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Teaching & Learning

Centering the student voice with culturally responsive teaching

News & Updates
September 1, 2022

Students are crucial partners in an engaged learning environment. While many instructors employ practices to ensure that students’ perspectives and voices are integrated into classroom learning, taking these practices to scale can be a challenge.

Earlier this year, over 300 faculty, instructional designers, deans, and other teaching practitioners engaged in conversations about the importance of elevating the student voice and shared examples of high-impact practices at the Achieving the Dream (ATD) Teaching and Learning Institute in April.

Students share their perspectives on culturally responsive teaching practices

In one session, attendees heard from three Every Learner Everywhere Student Fellows who had worked with ATD’s Teaching and Learning team over the last semester to expand ATD’s repository of culturally responsive teaching exemplars.

Renee Restivo, a health information and management major at Northwestern Connecticut Community College, said being a fellow gave her the opportunity to elevate her voice on issues that are important to her and impact her community. As part of her fellowship, Renee interviewed a professor at Nebraska Indian State University who is working to incorporate authentic self-expression in lessons. In this format, students can express their topic of choice in diverse ways, via video, PowerPoint, or an oral presentation, and show how their firsthand experiences resonate with the lesson being taught in the classroom.

Lillian Nguyen, a student at the University of Central Florida, is studying health sciences and wants to help make education more inclusive to influence the next generation. She said ATD’s mission and work resonated with her, and she hoped to use culturally responsive practices to impact the teaching environments in her classes. One practice that had been effective for her was group learning, where peers around the table discussed their responses and gave personal examples. It was a fresh style of learning for her that helped students gain confidence and build personal connections with their peers.

Julianna Castillo, a senior studying creative design and media at the University of Hawai’i West Oahu, chose to work with ATD because of her deep interest in helping to create more equitable environments. Through her research, observations, and interviews, especially speaking with her history professor, she learned more specifically about equity-centered work in the context of higher education. She plans to continue promoting equity in education and her two areas of passion, film and digital media.

The student fellows agreed that there was a key difference between simply recognizing the importance of diversity and incorporating culturally responsive teaching practices in the classroom. By focusing on instructional practices such as peer instruction and linguistic justice, the students gained further interest in equity and new perspectives on how to approach their work, with a focus on strategies that ensure success for people who are historically marginalized.

Student voices are an asset when developing curricula

Dr. Mike Bates, dean of teaching, learning, and distance education at Harper College in Illinois, led a session that focused on how students shape teaching and learning. Dr. Bates gave three examples:

  1. Creighton University in Oklahoma is working to increase active and experiential learning approaches and improve the attainment of learning goals through their Collaborative Curriculum Reconstruction Program. Faculty partner with students and take their perspectives into consideration as key parts of curriculum development.
  2. At Harper College in Illinois, the college’s Academy for Teaching Excellence has developed an engaging and effective process called Small Group Instructional Feedback (SGIF) where students serve as partners in improving teaching and learning. Student voices are integrated into a shared faculty examination of the teaching and learning practice. One student who participated in the SGIF Fall 2019 pilot said it was an effective way to voice concerns and have instructors listen and adjust the lessons.
  3. At Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, students serve as teacher partners in the classroom and assist with instruction. Instructors enjoy hearing student perspectives and learn practical information they can then incorporate directly into their classes.

To learn more about supporting the student voices in higher education, download ATD’s Teaching and Learning Toolkit. The toolkit is a research-based and practitioner-informed guide that includes practical tools and case studies of institutions designing high quality professional learning to enhance teaching and learning at scale.

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