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Buffalo State Experts: Culturally Responsive Learning Builds on Students' Knowledge

Buffalo State Experts: Culturally Responsive Learning Builds on Students' Knowledge

Posted: September 14, 2015

Don’t overestimate the effect of poverty—or underestimate the abilities of underserved students.

Kathy L. Wood, associate dean of the School of Education, is committed to instilling the principles of culturally responsive teaching throughout Buffalo State’s teacher-preparation program.

Culturally responsive learning, Wood said, has several important components. “First, you need to be able to understand, appreciate, and celebrate the cultural experiences of the students you’re teaching,” said Wood. “You need to set high expectations, and find the tools you need to use to help children meet those expectations.”

An important part of culturally responsive pedagogy is ensuring that one’s students can see themselves reflected in the curriculum. What students bring to the classroom—what they have already learned from their community and family, as well as from their experience—provides teachers with an essential basis for learning. Lessons that do not reflect students’ existing knowledge tend to result in less student engagement and, consequently, less learning.

“When I was earning my Ph.D. at UB,” said Wood, “I had the opportunity to oversee student teachers. I became aware that relatively affluent student teachers brought their own ideas of the needs and ability of urban students into city classrooms. They were well-intentioned, but they believed that urban students—poor students, students of color, students from diverse backgrounds—were starting with deficits. They believed their students had no role models, were unloved, or were simply too poor to learn.

“But high expectations are the crux of student learning,” continued Wood. “A teacher can’t go into a diverse classroom—whether it’s ethnically, culturally, or linguistically diverse—and think they’re going to rescue students who, they believe, have nothing. Teachers have to find out what their students do know and what their strengths are, and then build on that knowledge and strength.”  

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