Why is it important to ensure instruction and interventions are culturally responsive?

Question: Why is it important to ensure instruction and interventions are culturally responsive?

Answer: Let me begin with an obvious statement, and that is that every person has a culture. Not only those that we refer to as culturally and linguistically diverse. From birth, we are socialized into a cultural group by our parents, families, communities, but over time our culture changes as a result of other influences like education, income, geographic location, (and) peers. The importance of that is that culture affects how we think, how we communicate, how we interpret the world, how we problem solve, how we make decisions, so it is the central component of both teaching and learning. I think we have to view teaching and learning as cultural acts. Teachers that provide culturally responsive intervention have a deep understanding of their own culture. They understand cultural differences, they value cultural groups, and they avoid privileging one group over another. They understand that interventions have to reflect children’s linguistic and cultural backgrounds and so they select interventions that have been designed specifically for the group that they are working with, or in the absence of a research base they select interventions for which there is reasonable evidence that the intervention will work with that particular group. They don’t assume that works for one group will work for another, and I think that is really an important part of culturally responsive instruction and interventions. Why is culturally responsive intervention important? I think in a nutshell it is important because a central tenet of good teaching is that we teach new knowledge and skills by tapping into student’s prior knowledge. Cultural capital, what children learn in the context of their homes and families, is a part of that prior knowledge. The more they know about a topic, the more they can relate that topic to their own background experiences. The easier, the faster, (and) the better they are able to acquire new knowledge.  Two quick examples. Language is an important part of our culture, so when working with English language learners, teachers incorporate native language and English as a second language instruction into interventions. Even when teachers themselves are not bilingual, they look for ways to support children’s native language development by encouraging rather than discouraging children from using their native language in the classroom, on the playground with other bilingual peers. Teachers also provide English as a second language instruction, so that it increases the likelihood that children will understand the instruction. So understanding instruction is central to acquiring new knowledge and skills. So culturally responsive instruction is also linguistically appropriate. From the standpoint of culture, because teachers understand their own culture, they also recognize cultural differences and they understand that children’s behaviors will vary and that those variations may reflect those cultural differences. That understanding helps them avoid labeling behavior as inappropriate, when in reality it is appropriate given the students cultural context. The teacher may need to teach a student a new way of behaving, but they do that without communicating to the student that their way is better than the way things are done in a child’s home or community. What they really try to stress is (to) provide opportunities for students to understand that different contexts have different norms and expectations for behaviors and that the context may call for a behavior that is different than the one they are normally used to using, but their ability to adapt behavior to the context is going to be critical to their academic and social success. So why is culturally responsive intervention important? Again, because teaching and learning are cultural acts, and so that requires that intervention be linguistically and culturally responsive.

Developed By: 
National Center on Intensive Intervention