Asset-Based Pedagogies

Milton Alan Turner, OFLA Editor for Electronic Media
French Teacher, Saint Ignatius High School

Education in general and world language education in particular is not about just getting the right answers on a test. How students learn is as important as what they learn. Pedagogy matters. This has given rise in recent years to increased research in asset-based pedagogies. Instead of focusing on what students get wrong or what they lack, their deficits or liabilities, educators now often focus on what the students get right, what they bring to the classroom, their gifts or assets.

Education Week writers Madeline Will & Ileana Najarro discussed the differences between three types of asset-based pedagogies in their article “What Is Culturally Responsive Teaching?” published on April 18, 2022.  The asset-based pedagogies they examined in the article were culturally relevant pedagogy, culturally responsive teaching and culturally sustaining pedagogy.

Will and Najarro defined culturally relevant pedagogy as “a way of teaching that fosters student achievement while helping students to accept and affirm their cultural identity, as well as develop critical perspectives that challenge societal inequities.”

They explained that there are three components of culturally relevant pedagogy: 

  • student learning—prioritizing students’ intellectual growth, including their ability to problem-solve; 
  • cultural competence—creating an environment where students affirm and appreciate their culture of origin while also developing fluency in at least one other culture; and 
  • critical consciousness—teaching students how to identify, analyze, and solve real-world problems, especially those that result in societal inequities against marginalized groups

Culturally responsive teaching is defined as “a pedagogy that uses students’ customs, characteristics, experiences, and perspectives as tools for better classroom instruction. Students of color see themselves and their communities as belonging in academic spaces.”

Will and Najarro stated that “Culturally responsive teaching means using students’ customs, characteristics, experience, and perspectives as tools for better classroom instruction.  The term was coined by researcher Geneva Gay in 2000, who wrote that ‘when academic knowledge and skills are situated within the lived experiences and frames of reference for students, they are more personally meaningful, have higher interest appeal, and are learned more easily and thoroughly.’”

Culturally sustaining pedagogy is defined as “a way of teaching that explores, honors, and nurtures students’ and communities’ cultural ways of being. This approach considers the evolving identities and languages of students.”

Will and Najarro wrote that “Culturally sustaining pedagogy says that students of color should not be expected to adhere to white middle-class norms, but their own cultural ways of being should be explored, honored, and nurtured by educators.”

In their Education Week article, Will and Najarro emphasized that “asset-based pedagogies—culturally responsive, culturally relevant, and culturally sustainable, among others—are not in conflict with each other. While their frameworks vary, they all have the same goal of dismantling a deficit approach to educating students of color and focusing instead on their strengths, assets, and communities in the classroom.” 

For a brief primer on asset-based pedagogies, Ileana Najarro and Education Week published a short video on YouTube at https://youtu.be/V2fe09m0FLs . While asset-based pedagogies may focus on marginalized communities, Najarro reminds us that “this type of teaching empowers all students to be lifelong critical thinkers.”

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