Culturally Responsive Teaching and English Language Learners

Culturally Responsive Teaching and English Language Learners

by Judie Haynes

See how to take the Geneva Gay's work on Culturally Responsive Teaching and tie it to effective teaching practices for English language learners.

I am a big fan of Culturally Responsive Teaching although I didn’t know the work of Geneva Gay and her award winning book, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, and Practice in 2000. Gay defines culturally responsive teaching as using “the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them.” This work could certainly be applied to English language learners although most subsequent work on culturally responsive teaching has been applied to African and Native American students. Here are some ideas based on Gay’s work that I have applied to English language learners on

Teachers should:

  • Recognize and appreciate the legitimacy of the cultural heritages of different ethnic groups. There is no “right” or “wrong” when looking at the cultural beliefs of the families of culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Many years ago, I wrote an article in 2000 entitled ESL Teachers as Cultural Broker . In that article, I urged classroom and content area teachers to avoid interpreting the behavior of others through the eyes of their own culture.
  • Build relationships with the families of English Language Learners. Learn to be engagement parents in their children’s education. This includes communications that are written in the language of the parents. Learn about the backgrounds and cultural beliefs of the students in your classroom.
  • Differentiate instruction for the English language learners in your class. Make sure your lessons provide comprehensible input for your students and link new learning to ELLs’ prior knowledge. Your lessons should also include scaffolded instruction, visual supports, and simplified language. Use project based and cooperative learning models to help ELLs learn content area information. For more information on this topic see Seven Teaching Strategies for Classroom Teachers of ELLs
  • Teach all students to learn about their own culture and appreciate the cultures of others. A good relationship with classroom teacher and classmates will provide a great deal of the help and support ELLs need to cope with the challenges they face. The more comfortable ELLs feel in your classroom, the quicker they will be able to learn. The more anxiety students experience, the less language they will comprehend. Teachers should strive help their ELLs be accepted on the playground and on the school bus. For more information see Sensitize your mainstream students.
  • Incorporate multicultural information, resources, and materials in all the subjects and skills routinely taught in schools. Literature in the classroom would reflect multiple ethnic, language and cultural perspectives. Classrooms should display and use pictures, books, labels and other information from different cultures. Teachers should learn a few words in the languages of the students in their classes.