What is culturally responsive teaching?

What is culturally responsive teaching?, teacher teaching in a small group

At a glance

  • Culturally responsive teaching is a rich, intentional approach woven into every aspect of student learning.

  • It focuses on the assets students bring to the classroom rather than what students can’t do.

  • It raises expectations and makes learning relevant for all students. 

Culturally responsive teaching is a research-based approach to teaching. It connects students’ cultures, languages, and life experiences with what they learn in school. These connections help students access rigorous curriculum and develop higher-level academic skills. 

Our brains are wired to make connections. It’s easier for our brains to learn and store information when we have a hook to hang it on. That hook is background knowledge. Students bring this knowledge to the classroom every day.

But for students of color, English language learners (ELLs), and other underserved student populations, those assets are often overlooked. When that happens, educators miss the chance to use them to support learning. (See recent work by Zaretta Hammond for the neuroscience behind this.)

Culturally responsive teaching values and reflects the assets of all students. By doing that, it raises academic expectations for all learners. It also sends the message that multiculturalism is an asset.

Dive deeper

Lydia Breiseth (director of Colorín Colorado), Shivohn García, PhD (senior director of the Impact team at Understood), and Shaquala Butler (Understood Teacher Fellow) contributed to this article. 


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