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Culturally Responsive Teaching versus the Pedagogy of Poverty

It’s almost August. That means we are beginning to think about how we are setting up our classrooms.  We start thinking about the details and the technical parts of lesson planning, classroom decorating, and other mundane stuff.

It’s at this time of the year that it’s important to remember that becoming a culturally responsive teacher isn’t just about specific strategies.  It is also about the ethos of the classroom.  It’s about baking into the structures and routines authentic opportunities for each student to grow as a learner.  We want students to feel like they are part of a unit with distributed expertise and diverse funds of knowledge to draw upon.

So we have to think about how we are deliberately helping dependent learners internalize the habits of heart, hands, and mind that allow them to engage in academic conversations and deeper learning.

I am not talking about focusing on the Common Core Standards.  I am talking about focusing on deeper learning. Deeper learning is an umbrella term for the skills and knowledge that students must possess to be an independent learner.

If we take the time to help students build their capacity to learn and leverage their culture as a vehicle for making content “sticky,” we will find they are better prepared for the rigors of the Common Core State Standards.

In reality, too many classrooms in high poverty schools focus on control and behavior management rather than student engagement and deeper learning through relevance and application to students’ lives.

There would be a lot less need for control and strict behavior management if we focused on engaging each student’s brain.

Although we know it isn’t effective pedagogy, too many high poverty schools in both urban and rural communities rely on the typical worksheet, drill-and-memorize, and test preparation approach to classroom teaching. Martin Haberman called it the pedagogy of poverty.  Unfortunately this approach will never close learning gaps, opportunity gaps, or achievement gaps.

We have to take a hard look at what we should keep doing, start doing or stop doing.  Otherwise, our unexamined teaching practice may actually be undermine our intentions to be more culturally responsive to students of color, especially those struggling academically.  Because our teaching moves become deep habits, we have to “make the familiar strange” and take an inquiry stance toward our teaching practice. We have to question everything in order to spot those practices that reinforce the pedagogy of poverty.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself about your unit planning and instructional planning.

  • Am I putting in place structures, routines, and rituals that build a community of learners who can hold each other accountable vs. trying to keep order through strict rules, zero tolerance policies and sending kids out of the classroom?
  • Do I help students actively process new content through talk with others, problem-solving, or inquiry vs. having students passively take notes to a lecture or watch me work at the board?
  • Have I set up structures, scaffolds, and protocols to help students engage in authentic dialogue and discussion vs. putting students into unmonitored, unstructured groups and hoping for the best?
  • Am I balancing teacher talk with ample opportunities for student-to-student discussion vs. monopologizing the airtime with teacher talk during the lesson?

How are you re-examining your foundational structures, routines, and rituals before schools starts?

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