An inquirED Blog

Culturally Responsive Instruction in Social Studies

Updated: Nov 4

Photo by Allison Shelley/The Verbatim Agency for EDUimages

Culturally Responsive Education (CRE) is the educational movement of the moment. A quick internet search finds CRE everywhere: tagged onto existing curricula and professional development programs, broadcasted on websites and marketing materials, and shared in op-eds and social media posts.

No matter where you encounter CRE, it's important to emphasize that though we may want a one-stop resource or magic-wand answer to the question, "How do I practice Culturally Responsive Education?" — the reality is much more complex. s.

Click here to view the webinar recording with inquirED on the importance of Culturally Responsive Education in Social Studies.


Culturally Responsive Education is a Dynamic Practice

There is not a single definition of CRE - or even a single term that is used when referring to its practice. One reason for this complexity is the rich history of CRE. From theorists and thinkers like Gloria Ladson-Billings and Geneva Gay to more recent scholarship by Django Paris, Zaretta Hammond, and Gholdy Muhammad - the intellectual and practical foundations of CRE are ever-evolving and developing.

But don't let this complexity be a barrier! The terminology may be different but these approaches share essential concepts and practices – with much more in common than they have in conflict with one another. With this in mind, it might be helpful to highlight common elements that describe both what CRE is - and what it is not.

It feels strange to develop understanding by defining what something isn't — but often when there are so many misconceptions out there — it makes sense to address those directly. Let's break down the image above.

  • CRE is not an add on or supplement. This means there is no siloed "CRE time" or special "workbook for CRE." Instead, CRE is integrated across all subject areas. CRE is the core teaching practice that is used at all times.

  • CRE is not easy or watered-down instruction. The strategies and practices of CRE promote rigorous investigation, deep knowledge building, and productive struggle.

  • CRE is not a curriculum. When inquirED talks about Inquiry Journeys, our elementary social studies curriculum, we are careful to say that it "supports culturally responsive instruction" not that it is, in fact, culturally responsive. That's an important distinction. The practices, resources, and tools we've created can help teachers - but CRE is about teachers using these resources to meet the needs of their students.

  • CRE is not only diversity, inclusion, or multiculturalism. CRE is more about the HOW of instruction - the practices teachers use every day to build the knowledge and intellective capacity of their culturally and linguistically diverse students. Diversity, inclusion, and multiculturalism tend to focus more specifically on the content that is being presented.