Thursday, June 13, 2019

Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain: Starting the Book

Hammond highlights the quote above in her book and on her blog.
This morning I have a bit of time to begin reading, Zaretta Hammond's book, Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain. I'm interested in learning from Hammond who has considerable experience and interest in this topic, and I am happy to participate with the #crttb Twitter slow chat about the book over the summer months.

I am interested in this book because it is my aim to teach every child in my midst well, and I want to know all I can about what that means and looks like in a classroom atmosphere. Below I've listed highlights from the introduction and chapter one--specific highlights that will positively impact my teaching practice. Hammond does use the phrase "achievement gap" in her book--there's been lots of discussion about whether this is a good term or not as many prefer the words "opportunity gap" as more accurate. Both phrases point to the goal of helping all students from all groups achieve as well as they can. Note that quotations in this post have been copied directly from Hammond's book.

Hammond's mother had a positive impact on her education. When reading books and listening to the stories about successful scholars, time and again I notice the wonderful impact parents and other relatives had on this success. It seems that a key element of success is family investment which leads to the question, How can I inspire and support family members as part of the learning/teaching community? At the Massachusetts Math and Science Institute this week, mathematician, John C. Urschel, told a similar story about his mother's inspiration and support.
His talk connects well to Hammond's book.

Early education matters. Hammond describes an early education that included clubs, and a focus on independence and self-direction.

"Culturally responsive teaching is a serious and powerful tool for accelerating student learning." Coupled with building brainpower, culturally responsive teaching can bridge the "achievement gap."

Understanding and utilizing the brain as a "natural learning apparatus" will empower our teaching. 

"Language is powerful. When you are able to name a thing, it moves out of the realm of mystery into concreteness. . . . I want you to think of culturally responsive teaching as a mindset, a way of thinking about and organizing instruction to allow for great flexibility in teaching." Hammond highlights that fact that building underserved students' cognitive resources is a strategy for closing the achievement gap. How can we build students' cognitive resources?

Hammond uses the terms, students of color and culturally and linguistically diverse students, interchangeably throughout her book. In chapter one, Hammond challenges us to support dependent learners to become independent thinkers. She notes that dependent learners are unable to do higher order thinking, creative problem solving, and analytical reading and writing. Key instructional strategies highlighted include the following:
  • teaching students how to learn - what strategies, routines, behaviors will help a child become a master learner?
  • encouraging productive struggle
  • less repetition and more higher order thinking skills and challenge
  • teach cognitive processes and strategies that help students move to complex thinking and independent learning.
  • make sure students are spending most of their school time engaged in productive activity (not in the principal's office)
  • make sure that significant time is spent on worthy, positive reading skill and development
  • practices that emphasizes memorization and lecture are considered "pedagogy of poverty" and leave students with outdated skills
  • make learning challenging, interesting, meaningful and motivating
  • build intellective capacity, fluid intelligence, intellective competence - increased brain power to process complex information effectively
Hammond emphasizes that students ". . .struggle because we don't offer them sufficient opportunities in the classroom to develop their cognitive skills and habits of mind that would prepare them to take on more academic tasks." 

As Hammond continued, I understand culturally responsive teaching as an active process that includes four practices:

Awareness of the role schools play in perpetuating and challenging inequities, and the role teachers' cultural awareness has on interpreting and evaluating students' behavior.

Learning Partnerships that create social-emotional partnerships for deeper learning. Establish authentic, trusting, respectful connections with students, give feedback in emotionally intelligent ways, hold students to high standards, and offer intellectual challenges.

Information processing that expands and strengthen's students ability to engage in deeper, more complex learning. Teach children how to process information by orchestrating learning to build student's brain power in culturally congruent ways. "Use brain-based information processing strategies common to oral cultures."

Community building in ways that creates an environment that feels socially and intellectually safe. Let the environment communicate care, support, and belonging. Integrate universal cultural elements/themes and set up rituals and routines that reinforce self-directed learning and academic identity.

After reading the introduction and chapter one, it is clear that this book will greatly empower my ability to teach all students well. I can't wait to read more and begin to match what I'm reading to improve pedagogical approaches I'll use in the year ahead.  In the meantime, actions that I'll employ that match to chapter one include the following:
  • Greater effort to enlist the support and connection to all families--how can we better access to curriculum nights and early year community events for all families?
  • Making sure to include explicit lessons at the start of the year and throughout the year related to "learning to learn" and that students are the drivers when it comes to their education--the sky's the limit, and to reach your goals you have to know how to use your brain power effectively.
  • Emphasizing meaningful "get to know each other" and community building activities at the start of the year -- activities that build student-student and student-teacher positive relationships and activities that empower students' ability to effectively use apt learning tools (email, websites, hand-held tools. . .), strategies (including questioning, self coaching. . .). . . "If you teach a student a lesson, that student learns one idea, concept, or skill, but if you teach a child to learn, that child can learn anything they choose with limitless depth. . .)
  • Greater emphasis on deep and meaningful learning tasks, less repetition and memorization.
  • Create a welcoming learning environment, a "home away from home"
  • Eliminate almost all time lost in learning with regard to disciplinary action--instead, use a strengths based model that is always focused on learning strength, capacity, interest. 
I will be interested in how reading the rest of the book helps me to include these efforts with greater detail and success in the weeks ahead.