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Culturally-Sensitive Classrooms

What happens when cultures at home...

Imagine a child who is taught at home that kids are meant to talk and play and complete tasks together. Few things at home are done alone. Ana is learning to tie her shoes, but her big brother will stick his hand in and hold the bunny ears before she drops them. As Ana learns, he helps less and less. When he has trouble getting a puzzle piece to fit, Ana takes the piece, rotates it, and explains, “Sometimes you have to turn the piece until it fits.” Ana is always praised at home for working well with her brother; she helps him, and he helps her.

But when Ana gets to school, she is always criticized for helping other children. Ana’s teacher asks her to keep her hands to herself when she tries to help another girl build a tower out of blocks. Most of the other kids are working alone and are praised for their independence while Ana feels like she’s always being scolded. Ana becomes withdrawn at school because she doesn’t like to work on things independently; it makes her feel alone and as if her teacher and her classmates don’t like her.

...Don't match cultures in the classroom?

Ana is having trouble adapting between a classroom and a home that have two distinct cultures. She has to figure out all on her own when and how to do things independently and when it is okay to work with other children. And after all that, at the end of the day, she has to “reset” what she knows so that she acts appropriately at home.

New research shows that children perform better when they go to school in a culturally-sensitive classroom. A culturally-sensitive classroom draws a connection between a child’s in-school and out-of-school experiences. This way, it is easier for a child to transition between home and school. A culturally-sensitive classroom doesn’t inadvertently privilege some students’ cultures over others’.

Currently, research shows that young children thrive when they can easily transfer their knowledge between home and school. However, there are still many questions that research seeks to answer: What does a culturally-sensitive classroom look like? How exactly does this improve students’ learning? How do we measure the level of cultural sensitivity in a classroom?


This blog post is an excerpt from NHSA's monthly Research Blast newsletter, which also includes background research and useful resources for each month's topic. To receive the newsletter each month, become an NHSA member today!