Effects of Culturally Responsive Teaching: A Literature Review

Effects of Culturally Responsive Teaching: A Literature Review

Written by Amber Pratt UNC-Charlotte

Culturally responsive teaching connects students’ cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles to academic knowledge and intellectual tools in ways that legitimize what students already know. Culturally Responsive Teaching is a pedagogy that recognizes the importance of including students' cultural references in all aspects of learning (Ladson-Billings, 1994). Teachers are charged with determining how to meet the diverse needs of our students. We teach students with differing economic and cultural backgrounds and we must seek to understand and resolve potential conflicts due to cultural differences that may surface in our classroom

The Equity Alliance list the following features of culturally responsive teaching are:

  • Communicate high expectations
  • Actively engage your students in learning
  • Facilitate learning
  • Understand the assets and capabilities that students’ families bring to their parenting
  • Anchor your curriculum in the everyday lives of your students
  • Select participation structures for learning that reflect students’ ways of knowing and doing
  • Share control of the classroom with your students
  • Engage in reflective thinking and writing
  • Visit students’ families and communities
  • Learn about the history and experiences of diverse groups
  • Visit or read about successful teachers in diverse settings
  • Participate in reforming the institution
  • Acknowledge membership in different groups
  • Explore personal and family histories

The goal of this literature review is to deliberate the effects of culturally responsive classrooms on success for all students. In culturally responsive classrooms:

  • Teachers cultivate meaningful relationships with students and families
  • Teachers consistently communicate high expectations and empower students to drive their learning
  • Teachers facilitate rigorous instruction that validates and authentically incorporates students’ lived and historical experiences


Features of Culturally Responsive Teaching


Becoming culturally responsive means that teachers as well as students have to negotiate new standards and norms that acknowledge the differences and the similarities among and between individuals and groups (Kozleski). According to (Ladson‐Billings, 1995) culturally relevant pedagogy rests on three criteria or propositions: (a) Students must experience academic success; (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence; and (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order. A study conducted by Ladson-Billings (1995) found the following:

All of the teachers demanded, reinforced, and produced academic excellence in their students. Thus culturally relevant teaching requires that teachers attend to students’ academic needs, not to merely make them “feel good”. The trick of culturally relevant teaching is to get students to “choose” academic excellence (p. 160).

Ladson-Billings (1995) contends, “Culturally relevant teachers utilize students’ culture as

a vehicle for learning” (p. 161). African American students can fear being ostracized for “acting white” or “talking white” if they demonstrate a certain level of academic success. This phenomenon was recognized in an article by Fordham and Ogbu (1986) and is noted by Ladson-Billings (1995, p.160).   MORE ABOU T CULTURAL COMPENTENCE (b) and (C)

Why Should Culturally Responsive Teaching Be the Norm?

Kozleski (n.d.) argues that “The achievement gap in the US often separates groups of students by drawing differences between White, middle class students and their peers who may be American Indian, African American, Asian American and/or Latino/a. There are many harmful effects of looking at performance in terms of gaps particularly because the gaps that are noticed privilege some kinds of knowledge over others. While the path to college is based on banking particular kinds of knowledge and using it to demonstrate competence, we cannot forget that practical and indigenous ways of knowing offer great insight and have ecological and social significance” (p.3).

According to Hammond (2015), academic struggles that are so often attributed to a “culture of poverty” or “different community values toward education” really exist because “we don’t offer [students] sufficient opportunities in the classroom to develop the cognitive skills and habits of mind that would prepare them to take on more advanced academic tasks.” Far too often students of color are taught a pedagogy of poverty. Haberman recognizes that examples of almost every form of pedagogy can be found in urban classrooms. He states, “In spite of this broad range of options, however, there is a typical form of teaching that has become accepted as basic.” Haberman writes that the teaching acts that constitute the core functions of urban teaching include giving information, giving directions, giving tests, reviewing homework and assignments, settling disputes and punishing noncompliance. The pedagogy of poverty does not work and unfortunately it persists in many schools across America. Haberman illuminates the fact that “Youngsters achieve neither minimum levels of life skills nor what they are capable of learning. The classroom atmosphere created by constant teacher direction and student compliance seethes with passive resentment that sometimes bubbles up into overt resistance. Teachers burn out because of the emotional and physical energy that they must expend to maintain their authority every hour of every day…. In reality, the pedagogy of poverty is not a professional methodology at all. It is not supported by research, by theory, or by the best practice of superior urban teachers.” Haberman (1990) writes: 

