Responsive Teaching

Responsive teaching is a pedagogic approach grounded in integrating academic and students’ social-emotional needs and skills to create an environment where students can do their best learning. Adherents of this approach recognize that children bring their outside “lives and realities” into their in-school lives. Adherents also recognize that students are developing beings and are people who see and experience the world differently than they do. It is important, therefore, for schools and educators to know who they are teaching and to respond with understanding and empathy. Many factors shape a child’s existence.
Examples of such factors are:

  • Race
  • Ethnicity
  • Language
  • Religion
  • Ability (physical, intellectual, and social)
  • Socio-economic status
  • Students bound around the foster care system
  • Homelessness
  • Incarcerated parents
  • Drug-addicted parents or neighborhoods
  • Unemployed parents

Responsive teaching seeks to increase academic achievement in school students, decrease problem behaviors, improve social skills, and raise the quality of instruction by understanding these factors and using teaching strategies that take these factors into account. Most importantly, teaching practice is responsive to the student body that is being served.

What does responsive teaching look like?

  • Allows students (and teachers) to answer the important question like “why” and “what something may mean” by moving beyond factoids.
  • Provides explicit answers to how the world works
  • Enables students to consider what is it about particular content/lesson/topic/issue/construct/area that is relevant to them and their lives currently or in the future?
  • Uses students’ culture as a resource, not a liability, to enhance learning opportunities
  • Allows students to question what they find to be inequitable – past, current, future.
  • Links historical content to the present and what might happen in the future, enabling students to think about why the learning matters to their lives
  • Gives students voice and perspective in the classroom
  • Affords students opportunities to think about what is happening in their local communities and to complete projects that address matters they can understand locally

Why is responsive teaching important? The Thomas B. Fordham Institute reports that “among high school students who consider dropping out, half cite lack of engagement with the school as a primary reason and 42% report that they don’t see the value in the schoolwork they are asked to do.” Additionally, the report found that students with a C grade point average are more likely to drop out, yet this student group held higher proportions of “deep thinkers”. Responsive teaching strategies, therefore, can make important impacts on at risk students, while still serving all students.

Who can do this?

“Evidence is clear that teachers from any racial, ethnic, or cultural background can be successful teachers of any group of students!”

– Dr. H. Richard Milner, IV, Cornelius Vanderbuilt Endowed Chair of Education and Professor of Education in the Department of Teaching and Learning, Peabody College of Vanderbuilt University

The resources provided in this section are geared towards supporting urban education settings and the demographics of Philadelphia. However, they can be adjusted to fit different community settings and school environments.

Philadelphia public schools serves a diverse multi-cultural student body, where 85% are minorities, representing African Americans, Hispanic, Asian, African, Caribbean, and a wide range of other immigrant populations. 20% of students are English Language Learners. The student population is 84% low-income. This is a demographic pattern that is prevalent across the United States in communities large and small.

For the Catto education learning, we are offering educators ways for collaborative approaches and strategies to work together to meet student needs. The strategies also include providing opportunities for student voices to be heard through project-based learning endeavors like National History Day. We also have included Google translation tools that enable the conversion of materials into the 10 most frequently spoken language in Philadelphia and the United States.

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