Culturally Responsive Pedagogy
Umoja Community faculty are given extensive training in culturally responsive pedagogy and practices. According to Gay (2000) culturally responsive teaching uses the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, and performance styles of diverse students to make learning more appropriate and effective for them; it teaches to and through the strengths of these students. Umoja Community programs implement course curriculum which respects and celebrates the culture heritage of the students in the program. The students’ own cultural experiences are acknowledged and respected which generates active dialogue and increased classroom participation.
Dr. Ladson-Billings (1994) recognizes the importance of including students’ cultural references in all aspects of learning. One goal, shared by the Umoja Community, of culturally responsive education is to potentially impact the self-concept, esteem, motivation and resiliency of historically underachieving students (Thompson, 2004).
The Umoja Community both practices and provides training on culturally responsive learning environments. The following description of “Porchtalk” is an example of this: A classroom environment which functions like a porch should be open, respectful, and playful; there should be argument, dissection and revision. It should be personal, political and philosophical. It can sometimes be candid, even a little painful. Porchtalk invites humor, noise, sometimes unruliness. A classroom with such honesty and visibility can produce frustration and also acceptance. Needless to say, trust is at the foundation of a porchtalk classroom and trust has to be earned, modeled, practiced and openly reflected upon, as well as revisited. Porchtalk is intentional. For example, the instructor looks for an opportunity to draw out, celebrate and dignify the quieter students, so all the voices in the room make up the porch.
Culturally responsive practices are used in Umoja Community programs as a vehicle for creating a strong sense of community among the students, faculty and staff. Within this context, students experience a sense of self-efficacy and engagement; they begin to visualize their own success in higher education knowing that their classmates and instructors want them to succeed. Umoja Community students crave this environment and respond with tremendous enthusiasm.
The disaffection so many at risk students carry with them into their community college classrooms is directly addressed through culturally responsive pedagogy, such as Umoja’s. Hale-Benson (1986) states that holistically inclined learners attend best when material is relevant to their own experiences and embedded in context. Relevance and context are two staples emphasized in our professional development work with our pilot colleges.