[The pedagogy of poverty] appeals to those who fear minorities and the poor. Bigots typically become obsessed with the need for control. 4. It appeals to those who have low expectations for minorities and the poor. People with limited vision frequently see value in limited and limiting forms of pedagogy. They believe that at-risk students are served best by a directive, controlling pedagogy.

Hammond (2015) sees CRT as a driver toward “helping students have environments in which they can grow their brain power and be active participants in their own learning” and where “they see that they are more than capable because competence precedes confidence.” Teachers must continually be reflective of their teaching methods. If our English language learners, students of color and/or low-income students are not being successful then perhaps we should assess our ability to be culturally responsive. According to Ellerbrock, Cruz, Vásquez, & Howes (2016), “In the naiveté/pre-awareness stage, many preservice teachers have little awareness of the complexities related to the ethnic, cultural, or social identities of others or of social justice issues. Preservice teachers may show signs of awareness, but their ideas may be prejudiced, discriminatory, or laden with stereotypes”. Often teachers are not aware of the attitudes or stereotypes that affect their understanding, actions and decisions in an unconscious manner. Our implicit biases can have a negative impact of the success of our students. Teachers can be made aware of these biases through culturally relevant and diversity trainings. Colleges of education should make improvements to how they prepare preservice teachers to place diversity education at forefront of teaching and learning. Teacher educators and preservice teachers alike must seek to understand their own identity development and cultural competence and make a commitment to fostering opportunities for all learners.

Kozleski (n.d.) states that “part of the tradition of teaching is that teachers have the role of shepherding the next generation through a set of passages so that they can attain adulthood with a full complement of the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to be contributing citizens. Culturally responsive teachers realize that mastering academic knowledge involves understanding that content maps can provide multiple avenues to understand and access information”. Teachers have great power when it comes to imparting knowledge and shaping our students cultural identity and self-beliefs. While we are given a set of standards that we must teach our students there is still much room for interpretation and the standards can be presented through multiple lenses. For example a United States history lesson on westward expansion taught through the eyes of the pioneers would look much different from the same lesson taught through the eyes of the indigenous people. Educators must be cognizant of how they approach curriculum and how the curriculum will be perceived and experienced by their students.

Culturally relevant classrooms are places where students are able to interact with others, assume accountability for their learning and feel comfortable exploring differences of opinions. The success of these classrooms requires teachers to explicitly teach and model social interactions and assume the role of a facilitator. According to Kozleski (n.d.), ”Along the way, students learn to see the classroom and their interactions from more than one perspective so that they can identify potential difficulties that come from assumptions of privilege, the distribution of power (who gets to make the rules), and the assessment of performance and competence” (p.2).

Gay (2015) noted that the school underachievement of students from poor, urban, rural, and non-mainstream ethnic, racial, and linguistic groups is a recurrent concern of educators in the United States, and is growing in significance in many other countries around the world. These achievement gaps are broad-based, encompass more than academic performance (such as disciplinary referrals, resource allocations, curriculum designs, and the professional preparation of teachers and administrators), and comprise the heart of social justice agendas within the context of education (Hammnod 2010; Kozol, 2005) (p. 123)

What are Non-Examples of Culturally Responsive Teaching?

Unfortunately some teachers believe they are being culturally responsive when they are in fact implementing multicultural education in their classrooms. The primary goals of multicultural education are to increase awareness of global issues, encourage critical thinking, and prevent prejudicial thinking and behaviors. Multicultural Education is more broad-based, giving attention to educational ideology, curriculum content, policy-making, assessment, and teaching materials and resources along with instructional engagements. Gay (2015) defined culturally responsive teaching as using the heritages, experiences, and perspectives of different ethnic and racial groups to teach students who are members of them more effectively (Gay, 2002, 2010b) (p. 124) In this manner, “diverse cultures become conduits or filters for teaching academic knowledge and skills students are expected to learn in school, as well as enhancing their personal, social, cultural, and civic development” (Gay, 2015).

