Culturally Responsive Teacher = Culturally Responsive Classroom

No doubt, school trips provide students with the discovery of new places, people, styles, and cultures. However, in today’s world where mobility is a matter of ease, it is indispensable to consider culture as an important part of the lessons. Not only mobility but also political situations, immigrations, asylum-seeking are one of the strong reasons why the classrooms should be turning into more colourful multicultural bubbles. This is not a simple necessity urged by global changes, but it is a type of fundamentality to create an inclusive education atmosphere where the students would feel they are included and engaged. It is insufficient to have school counsellors work for students’ adaptation to the new environment, thus, teachers need to shape their classroom instructions accordingly.

Technology can always be considered a culturally responsive tool to create an inclusive learning environment. Based on the experience I had in my last quarter; it is the most effective tool to turn the classrooms into inclusive learning zones. My primary school English teacher asked me to Zoom in her class to introduce American culture to her Turkish pupils who are middle school ESL learners. Her main objective is to make them use the target language by speaking with me. As a digital coach, I had my objectives some of which are to make them use the target language to speak about digital citizenship and to practice the grammar point of giving advice: should/shouldn’t. I still remember the joy the students had and how all the lesson objectives were attained.

As teachers, we always seek to find new ways to make our classes more engaging and culturally responsive. Based on my firsthand observations, it is mostly language teachers who integrate culture into their teaching sessions. Stainer (1971) says studying culture renders the study of the second language meaningful. Likewise, ACTFL (American Council on Teaching of Foreign  Languages) has developed world readiness standards for learning languages and included “Cultures” as one of the goal areas. The objectives go as follows:

  • Relating Cultural Practices to Perspectives: Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the practices and perspectives of the cultures studied.
  • Relating Cultural Products to Perspectives: Learners use the language to investigate, explain, and reflect on the relationship between the products and perspectives of the cultures studied.

Dema and Moeller (2012) from the University of Nebraska advance the 3P Model defined as Products-Practices- Perspectives with the inquiry-based approach which leads learners to enjoy the learning opportunities centred around the interactions on projects and activities. They think technology-based activities with inquiry-based learning allow students to interact directly with the second language and culture without time and place restrictions and to explore and construct a deeper understanding of L2 cultural knowledge.

3P Model will let students embark on their own discoveries while thinking and examining the concept of the culture critically. This will take their level of understanding from Cultural knowledge to cultural awareness and then to cultural competence (Fenner, 2000). As an educator, I believe, the level of cultural competence is the level where students started to activate their cultural intelligence. Cultural Intelligence, according to Harvard Business Review, is an outsider’s seemingly natural ability to interpret someone’s unfamiliar and ambiguous gestures the way that person’s compatriots would.

As an international graduate student in the US, I developed my cultural intelligence by getting exposed to the culture. This happened via authentic interactions, discussions and work on projects and activities. I am lucky enough to have the opportunity of cultural exposure to the target language, however, in the classrooms, there might not be a way to overcome the physical borders, while there are always ways to overcome the mental borders which is the more essential one.

There are a good number of scholars who work on how to turn traditional teaching methodologies into more culturally induced and technologically enhanced ones to catch up with the modern world. It would be wrong to skip the chance of mentioning Michael Byram’s Intercultural Competence Model (1997) where he guides teachers on achieving intercultural competence in their classrooms. In his model, Byram draws 5 different knowledge components (savoir):

  1. Knowledge (Explaining what): Learning how social groups and identities function and how interaction works.

Implementation in the classroom: texts, films, internet, authentic materials

  • Skills (Interpreting and Relating): interpret, relate, and explain events to each other. This will involve mediation.

Implementation in the classroom: writing the new endings, role plays, and games.

  • Education (Critical and Cultural Awareness): Evaluate perspectives, practices and products critically. This will include an evaluation of your own culture and exchange with the target culture.

Implementation in the classroom: Comparison of poems, and song lyrics of two different cultures.

  • Skills (Discovery and Interaction): the ability to acquire new knowledge of a culture/cultural practices and to operate knowledge, attitudes, and skills in real-time communication and interaction.

Implementation in the classroom: working on cultural misunderstandings, and comparing projects.

  • Attitudes (Developing attitudes): Relativizing values of one’s own and others, ability to see how own values, beliefs, and behaviours might look from the perspective of an outsider who has a different set of values, beliefs, and behaviours.

Implementation in the classroom: Brainstorming on authentic texts, songs, interviews of the target culture, and conducting face-to-face projects.

As we dig more into interculturalism, we see how Byram’s model becomes huge support of Dema’s and Moeller’s 3P Model as it emphasizes perspectives, products, and practices as well as presenting classroom activities. For teachers, addressing the needs of all the students and adjusting lesson plans with more creative ideas are the most challenging parts of teaching. When I Zoomed into my teacher’s class, I could easily spot the difference between before and after and it triggers me to consider following inquiry-based teaching using technology by promoting intercultural competence to create culturally responsive classrooms. While teaching Turkish language and culture in higher ed, I set up a virtual pen pal program where I paired my students with the target culture’s students. When they had the chance to use the actual language with someone from the target culture on a real case, they didn’t hesitate to show me how motivated they are.

The high demand in EdTech puts more of emphasis on Similar to culturally responsive philosophies, UNHCR adopts culturally inclusive policies after the immigration crisis has broken out in the world. As they state in their missions, their priority is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees who mostly are students trying to adapt to a new education system. To provide them with emotional safety, they started to integrate inclusive materials into education via integrating technologies. A good example of their work would be the web game they call “Against All Odds” where the players are given different cultural contexts and expected to make their own choices based on the game challenge they had. I believe this game is also a good example of how the 3P model is supported.

It will be wrong to say it is only the language teachers’ job to create an inclusive classroom, it is what all educators should do as a part of the instructions. Equity Assistance Center offers ideas on how teachers become culturally responsive:

  1. Welcoming students by their names, and learning how to pronounce their names correctly.
  2. Using eye contact and gestures with all students
  3. Using proximity with high and low-achieving students equitably
  4. Showing them all questions and opinions are important
  5. Arranging the classroom to accommodate the discussions
  6. Ensuring that all instructional materials are reflecting all students’ cultural backgrounds
  7. Using a variety of visual aids to support the classroom instruction
  8.  Learning, using, and displaying some words in students’ heritage language
  9. Modelling the use of graphic organizers
  10. Using class-building and team-building activities to promote peer support
  11. Using random response strategies
  12. Using cooperative learning structures
  13. Structuring heterogeneous groups
  14. Using probing
  15. Acknowledging all students’ comments, responses, questions and contributions
  16. Seeking multiple perspectives
  17. Using multiple approaches to monitor students’ understanding
  18. Identifying students’ current knowledge before the instruction
  19. Using students’ real-life experiences
  20. Using wait time to let students think before they respond
  21. Asking students for feedback
  22. Providing students with the criteria and standards for successful completion
  23. Giving students effective feedback
  24. Providing students with multiple opportunities to use the feedback
  25. Explaining and modelling positive self-talk
  26. Asking higher-order questions to both low-achieving and high- achieving students
  27. Providing individual help for all students

The traditional teaching philosophy asks us to see the classroom as a place between four walls and to follow the curricula like a bible. However, a classroom is beyond what traditional teaching asks us. What makes a classroom a learning zone is an inclusiveness and culturally responsive teaching is only one way of many others.


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Stainer, F. (1971). Culture: A motivating factor in the French classroom. In C. Jay & P. Castle (Eds.), French language education: The teaching of culture in the classroom (pp. 28-37). Illinois: Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. (n.d.). Mission statement. UNHCR News. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from

Vail, H. (2018). Examining the need for culturally responsive digital learning. Waikato Journal of Education, 23(2), 17-23. doi:10.15663/wje.v23i2.652.

World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages | ACTFL. (n.d.). World-Readiness Standards for Learning Languages | ACTFL. Retrieved October 17, 2022, from

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