Culturally Responsive Pedagogy in Math Class

by on March 28, 2017

The goal of my instruction is to provide all of my students with the skills necessary to compete with their peers at the next level. My task is not just for my students to perform well on high-stakes tests, but to be able to do advanced math fluently. A language teacher may desire that all of their students have a fluent understanding of a given language in all three domains of writing, reading and speaking.

My goal as an advanced math teacher is to formalize my students’ intuitive understandings of mathematics within the formal cultural context of the field of mathematics. I genuinely believe that advanced mathematics is available to all of my students. One of my teaching classes made clear to me the cultural differences of achievement. This group of students is known in the school-community as being low achievers. Towards the end of the term they expressed their displeasure with my policy of no-notes during tests.

My students were well-aware that I never got upset with them, or told them what to do. I am transparent in my giving of choices in my classroom – within the realm of my ethical limits. Their argument for using notes during tests centered entirely about the idea of me liking them. We like each other, and they know it.

Luckily I was prepared for this argument. “It is because I like you, that I cannot let you use notes.” “But we’re dumb. We need the notes.” “No, I do not believe you are dumb. You can do this. I like you. Since I like you, I cannot let you use notes. And more so, you do not need notes.”

Though they were very serious, they were also not upset. We were in this process of learning about the learning process — metacognition. My seeing their earnestness in seeking extra help showed me a new perspective on them as strong humans. My students gained a strong catalyst for their future learning by hearing my clear, passionate belief in their abilities as mathematicians.

I did not take their argument personally, but I did not accept it as true. I showed my true conviction of their abilities and helped them forge a new identity as a second language-learning mathematician or Native American mathematician or broken-home mathematician.

In short I gave them my humanity, and in turn they realized their own human-ness. I learned all this from other research and personal experience but this particular passage from Trumbull and Pacheco’s begins to express what I learned:

Bartolome proposes that culturally responsive pedagogy alone is not enough to moderate the effect of historical inequity on involuntary minorities. Bartolome emphasizes that methods by themselves do not suffice to advance their learning. She advocates what she calls “humanizing pedagogy” in which a teacher “values the students’ background knowledge, culture, and life experiences and creates contexts in which power is shared by students and teachers”. This power sharing and valuing of students’ lives and cultures may provide counterforce to the negative sociocultural experience of students; it can enable them to see themselves as empowered within the context of school and allow them to retain pride in their cultural heritages.

This power-sharing is what allows a teacher to effectively illustrate the four characteristics of classrooms that are culturally relevant, according to Gloria Ladson-Billings

  1. Teacher-student relationship is fluid, humanely equitable, extends to interactions beyond the classroom.
  2. Teacher demonstrates a connectedness with all students.
  3. Teacher encourages a “community of learners”
  4. Teacher encourages students to learn collaboratively. Students are expected to teach each other and be responsible for each other.