Culturally Relevant Pedagogy and Online Learning


Adapting Four CRP Competencies to the Virtual Classroom

Classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse. Most people think of diversity as racial and ethnic; however, there is diversity in economics, learning experiences, language, and more. The classroom is a reflection of our ever-changing and ever-growing world. Teachers in the 21st century must draw upon the latest research and theory to garner a firm foundation in how to best prepare the next generation of students to navigate the future. 

Over the past twenty years, there has been an increased effort to foster inclusive classrooms through culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP), a student-centered and asset-based learning framework that focuses on students’ experiences and ways of knowing. It places students’ cultural identities at the center of the learning process and utilizes their cultural knowledge, previous experiences, frames of references, and performance styles. Rather than looking at student differences as a deficit, researchers including Geneva Gay and Gloria Ladson-Billings push teachers to look at these differences as assets and a vehicle on which teachers base instruction. Valuing diversity as an asset empowers students to experience academic achievement. Teachers must shift their mindsets away from following scripted curriculum and toward prioritizing responsive adaptation of curriculum to meet students’ needs. All of this can be done while upholding instructional standards and rigor. Unfortunately, the shift to online learning has presented a roadblock in teachers’ quest to integrate CRP. 

The 2020 COVID-19 pandemic has thrust teachers into uncharted territory. Although virtual learning has been the new norm for a few months at the time of writing this blog, teachers still find themselves trying to adapt lessons to meet the needs of the online classroom. While online education is not new, the explosion of distance and virtual learning has uncovered deficits in the teaching profession. Not only are teachers learning how to engage students through platforms including Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts, etc., they are also trying to incorporate aspects of CRP into their online lessons. Much of the research on CRP has been conducted in the context of traditional, face-to-face learning. Guidance on CRP for online learning is scant. There is now an extra layer to work required to support students of all backgrounds and adapt lessons to integrate CRP. 

Teachers must shift their mindsets away from following scripted curriculum and toward prioritizing responsive adaptation of curriculum to meet students’ needs.

Connecting CRP and Online Learning

To date, there are few resources to provide guidance on CRP in an online environment. Ginsburg and Wlodkowski (2009) developed four key competencies to CRP that every teacher should integrate in the brick and mortar classroom: establishing inclusion, developing attitude, enhancing meaning, and engendering competence. How can these competencies be adapted for online learning? These adaptations are not exhaustive, but are meant to start a conversation on CRP for online learning.  

Establishing Inclusion

Being in a classroom, physical or virtual, can be nerve-racking for students. It is crucial to establish a sense of belonging for students of all backgrounds, ability levels, and socioeconomic statuses in order to promote academic success. During synchronous learning, teachers must acknowledge students’ presence and positively narrate their contributions to the class. (Check out this free resource to plan, practice, and implement positive narration in your classroom!) Teachers must also promote student voice by encouraging them to share their understanding with each other both verbally and during asynchronous work. Teachers should elevate student experience and celebrate their perspectives to foster inclusivity. 

Developing Attitude

Online learning can seem isolating, thereby limiting collaboration in the classroom. Students may solely depend on teachers for content knowledge and information. Teachers should empower students to take learning into their own hands by integrating twenty-first century skills into the online classroom. The following two strategies promote student ownership of learning: 

  1. Provide choice in online activities to develop student agency and responsibility. 

  2. Help students write individual goals and attainable benchmarks for online learning.

These two student-centered approaches are individualized, taking into account the needs of every student.  

Enhancing Meaning

CRP pushes teachers to help students see themselves in the curriculum. Effective teachers offer numerous opportunities for students to explore and create meaning in collaboration with peers, grounding learning in their own personal stories and narratives. Teachers in the online classroom often feel they need to teach the curriculum without deviation. Rather, teachers should adapt curriculum in response to students’ needs and experiences and use the online classroom as a platform to build community. By leveraging online learning tools including FlipGrid, Google Classroom, and SeeSaw, teachers can empower students to share their understanding and elevate their experiences. 

Engendering Competence 

Assessment is a critical component of teaching and learning. The shift to online learning has made teachers think about different ways to assess students. Quizzes, tests, and other forms of traditional assessments can still be useful; however, competence can and should be measured in more open-ended assessments. One example is performance-based learning, which fits naturally within CRP and online learning. This style of assessment provides numerous options for students to demonstrate understanding. Performance-based learning focuses on target skills and critical thinking while giving students choices in their work. Choice empowers students to use their strengths while also working on areas for growth. 

Replicating face-to-face teaching for the online classroom is what most teachers likely did in the early stages of the 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. This mirroring of teaching strategies did not work for many teachers, students, or families. As physical and online classrooms diversify, teachers can leverage CRP as a foundation and mindset for inclusive education. Just because we moved online does not mean the principals of CRP should go to waste; now more than ever we need CRP to help drive instruction in the online classroom. 

Brandon Frost, Ed.D.

Instructor, Moreland University

Additional Reading