Colorblind motivational models lack cultural responsivity by suggesting that differences between groups of people are not important and we should all be treated equally and given the same opportunities. One issue with the colorblind ideology is that minority individuals, whose differentiating characteristics make them unique, may feel devalued when the very things that are of high importance to them are overlooked. In contrast, multiculturalism acknowledges and celebrates differences. This helps underrepresented individuals increase their ambition, perseverance and success. Aragon, Dovidio & Graham (2017) noted that multiculturalism “can make those in the majority feel excluded because they do not feel that their group is given consideration when diversity is addressed (Plaut et al., 2011) (p. 2)

Misconceptions about Culturally Relevant Teaching

People often confuse culturally responsive teaching with multiculturalism, diversity and inclusion. Multicultural teaching takes into account the histories, texts, values, beliefs and perspectives of people from different cultural backgrounds. Some of the goals of multicultural education are to create a safe, accepting, and successful learning environment for all learners and to strengthen intercultural consciousness.  According to Zaretta Hammond, multicultural education is “the celebration of diversity, what we usually see in schools. While those are really noble things and critical to a high functioning classroom and school climate, it doesn’t have anything to do with learning capacity.” In terms of equity, Hammond believes that there are three different aspects to focus on. Multicultural education is one area of focus and the other two are social justice education and culturally responsive pedagogy. Hammond states, “Only culturally responsive teaching is focused on the cognitive development of underserved students. Multicultural and social justice education have more of a supporting role in CRT”. One common misconception about culturally responsive teaching is that CRT is a technique that teachers use in class when in actuality it is a multifaceted approach that creates opportunities for students to accelerate their own learning. Becoming a culturally responsive teacher is no small feat as it requires teaches to look beyond their own cultural biases in an effort to develop methods of learning and communication that engage students and encourage student participation and achievement. Another misconception is that culturally responsive teaching is all about building relationships and self-esteem. While healthy relationships and student self-esteem are necessary factors in setting the stage for learning, they do not directly increase students’ ability to do more challenging academic work (Gonzalez, 2017, Misconception 3).



Aragón, O. R., Dovidio, J. F., & Graham, M. J. (2017). Colorblind and multicultural ideologies are associated with faculty adoption of inclusive teaching practices. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education10(3), 201–215. doi: 10.1037/dhe0000026

Brown, B. A., Boda, P., Lemmi, C., & Monroe, X. (2019). Moving Culturally Relevant  Pedagogy from Theory to Practice: Exploring Teachers’ Application of Culturally Relevant Education in Science and Mathematics. Urban Education, 54(6), 775–803.

Ellerbrock, C. R., Cruz, B. C., Vásquez, A., & Howes, E. V. (2016). Preparing Culturally Responsive Teachers: Effective Practices in Teacher Education. Action in Teacher Education38(3), 226–239. doi: 10.1080/01626620.2016.1194780

Gay, G. (2015). The what, why, and how of culturally responsive teaching: international mandates, challenges, and opportunities. Multicultural Education Review7(3), 123–139. doi: 10.1080/2005615x.2015.1072079

Gonzalez, J. (2017, September 10). Culturally Responsive Teaching: 4 Misconceptions. Retrieved from https://www.cultofpedagogy.com/culturally-responsive-misconceptions/.

Haberman, & Martin. (1990, November 30). The Pedagogy of Poverty versus Good Teaching. Retrieved from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ435783.

Hammond, Z., & Jackson, Y. (2015). Culturally responsive teaching and the brain: promoting authentic engagement and rigor among culturally and linguistically diverse students. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, a SAGE Company.

Kozleski, E. B. (n.d.). Culturally Responsive Teaching Matters! Retrieved from http://www.equityallianceatasu.org/.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The dreamkeepers: Successful teachers of African American  children. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Ladson‐Billings, G. (1995). But that’s just good teaching! The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory Into Practice34(3), 159–165. doi: 10.1080/00405849509543675