Mindset Reflections - Is Your Classroom a House or a Home for Your Students?
I mean it when I say that cultural and linguistic responsiveness (CLR) has to be infused into everything that you do in order for you to achieve success. CLR educators must frequently and reflectively ask themselves this question: Is my _______________ (fill in the blank with anything that you do related to student success) culturally and linguistically responsive? This is a literal question. The task is that you would look at all that you do with a lens of responsiveness for who your students are culturally and linguistically. And all that you do, includes your classroom learning environment.
Creating a positive learning environment is actually the first step you should take when striving to create a learning experience that is culturally and linguistically responsive for your students. The absence of a positive climate, which encompasses the vibe, energy, and feel of the classroom, makes CLR impractical for teachers to implement the prescribed activities that foster and enhance learning for underserved students. A CLR learning environment is one that conveys respect for every student, particularly the respect for the knowledge, experiences, and language that they are bringing to the classroom.
In creating your CLR learning environment, consider the three Ds: De-Blumenbaching, De-Commercializing, and De-Superficializing. These three Ds are assessed in order to help you uncover the ways in which your mindset affects your classroom learning environment negatively or positively.
D #1 - De-Blumenbaching
Johann Friedrich Blumenbach was a German anthropologist in the late 18th and early 19th century who developed a system of racial classification that divided the human species into five races based on physical features and perceived beauty (Caucasian, Mongolian, Malayan, Ethiopian, and American). Blumenbach’s work upheld the common belief that Caucasians were the superior race or as he called it "the most beautiful human." While Blumenbach’s theories about racial classification were discarded long ago, the underlying concept of the superiority of the Caucasian race persists in many subconscious and less explicit ways. Thus, as culturally responsive educators, it is necessary to “de-Blumenbach” ourselves, especially in the context of schooling and classroom learning environments. This means making deliberate decisions about the images you display in your classroom and seeking out materials that represent your students’ cultures, rather than the mainstream White Anglo-Saxon culture. Research has demonstrated how seeing or not seeing one’s culture reflected in media and literature can impact one’s identity. As a result, it is important that you critically examine your learning environments, textbooks, and the images around your school in order to make the necessary changes to move toward a more representative and culturally responsive environment.
D #2 De-Commercializing
Perhaps the best way to ensure that your classroom environment is representative of your student population is to display students’ work, to have images of students' whenever and wherever possible, and to authentically create signs and symbols in your room, rather than use commercial products in your classroom. By developing your classroom environment around work created by students, images of them, and self-created visuals, you are automatically making your room more culturally responsive. When students see their own work and their images on classroom walls and bulletin boards, they immediately see themselves as an integral part of the classroom and school. By creating a classroom community that is built by students rather than with commercial materials, you are validating and affirming both students’ talents and their own personal perceptions of cultural identity.
D #3 De-Superficializing
When you are working to make your classroom environment more culturally responsive, it is important to go beyond the superficial images of cultural diversity and strive for authentic and genuine representations of your students’ cultures. For example, simply displaying a woven African basket in the corner of your classroom does not make your classroom environment more culturally responsive. Most students, even if they are from an African American background, will probably not notice let alone identify with this type of cultural artifact without intentional instruction. However, the purposeful use of bright and culturally meaningful colors to make a classroom environment more inviting and conducive to learning is an authentic and effective way to make your classroom more responsive and not superficial.
The CLR recipe for a culturally responsive learning environment is framed around eight elements:
1. Print-rich Environment: 70 percent authentic and 30 percent commercially produced
2. Learning Centers: reading, writing, listening, math, science, and cultural. Places where students can go and learn in small groups.
3. Culturally Colorful: ethnic textiles, prints, artwork, and artifacts
4. Arranged Optimally: allowing for presentations, movement, and teacher and student space
5. Multiple Libraries: culture-specific, multicultural, content-specific, reading level, and signature literature
6. Use of Technology: utilized and prominently displayed
7. Relevant Bulletin Boards: cultural, student work, current unit, current events, and content-area oriented
8. Displayed Student Work and Images of Students: current, ample, and unit-related
These ingredients are to serve as they would for an actual recipe—meaning that in order to create the dish, the chef absolutely needs these ingredients. However, the exact amount and mixture of the ingredients are left up to the chef’s creativity, intuition, and experience. This intentional flexibility supports the customization of the learning environment for the unique students in each classroom. In other words, the culturally and linguistically responsive learning environment should not be cookie-cutter or branded. The CLR classroom has to feel like home for the students.