.

Perspectives: Do my materials present multiple perspectives on topics? Consider the idea that learning about topics from multiple perspectives enables students to learn about others and appreciate different points of view, and value people who are different from themselves.

Identity: Materials should help students discover who they are. Do my materials help students answer questions about who they are as person, as a reader, a mathematician, historian, or scientist, as a family member, and as a member of society as a whole?

Social and Emotional Learning: Do my materials support SEL? While SEL is not equivalent to culturally responsive teaching and learning, materials that support social and emotional learning support students. They teach them to value themselves and others. This goes hand-in-hand with creating a culturally responsive classroom.

High Expectations: Are my materials appropriately rigorous for all students? Your materials should support a consistent message that you expect ALL students to achieve.

Equity: Do my materials offer an equitable learning experience for all students? Think about the degree to which the materials include adaptions to support students with specific learning needs. Materials that provide adaptions support teachers in providing a quality learning experience for all students. They also allow students who face learning challenges to see that they can be successful with the same materials used by their peers.

Collaboration: Do the lessons in my materials provide consistent opportunities for students to work collaboratively both inside the face-to-face or virtual classroom and in the world? Learning to work together, to support one another, is part of providing the supportive environment that is a culturally responsive classroom.

Alignment: Is my material aligned to the standards my students must learn? Providing a culturally responsive classroom sets the stage for improving the academic achievement of all students.

At Learning List, we recognize that there is so much more to providing a culturally responsive learning environment than simply providing the right instructional materials, but the instructional materials either support your efforts to create a culturally responsive environment or they do not. The factors we have suggested are not a comprehensive list; rather, they are just a beginning, a jumping off point to spark a conversation with your colleagues to ensure that your materials are furthering your efforts to create a classroom environment that supports the academic growth of all students.