By Dr. Joy Lawson Davis.
In schools across the nation there has been a new focus on teaching and learning more about how culture impacts the lives of learners, their families and the educators who teach them. Culturally responsive teaching is not a new concept. It was introduced into the research literature many years ago by some of our nation’s most influential educators. Early in the 1990s, Dr. Gloria Ladson Billing, a Black scholar, was among the first to introduce the notion of culturally responsive pedagogies into the literature on the teaching and learning process. Dr. Ladson-Billings early work focused primarily on the importance of Culturally Responsive Teaching for urban area students and students of color. Her work provided the grounding for the concept of culturally responsive teaching as we know it today. In addition to Dr. Ladson-Billings, the work of Dr. Geneva Gay, another Black scholar, shared the critical nature of pre-service teachers learning about students’ cultures and how it impacts their response to learning in the classroom. Culturally responsive teaching includes matching curriculum with the needs of all gifted learners to include, but not be limited to learners who are:
Transgender & Nonbinary
Twice and Thrice Exceptional Learners (2e & 3e)
From impoverished communities
First generation Immigrants
Since this introductory work, many scholars across ethnic groups have developed research and strategies for educators to understand how culture as a social identity impacts the learning process. The continuing emphasis on culturally responsive teaching has led to a ‘movement’ in curriculum that has enabled classroom teachers everywhere to gain a better understanding of how and why it is important to understand what ‘culture’ is and how it makes a difference in the classroom. Below are some of the principles of culturally responsive teaching:
Provides curricular materials developed by & for diverse cultural groups in classrooms & schools;
Develops instruction that builds upon student strengths;
Disallows use of stereotypical or negative phrases and terms to refer to individuals or groups;
Creates genuine, trusting relationships with students by experiencing their families and communities;
Involves parents/families/community leadership as ‘cultural agents’; and
Integrates the authentic history of all immigrants & native groups across all disciplines
Gifted students, across groups, are some of the most outspoken, empathetic, and sensitive students in our schools. It is imperative that diversity, equity, inclusion, and antiracism goals are fully integrated into comprehensive programming for gifted students. Gifted students are at the forefront of peaceful protesting of the inequities that exist in our society. The principles below can be used to share the meaning of ‘culture’ and its importance in teaching:
All groups have cultures;
Culture is what distinguishes one group from another
Culture is our history, our legacy
Cultural groups also have distinctions within (differences as a result of geographic region, class, religion, language)
Having a different culture is no reason to discriminate against others
Many cultures diligently work to maintain their sense of 'self', their uniqueness
Having a different culture should be embraced and respected
Gifted learners are among the most insightful and sensitive students in our classrooms. Because of their natural inclination to be curious and to probe more deeply when concepts are introduced, culturally responsive teaching for all gifted students matches with their intellectual, psychosocial and academic needs. Gifted learners may also be the first in our classrooms who question the hypocrisy of sharing historical data and literature that is representative of only one ethnic group or historical data that is contradictory to what they may have learned in other environments. Gifted students will be concerned about their own culture/ethnic group and question why the history that they are learning does not include a full picture of all ethnicities from the viewpoint of scholars and historians of varied cultures. Gifted learners may also be the first to become involved in social justice movements as they feel more compelled to advocate for marginalized people as well as people who are victims of injustice.
As more attention is drawn to issues of race and social justice, it is incumbent upon educators and families to ensure that all gifted learners have a full understanding of who we are and how we best function in the space of our communities, schools, and classrooms. To function best, it is important that we provide the most current information and open avenues for our gifted learners to contribute their voices and solutions to concerns that we have in all communities.
Being a culturally responsive educator of the gifted is a challenging task. We are confronted with societal pressures to teach our students by withholding essential information regarding cultural differences and in some cases, not to even speak of topics of certain topics and to behave as if we are all ‘culture blind’. The students that we teach will become leaders in a global society and need culturally representative opportunities to learn now so that they can help create solutions for tomorrow. Gifted students nationwide across cultures are ‘crying out’ for their voices to be heard and to be given the best information we that we have to help them become the most creative inventors, social justice leaders, scientists, artists, writers, political leaders, and humanitarians that they can become. We owe it to them to teach using strategies that ensure they have these opportunities in a culturally responsive way.
Davis, J.L. & Douglas, D. (Eds). (2022) Empowering Underrepresented students: Perspectives from the Field. Free Spirit Press
Fugate, C.M., Behrens, W., Boswell, C. & Davis, J.L. (Eds). (2021). Culturally Responsive Teaching in Gifted Education: Building Cultural Competence and Serving Diverse Student Populations. Prufrock Press
Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. Teachers College Press.
Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). Toward a theory of culturally relevant pedagogy. American Educational Research Journal. 32(3), 465-491 https://doi.org/10.3102/00028312032003465
Dr. Joy Lawson Davis is a career educator with a distinguished record of scholarship in the field of Gifted and Advanced Learner programming. Her specific expertise is diversity, access and equity in programming for students from underrepresented populations and culturally diverse students with multiple exceptionalities. Dr. Davis is a highly sought out speaker, professional learning trainer, and consultant to school districts and organizations across the United States, the Middle East, South Africa and the Caribbean, sharing more than 100 presentations at professional conferences during her career with her message of equity and excellence in education. Dr. Davis is also an adjunct professor at Bridges Graduate School for Cognitive Diversity in California and Johns Hopkins University, School of Education in Maryland teaching graduate coursework in cultural diversity and gifted education and a consultant for special projects at the Johns Hopkins CTY programs.
Dr. Davis is also an award-winning author; publishing numerous articles, newsletters, and reports. She is the author of six books, her most recent books include Bright Talented & Black: A guide for Families of Black gifted learners 2.0”; “Empowering Underrepresented Gifted Students: Perspectives from the Field” and “Culturally Responsive Teaching in Gifted Education: Building Cultural Competence and Serving Diverse populations”. Davis served for five years on the Board of Directors of the National Association for Gifted Children and is on the editorial board for Gifted Child Today and on the Board of Trustees for The Roeper School in Michigan. Dr. Davis also served for five years as the State Specialist for K-12 gifted programming in Virginia. As one of the nation’s premier experts in gifted education, Dr. Davis is frequently called upon for interviews, podcasts, to serve on expert panels and Advisory Councils to advocate for increased equity in gifted education services. Davis is the recipient of the 2022 Honorary Member of the Colorado Academy of Educators of the Gifted; 2020 New Jersey Hall of Fame Award from the NJ Association for Gifted Children; the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award from Supporting the Emotional Needs of the Gifted; and the 2019 Alexinia Baldwin Special Populations Award from the National Association for Gifted Children.