- What is Cultural Responsiveness?
- How Can I Promote Cultural Responsiveness with the TechSmart Curriculum?
- What Should I Look For in My Classroom?
- Next Steps
What is Cultural Responsiveness?
Cultural responsiveness is a pedagogical approach designed around respecting and celebrating student differences, especially for underrepresented students, and ensuring that all students can bring their own unique perspective into the classroom and learning process.
Cultural responsiveness is vital to maintaining equitable student achievement, as well as equipping students with the tools they’ll need to tackle systemic barriers in the working world.
In terms of a CS classroom, this approach aims to recognize historical inequity in the field of technology and to acknowledge both the positive and negative impacts of technology on various communities and cultures around the world. It also encourages students to relate computer science to their own lives and communities in a way that acknowledges rather than dismisses their unique backgrounds.
We highly encourage you to do further reading on cultural responsiveness and how to support it in your classroom. Here is one recommend reading as a quick primer on the subject: Culturally Responsive-Sustaining CS Ed Framework
How Can I Promote Cultural Responsiveness with the TechSmart Curriculum?
The TechSmart high school Python curriculum provides several avenues for promoting cultural responsiveness within the classroom.
Research Projects are integrated into the TechSmart curriculum, generally at a pace of one per unit. Research Projects give students a topic related to computer science and society, and encourage them to research it along an avenue that they find personally engaging. These include topics such as:
- Unit 1 Research Project: Tech Impact: Research the impacts of a specific technology on a culture or community
- Unit 4 Research Project: Private Data: Research types of private data and the impact on individuals if that data is leaked
- Unit 7 Research Project: Diversity in Computer Science: Research the history of important figures in computer science, with a focus on underrepresented groups
These activities can increase cultural responsiveness in the following ways:
- Topics tend to focus on the social and historical aspects of computer science. Students are encouraged to think critically about technology, including the ways it impacts cultures and individuals, the diverse minds that have influenced technological growth through the ages, and the ethical implications of modern technology.
- Students are encouraged to pursue avenues that they find personally engaging based on their own backgrounds and interests, and share these results with the class at large.
Unit Projects are completed once at the end of each unit. They require students to demonstrate coding skills from recent lessons, but encourage them to design and build projects aligned with their own interests. These activities support cultural responsiveness in the following ways:
- As with Research Projects, Unit Projects encourage students to find engaging topics based on their own backgrounds and interests. Sharing the results helps expand the understanding and worldview of other classmates as well.
- Unit Projects encourage students to pursue topics that are impactful within the student’s community or another social space. If you wish to further increase cultural responsiveness with this activity, spend some time discussing the topic with your class and brainstorming ways that the technology they create could have an impact on their local community.
Differentiation and Scaffolding
As a TechSmart teacher, you have access to a variety of scaffolding levels for each student in order to vary the amount of support they receive. These levels allow students to participate in the same activities as the rest of the class even when they need additional support.
We encourage teachers to carefully monitor and evaluate student performance and comfort levels and adjust the scaffolding for them as necessary. This includes discussing these changes with individual students to collaboratively determine when they are ready to take on new challenges.
To help you make these judgement calls, we have developed a series of student personas to describe students who might be more comfortable on one difficulty level vs another. A persona is a tool that helps designers and developers better empathize with their users and imagine what their needs might be, and the TechSmart team uses these regularly to create difficulty levels and help influence other important decisions.
- Difficulty Level 5 – Student Persona
- Difficulty Level 4 – Student Persona
- Difficulty Level 3 – Student Persona
- Difficulty Level 2 – Student Persona
- Difficulty Level 1 – Student Persona
Students are placed at level 2 or 3 (depending on the course) by default, but this is not intended to be a “one size fits all” solution. Students can be assigned individual levels via the Gradebook or the difficulty dialogue on each activity. These levels will persist for all activities until teachers re-assign them.
As much as possible, a CS classroom should encourage students to be inquisitive and to bring their own ideas and background to the table. Our CS pedagogy is designed to encourage this inquisitiveness up front. Instruction activities contain an early section called “Explore” where students are encouraged to investigate the code and try to make their own conclusions before the teacher formally introduces the topic. Furthermore, Coding Exercises include a section at the front called “Connect” where students are encouraged to connect the exercise’s topic to their own lives and give examples from their personal experience. Use sections like these to encourage students to think for themselves and contemplate how coding fits into their community and personal identity.
What Should I Look For in My Classroom?
It’s important to be aware of a few common pitfalls that come up in a typical CS classroom. As the teacher, you are in the best position to help address these issues:
Be aware of assumptions you are making about student ability
Take time to regularly interrogate your own biases and assumptions about student ability. Ability is not directly related to student background, but background can affect student confidence, morale, and experience in ways that may appear as proficiency differences:
- Students who have access to computer use regularly at home will be more fluent and comfortable with common interfaces and controls. This often translates to increased confidence in these students, which encourages them to take on more challenging material.
- Students who don’t see themselves commonly represented in technology fields (especially female, Black, and Hispanic students) may have preconceived notions that computer science is “not for them,” and may therefore have lower confidence in their work. Studies have shown that even women who do well in CS classes often still perceive themselves as doing worse than their male peers. Some students may need encouragement more than they need technical support.
Remember that in CS, problems have multiple solutions
Computer Science in particular is a field where one problem may have many correct solutions. Remember to keep this in mind when evaluating student work: although the solutions presented within the curriculum are correct, they are only the “suggested” solutions. Avoid enforcing a single rigid “correct” methodology, and celebrate students who solve the same problem in a new or unexpected way. Encourage students to be open-minded with themselves and with each other about how to approach a problem.
Encourage increased challenge and self-sufficiency over time
Students that begin a TechSmart course with a need for a high degree of scaffolding may outgrow that need over time. It’s easy to become complacent or allow students to become complacent with the amount of support they are receiving. Be sure to regularly re-evaluate student progress and encourage students to periodically stretch outside their comfort zone and challenge themselves.
Be aware of student capacity to work outside of class
It’s very easy to make assumptions about the technology that students have access to outside of class. Many students, especially low-income students, may not have easy access to computers or an internet connection outside of the school setting. For example, more low-income students end up doing after school homework on phones than their higher-income peers.
Additionally, some students may be unable to stay after school to leverage school technology due to family or job constraints. Be aware of your students’ capacity and take this into account whenever assigning homework or other work meant to take place outside the classroom.
TechSmart’s goal is to create equitable CS classrooms across the US. We will continue to strive to do our best to serve underrepresented students and communities. We appreciate the help of all our teachers in this effort. If you have ideas for new ways in which we can increase equity and cultural responsiveness across our curriculum, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.
If you’d like to learn more about Cultural Responsiveness, Anti-Racism, and other efforts to promote equity, here are some suggested links to begin your further research and reading: