How To Design a Culturally Relevant Curriculum

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From my experience in teaching and from designing curriculum that is used all over the world, I have found that students appreciate and enjoy lessons that are tailored to their own cultures and backgrounds. This isn’t just my opinion, it’s also backed by peer-reviewed research. Renee Smith-Maddox, a researcher in the USA, has found that culturally relevant teaching practices were shown to have a positive impact on student achievement. (Smith-Maddox, 1998) Though, in a globally connected world, what does it mean to be culturally relevant?

There tends to be two major schools of thought about culturally relevant teaching practices. The first is to tailor instructional materials so that they fit into the culture of the child. The second is to expose children to a wide range of cultures through varied instructional materials. In my opinion, a well rounded culturally relevant curriculum would seamlessly integrate both of these ideas so that the culture of origin for the child is respected before introducing other cultures and values. Western education systems are often at fault for approaching culture in education as a form of colonization, requiring students to conform to the ideal culture of the school system rather than honoring native cultures and cultures of origin. Many educators and school systems have identified this problem and have adopted methods, practices and training to improve the curriculum in a way that respects all cultures.

At BSD Education we design curriculum that is used in classrooms all over the world. This presents a unique opportunity to infuse a multicultural approach to our lessons. We intentionally use examples and images from a wide range of cultures in our instructional materials. We also encourage teachers in our professional development sessions to modify and tailor the lessons to fit the needs of their own students. For example, in our “Learn How to Make Blog” lesson, the example blog is written from the perspective of a young Indian girl named Adsila who blogs about her favorite destinations and food in Southern India. Students will learn how to design and build the blog using HTML, CSS and JavaScript, but teachers can modify the content of the blog by providing new context and images if they wanted to show a different cultural example. This type of flexibility isn’t found in traditional textbooks that can never be edited or modified.

Christopher Edmin, in his book For White Folks Who Teach In the Hood asks educators if students can see themselves in the lesson? If not, what can you do to bring more awareness to the student’s own cultures through the lesson? Oftentimes, it’s as easy as adding a few examples or allowing students to share their own perspectives. In a world where cultures merge across physical borders and into schools, it is also important to realize the wide variety of cultures sitting in your classroom; how can you as a teacher respect and support them all while also allowing for those unique cultural differences to be seen and even celebrated? 

We would love to hear your ideas about culturally relevant practices or see examples from you classrooms, feel free to share on Twitter by tagging @BarkMarnett and @EducationBSD

about Mark
Mark is Vice President of Education. He is passionate about project-based learning and teaching students to create with technology.
With experience in STEAM and maker education, he has consulted with teachers and administrators all over the world to setup and design impactful learning experiences with makerspaces and related education themes. He speaks internationally about equity and access to STEAM and maker education, most notably at the Stanford FabLearn Conference, MIT Libre Learn Lab, SXSWedu, EARCOS in Bangkok, UNESCO in India and at 21st Century Learning in Hong Kong.

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