Strategy: Cultural Relevance in Content

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Connection to the curriculum refers to the way that teachers are able to bring students’ diverse backgrounds into lessons and the classroom without instances of ethnic stereotyping. This connection must go beyond the superficiality of heroes and holidays and focus on the delivery of learning activities that resonate well below the surface of observable traditions and artistic expressions. Visible images reflecting cultural values should be on display and learning activities should be developed or selected with a keen eye toward students’ backgrounds, values, families, and communities. Moreover, it is essential that the prevailing attitude guiding curriculum and instruction reflect a partnership between teacher and student in the goal of mastering the material (Gay, 2002; Green & Stormont, 2017; Haberman, 1995; Ross, Kamman, & Coady, 2008).
It is important for teachers to think of curriculum as something that reaches beyond the four walls of the classroom. Thinking outside of the school building and making connections to real life and current events will make the content more relevant to students. Creating lessons that connect to students must be done deliberately. It is not something that is likely to happen on accident; therefore, figuring out a way to ensure that connections are made is necessary. Giving students ownership and leadership in the development and delivery of curriculum and instruction can be done at any level. How this is achieved may look different depending on the developmental level and age of the students, but a teacher that values the input of their students’ backgrounds in every aspect of the classroom will find purposeful and meaningful ways to involve all of their students.
How Cultural Relevance in Content Connects to CARES

When students see themselves in the physical classroom space as well as in the delivery and development of the lesson content, they will be more engaged in the learning. Consider when you see a place you have visited before when watching a movie or TV show. Most viewers will instantly feel a connection and their interest will be piqued as they begin to look for familiar places within the setting regardless of how “good” the movie or TV show is. The same can be achieved for students in the classroom when it is evident that the teacher has taken their interests into account when organizing the classroom environment and in developing the classroom curriculum. While it may be virtually impossible to ensure that ALL students see themselves in EVERY aspect of the classroom ALL the time, being able to see themselves consistently will engage them in the content and have them looking for themselves in the setting.

Culturally responsive teachers, along with their students, must be critical consumers of curriculum in order to make connections where they otherwise might not be and should enhance supplemental materials to increase cultural representation, accuracy, complexity, and authenticity of multiple levels of curriculum (Gay, 2002). Scholars have identified three levels of curriculum to create culturally responsive lessons and classrooms (Cortés, 1991, 1995, 2000; Gay, 1995; Gay, 2002). These three levels of curriculum are formal, symbolic, and societal. The Relevance Matrix strategy tool can be used to assess your curriculum across these different levels.

Some key elements to effectively finding cultural relevance in the content:
1) Classroom displays should consist of contributors to the content and subject students are learning about, but care should be taken that these contributors are not all white males. Some of the contributors may be lesser known to you and your students but should be included and celebrated. Additionally, taking care to avoid displaying prominent contributors to the content that play into stereotypical roles is also important.
2) Interactive lessons that allow for and provide opportunities for movement are important to consider when thinking about how to deliver content. Students, and people in general, can get easily distracted and become bored if they are asked to “sit and get” for extended periods of time.
3) While teachers may not have control over the objectives that they are required to teach to students, they do have some control over what resources they use and more importantly HOW the information and content is delivered. Examining the curriculum ahead of time for incidences of bias and stereotype can help you to eliminate those instances during your instruction so as not to alienate any of your students.
4) Understanding and demonstrating to your students that your classroom is not just your room that they visit on a daily basis, rather, it is a shared space where they are active participants, will encourage students to take pride and ownership in the physical space as well as in the delivery of content. Providing roles for students in both classroom routines and in the sharing of information and content will promote that partnership and the sense of a shared community space with your students. Also, consider the flow of the classroom and the physical setup of the space so as to allow for equitable and easy access for all students to classroom materials and to each other.

How To

Physical Classroom Structure - Icon
Examining your classroom structure and layout as well as the delivery of your content, both in what and how you deliver it, can be done at any time during the year, not just at the beginning. As you become more aware of the various needs of your students and of the multitude of ways that you can connect each one to your classroom space and instruction, you can choose to examine your current practices and improve upon them.

Strategy Tool

#1 – Assessment of the Classroom Setting
CRIC: Assessment of the Classroom Setting - Strategy Tool
Since students spend so much time in the classroom, assessing the physical environment is necessary to ensure connection to your students. Students should be able to identify with the classroom displays. They should also be able to easily access all needed materials and have access to the teacher and other students in order to provide opportunities for collaboration. All of the below elements that the Assessment of the Classroom Setting strategy tool helps to determine are important factors for helping all of your students to feel valued and part of the learning as opposed to simply receivers of knowledge. Use the Assessment of the Classroom Setting strategy tool to deliberately and purposefully determine the following:
  • Classroom organization of desks and furniture
  • Classroom displays
  • Organization and access to classroom materials
  • Seating arrangements for students
  • Classroom roles and responsibilities
#2 – Relevance Matrix for Examining the Curriculum
CRIC: Relevance Matrix - Strategy Tool
Use the Relevance Matrix strategy tool to help examine the curriculum and to think more critically about ways to engage students with content. The three levels of curriculum—formal, symbolic, and societal—are separated out in this tool.


