Day 6: Brain Science and Culturally Responsive Teaching

  • Our brains are wired to learn. When challenging our brains through complex tasks, we expand our ability to learn even more. But each person processes information differently. Presenting the same information in the same way to people of diverse backgrounds and experiences will not yield the same results. 

    Culture drives how we process information, and being aware of that is the basis for the concept of culturally responsive teaching. It is not about how best to motivate students to learn, it is about finding the best way to help them build their capacity to learn.

    Students who feel safe and supported at school learn better. Making connections and getting to know them as individuals helps establish a positive atmosphere for learning to occur. It also builds trust, which is crucial to keeping the students open to direction and feedback.

    Culturally responsive teaching is not just about using examples from other cultures in lessons, although we certainly want to be sure other experiences are represented in materials. Instead, it is about being aware of how information is taught in other cultures. As young children, our families are the first teachers we encounter. The strategies used by our parents and other caregivers to teach language and life skills are the learning strategies we know best. The brain is wired to learn a certain way – you may have heard of someone being a visual learner, an oral learner, or a hands-on learner. Those strategies often have cultural roots.  

    Zaretta Hammond, who began her career as an English teacher, has written a defining book titled Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. “Every year, neuroscientists learn more and more about how the brain learns,” she says. One important finding is that, when students are introduced to new information, their brains attempt to connect the material with something that is personally important or relevant to them.

    Presenting information in different ways is a great way to engage all students, and allows them to build their confidence and skill set in a meaningful way. By tapping into the brain’s processing methods, we more effectively enable students to become life-long learners.

    Did You Know?

    Staff throughout Rush-Henrietta are participating in a districtwide book study on Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain this school year.

    Resources for Learning

    Option 1: Watch That Little Voice (2:22) 

    Option 2: Watch How Learning Happens: The Power of Relationships in Schools (3:40)

    Option 3: Read Culturally Responsive Teaching: An Interview with Zaretta Hammond

    Option 4: Read 3 Tips to Make Any Lesson More Culturally Responsive

    Consider These Ways to Reflect, Grow, and Take Action

    Questions to Consider for Self-Reflection:

    • Is culturally responsive teaching really any different than what the field of education identifies as best practices? 
    • What are the potential benefits of intentionally being more culturally responsive in the education of all children?

    Ways to Get Involved:

    • Watch for information on how to participate in the upcoming community book study on Zaretta Hammond’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain.


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