It’s been a week, and I can’t stop thinking about this book. In Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain, Zaretta Hammond avoids the pitfalls of often bro-y, “Your brain is a muscle – use or it lose it” studies on learning and the brain. Instead, Hammond clearly outlines the three major parts of the brain, and how learning pathways are built and reinforced.

Hammond argues struggling students, especially students belonging to marginalized communities, are left dependent learners within a classroom context. Due to historical and current experience, they often navigate school as a place of opposition, continually on guard against potential threats. To support teachers cultivating student independence, Hammond provides concrete and explicit moves teachers can make. For now, I’m focusing on two of the recommendations presented.

First, I’m reimagining the way I support students through regular conferencing.

It was important to talk with the student, not at him about taking up this challenge. Make space during your conversations with the student to share his thoughts. Provide open-ended conversations for the student to share his thoughts. Students, especially struggling students, are not used to being asked their opinion or to be reflective. You are shifting the power dynamics with the creation of a pact – not power over the student but as master instructional coach Jim Knight (2013) says in Impactful Instruction, power with the student (95).

Reflective of the text’s style, Hammond provides a bullet-point list of concrete suggestions for how to put the theory into practice. These include,

  • Ask the student to identify what he thinks is getting in the way for him around a specific learning target
  • Together select a learning target that is small, specific and significant
  • Set a deadline
  • Set up benchmarks
  • Share what you are willing to do as the student’s ally
  • Be explicit about your belief in his capacity to master this learning target
  • Forewarn him that you will ask him to stretch himself
  • Ask him to explicitly name what he intends to do as part of the partnership to meet this challenge
  • Create some type of simple ritual to mark the occasion
  • Write down key agreements

Second, I’m reflecting on how to provide students with the tools to “help students take over the reigns of their learning” (100). These tools include,

  • Kid-friendly vocabulary for talking about their learning moves
  • Checklists to help hone their decision-making skills during learning and focus their attention during data analysis
  • Tools for tracking their own progress toward learning targets
  • Easily accessible space to store their data
  • Regular time time to process their data
  • Practice engaging in metacognitive conversations
  • A clear process for reflecting on and acting on teacher or peer feedback

I’m really excited about applying my new learning from this book, and from working alongside my students to nurture and celebrate journey towards being independent learners.

Buy Culturally Responsive Teaching & The Brain here

Posted by:Shannon Jin-a Yi-Lamborn

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