In the current module of our class Teaching, Learning, and Assessment 2, we are focusing on ISTE Educator Standards 5, “Designer” and 7, “Analyst.” I wanted to investigate how technology can support culturally responsive teaching by giving students alternative ways to share their backgrounds and learning, and by providing access to information and viewpoints that are outside those contained in textbooks and other traditional academic resources.
Culturally Responsive Teaching
The cultural background of a teacher in the U.S. is likely to be different than many of their students. Figure 1 shows the racial/ethnic makeup of primary and secondary public school teachers and students as of 2015. Eighty percent of teachers are white, while non-white students comprise over half (51%) of the student population.
In her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain, Zaretta Hammond describes how culture deeply affects how we learn. Educators need to recognize how the culture they grew up influences their teaching practices and understand what is required to address the needs of students who may come from different backgrounds than their own.
Three Levels of Culture
Hammond describes three levels of culture: surface, shallow, and deep. Surface culture is comprised of “less emotionally charged” elements such as holidays, food and dress. Shallow culture is made up of “…unspoken rules around everyday social interactions and norms,” and contains a strong emotional charge. Deep culture has the strongest emotional pull and effects how we learn. It defines our world view, including our ethical framework and our beliefs about competition and cooperation (pp. 22-23).
It can be overwhelming in today’s diverse classrooms to think about personalizing learning for each child’s cultural background. Hammond, however, describes several key cultural archetypes, Individualism and Collectivism and Written vs. Oral traditions that underlie many different cultures.
Individualism and Collectivism
Individualist societies put a high value on individual achievement and independence; collectivist societies value relationships, community, and cooperative learning (p. 25). Hammond references Geert Hofstede who developed a rating system for countries based on their individualist vs. collectivist tendencies and estimates that 20% of the world has an individualist culture while the remaining 80% is collectivist. Figure 2 shows a sampling of ratings.
Though the United States has a very high Individualist rating of 91, many of the students in U.S. classrooms are from families whose cultures tend more toward collectivism.
Oral and Written Traditions
Backgrounds in Oral vs. Written traditions can also influence how students learn. Oral tradition relies on the relationship of the speaker and the listener in a “communal experience” (Hammond, 2015, p. 28). Written tradition uses text rather than direct person to person dialogue. Both Individualist and Collectivist cultures employ written and oral methods to pass on knowledge, but Collectivist cultures may rely more on oral tradition in informal settings and tie into a student’s deepest level of cultural identity. This reinforces “… the brain’s preference for processing information through traditional oral methods” such as “…story, song, movement, repetitious chants, rituals, and dialogic talk” (Hammond, 2015, pp. 28; 127).
Culturally Relevant Teaching
In addition to the deep cultural archetypes described above, teachers should also consider how relevant subject matter and teaching resources are to their students’ lives. In their survey of research on Culturally Relevant Education (CRE), Anonson and Laughter (2016) reference Dover’s (2013) four markers of Culturally Relevant Education (p. 167):
- Connecting student’s cultural references to academic skills and concepts
- Engaging students in critical reflection about their own lives and societies
- Facilitating cultural competence. Students learn about their own and other cultures.
- Unmasking and critiquing the discourses of power
Using Technology to Support Culturally Responsive & Relevant Teaching
Technology provides many ways to support classrooms of diverse students, from digital storytelling, to internet search, to classroom management systems that include language translation features for better communication with parents.
Searching Beyond the TextBook
Marra (2005) studied how a U.S. History teacher in a diverse and under-resourced public high school used online information to build lessons on the civil rights movement. He wanted to provide a more balanced and relevant view of significant events compared to the material presented in the school’s textbook. Using video, text, audio recordings, music and film clips, the teacher showed his students multiple perspectives of the same events (p. 404). He also had them study desegregation in the context of their own community by researching and analyzing their city’s housing statistics. This approach is not only an example of a culturally responsive and relevant classroom, it is also a model for teaching 21st century skills of critical thinking and the use of technology.
The National Park Service’s “Telling All Americans’ Stories, Publications on Diverse and Inclusive History” and its Heritage Travel Itineraries are good resources for better understanding U.S. history through the eyes of Americans with different cultural backgrounds, including Asian Americans, African Americans, Native Americans and the LGBTQ communities. It also has a Teacher’s Portal with additional resources.
Hammond (2015) notes that our brains are wired for stories because the neurons turn on “…not only in the language processing parts of the brain but in other regions just as we were performing the action ourselves” (p. 135). Cultures steeped in oral tradition such as African American, Latino, Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian communities have “…long oral traditions rich with stories” (p. 135).
Digital Storytelling apps such as those covered in my previous blog post can be used by educators to teach a subject and as a way for students to build and display their knowledge. Other apps include: Little Bird Tales for younger children, Adobe Spark, Windows Movie Maker (free from the Windows store), Shotcut, a cross-platform free video editing software (Shotcut Teacher’s Tech how to video) and DoInk, an IOS app for creating animations and green screen videos.
The Global Read Aloud is another way to incorporate storytelling in culturally relevant ways. I loved how the author of of Amal Unbound describes how being part of the Global Read Aloud affected her as a former immigrant student in a U.S. classroom.
Talking to Learn
Hammond (2015) describes dialogic talk, or talking to learn, as being deeply rooted in oral culture traditions (p. 134). In a teacher-led initiative exploring technology use among K-12 students of color in lower income schools in San Diego, several teachers let their students explain science concepts verbally prior to taking an exam. One teacher used the Explain Everything app to record a voice-over in English and later had the student transcribe the voice-over into written English. Another teacher used iMovie to record her students’ understanding in both English and Spanish. According to Pollack (2016): “Both educators were ‘blown away’ by how well students understood concepts they hadn’t been able to describe previously in classroom dialogue, traditional lab notebooks or on tests. In both classrooms, technology helped the students start to share their voices.”
Music, rhythmic mnemonics in song or spoken word poetry are also referenced by Hammond (2015) as supporting students from strong oral culture traditions. She suggests having students write their own songs, raps, or spoken word poems and take part in poetry slams. Figure 3 below is an example of a poetry slam video created by a teacher as an example for his class assignment. He also recommended using FlipGrid and Soundtrap for the background soundtrack. The Poetry Foundation offers a free app for IOS and Android that gives access to a rich library of written and recorded poetry.
Flocabulary is a collection of paid hip hop-based video lessons and resources for K – 12. They cover an impressive array of subjects in a fun and unique way. Figure 4 includes a video describing the service.
Particularly for English Language Learners, what Hammond (2015) refers to as non-linguistic representations such as infographics and graphic organizer applications can help culturally diverse learners make deeper connections. Hammond recommends using infographics to “…process conceptual information or represent their understandings of similarities and differences, relationships between events, concepts, or objects” (p. 135). Apps such as Piktochart, Canva, or mind mapping software that can incorporate graphics and video can be used for this purpose.
Applications that build community in the classroom or enable collaborative learning can support students and their families who come from more collaborative-based cultures. Software that allow teachers to communicate with parents about classroom activities and student progress in their native languages include Talking Points, Classroom Dojo, and Remind. Collaborative platforms such as Seesaw, Google Classroom, Microsoft Teams, and smaller apps like Padlet allow students to share their work and ideas with their classmates in a variety of ways that are social but perhaps with less pressure than face-to-face interaction.
Aronson, B. & Laughter, J. (2016). The theory and practice of culturally relevant education: A synthesis of research across content areas. Review of Educational Research 86(1), pp. 163–206 Retrieved from: http://bit.ly/2ZYoEoN
Enrollment and percentage distribution of enrollment in public elementary and secondary schools, by race/ethnicity and level of education: Fall 1999 through fall 2027. National Center for Educational Statistics. Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_203.60.asp
Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Marri, A. R. (2005). Educational technology as a tool for multicultural democratic education: The case of one US history teacher in an under resourced high school. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education [Online serial], 4(4). Retrieved from https://www.citejournal.org/volume-4/issue-4-04/social-studies/educational-technology-as-a-tool-for-multicultural-democratic-education-the-case-of-one-us-history-teacher-in-an-underresourced-high-school
Number and percentage distribution of teachers in public elementary and secondary schools, by race/ethnicity and selected teacher and school characteristics: 2015-16. National Center for Educational Statistics. Retrieved from: https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d17/tables/dt17_209.23.asp
Pollack, M. (2016). Smart tech use for equity. Teaching Tolerance. Retrieved from: https://www.tolerance.org/magazine/spring-2016/smart-tech-use-for-equity