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Viewpoints and Findings from the REL Mid-Atlantic

Three Steps for Using Culturally Responsive Practices to Support Equity During Remote Learning
By Gina Lucchesi and Steven Malick

Three Steps for Using Culturally Responsive Practices to Support Equity During Remote Learning

This blog post, the third and final in a series examining equity and culturally responsive practices in light of COVID-19, is part of a collaboration between REL Mid-Atlantic and REL Pacific. The first post provided an overview of using culturally responsive practices in online learning. The second post described strategies for building collaborative relationships with students and their families and ways to explore social justice and community issues.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the need for remote learning have amplified concerns about deepening educational inequities for vulnerable students. To attain educational equity, schools must identify and distribute the resources that individual students need to ensure they can experience a high quality education. Achieving equity can be especially challenging when learning takes place at home, where access to technology, an instructionally focused environment, and an adult who can monitor and support learning vary.

Educators preparing for remote learning in the upcoming school year should consider culturally responsive practices with an eye toward achieving educational equity. Hallmarks of these practices, which we highlight in our previous posts (here and here), could prove vital to confront the challenges of these times. Going forward, three steps can help make educational outcomes more equitable:

  1. Develop a vision for educational equity in your community. At its core, equity involves giving students the support they need to reach their fullest potential. Set clear and measurable goals that imagine what equitable outcomes look like for all students, including the most vulnerable, in your school or district system. Decide how to identify vulnerable groups and develop indicators of students' success that can drive effective change. For example, goals and related indicators could include the following:
    • Eliminating differences in access to high-speed Internet among students living in rural areas or those experiencing poverty
    • Ensuring students who would be the first in their family to attend college participate in college readiness activities at the same rate as their peers
  2. Identify specific culturally responsive practices to support vulnerable student groups.
    For example:

    Vulnerable groups

    Possible barriers

    Culturally responsive practices to address barriers

    Students experiencing poverty

    Remote learning might cause students experiencing poverty to experience less real-time academic support at home because they are more likely than their peers to have caregivers who are essential workers.

    Connect with families near the start of school to determine which students might require more frequent check-ins because of their caregivers' work schedules. Create routine phone or video check-ins with these students.

    Students learning English

    Remote learning might provide fewer opportunities for students to be exposed to English language use, particularly if English is not spoken at home.

    Ensure that language instruction and activities build on students' prior knowledge, including their cultural backgrounds.

    Students of color

    Remote learning might exacerbate the unconscious biases that educators often have regarding students' academic ability and behavior.

    Implement anti-bias training and facilitate self-reflection for educators. Discuss ways biases might appear during remote instruction and plan how to combat them.

  3. Reflect on the effectiveness of your approaches using data. To assess whether your strategies facilitate equitable outcomes for vulnerable students, gather data to examine the implementation and impacts of your strategy and share them with others. Data on the impact of strategies could include short-term outcomes such as attendance, class participation, scores on class assessments, and disciplinary incidents. Tools such as the free Evidence to Insights (e2i) Coach can help you assess which culturally relevant practices will help your school or district achieve equity goals. Using the e2i Coach at regular intervals to assess remote learning strategies can guide you in adapting or modifying practices to meet the needs of other groups of vulnerable students in the future.

Although educators face daunting challenges from this pandemic, they also have an opportunity to infuse culturally responsive practices in their connections with vulnerable students and families. Along the way, you might discover practices that you can use over the long term to foster equity when in-person classes resume.