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Why Should Teaching Be Culturally Responsive?

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Motivation is apparently made of several elements. According to self-determination theory, if a teacher is supportive, asks questions, encourages learners to achieve goals and allows learners to make choices, this leads to higher-quality motivation and long-term changes in behaviour. The reason for this higher-quality motivation is because it is linked to the self-concept students have of themselves as opposed to more external factors like fear of punishment. The teacher should create an autonomy-supportive environment where the student’s basic psychological needs of autonomy (feeling like they can make decisions), competence (feeling of achieving goals) and relatedness (building relationships) are satisfied. This is the pathway through which high-quality motivation to learn can be achieved.

For students from migrant communities or non-dominant cultures, high-quality motivation may be harder to achieve in school settings. For instance, autonomy may not be satisfied because these students may struggle to understand instruction or to ask questions, which means their decision-making capacity will be limited. Furthermore, their competence need will not be satisfied if they cannot achieve their goals of learning due to others misunderstanding their culture and lack of equity and acceptance. Finally, the relatedness need will be negatively affected if others do not engage actively within the culture of students different to them. 

It then becomes clear that to increase the motivation of all students (as opposed to just those from a dominant culture), teachers should be aware of how to apply culturally appropriate teaching practices.

Practical tips for increasing the use of culturally responsive teaching practices in educational settings include:

  1. Teachers should be guided to reflect on their attitudes to race, cultural norms and diversity. This encourages them to attempt to change attitudes and create new norms, including asking students about their individual experiences in their culture and ensuring other students respect different cultures and ways of communicating.
  2. Creating peer feedback and self-feedback opportunities in class to allow students to create bonds with others and share different cultural traditions.
  3. Encouraging teachers to have one to one coaching to help them to understand how to implement any culturally responsive practice knowledge they may have gained through research or training.
  4. Creating assessments based not only on knowledge but also on practical skills or use of the knowledge.
  5. Treating every student as an individual in every situation and asking them to support and co-create a more equitable and culturally appropriate curriculum. 
  6. Teachers working to gain an understanding of local policy and context on the educational environment, as that may also have an influence on how easy it is to implement new culturally responsive approaches in the classroom.
  7. Teachers should attempt to learn about the culture of the student and how to pronounce their name properly and some common words in their language to build a rapport and trust with students from different cultures. 
  8. Teachers should also work on understanding their privilege. In widening participation educational settings, students often feel that the teacher is more privileged compared to them, which results in a fear and resentment. Having an awareness of the position that they may hold in the view of the student may help the teacher to be more understanding and tactful in discussing the students’ situation.

Motivation in educational settings is a multifaceted construct influenced by various elements, as highlighted by self-determination theory. A supportive teacher who fosters an autonomy-supportive environment can significantly enhance students’ motivation by satisfying their psychological needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

But for students from migrant communities or non-dominant cultures, achieving high-quality motivation may present unique challenges. Addressing these challenges requires teachers to adopt culturally responsive teaching practices that acknowledge and respect the diverse cultural backgrounds of all students.

By reflecting on their attitudes towards race and diversity, creating inclusive peer feedback opportunities, engaging in one-to-one coaching, and understanding their own privileges, teachers can better support all students. Fostering a culturally appropriate and equitable learning environment will lead to improved motivation and educational outcomes for every student.

Elizabeth Kaplunov, PhD is a chartered psychologist who evaluates projects about health technology for disabled and vulnerable people.

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