When asked to reflect on my teaching practice for a course on Culturally Responsive Instruction I learned that I have much room for growth as a culturally responsive teacher (CRT)! For example, race and ethnicity factor in to my teaching, but not in a culturally responsive pedagogy way. Let me explain.
CRT=Informed Curricular and Programmatic Choices Based on Actual Students
Over the years I have developed a specialty in teaching percussion band to my general music students. The music we play is multicultural (usually of Latin or African origin) and the approach to teaching and learning is definitely non-Western, i.e., students learn to play aurally, kinesthetically and intuitively. The process of learning to play one’s own individual part and then play collectively (in the band) relies heavily on the students’ inherent musical and interpersonal strengths. The results have been the creation of many classroom communities of players and sophisticated, fun music.
Although I am headed in the right direction with my percussion band unit, Emdin (2016) would not approve. The music we play is ultimately chosen by me. And we play a static arrangement, created by me. I use my knowledge of students’ cultural and linguistic backgrounds to inform my planning, but only if it is convenient! For example, recently in a nod to my Spanish-speaking students, I chose Oye Como Va for a unit. It was a tune I had ready to teach and had the resources to build a unit around.
As Bond (2017) points out, “a cultural product does not equate a culturally relevant experience”. Last year I had a student whose father was from Zimbabwe who knew the marimba song that we were studying in class, Ngqothwane (the Click Song). When we contextualized the music – looked at the Xhosa language, the dual meaning of the lyrics in context with the political upheaval and racial injustices at the time the tune was created, etc., my student shared her personal connection. It was incredible for all of us to learn this part of her life and culture. There were many connections to current racial injustices in the U.S. made by the other Black and Brown (and White) students. Because of her (and my random luck), her class had a culturally relevant experience with the music. But for the other groups who experienced the unit? Not so much.
CRT ≠ In the Can
For so many years the majority of my curriculum has been set by me before I even meet my students. I’ve relied on canned curriculum (district-approved and supplied curriculum materials) for a large part of the delivery of the scope and sequence of musical concepts and skills especially with K- 4th graders. CRT means making informed curricular and programmatic choices based on what you know about your students. “CRT requires you to think outside the box. The easy answer lies right here in the box.” (Lind & McKoy, 2016) This really hits home, especially with the way I have been teaching recorder over the years. Teaching recorder was ‘easy’ since the materials are pretty much “in a box”. I viewed recorder as a “break” since the materials were already developed and all I need to do was pass them out. For example, it would be more culturally responsive to teach a unit on flute music from the cultures represented by the students, or on flute music that they are interested in or listening to at home.
CRT=Creating a classroom environment that welcomes, values diversity:
At the beginning of the year, I ask my 3rd-6th graders to complete a personal profile letting me know their musical background as well as their interests, hobbies and educational goals. But I have not asked them directly about their cultural and linguistic backgrounds! To fill in the gaps, I typically spend the first few weeks of school meeting with classroom, ELL, and other colleagues to piece together background information about my students. Crazy, right? I should ask students directly!
I use pre-tests to determine what music literacy skills and knowledge I will teach but do not leverage students’ cultural or linguistic backgrounds for connection. I have not created a system to implement the data I gather from the personal profile surveys to inform my teaching. Sometimes I incorporate what I learn about my students such as using student favorites when deciding on music for the guitar and ukulele units and sometimes which world region/language, e.g., Africa, Central America, will be the focus for our world percussion units. Again – when convenient for me.
Abril, C. R. (2013) Toward a More Culturally Responsive General Music Classroom. General Music Today 27(1).
Bond, V. L. (2017). Culturally responsive education in music education: A literature review. Contributions to Music Education, 42, 153–180.
Emdin, C. (2016). For White folks who teach in the hood…and the rest of y’all too: Reality pedagogy and urban education. Boston, MA: Beacon Press Books.
Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for Culturally Responsive Teaching. Journal Of Teacher Education, 53(2), 106-16.
Lind, V. R., McKoy, C. L. (2016). Culturally responsive teaching in music education: From understanding to application. Routledge.