CRIC: Assessment of the Classroom Setting - Reflection
Use the Assessment of the Classroom Setting Reflection sheet or the Relevance Matrix Reflection sheet as appropriate to make sure your plan is going to work.

Goal Setting

CRIC: Assessment of the Classroom Setting - Goal Setting
Use the Assessment of the Classroom Setting Goal Setting form to assess the progress on your classroom environment goals.
CRIC: Relevance Matrix - Goal Setting
Use the Relevance Matrix Goal Setting form to assess the progress on your goals related to making your curriculum more culturally relevant.

References to Other Relevant Resources:

Cortés, C. E. (1991). Empowerment through media literacy: A multicultural approach. In C. E. Sleeter (Ed.), Empowerment through multicultural education (pp. 143-157). Albany: State University of New York Press.

Cortés, C. E. (1995). Knowledge construction and popular culture: The media as multicultural educator. In J. A. Banks & C.A.M. Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 169-183). New York: Macmillan.

Cortés, C. E. (2000). Our children are watching: How media teach about diversity. New York: Teachers College Press.

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education, 53, 106-116.

Gay, G. (1995). A multicultural school curriculum. In C. A. Grant & M. Gomez (Eds.), Making school multicultural: Campus and classroom (pp. 37-54). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.

Green, A.L., & Stormont, M. (2017). Creating culturally responsive and evidence-based lessons for diverse learners with disabilities. Intervention in School and Clinic, DOI: 10.1177/1053451217702114

Haberman, M. (1995). STAR teachers of children in poverty. West Lafayette, IN: Kappa Delta Pi.

Ross, D., Kamman, M., & Coady, M. (2008). Accepting responsibility for the learning of all students. In M. Rosenberg, D. Westing, & J. McLeskey (Eds.), Special education for today’s teachers (pp. 52-81). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.


Concentration Areas: Connection to the Curriculum; Authentic Relationships; Reflective Thinking About Cultural, Racial/Ethnic, and Class Differences; Effective Communication; Sensitivity to Students’ Culture

What is CARES?

CARES is an acronym for the five domains that research has found to be successful in engaging students of culturally diverse backgrounds at school. Each letter refers to a significant element of interaction within the classroom. Applying all five domains of CARES works because it promotes a better understanding of students and ourselves by using strategies that deepen those relationships every day.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All five CARES domains, together with the Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, support one another and need to be applied in the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

Research has shown that each of the five CARES domains has a significant impact on students and their behavior when used regularly and over time. Students who are known and understood by their teachers as individuals in the classroom report deeper connections academically and to their school. When teachers understand their own cultural heritage, they better understand the differences between themselves and their students and report higher levels of mutual respect with students. This also helps teachers to recognize the similarities they share with their students as well as recognize ways in which they are different. Students are more connected and engaged in classrooms where teachers welcome exploration; invite, acknowledge, and celebrate cultural differences; make relevant connections to the curriculum; listen attentively to understand how each student is approaching the concepts; and use humor and other effective communication tools.

Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate

Concentration Areas: Smooth Transitions, Pacing of Instruction, Student Engagement, Clear Expectations, Use of Praise, Use of Reprimands, Level of Disruptive Behavior

What is Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate?

Positive Behavior Supports refers to the proactive ways that teachers work with their students, as well as the ways that teachers respond to challenging situations with students. The focus is on recognizing and affirming student strengths rather than punishing them or taking something away from them. A positive approach to the classroom will promote a classroom climate that is welcoming to all students and is a place where students want to engage with the teacher, each other, and the curriculum. All individuals, students and teachers, and the interactions between and amongst all classroom members play a role in the climate.

There is no single element that works independently of the others. All Positive Behavior Supports & Classroom Climate elements, together with the CARES domains, support one another and need to be applied to the classroom to be successful.

Why is it important?

In a classroom climate that is positive and welcoming to all members, the classroom becomes a safe place where culture and diversity can be openly discussed. A supportive climate is one that promotes student engagement and success. Students feel supported and motivated to be an active member of the classroom community. The teacher taking a positive and proactive approach creates a climate of care and respect and promotes desired student behaviors. This classroom is also a place that provides consistency to students, which is especially important for students who may experience stress and uncertainty outside of the school building. Teachers who have positive and proactive classrooms report fewer disruptive behaviors from their students, an increase in student achievement, and better overall perceptions of school climate.

CARES Overview

Greeting Students at the Door

Using Journals to Build Relationships

Identifying Reinforcers for the Classroom

Using Social and Emotional Coaching

Using Behavior-specific Praise

Using Active Supervision

Using Group Contingencies

Using Precorrection

Teaching Behavior Expectations

Providing Academic Feedback

Increasing Opportunities to Respond

Developing and Using Clear Academic Objectives

Posting and Using a Schedule

Coaching Process – Menu of Options

Coaching Process – Providing Feedback

Coaching Process – Introduction and Overview

Observation Practice 4

Observation Practice 3

Observation Practice 2

Observation Practice 1

Using an Attention Signal

Teaching Classroom Routines

Physical Classroom Structure

Values Card Sort – Example

Card Sort Introduction

Coaching – Interview Guide

Opening the Meeting

Defining and Teaching Classroom Rules

Mrs. James

Miss Faber

Double Check Classroom Check-Up Overview