Culturally Responsive Curriculum

Culturally Responsive Curriculum at a Glance and Building Bridges
by Carrie Kilman   Teaching Tolerance magazine

Research increasingly shows that the academic performance of students of color often suffers due to cultural differences.

“The education system wasn’t set up to transmit our culture; it was intended to transmit the white, English-speaking culture,” says Dottie Le Beau, multicultural curriculum specialist for Todd County schools.

Culturally responsive curriculum is a critical element in reversing this trend.
In a study of Native student achievement, researchers from Western Washington University and the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory found that students were most successful in learning environments that exhibited the following characteristics:
Recognition and use of Native American languages
Knowledge and use of the community’s social and political customs
Lessons connecting new material to students’ existing experiences
Curriculum that recognizes the importance of Native spirituality
Meaningful interaction between school and community
These characteristics mirror the tenets of culturally responsive curriculum:
Respect for the legitimacy of different cultures
Empowering students to value all cultures, not just their own
Incorporating cultural information into the curriculum, instead of simply adding it on
Relating new information to students’ life experiences
Teaching to the “whole child” and treating the classroom like a community
Addressing a spectrum of learning styles
Maintaining high expectations for student success

|Todd County senior Marjorie Lunderman provides a good example. After her family moved from the Rosebud Reservation to Rapid City, S.D., where the Native population is much smaller, Lunderman’s grades fell, she became involved with drugs, and she forgot most of her Lakota language. “I felt disconnected from my culture,” she says.

Once she moved back to Rosebud, her grades improved, thanks to teachers and family members who helped reintroduce her to Lakota customs. Now, Lunderman participates in sweat lodges and other ceremonies and hopes someday to go to law school.

“Everyone needs to learn more about their heritage,” Lunderman says. “That’s how we break down stereotypes — and it helps kids like me stay in school.”

Tips for Teachers

compiled by Carrie Kilman

Educators offer ideas and guidance on cultural competence:
“Don’t try to save us. Don’t speak for us. Be yourself, and be willing to make fun of yourself. Get to know your students as people. And remember to value your students for their strengths; don’t define them by their deficits.”
— Emmett Martin, Lakota Studies teacher, Todd County High, Mission, S.D.

“Every year, I encounter teachers who don’t get involved in the community because they’re afraid of doing something wrong. That’s a huge problem. And if you have a bad experience, you’re less likely to try again. Keep trying anyway. And ask questions. And don’t be afraid of making mistakes.”
— Dottie Le Beau, curriculum director, Todd County School District, Mission, S.D.

“I think teachers need to go back and rethink the things we were taught. The hardest thing for anyone to do is to suspend all of your beliefs and think that everything you were taught was not necessarily wrong, but that there’s another side to the story.”
— Chris Mosner, teacher, Rosebud Elementary, Rosebud, S.D.

“Teachers should help us learn about our heritage. In textbooks, there’s not a lot of information about us. And the stories that are there talk mostly about war and make us look like savages. It makes us think our history isn’t important.”
— Marjorie Lunderman, senior, Todd County High, Mission, S.D.

Culturally Responsive Practices for Student Success, a guidebook by the Northwest Regional Education Laboratory, provides research and best practices for culturally responsive curriculum.
National Indian Education Association works to improve educational opportunities and to empower Native youth.
In conjunction with the White Privilege Conference, the Knapsack Institute provides workshops and resources for educators interested in integrating issues of oppression and racism into their curriculum.
National Association for Multicultural Education offers training, resources and conferences on issues of equity, diversity and multiculturalism for educators from pre-school to college.

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice, by Geneva Gay (ISBN# 0807739545)
The Long Death: The Last Days of the Plains Indians, by Ralph K. Andrist (ISBN# 0806133082)
On the Rez, by Ian Frazier (ISBN# 0312278594)
From: Teaching Tolerance magazine
Look for additional articles: Righting Wrongs, Lewis & Clark & Learning Lakota