Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) in Personalized Learning (PL): What Matters?

Cultural responsiveness is part of an ever-evolving orientation and pedagogy and a necessary component of personalized learning. Culturally responsive teaching and personalized learning are designed to empower learners by including the learners’ cultures, languages, and backgrounds in the learning process. According to Krasnoff (2016), “ teachers must be prepared with a thorough understanding of the specific cultures of the students they teach; how that culture affects student learning behaviors; and how they can change classroom interactions and instruction to embrace the differences.” Learning your students’ likes, beliefs, backgrounds, and families are essential to teaching. Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) validates and recognizes students’ cultures while incorporating student culture into the learning environment. Personalized learning brings engagement, motivation, and learning into the classroom when implementing CRT. Teachers can personalize learning through CRT by incorporating literature, music, and art that is culturally responsive. Another meaningful way the teacher can personalize learning through CRT involves incorporating families into classroom activities by inviting families to school events like field trips, class celebrations, or curriculum events (Armstrong, 2020). This fact aligns with the ISTE Coaching Standard 3 (Collaborator) (ISTE, 2022), especially point 3a, how coaches establish trusting and respectful coaching relationships that encourage educators to explore new instructional strategies. Also, this issue is in line with the point of 3d, how coaches personalize support for educators by planning and modeling the effective use of technology to improve student learning.

A Closer Look: CRT and PL

Culturally responsive teaching uses ethnically diverse students’ cultural characteristics, experiences, and perspectives as conduits for teaching them more effectively (Gay, 2000). Besides, it is inclusive, empowering, transformative, emancipatory, and humanistic. Gay (2000) further claims five key strategies closely related to the culturally responsive pedagogy: cultural bridging, personalized feedback, learner autonomy and empowerment, teachers as collaborators, and humanistic teaching. In CRT, teachers consider students’ different backgrounds and needs by offering them customized feedback and support. Learner autonomy and empowerment enhance student confidence and transform learning. In addition, when teachers regard themselves as co-educators and co-learners, the learning becomes reciprocal since students are treated as power-sharing partners. This point aligns with the ISTE Coaching Standard 3 point 3a. Lastly, culturally responsive pedagogy is “humanistic” and ethical as care and compassion are implemented to humanize learning.

Moreover, one hallmark of personalized learning is using individual learning plans and pathways. Knowing every student well is the first step in guiding them on a path that maximizes their success in demonstrating proficiency over competencies. A critical lens through which we learn about our students is cultural competency, or understanding and embracing one’s and others’ diverse cultures, languages, beliefs, and values (French, 2016). A key feature of personalized learning and cultural responsiveness is knowing your students, understanding where they come from, how they learn, and how best to respond to their individual learning needs (Bowlby, n.d.) Bowlby (n.d.) further discusses that personalized learning and cultural responsiveness encompass academic and cognitive skills, health and wellness, social and emotional development, culture and language, and living situation.

In CRP, it is up to the teacher to build a positive classroom community, interject instruction with opportunities for student input, connect classroom learning with the real world, and set high expectations for all students, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or socio-economic status (Bennet, 2001; Villegas & Lucas, 2002), cited in (Lawrence, 2020).

Centralizing on students, both responsive cultural pedagogy (CRP) and personalized learning (PL) share some common interests, such as promoting student agency and engagement. It is suggested that knowledgeable and sentient educators reclaim personalized learning as a humanized pedagogy that cultivates student agency and keeps equity and inclusion at the center (France, 2019). Some recommendations are building an accessible and inclusive curriculum, developing agency and autonomy, humanizing technology integration, and reclaiming personalized learning. Besides, Taylor and Sobel (2011) consider equity goal to narrow the achievement gap in all content areas as measured by state testing results, district graduation rates, and curriculum-based assessments. This equity goal is to create a culturally proficient environment.

Instructional Strategies Recommendation

Utilizing diverse students’ cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles makes learning more relevant and practical in CRT (Gay, 2010). For instance, in a review of studies related to CRT, Morrell (2008, cited in Ramirez & Jimenez-Silva, 2014) contended that CRT has positively influenced secondary ELLs’ engagement and academic achievement. Therefore, educators can utilize CRT to enhance personalized learning opportunities in the classroom through a podcast, blog posts, and Instagram accounts linked together on the website (Strey-Wells, 2019).

As cited in Chuang et al. (2020), previous studies have suggested that a well-structured CRT curriculum can facilitate a teacher’s understanding of how cultural backgrounds and experiences can be used to enhance students’ learning achievements (Chou, Su, & Wang, 2018; Gunn & King, 2015; Whitaker & Valtierra, 2018).

Furthermore, Taylor and Sobel (2011) list the following 12 components to provide an organizational framework for planning and reflecting on implementing culturally responsive pedagogy:

  • Considering the Learner: Who is the learner?
  • Environment/Environmental Print
  • Curriculum Considerations
  • Language Objective
  • Social Context for Learning/Grouping Strategies
  • Content/Instructional Materials
  • Scaffolding/Instructional Adaptations
  • Distribution of Attention
  • Checking for Evidence of Student Understanding
  • Classroom Behavior/Managing the Classroom
  • Connecting with Family, Community, Local Culture
  • Teacher’s Personal/Professional Growth

Culturally responsive teaching takes the stance that when teachers connect students’ home cultural knowledge, beliefs, and practices to the content, pedagogy, or language used in the classroom, the academic performance and school experience of learners from culturally diverse groups will significantly improve. To begin to support a connection between students’ background knowledge and the content, Gay (2010, cited in Taylor & Sobel, 2011) further recommends that teachers design their instruction to:

  • Teach students style-shifting (code-switching) skills to easily maneuver between home and school languages and cultures.
  • Build the moral commitment, critical consciousness, and political competence that students need to consider their role in promoting social justice and social transformation.

