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Building a Culturally Sensitive Remote Classroom

Change display time — Currently: Central Daylight Time (CDT) (Event time)
Location: La Nouvelle Ballroom, Table 16
Experience live: All-Access Package

Participate and share : Poster

Kevin Bower  
Remote learning environments present new opportunities to connect with our students and consider their identities as learners. Culturally sensitive teachers respond to students’ unique social, emotional and academic needs through the experiences they provide. Learn strategies and resources to provide a culturally sensitive learning environment.

Audience: Coaches, Teachers
Skill level: Beginner
Attendee devices: Devices not needed
Topic: Distance, online & blended learning
ISTE Standards: For Educators:
  • Create experiences for learners to make positive, socially responsible contributions and exhibit empathetic behavior online that build relationships and community.
For Students:
Global Collaborator
  • Students use digital tools to connect with learners from a variety of backgrounds and cultures, engaging with them in ways that broaden mutual understanding and learning.
For Education Leaders:
Empowering Leader
  • Support educators in using technology to advance learning that meets the diverse learning, cultural, and social-emotional needs of individual students.

Proposal summary

Purpose & objective

Classrooms moved online during the pandemic, which increased the challenge of fulfilling a teacher's responsibility to provide a culturally sensitive learning environment. Remote learning environments present new opportunities to connect with our students and consider their identities as learners. Culturally sensitive teachers, a critical element to distant learning experiences, respond to students' unique social, emotional, and academic needs through the experiences they provide.

Zaretta Hammond is a teacher educator and the author of Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. On page 54 of her book, Hammond writes, "The philosopher Lao Tzu said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step, and becoming an effective culturally responsive teacher is a long journey." The activities shared in the poster session will help teachers take the first steps of their journey to build a culturally sensitive remote classroom.

Background Knowledge
Surveys created in Google Forms are a great way to collect background information on your students. Simply collecting and curating the data, however, isn't enough to engage and empower the students. In an Edutopia article on culturally responsive teaching in distance learning, Zarretta Hammonds writes that educators can guide students to connect what they're learning in classes to background knowledge. "Asking students to reflect on and share what they observed or learned in a video or audio note can reinforce the knowledge gained." Flipgrid is another digital resource to collect background information to connect with your learners.

Student Names
Mispronouncing a student's name can have a lasting impact on the relationship with your students. Students can state their first and last names and share information about their background using Flipgrid. Flipgrid also has a mic-only feature to be culturally sensitive to students who are unable to record video. Pronouncing students' names correctly is a vital component of culturally sensitive teaching. This activity helps students feel included and respected.

Providing students choices on how to demonstrate their knowledge of learning objectives allows them to showcase their identity as a learner. It's also essential to offer alternatives to how the students access the content in surveys to gain knowledge about your students, including questions to help you engage the learner with options for connecting with the content. For example, students without Internet access may need paper copies delivered or sent to their homes. Wakelet and Blendspace are examples of tools to organize differentiated choices for students.

Feedback and Communication
Timely feedback as students work on learning experiences is also imperative to their success. Focus on the positives and encourage students to take risks to promote an inclusive environment. Feedback also champions a welcoming environment. Social-emotional check-ins provide an opportunity to learn more about students' interests and well-being.

Be Visible
Students need to interact with their instructors, especially in online learning environments. While having a "teaching presence" in a digitally mediated space can be challenging, it's not impossible. Instructors can start by participating in online discussions and providing opportunities for students to engage in synchronous chats. By being more visible, instructors communicate that the students' work and participation are valued. Screencasting tools like Screencast-O-Matic allow instructors to be visible to the students through their feedback and course interactions.

Tools and strategies for organizing online learning environments are another specific skill addressed in the session. Learning management systems offer opportunities for managing content and communication efficiently. While instructors don't necessarily have to use all of the organization structures available, they must communicate the organization clearly. Making the organizational structure transparent for students will help them find materials and promote more class participation. Participants will learn Mayer's Multimedia principles to support instruction. Wakelet is a fantastic organizational tool, and Livebinders serves the purpose well. Todoist is a task manager for students and teachers to stay on top of assignments. Screencast videos with closed captioning outlining the overall class structure and individual assignments provide visibility and organization.

Teachers showing compassion means providing opportunities for student-instructor and student-student interaction. Compassionate instructors recognize that all classes, even online ones, have a social component to foster. Participants will learn culturally responsive techniques to build a supportive and open online learning environment. When instructors ask for thoughtful, critical reflections, they must communicate more than "Agreed" or "I concur" to lead-by-example. Participants will learn strategies to set the tone for student performance through student-teacher interactions.

Class Meetings
Quick and straightforward class meetings once a week provide an opportunity for students to share how they're doing. The teacher can also share a classroom-related question or discussion prompt. Providing students the opportunity to lead the class meetings in remote learning situations allows them to experience belonging in the classroom and build relationships. Encourage your students to co-construct classroom expectations around the values necessary for a positive classroom environment.

Six-Word Memoirs
Six-Word Memoirs are a robust activity for self-reflection and offer students a new lens through to see their classmates. They are a powerful activity to foster conversation around big ideas, and they are also a good ice breaker for class meetings. Use a tool like Microsoft Sway to share their memoirs or foster a discussion using Flipgrid. The students could also create a podcast using Synth.

Shared Goal
Discuss a shared goal appropriate for your class and brainstorm ideas on how to reach that goal. This activity builds a supportive classroom culture and climate as the students discuss the necessary steps to success. In addition, they can track their progress towards achieving both individual and group goals and facilitate discussions around performance.
Learning Teams
Create teams of students in the classroom for cooperative and collaborative learning experiences. The groups can then establish smaller communities within the remote learning classroom. Assign roles for the students during activities and take advantage of the breakout room feature if you're learning online.

Zaretta Hammond wrote, "Classroom structures and processes need to tend to the emotional well-being of everyone rather than just on covering the day's lesson plan." Establishing a classroom culture built on community is fundamental to developing the students' social and emotional skills throughout the school year. Remote learning environments present new opportunities to connect with our students and consider their identities as learners. Affirming and validating students' identities and being intentional with actions to commit to culturally sensitive teaching practices provide the best possible learning experience for all students.

Creating a culturally sensitive classroom community is vital to a successful school year, but it doesn't just happen after one activity on the first day of school. It is critical to spend the time to plan, prepare, and implement the necessary activities to develop a community of learners throughout the school year.

Supporting research

Gay, Geneva. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: theory, research, and practice. New York: Teachers College Press.

Hammond, Z. L. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain. Corwin Press.

Ladison-Billings, G. (2014). Culturally relevant pedagogy 2.0: A. K. A. the remix. Harvard Educational Review, 84(1), 74–84.

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Kevin Bower, Hempfield SD & Millersville University

Kevin Bower has 19 years of elementary teaching experience, is a certified reading specialist, and teaches instructional technology to pre-service and practicing teachers. He was the 2010 Elementary Educator of the Year and the keynote speaker at the IU13 Elementary Technology Conference (2012). He has presented nationally, had his teaching practices cited in various publications, and published a collaborative article on infusing technology into the balanced literacy classroom. Kevin’s research interests focus on using technology to best meet the needs of students with diverse abilities.

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