BRIC: Creating Culturally Responsive Curriculum

Members: Jean Fallow, Annie John, Rachel Scheiner, Jing-song Shah, Karen Van Genderen, and Alexander Tang (Coordinator). The book we read was Pedagogy of the Oppressed by Paulo Freire.  We also read excerpts from Dr. Geneva Gay’s Culturally Responsive Teaching.


The group members engaged in robust conversations about issues regarding adult literacy and our division’s overall dynamic.  The initial goal of this group was to determine how we could create culturally responsive curricula for basic education program students.  Through deep reflection and active dialogues, we engaged in Freire’s philosophy of the oppressor and oppressed.  The first chapter of this book outlined many philosophical concepts that are of value to the group.  Freire posits “the pedagogy of the oppressed is an instrument for their critical discovery that both they and their oppressors are manifestations of dehumanization” (48), which leads to our ongoing efforts in the Basic and Transitional Studies Division.  We reflected on our current teaching practices and pedagogies, which included inclusivity and diversity.  There has been dialogue on what basic education instructors in our division should teach, such as textbook reading.  This may be a challenge for our students, which the reading circle group pondered about what they would use to teach reading strategies, such as involving students what they would want to learn in curriculum planning. 

Faculty in this reading circle considered what they were currently doing in their classrooms.  I really enjoyed listening to one of my colleagues who was assisting students with creating their personal narrative while they were learning English as a Second Language in the classroom.  For example, one of our conversations was about guiding the students to creating their own narratives rather than “depositing” information through them.  Freire conceptualized the “depositing” of information as the banking system, which is extensively covered in Chapter 2.  Furthermore, Freire also states “the teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration and re-considers her earlier considerations as the students express their own” (81), which is the foundation of problem-posing education.  This would lead to liberating students through active dialogue, rather than “teaching” what needs to be “taught”.  The reading circle also included the experiences of students and faculty in the Basic and Transitional Studies Division and provided us an avenue of including all students to strengthen our program at Seattle Central College, which is also captured in Chapter 3 and 4, as well as Dr. Geneva Gay’s Culturally Responsive Teaching. 

(1a) The following reflections are from some Canvas discussion posts and reading group discussions on Pedagogy of the Oppressed:

A colleague reflected on dialogue: “Ideal dialogue requires six things: profound, love, community, humility, facing humankind, trust/hope, and critical thinking.  My understanding is that Freire interviewed students, and have planned and set this project up in Brazil, which he wants all this information to use experience and student profiles.”

Another colleague shared their views on critical reflection: “Critical reflection is a part of action.  If you are engaging in critical reflection, then you can change the world.  Dialogue is important.  Praxis is not imposing.  We need to include others in the process.”

On the topic of change, which was raised by a colleague: “Becoming… the world is always evolving.  It allows me to become an evolved—to change. By being part of the dialogue, I want to be part of the world.  People are dynamic, and they are not static.”

A faculty member paraphrased from Chapter 4: “Domesticated by charity.  Not taking the fact that they used their oil and money… domesticated by charity (147), which is (why students are) being taught this is what they have.  Oppressors subjugate the oppressed into thinking they should be appreciative of what the Oppressor has provided.”

While summarizing this book, a faculty member highlighted: “It is full love through the book.  This is what makes me feel like it is utopian.  This relates to our division—who likes each other, who trusts each other, and more.”  Another colleague replied to this comment with: “No one in our division would come in with malevolence.  Freire wrote this book with love.  How can I set up a classroom to be heard?  How am I going to be this person in this world?”

(1b) The following reflections are from some Canvas discussion posts and reading group discussions on Culturally Responsive Teaching:

A colleague in this reading circle was a student of Dr. Gay, who said: “Dr. Geneva Gay joined the University of Washington’s College of Education to focus on Curriculum and Instruction.  She had a lot of experience in with public schools.  She focused on student-centered approach, and it is now focusing on culturally responsive teaching.  Typically, public schools would tell students that there is a job market, and you’re going to get a job.  However, this does not address humanity.  Gay provides what you can do as a student.”

This is a reflection that I shared with the group: “As a person who had options with taking a ‘Freshmen English Composition’ course at the University of Washington, I appreciated the options we had: English 111 [English Literature], English 121 [Research through Service Learning], and English 131 [Expository].  I am shocked that there is only one ‘English 101’ course at Seattle Central College, and I wish we had more options.  What of students want to learn how to write research articles, write like literary analyses, or focusing on their expository writing skills?”

