2 Ways to Explore Culture and why it’s so important for your students (September 2018 CRT)

[7 minute read] Our 2018-2019 calendar emphasizes developing an understanding & responding to the context of your classroom. We start with an inspirational quote, back it up with research, then provide you with classroom application ideas. Our September 2018 blog post, written by Dr. Marian Moore, takes a deeper dive into defining levels of culture in your classroom.

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“Culturally responsive teaching activates civic citizenship of all students…and makes them active participants in the fight for social change.” -Magnus O. Bassey, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Implications for Educational Justice

Culturally Responsive Teaching has a positive impact on students of color and social justice. Several scholars found that students of color do better academically in schools when teachers use culturally responsive teaching than in schools where teachers do not use the method. (Gay, 2010; Landson-Billings, 2009; Hammond, 2015)

Read to learn about the importance of:

  • Exploring your culture
  • Recognizing the diversity present in your classroom
  • Examining obvious and non-obvious elements of diversity with your students

Why is Culturally Responsive Teaching important for student success?

Culturally responsive teaching (CRT) is the process of using the cultural information and processes of learners to scaffold information. It is a pedagogy that recognizes the need to include students’ cultural perspectives in all aspects of their learning.

Culturally responsive teaching holds the greatest promise of closing students’ learning gaps by helping them rapidly build their intellectual capacity. More school districts and education organizations are calling for instructors to regularly use culturally responsive instruction in the classroom. It is even showing up in teaching standards across the country. Yet, there is often conflicting definitions, few guiding principles, and even less guidance on how to operationalize it in the classroom.

Cultural responsiveness is more of a process than a strategy. Its endgame is more cognitive than affective. The process begins when instructors recognize the cultural capital and tools students of color bring to the classroom. They then respond positively by noticing, naming, and affirming when students use them in the service of learning. Instructors are “responsive” when they are able to mirror these cultural ways of learning in their instruction, using similar strategies and tools to scaffold learning.

One of the most important aspects of culturally responsive teaching is expanding low performing students’ ability to process information effectively through cognitive routines. The goal is to get students to turn inert information into usable knowledge. Train yourself to recognize the cultural learning tools students bring to school. Too often we miss them. For example, when diverse students come from oral traditions, the most common cultural tools for processing information utilize the brain’s memory systems – music, repetition, metaphor, recitation, physical manipulation of content, and story. Many popular instructional techniques like Marzano’s nonlinguistic representations or graphic organizers that call for a “non-example” are based on this idea of engaging the brain’s natural tendencies to process new content actively.

(Adapted from Zaretta Hammond’s, Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students.)

What are the levels of culture? Hammond divides culture into three levels:

Surface culture is observable and concrete elements of culture such as food, dress, music, and holidays. Low emotional charge. Changes do not create great anxiety.

Shallow culture is made up of the unspoken rules around everyday social interactions and norms (courtesy, attitudes toward elders, nature or friendship, concepts of time, personal space, nonverbal communication, rules about eye contact or appropriate touching). Deep cultural values lie here and are put into action. Nonverbal communication that builds rapport. This level has a strong emotional charge. Interpretation of certain behaviors as disrespectful, offensive or hostile. Social violation of norms can cause mistrust, distress or social friction.

Deep culture is the tacit knowledge and unconscious assumptions govern worldview. Including cosmology, guiding ethics, spirituality, health, and theories of group harmony. Governs how we learn new information. Intense emotional charge. Mental models help the brain interpret threats, rewards in the environment; a challenge to values produce culture shock or trigger the fight or flight response. The worldview we will carry into formative years is at this level. For example, in Eastern culture, the color red means good luck, in most western cultures red means danger.

Application: How can instructors operationalize CRT in the classroom?

 The following activities can provide meaningful engagement about culture and diversity.

“Exploring My Culture” Activity

This activity gives you and your students the opportunity to share and appreciate the diversity in the class. Everyone has a unique cultural background based on many different factors. Answer these questions to explore your unique culture.

  1. Describe where you grew up and the school you attended.
  2. What beliefs did you learn from your family?
  3. What beliefs did you learn from your teachers?
  4. How would your teachers describe you as a student?
  5. How has your religious training or lack of religious training affected your beliefs?
  6. If you are in a relationship, describe how your partner has affected your beliefs.
  7. If you have children, how have your values and beliefs changed?
  8. Are the beliefs you grew up with right for you today? Why or why not?

“Diversity Collage” Activity

This activity allows your students the opportunity to share and take pride in their different ethnic and cultural backgrounds.  

  • Make a poster showing your ethnic background. Where were you parents and grandparents born? What languages do you speak?
  • Include a map of the country or countries your relatives come from.
  • Give any interesting facts about those countries. You should include a picture of the flag of the countries and explain what each color and symbol represent.
  • What traditional foods does your family eat?
  • What cultural traditions are still practiced by the family?
  • If you have any family heirlooms, please feel free to bring them.
  • You can also create a family tree that traces your family back for generations.
  • Use positive thinking to show what you are proud of in your life.
  • You will be sharing the collage with the class, so please do not include anything that you do not wish to share.

Find more activities here.

From College and Career Success by Dr. Marsha Fralick


To support faculty who are exploring and implementing culturally responsive teaching in their courses, we’ve created a Private Facebook Group to facilitate collegial conversations.

CRTxACC members are encouraged to share resources, experiences, and questions to deepen their understanding of culturally responsive teaching.

Join the Online Community


Bassey, M. O. (2016). Culturally responsive teaching: Implications for educational justice. Education Sciences 6 (35); doi: 10,3390/educsci6040035

Gay, G. (2010). Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice (2nd ed.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press

Hammond, Z. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: Promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Ladson-Billings, G. (2009). The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass

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