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June 2018

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What is known about culturally responsive instruction?


Thank you for the question you submitted to our REL Reference Desk regarding research on culturally responsive instruction. We have prepared the following memo with research references to help answer your question. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. The references are selected from the most commonly used research resources and may not be comprehensive. Other relevant studies may exist. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. We have not evaluated the quality of these references but provide them for your information only.

Research References

  1. Au, K. (2009). Isn’t culturally responsive instruction just good teaching? Social Education, 73(4), 179-183.
    From the abstract: “Culturally responsive instruction appears to offer the potential to improve students' academic achievement and chances for success in school. However, it is not easy to see how culturally responsive instruction can be applied, especially in classrooms with students of many different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In the first section of this article, the author discusses the key characteristics of culturally responsive instruction. In the second section, she responds to three frequently asked questions about culturally responsive instruction. In the final section, she discusses practical implications in terms of classroom structures for participation.”
  2. Brown, J. C. (2017). A metasynthesis of the complementarity of culturally responsive and inquiry-based science education in K-12 settings: Implications for advancing equitable science teaching and learning. Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 54(9), 1143-1173.
    From the abstract: “Employing metasynthesis as a method, this study examined 52 empirical articles on culturally relevant and responsive science education in K-12 settings to determine the nature and scope of complementarity between culturally responsive and inquiry-based science practices (i.e., science and engineering practices identified in the National Research Council's "Framework for K-12 Science Education"). The findings from this study indicate several areas of complementarity. Most often, the inquiry-based practices "Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions," and "Developing and Using Models" were used to advance culturally responsive instruction and assessment. The use and development of models, in particular, allowed students to explore scientific concepts through families' funds of knowledge and explain content from Western science and Indigenous Knowledge perspectives. Moreover, students frequently "Analyzed and Interpreted Data" when interrogating science content in sociopolitical consciousness-raising experiences, such as identifying pollution and asthma incidences in an urban area according to neighborhood location. Specific inquiry-based practices were underutilized when advancing culturally responsive science instruction, though. For example, "Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking" and "Engaging in Argument from Evidence" were infrequently encountered. However, culturally responsive engineering-related practices were most often connected with these, and thus, represent potential areas for future complementarity, particularly as the United States embraces the Next Generation Science Standards. In considering innovative directions for advancing equitable science education, several possibilities are discussed in light of the findings of this study.”
  3. Harding-DeKam, J. L. (2014). Defining culturally responsive teaching: The case of mathematics. Cogent Education, 1(1), 1-18.
    From the abstract: “Elementary classroom teachers in eight school districts across Colorado, United States, share the knowledge of their students' home and community life, define culturally responsive mathematics based on the children they instruct, and give examples of how students learn math through culture in their classrooms. Findings from two interviews, classroom observations, and student artifacts reveal that teachers have an intimate cultural knowledge of the students in their classrooms, define culturally responsive mathematical practices consistent with research, use culturally responsive mathematics teaching for authentic learning, and express a need for additional professional development and curriculum support for culturally responsive mathematics instruction. Culturally responsive mathematics is important in elementary classrooms because it allows students to make personal connections to mathematics content.”
  4. Larson, K. E., Pas, E. T., Bradshaw, C. P., Rosenberg, M. S., & Day-Vines, N. L. (2018). Examining how proactive management and culturally responsive teaching relate to student behavior: Implications for measurement and practice. School Psychology Review, 47(2), 153-166.
    From the abstract: “The discipline gap between White students and African American students has increased demand for teacher training in culturally responsive and behavior management practices. Extant research, however, is inconclusive about how culturally responsive teaching practices relate to student behavior or how to assess using such practices in the classroom. Identifying proactive behavior management and culturally responsive teaching practices that are associated with positive student behavior may inform teacher training and bolster efforts to reduce disparities in behavioral and academic performance. The current study examined the association between student behaviors and the observed use of and teacher self-reported efficacy in using culturally responsive teaching and proactive behavior management practices. Data were collected from 274 teachers in 18 schools. Structural equation modeling indicated a statistically significant association between observations of culturally responsive teaching and proactive behavior management practices, with observed positive student behaviors in classrooms. Implications for measurement and practice are discussed.”
  5. Mackay, H., & Strickland, M. J. (2018). Exploring culturally responsive teaching and student-created videos in an at-risk middle school classroom. Middle Grades Review, 4(1), Article 7.
    From the abstract: “As the United States public school classrooms encounter notable shifts in student demographics and increased access to technology, teachers face the dual challenges of cultural and digital differences as they attempt to build relationships with students and develop responsive and relevant instruction. Framed by culturally responsive teaching (CRT), this qualitative study explored how one middle school teacher and his students in two summer school English classes interacted with and responded to novel technology-based instructional approach that sought to connect the students' lives outside of school to the classroom. The findings suggest that involving the students within this culturally responsive teaching approach using student-created videos informs the contribution of both the teacher and the students for connecting home and school contexts with a CRT framework.”
  6. Mayfield, V. M., & Garrison-Wade, D. (2015). Culturally responsive practices as whole school reform. Journal of Instructional Pedagogies, 16, 1-17.
    From the abstract: ““Despite our best efforts, black children still lag behind white children in academic performance on standardized academic measures. Unconscious racism and our lack of ability to confront it present the most salient reason for the indefatigable prevalence of inequitable opportunities for children of color which undeniably result in achievement gaps. This study identified specific culturally responsive practices schoolwide in a middle school that is successfully closing academic opportunity gaps between White and Black students. The findings indicate professional development served as a conduit for ongoing discussions on race and building the cultural competency of staff. These discussions served to promote culturally responsive practices found in leadership, parent engagement, learning environment, and pedagogy.”
  7. Piazza, S. V., Rao, S., Protacio, M. S. (2015). Converging recommendations for culturally responsive literacy practices: Students with learning disabilities, English language learners, and socioculturally diverse learners. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 17(3), 1-20.
    From the abstract: “This study examines culturally responsive pedagogy across the fields of special education, multicultural literacy education, and teaching English language learners. A systematic review of recommendations identified culturally responsive practices in five key areas: dialogue, collaboration, visual representation, explicit instruction, and inquiry. Educators are encouraged to adopt a critical and responsive stance that incorporates students' cultural knowledge and lived experiences when implementing these recommendations. Creating classrooms that promote culturally responsive and effective instruction is grounded in the definition of literacy as a social practice and leads to more equitable learning opportunities in all areas.”
  8. Toppel, K. (2015). Enhancing core reading programs with culturally responsive practices. Reading Teacher, 68(7), 552-559.
    From the abstract: “Culturally responsive instruction uses, "cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them." Because approximately 75% of districts choose to use one of the various publisher-created reading programs, it is imperative for teachers to understand how to utilize culturally responsive teaching practices within the context of such programs. The components of culturally responsive instruction can be addressed within practices many teachers already use while implementing core reading programs (i.e. demonstrating care for students, incorporating opportunities for student collaboration, and strategically using instructional techniques to elicit better engagement). This article provides teachers with specific examples to illustrate how cultural responsiveness can be achieved when teachers thoughtfully consider the learning and communication styles of culturally and linguistically diverse students when planning cooperative learning and engagement strategies.”