(2) Discussion on BTS Division and Culturally Responsive Teaching

There was discussion about our division and guided pathways after reflecting on Freire and Gay’s work on adult literacy and culturally responsive teaching.  Overall, we reflected on the issues of an “anti-dialogical” division.  Freire illustrates that “the dialogical man” is critical and knows that although it is within the power of humans to create and transform, in a concrete situation of alienation individuals may be impaired in the use of that power” (91), which is a quote which resonated with our reading circle.  Furthermore, Freire conveys “dialogue, as the encounter of those addressed to the common task of learning and acting is broken if the parties (or one of them) lack humility (90), which “humility” is one of the six things that was mentioned from one of the faculty members who participated in this reading circle.  This allowed us to reflect on: “if revolution leaders who incarnate a genuine humanism have difficulties and problems, the difficulties and problems will be far greater for a group of leaders who try (even with the best of intentions) to carry out the revolution for the people” (127), which is what we are collectively working on as a division is one of the efforts that I, personally, would like to improve in the Basic and Transitional Studies Division.  As a cohesive unified division, we would learn to pay heed to Freire’s words, which notes:

“…solidarity is born only when the leaders witness to it by their humble, loving, and

courageous encounter with the people.  Not all men and women have sufficient courage

for this encounter—but when they avoid encounter they become inflexible and treat

others as mere objects; instead of nurturing life, they kill life; instead of searching for

life, they flee from it. And these are oppressor characteristics” (129). 

An effort to have a division which includes dialogue from each participating faculty member would reflect the support we can provide for our students.  Through centering the six things mentioned by one of the faculty members in the group, which profound, love, community, humility, facing humankind, trust/hope, and critical thinking— we would be able to engage in fearless conversations regarding instruction and what we currently do in the classroom.  The group overall focused on how we can intentionally create opportunities for students to create their own curricula, and how instructors can co-teach with students. 

A faculty member shared an experience of how they allowed students to choose between two topics, and they would lead the discussion for the rest of the class to participate in during that class session.  This allowed students to critically reflect on topics happening globally, such as conflicts between different nations and the ongoing pandemic ravaging our lives.  This fruitful exchange allowed faculty members to share what they currently do in their classes, which is lacking in the Basic and Transitional Studies Division.  A follow up step recommended by me was to create a learning community to read academic articles written by researchers and practitioners, who focus on adult literacy and second language development.  Starting conversations through digesting academic articles would allow instructors to engage in what are the “best practices” and “trends” we can bring to each other and the division-at-large.  This would begin anew a division that is compassionate and fosters fearless conversations to include others who want to participate in dialogues about the classroom and their students.

Focusing on culturally responsive curricula can further develop students; furthermore, students should learn how to conduct ideological and content analyses of various sources of curriculum content about ethnic and cultural diversity.  These learning experiences involve revealing implicit values and biases, modifying attitudes and perceptions, developing different evaluation criteria, and acting deliberately to first deconstruct and then reconstruct common ethnic and gender typecasting (Gay, 193). Ladson-Billings (1992) explains that culturally responsive teachers develop intellectual, social, emotional, and political learning by using cultural resources to teach knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes.  In other words, they teach the whole child (Gay, 38). In a Canvas post written by a faculty member regarding culturally responsive teaching, they said:

“Culturally responsive teaching is a negotiated compromising process with the idea being that we are trying to have all the participants in the teaching learning interaction being equal partners. The point of view of students’ frames and references are constantly present in the decisions that we are making and how we live out those decisions as teachers in classrooms, so their spirits are a part of the grounding and finding of the educational system.  Thus, culturally responsive teaching involves the radical reform of educational process attending to the human integrity to help students to perform as the maximum of the individual potential.”

It is important to highlight the cultural diversity of our students through inclusive materials.  I would like to hear what my colleagues are doing to include diverse materials that represent our students.  Not only that, but students can also learn from different ethnic groups, and create “social cohesion” amongst their student populations.  I would love for our division to come together to proctor a contextualized lesson which multiple levels in our ESL and ABE classes.  This would allow students the opportunity to go through an experiential and transformative learning process.

(3) Conclusion

To recapitulate, the reading group engaged in critical reflection of what we currently are doing in our classroom, and how we can create culturally responsive curricula outlined by Gay, which embeds Freire’s pedagogy.  Creating opportunities for colleague to share what they are teaching in the classroom would allow instructors in the Basic and Transitional Studies Division to include different perspectives and research practices.  As the group also engaged in robust conversations about our division, this would be an excellent point for faculty to participate in discussions that assist our students, rather than ongoing issues that do not center what is happening in our classrooms.  Through centering cultural synthesis, the Basic and Transitional Studies Division can consider the outline Freire describes: “dialogical cultural action does not have as its aims the disappearance of the permanence-change dialectic (an impossible aim, since disappearance of the dialectic would require the disappearance of the social structure itself and thus of men); it aims, rather, at surmounting the antagonistic contradictions of the social structure, thereby achieving the liberation of human beings” (179); therefore, liberating ourselves and engaging in conversations allows for equity to be centered. 


  • Freire, P. (2018). Pedagogy of the oppressed with a new introduction by Donaldo Macedo and an afterword by Ira Shor. Bloomsbury.
  • Gay, G. (2018). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice. Teachers College Press.
  • Ladson‐Billings, G. (1992). Reading between the lines and beyond the pages: A culturally relevant approach to literacy teaching. Theory into practice31(4), 312-320.

Submitted by Alexander Tang (faculty lead), Part-Time Faculty of ESL, Basic and Transitional Studies, Seattle Central College