What is Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching (CRMT)?
Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching (CRMT) is an approach to math education that recognizes and values the cultural, linguistic, and social diversity of students. It aims to create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment by incorporating students’ cultural backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives into the teaching and learning of math. This approach recognizes that students from different cultural backgrounds may have different ways of understanding and approaching mathematical concepts. CRMT aims to create a more inclusive and equitable learning environment where culturally and linguistically diverse learners (CLD) feel valued and can develop a positive identity as math learners. This approach also recognizes that students from historically marginalized communities may have negative experiences with mathematics. CRMT seeks to address these experiences and build a positive learning environment for all students. CRMT aims to enhance math understanding and achievement for all students by integrating their real-life experiences into teaching.
Why should we care about Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching (CRMT)? What does the research say?
Research in mathematics education over the past decade has aimed to improve math skills for students and instruction skills for teachers. The performance gap among students from ethnic minority groups has been a big motivator for improving math proficiency among CLD learners from marginalized backgrounds. NAEP Statistics 2017 show that 51% of white students perform above proficiency in the fourth grade in math compared to only 22.5% of minority students who performed above proficiency. However, this data on math proficiency ignores important qualitative factors such as teacher expectations, class difficulty, and family involvement that also affect math success (Abdulrahim, N & O, 2020). To better understand what helps students succeed in math, researchers look at overall learning environments, including culturally responsive teaching practices, that provide a level playing field for all students.
Why Is Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching (CRMT) not everywhere yet?
Since the 1990s, studies on culturally responsive math instruction for minority students have been occurring, but it is not widely incorporated in schools. This is partly due to the political nature of education and the continued dominance of traditional teaching methods that focus on basic skills and not other skills from other cultures (Abdulrahim, N & O, 2020). The majority of math education, especially in the United States, uses standardized curriculums, teaching, and testing, which doesn’t take into account the lived experiences and strengths of minority students. This one-size-fits-all approach to teaching ignores students’ cultural backgrounds, which affects their response to math learning and understanding. Sociocultural knowledge (i.e., cultural and cognitive resources) that students from diverse backgrounds bring to the classroom and teachers incorporate in instruction helps all students make meaningful connections to new information.
How do we include CRMT into Teaching?
Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching (CRMT) is a combination of Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) and Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP), which focuses on how to teach mathematics while also promoting equity among different learners. CRMT works to create a more cohesive understanding of teaching mathematics.
There are four PCK categories: (1) an overarching knowledge and belief about the purpose for teaching; (2) knowledge of students’ understandings, strengths, and weaknesses; (3) knowledge of curriculum and curriculum materials; and (4) knowledge of the instructional strategies and representations for teaching particular topics (Aguirre & Zavala, 2013). These components provide an understanding of how math education should be approached for students to achieve success. CRP is considered to be optional and not required for math teaching. CRP helps students grow academically, socially, and culturally, feel confident in themselves, and develop a caring attitude. Let’s look at the four different ways we can incorporate CRMT into math classrooms:
1. Teaching Mathematics by attending to students’ funds of knowledge
The term “funds of knowledge” refers to the knowledge and skills people have from their everyday life and community that can be used for teaching. Researchers have found that family activities and cultural practices can be used as resources for math learning (Aguirre & Zavala, 2013). For example, daily activities like going to the grocery store can help with their math learning when adding up the prices. This approach to education considers students’ backgrounds and raises teacher awareness on resources for teaching. Teachers can incorporate students’ different cultural backgrounds in math problems and therefore gain more resources. Studies have also looked at funds of knowledge from the perspective of immigrant students and their families, as well as drawing on local community practices for math learning. Teachers can do that by exploring math practices of businesses such as bakeries, food markets, libraries, parks, and others.
2. Teaching math for social justice
Mathematics can be used to understand power structures. It often involves social justice and engaging students to challenge/change these structures that are in place in today’s society. This can include secondary students investigating racism or using data analysis to address race issues, and elementary students using math to challenge societal messages or district decisions. Teachers are crucial in fostering critical thinking about power dynamics in math through real-world examples, discussions, and diverse perspectives in the curriculum.
3. Developing culturally responsive mathematics teachers
Culturally responsive teachers value diversity and incorporate it into mathematics instruction by utilizing students’ cultural and linguistic knowledge to improve academic achievement and foster high-level thinking skills. With this approach, teachers must understand the impact of power on school policies, be aware of the importance of math as an indicator of student performance, and actively work to challenge the inequities faced by minority students. CRMT encourages teachers to be aware of social and political issues, emphasizing that learning is shaped by culture and utilizing students’ math abilities and backgrounds in teaching math. Teachers can do this by understanding that teaching is part of a broader social-political context and seeing their job as preparing students to live and engage in these contexts (Aguirre & Zavala, 2013). This approach expands students’ mathematical thinking, supports bilingualism, and encourages critical thinking to address real-world problems (Aguirre & Zavala, 2013).
How is MathProject Incorporating CRMT?
1. We build a community
MathProject teachers build relationships with students who come from culturally diverse backgrounds. We always create engaging and safe environments for our students. By working with students we provide them with a style of teaching that best suits their personal needs. This provides us with insight into the way they learn and how math is viewed in their homes. Teachers learn from their students on how to best teach and engage them in sessions and homework. Our teachers also advocate for the needs of our students when they are struggling or when outside pressures become too much. The MathProject management team works very closely with our teachers by collaborating on how to come up with solutions and ideas for how to help support our students. As well, our management team is multilingual which helps us serve the needs of parents with all sorts of backgrounds.
2. Student Collaboration
We offer small group sessions so that students can get to know other people from different cultures. Studies also show that while working in small groups they experience less pressure because they feel more comfortable when there is someone there as a friend (Ferlazzo, 2020). It can also make math learning more fun if you’re learning math with someone else. Our group sessions are organized by curriculum level, comprehension, and age, allowing students to collaborate. This also provides an opportunity for them to benefit from their peers’ strengths and weaknesses.
There is also the option to have one-on-one sessions if the student wants individual attention due to their learning styles. Working in groups helps students enhance their social and emotional abilities, leading to personal growth. We establish a personalized plan and an enjoyable learning atmosphere, aiming to transition students to a group setting once they feel at ease. We also have math aid hours for extra homework help. Students can learn cooperatively there to brainstorm and problem-solve together.
3. We make real-world connections
Using real-world situations in math questions can help students to connect to diverse cultural experiences. Word problems are integrated into many MathProject curriculums for students to make connections to the world around them. They also provide our teachers and students with a way of discussing how society works.
In conclusion, culturally responsive mathematics teaching is an essential approach to fostering mathematics excellence and equity in the classroom. This approach leverages students’ mathematical resources, builds on prior knowledge, enhances mathematical thinking, fosters language development, and nurtures critical skills for addressing real-world problems. In turn, it provides students with the opportunity to become well-rounded individuals and learners in all aspects of life.
Author: Quazell Cunningham
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- Julia M. Aguirre & Maria del Rosario Zavala (2013) Making culturally responsive mathematics teaching explicit: a lesson analysis tool, Pedagogies: An International Journal, 8:2, 163-190, DOI: 10.1080/1554480X.2013.768518
- Abdulrahim, Naheed & Orosco, Michael. (2020). Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching: A Research Synthesis. The Urban Review. 52. 1-25. 10.1007/s11256-019-00509-2.
- Ferlazzo, L. (2020, December 17). Twelve Ways to Make Math More Culturally Responsive (Opinion). Education Week. Retrieved January 30, 2023, from https://www.edweek.org/teaching-learning/opinion-twelve-ways-to-make-math-more-culturally-responsive/2020/12