From the Field

Combining Traditional, Culturally Sensitive Teaching in Math Classes

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new working paper by University of Pennsylvania researchers Meghan Comstock, Kirsten Lee Hill and University of Delaware researchers Kenneth A. Shores, Camila Polanco, Erica Litke and Laura M. Desimone suggests that a mix of teaching approaches might be the best way to achieve rigorous mathematics instruction for all students.

The researchers used data drawn from five school districts where middle school math teachers were participating in a professional-learning partnership aimed at improving learning for historically marginalized students. The researchers looked at how the teachers combined traditional math instruction, emphasizing calculations and procedures, with a focus on mathematical concepts, attention to students’ differing cultural backgrounds, and classroom practices that engender greater empathy and support among students.

The study found that teachers’ race, experience level, and confidence in their ability to deliver culturally sensitive teaching affected whether teachers used such practices. Teachers of color who demonstrated confidence in their ability to respond in culturally responsive ways made up a large majority of the teachers able to deliver the hybrid instructional model successfully.

The authors recommend pairing teachers who have mastered the model with colleagues less likely to use the practice.

By Robert Nishimwe