Each recommendation involves teachers getting to know the individual learner’s prior knowledge, background, learning preferences, and life experiences. Such knowledge provides teachers invaluable insights into the learner’s cultural scene, language and literacy knowledge, and life experiences. Using a cultural lens to situate the content through students’ prior knowledge and cultural perspectives, teachers can effectively activate and build on this knowledge and use it to engage students in meaningful learning. Culturally responsive pedagogy involves teachers using effective teaching practices—like those described above—to help students find relevance in the curriculum, content, and learning experiences at school. ‘‘

Finally, more practical instructional strategies are recommended in CRT (Maddahian & Bird, 2004), including:

Cooperative learning

1. Cooperative learning, apprenticeship, and peer coaching are three vehicles for joint learning.

2. Students collaborate to bridge race, ethnicity, and class gaps.

Active learning and apprenticeship

1. Teach through active application of facts and skills, interaction with other students, and use of computers and multi-media.

2. Teach through modeling and observation, hands-on laboratory experiences, active practice, and guided reflection with the coaching of students, graduated responsibilities, and supportive scaffolding

3. Utilize methods that employ rhyme and music to enhance the retention of ideas. Instructional conversations

1. Create mutual understanding through instructional conversations.

2. Provide ample opportunities for students to read, write, speak, and receive feedback.

Constructive learning

1. Use constructivist and activist learning approaches.

2. Emphasize developing generative competencies such as higher order thinking, critical learning skills, and creative problem-solving.

3. Enable students to read, write, process information, analyze, and make conclusions and inferences from a broad vision of world events.

4. Discuss their everyday experiences and enable students to understand how they can shape their neighborhoods.

5. Use the subject to address student needs beyond its content.

Applied learning

1. Relate students’ learning to their everyday knowledge.

2. Build on students’ prior knowledge and experiences, home languages, and school context.

3. Use multiple means to present knowledge, content, and learning experiences.


1. Provide support to student learning by breaking a complex task into smaller tasks, modeling the desired learning strategy or task, and then gradually retreat that support so that the student becomes self-reliant.

Targeted teaching

1. Modify curriculum-learning activities for diverse students.

2. Recognize and target students’ problem areas.

Holistic development

1. Address a child’s total development. First-order hunger, malnutrition, and primary healthcare needs must be addressed before learning, or intellectual achievement can be addressed.

2. Holistically educate students without separating political, social justice, and cultural issues.

3. Understand that students are different linguistically, behaviorally, culturally, and emotionally and address their needs.


To sum up, integrating CRP and PL in the classroom creates a deeper understanding of students and provides high-quality learning experiences to all students. This way, educators must modify and adapt their instructional strategies in response to students’ particular learning needs. Hopefully, by understanding these two concepts, coaches and educators will be aware of exploring new instructional strategies in the classroom by leveraging digital technologies.

Armstrong, A. (2020). Culturally Responsive Teaching in Early Childhood Education Four ways to validate and affirm young students ’ cultures in meaningful ways, which can boost A Weekly Dose of What Works.

Bowlby, D. (n.d.). Personalized Learning and Cultural Responsiveness. Desiree Teaching Toolkit. Retrieved July 11, 2022, from

Chuang, H. H., Shih, C. L., & Cheng, M. M. (2020). Teachers’ perceptions of culturally responsive teaching in technology-supported learning environments. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(6), 2442–2460.

France, P. E. (2019). It is Time Teachers Reclaimed ‘ Personalized Learning ’ in the Name of Equity Build an Accessible and Inclusive Curriculum.

French, D. (2016). Personalized Learning, Cultural Competency, and Knowing Every Student Well.

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice. In Teachers College Press (Multicultu). Teachers College Press.

ISTE. (2022). ISTE Standards: Coaches.

Krasnoff, B. (2016). Culturally Responsive Teaching: A Guide to Evidence-Based Practices for Teaching All Students Equitably. In The New Teacher’s Guide to Overcoming Common Challenges.

Lawrence, A. (2020). Teaching as Dialogue: Toward Culturally Responsive Online Pedagogy. Journal of Online Learning Research, 6(1), 5–33.

Maddahian, E., & Bird, M. (2004). Conceptual Framework for a Culturally Relevant and Responsive Educational Model (Issue 178).

Ramirez, P. C., & Jimenez-Silva, M. (2014). Secondary English Learners: Strengthening Their Literacy Skills Through Culturally Responsive Teaching. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 50(2), 65–69.

Strey-Wells, C. J. (2019). How Educators Can Utilize Culturally Responsive Teaching to Enhance Personalized Learning Opportunities in the Secondary Classroom (Issue May).

Taylor, S. V, & Sobel, D. M. (2011). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Teaching Like Our Students’ Lives Matter. In Syria Studies (Vol. 7, Issue 1). Emerald Group Publishing Limited.

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