Culturally Responsive Teaching and Inquiry

We just stopped.

Culturally responsive teaching requires an empathetic inquiry stance.

We’re continuing exploring the GId unit from Shawnee, Oklahoma. (You can read past posts from this month for the beginning of the story.) After the Middle School English Language Arts team began with assumptions and reading the book Dreamland Burning, they immersed themselves in the truths of what happened in Tulsa in 1921.

To Immerse, the teachers showed a documentary about the event.  The teachers found very few documentaries  available on the topic in November 2019.  After reviewing what was available, they decided that they students needed to know what happened.  They chose one documentary that included a detailed account of the event.  It was not easy to watch.

The students in the school are diverse, representing a wide mix of races Native American, Blacks, Whites and Latinos all represented. As the students watched the documentary, the teachers were watching the students.  They were paying attention to their quiet, yet noticeable response, to the video.  At one point they could see that some students became increasingly uncomfortable with what they were viewing. When the teachers saw this, they felt they had to stop.  As you hear them talk about it in the video above, different students were having different reactions to the video.  The teachers felt it was really important to hear from the perspectives in the room.  They took time to listen, hear, and empathize.

This was a very powerful moment.  The teachers didn’t plow on, they just stopped.  In the pause,

  • they validated all responses,
  • they listened,
  • they learned
  • and they backed up students as some of the students who didn’t have the same experience as others were skeptical about how different their lived experiences were from their peers.

This was a hinge moment for the unit. In this moment the teachers showed the students that what they thought mattered.  Too often in schools we plow onward, we cover content without any regard to the kids in front of us. Teachers feel such pressure to cover all the material in the standards, curriculum and often say they don’t have time for inquiry learning.

It’s true, in inquiry learning the teachers take an open stance to learn, they embody curiosity and wonder. It takes time.  But what I say is we cannot afford NOT to take the time to do this.  In this moment, these teachers  showed their students that they are heard, that their experiences are valid and respected here (in that classroom and library), and showed them all how important it is to stop and listen to each other.

There are many more resources now about this event and the team is changing what they do in the unit.  Rather than watch a long involved documentary, they are using short audio clips from PBS and NPR.

No matter how they choose to immerse the students in this content, these students now recognize the importance of listening and no matter what, that will be a part of this portion of the unit.

Leslie Maniotes, PhD

Author of Guided Inquiry Design




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