Additional Organizations to Consult

  • Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (ASCD):
    From the website: “ASCD is dedicated to excellence in learning, teaching, and leading so that every child is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. Comprising 114,000 members—superintendents, principals, teachers, and advocates from more than 127 countries—the ASCD community also includes 57 affiliate organizations. Our diverse, nonpartisan membership is our greatest strength, projecting a powerful, unified voice to decision makers around the world.”
  • Inclusive Schools Network:
    From the website: “Today’s children are increasingly more diverse in their cultures, languages, abilities, interests and learning styles. We must create environments where student differences are supported and celebrated so that all students are provided with the best opportunity to learn. This resource page focuses on what educators, school leaders and parents can do to promote culturally responsive environments – classrooms where students are connected and active members of the school community.”
  • Institute of Education Sciences, Regional Educational Laboratory:
    From the website: “The Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) work in partnership with educators and policymakers to develop and use research that improves academic outcomes for students. The ten Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) work in partnership to conduct applied research and trainings with a mission of supporting a more evidence-based education system.”


Search Strings. Culturally responsive instruction outcomes OR culturally responsive instruction student achievement OR culturally responsive teaching OR culturally responsive pedagogy

Searched Databases and Resources.

  • ERIC
  • Academic Databases (e.g., EBSCO databases, JSTOR database, ProQuest, Google
  • Commercial search engines (e.g., Google)

Reference Search and Selection Criteria. The following factors are considered when selecting references:

  • Date of Publication: Priority is given to references published in the past 10 years.
  • Search Priorities of Reference Sources: ERIC, other academic databases, Institute of Education Sciences Resources, and other resources including general internet searches
  • Methodology: Priority is given to the most rigorous study types, such as randomized controlled trials and quasi-experimental designs, as well as to surveys, descriptive analyses, and literature reviews. Other considerations include the target population and sample, including their relevance to the question, generalizability, and general quality.

REL Mid-Atlantic serves the education needs of Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.

This Ask A REL was prepared under Contract ED-IES-17-C-0006 by Regional Educational Laboratory Mid-Atlantic administered by Mathematica Policy Research. The content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.