Employing culturally-relevant pedagogy to inspire students and increase their academic achievement.

by Rhonda Threet

Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8

Introduction

The strategy I use to increase academic achievement and eliminate disparities in my classroom is the introduction of culturally relevant pedagogy.

My teaching has been greatly influenced by Gloria Ladsons-Billings’ research which I found to be very simple and concrete. Her work outlines three criteria for meeting the needs of all learners, especially those who are historically marginalized:

–Have academic success in the classroom. Make sure all students have rigorous work and reach high expectations.

–Have culturally relevant material. Allow students to show up as they are with their own lived experiences.

–Have credible consciousness. Children can implement change in their own lives and community.

I use these criteria daily and can attest to their efficacy. Students are learning; they’re engaged; they’re not opting out. Because I create an environment where children are expected to learn, they’re making the choice to learn and learning has become cool.

Since I have predominantly African-American students in my classroom, I incorporate culturally relevant historical figures such as Maya Angelou and the Arctic explorer Matthew Henson. When students learn there are ordinary people–who look like them–who have done extraordinary things, they become inspired.

Before I started teaching in this way I could have taught taught the same lesson, the same way, for years. Now my lesson planning is more intentional–lessons are geared towards the students’ needs and change yearly. The lesson concept or the standard may be the same each year, but the process of how I’m teaching it will be different.

This approach makes teaching so much more enjoyable. It was transformational to realize: I can boost academic achievement for my students, I can see smiles, I can see the realness show up, I can see students become connected and engaged and care about their learning.

Reflections

What I did Well

I believe that I was effective in identifying and conveying what is needed from educators to teach with culturally relevant pedagogy.-Academic Success, Critical Consciousness, and Cultural Competence.  

What I Would do More of

I’m not certain that I highlighted the fact that all of the criteria may not be fully present in every lesson.   For example, it is not in every lesson that I create opportunities for students to want to make a difference in their own communities, and the communities at large-Critical Consciousness.  However, it is a best practice for teachers to teach students the value of their learning by building a culture for learning.  From a culturally relevant pedagogical standpoint, students, specifically need to be guided and empowered to be the change that they want to see.  I no longer only convey to students that they need to learn the information so that they can go to college, or be successful in the next grade, but I also help lead students in understanding that the content they are learning can help them see the world differently, and what they can do to elevate their voice and what they can do to help the community at large.  This is Critical Consciousness.  I’m not sure if this was clearly unpacked.

Ways I Want to Learn More and Grow:

I want to continue to grow and learn how I can develop a simple framework to support educators in making learning relevant for their students.  What I do in my classroom, may look different than what you do in your classroom because we have different students with different cultures and lived experiences.   I still want to grow in finding ways to implement these criteria.  I have to be creative and adaptive because often times the system and what I am expected to teach, as it relates to curriculum, doesn’t offer me to be culturally competent.  So at times this becomes challenging.

About Rhonda Threet

Rhonda has been in the classroom for over 11 years, the majority as a 1st grade teacher. Currently, Rhonda teaches 3rd grade reading. (English Lang...

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