How can educators implement culturally relevant and responsive pedagogy (CRP), a research- and evidence-based approach that values the rich variety of students’ cultures and backgrounds, in their own classroom? To help demonstrate tangible, practical applications for teachers, we take one of our ABE classroom-based curriculum modules, Chasing Cystic Fibrosis (contact ABEInfo@edc.org for the password), and share some of the ways that it can be adapted through a culturally responsive lens.
Chasing Cystic Fibrosis investigates the genetics of cystic fibrosis using traditional tree analysis, learning about the CFTR gene and the mutations that cause this genetic disease. In the series of lessons, students do hands-on activities to explore how cystic fibrosis affects people, and they meet and engage with a young woman in the UK who shares her experiences living with the disease.
Through a culturally responsive lens, the curriculum can be enhanced in a few ways; more specifically, these suggestions aim to support teachers who serve African American and LatinX/Hispanic students—historically underserved and racially minoritized populations in the United States. No curriculum is culture-free; within schools, the curriculum that students engage with reinforces a cultural frame. Curricula often represent and are designed for a given group of people and are “part of a selective tradition, someone’s selection, some group’s vision of legitimate knowledge” according to Apple (1993, p. 1).
ABE’s target CRP Goals:
- To integrate dimensions of culture that connect with students and their families to make curricula more relevant
- To embed problem-solving and problem-based learning components that connect with diverse communities
- To use cultural scaffolding within instructional practices while maintaining high expectations for all students
- To connect higher-order thinking and critical thinking using multiple modalities
CRP Curriculum Adaptations:
While cystic fibrosis is a genetic disease that affects many individuals and communities worldwide, the curriculum could be adapted to:
- Be more relevant to students and their communities by introducing stories of African American and LatinX/Hispanic young people with cystic fibrosis
- Be more relevant by introducing genetic diseases that impact students and their communities (e.g., sickle cell disease disproportionately affects African American families when compared to white or European families; for LatinX/Hispanic communities, instead of sickle cell, Alzheimer’s disease can be used)
Connect the problems associated with genetic diseases with problems that students, their families, or their communities face. Coupling with the suggestion above, students could investigate historical health care disparities and how they impact individuals’ abilities to receive ongoing quality care for genetic diseases.
- Students could share familial or community experiences OR research publicly available data for their communities.
- Students could create a video much like the one they are introduced to with the young woman from the UK, but instead, interview people in their community impacted by genetic diseases, researching the problem and reporting out potential solutions.
Within the lesson-plan sequence, when explaining concepts such as genetic mutation, teachers can present visuals that resonate with students and their experiences. When I taught relational concepts such as compare and contrast, I made sure to embed names of students, streets they lived on, and places in their local community. If there were stories of people in their community whom they respected and loved, I used those people’s names in explanations of concepts. Note: To do this, the teacher must have invested time in getting to know students beyond a surface level to know what is culturally appropriate.
Within the lesson-plan sequence, the teacher may integrate multiple modalities and culturally responsive ways for students to demonstrate their understanding. One way to do this is to allow students to create a visual storyboard, chart, or concept map; using the storyboard option, students could infuse visuals from their lives into their representations. They could also use community-based vernacular, combining non-academic vocabulary with academic vocabulary using dialogue-bubbles to simulate two people talking. If the teacher has students who are technologically savvy, they could encourage students to create a TikTok or Instagram story with other teachers, family members, or students voting on the best explanation and/or conceptual understandings. Across both examples, students have the opportunity to use cultural referents in their visual representations while thinking critically about the concepts within the curriculum.
Below are some curated articles as resources for teachers who would like to integrate some of the CRP adaptations we’ve shared.
- Being Black in the CF Community https://www.cff.org/CF-Community-Blog/Posts/2020/Being-Black-in-the-CF-Community
- LatinX populations and Alzheimers: https://salud-america.org/the-controversial-role-of-genetics-in-alzheimers-disease-in-latinos/
- Genetic Diversity Article: Genetic Diversity and Association Studies in US Hispanic/Latino Populations: Applications in the Hispanic Community Health Study/Study of Latinos: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0002929715004966
- Hispanics More Likely To Die from CF Article: https://med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2015/06/cystic-fibrosis-deadlier-for-hispanic-than-non-hispanic-patients.html
- Apple, M. W. (1993). The politics of official knowledge: Does a national curriculum make sense?. Discourse, 14(1), 1–16.