Learning for All: Culturally Relevant & Responsive Education

Josh Duke

Education is generally hailed as a great equalizer. A good education can change lives and open up new possibilities. However, not all classrooms provide the same access to education. Because of that, much attention has been paid to equity and motivating learners. Dr. Alysia Roehrig, associate professor and Learning & Cognition program coordinator, has spent much of her career looking at how to help teachers be more effective. Recently, she and her doctoral student, Makana Craig, have focused their attention on the idea of culturally relevant and responsive education (CRRE).

What Craig and Roehrig realized was that even great teachers might have a hard time helping students succeed if they don’t consider a learner’s background, experiences and interests. “Beyond simply ‘good teaching,’ CRRE is aligned with social justice because it challenges structures and expectations that can perpetuate racism,” they write in a practice brief published by the American Psychological Association (APA) Division 15.

Craig and Roehrig conceptualize CRRE as containing six key dimensions, which are informed by theories of multicultural education (Banks, 2016), culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995), and culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2013; Hammond, 2015):

Awareness: in the CRRE model, special attention is paid to the student’s historical and cultural knowledge and skills. Because of this, educators must learn about what interests students and engage in ongoing self-reflection.

Prejudice Reduction: CRRE aims to promote cultural humility and reduce prejudice through cooperative learning and prosocial learning interventions.

Content Integration: educators should also consider diversifying curriculum content to better reflect the experiences of students.

Knowledge Construction: educators should encourage students to critically analyze the sources of knowledge, and in the process, help to strengthen their sociopolitical consciousness.

Equity Pedagogy: in order to make sure that all students have opportunities to learn, schools need to move away from traditional tracking, rows of desks, lectures, and test scores that maintain power and control over students, by using assessments like portfolios and learning activities that provide students with opportunities to construct their own knowledge while solving real life problems. However, educators need to be reflective about the implementation of individualization and group work to ensure that some students are not marginalized in the process.

Empowering School & Social Structure: finally, schools should attempt to establish an overall culture that promotes and values diversity. They emphasize that schools should care for—and not simply about—students.

These factors have the benefit of not only helping students feel more welcomed and understood by their teachers and schools, but they also improve students’ academic outcomes. “I believe schools should be communities that support the growth of all students rather than be mechanisms for sorting students and amplifying the education debt,” Roehrig says. “If we can make purposeful efforts as educators to be anti-racist (not just not racist), then more progress can be made to dismantle the institutional racism that maintains the status quo.”

While some of these principles may be harder to implement than others, Roehrig points out that there are a number of things schools and classrooms can do to be more equitable and combat racism and prejudice. For example, Roehrig recommends diversifying a classroom’s library to “ensure the authors and characters reflect many different cultures and races.” She also says that educators need to “address equity and prejudice directly. Make your classroom a safe space where students can express their concerns by learning/teaching about racism and how to combat it.” She also suggests empowering students to make choices in their learning. “Gifted students shouldn’t be the only ones who get to pick what kind of project they want to complete.” 

When students are respected and put in a situation where they feel a sense of belonging, their motivation to learn increases. The way that Roehrig sees it, CRRE should help “students feel more motivated when they feel they have the knowledge to skills to be successful (competence), a sense of control (autonomy), and feel an interpersonal connection (relatedness).”

This brief is an example of how educational psychology theory can inform practice. If you would like to learn more about the field of Educational Psychology, check out the APA Division 15 website. More information about FSU’s Educational Psychology: Learning & Cognition program can be found at https://education.fsu.edu/learning-cognition