Yesterday I started noticing the ads for Back-to-School shopping on the radio and couldn’t believe it.  But then I remembered that last year they started advertising Christmas stuff in October.

Does that mean our opportunities for summer learning are over?

Summer is the perfect time for building our culturally responsive teaching chops because we are not under the pressures of everyday teaching  — prepping for the next day, attending staff meetings, and the myriad of other things we teachers need to do in a day.

Well, maybe there isn’t enough time for making new lessons or materials from scratch, but there is still a lot of summer left for building your background knowledge. Building capacity with culturally responsive teaching tools, techniques, and tactics require space and time to think, reflect, plan and make.

Here are a few ways that you can easily slip a little fun learning into your last few weeks of summer.


Read build your understanding of the connection between brain based learning and culturally responsive teaching.

 Learning about culturally responsive pedagogy doesn’t just involve understanding racial politics outside the classroom.  It also means learning more about how the brain operates and the connection between our social-emotional wellbeing and higher-order cognitive processing.

Because most culturally and linguistically diverse students come from communal cultures that put a premium on relationships, teachers have to understand how the brain’s wiring for relationships helps or hinders learning.

 Brain-based learning and culturally responsive teaching have always been presented as two separate, unrelated branches of educational practice.  Yet teacher educators, Geneva Gay and Gloria Ladson-Billings each describe culturally responsive pedagogy as encompassing the social-emotional, relational, and cognitive aspects of teaching culturally and linguistically diverse students.  Cognition and higher order thinking have always been at the center of culturally responsive teaching, which makes it a natural partner for neuroscience in the classroom.  We know that trust, stress, and relationships all impact learning.

 Here are three books, a DVD, a TV reality show, and some TED talks that offer information on different aspects of neuroscience and culturally responsive teaching.

 Books Worth Reading:

  • Hardwired for Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidences by Rick Hanson.  A fun and informative read about how to manage our ancient brain for life in the 21st century. It is helpful in getting us to understand in everyday language the brain’s default wiring for negativity and fight or flight and how to shift out of the “red zone” of stress and get centered in the brain’s “green zone” of ease, trust, and connection.
  • Making Thinking Visible: How to Promote Engagement, Understanding, and Independence for All Learners (2011) by Ron Ritchhart.

While not specifically aimed at culturally and linguistically diverse students, this book offers educators research-based solutions for creating a culture of thinking in the classroom. This innovative book unveils thinking its connection to understanding and engagement. It then takes readers inside diverse learning environments to show how thinking can be made visible at any grade level and across all subject areas through the use of effective questioning, listening, documentation, and facilitative structures called thinking routines.

  • Creating Opportunity to Learn: Moving from Research to Practice to Closing the Achievement Gap (2011) by A. Wade Boykin and Pedro Noguera

This book provides an easy-to-read road map to some of the best research out there on the three most high leverage things teachers should be doing to as culturally responsive practitioners.


A DVD Worth Finding

New Science of Learning: Brain Fitness for Kids  [PBS]  — video

 This DVD explores recent breakthroughs in neuroscience and educational research that have led to a new understanding of the brain’s unlimited learning capabilities.  In an engaging and informative way it gives us a better understanding of “neuroplasticity” —  the brain’s ability to grow itself in response to learning.


TV Worth Watching

Brain Games is a reality television series that discusses and explores the components of the human brain. Hosted by Jason Silva, the show uses experts in cognitive science, neuroscience and psychology. The show is interactive, encouraging viewers to participate in experiments, or “brain games”, that emphasize the main points presented in each episode.

The show has been on since 2011, so there are four seasons of episodes to choose from. You can find It on the National Geographic Channel or watch full episodes online.  Check out the episode list here.

TED Talks Worth Sharing

Simply go to and type Education into the search box.  There are over 150 talks about either education or learning.   Here are a few worth watching.


Turn on Netflix and learn more about the culture of your students, especially the communal-relational focus of their culture.

Movies are powerful ways to learn about the culture of others.  While all movies create stereotypes and characters that are larger than life to entertain us, but in the midst of the story are clues about important unspoken deep cultural values.  Find movies that are written, directed and acted by people of color. That way you know more that the portrayals are more authentic.

Think about the demographics of your school and do a Google search for recommended lists by movie reviews from that culture.  Go to also to search.  Or check out Latino Film Festivals, like the Chicago Latino FilmFestival that lists the movies screened online.

This summer I am re-watching some old movies about Latino culture as well as some new ones in order to continue to understand the similarities and differences with my own African American culture.   Here are some I have enjoyed.

  • Under the Same Moon/Mi Misma Luna (2007)
  • Real Women Have Curves (2002)
  • My Sister’s Quinceanera (2006)
  • Mi Familia (1995)
  • Tortilla Soup (2001)


Do some inner work around implicit bias or internalized oppression.

This topic doesn’t generally fall into the “summer fun” category, but it can be part of our effort to use summer as a time to slow down and reflect.  Doing work around our personal biases can be part of a new mindfulness practice.

An important part of being a culturally responsive teacher is recognizing how we all have been conditioned by the dominant culture. The reality is we all have work to do in order to show up in our classrooms as an emotionally positive force for our students, especially marginalized students of color.  For some that means working through issues of implicit bias. For others it means working on one’s internalized oppression.

Implicit bias is also known as implicit social cognition, implicit bias refers to the way our brains respond to irrational and unconscious threats to our physical safety or social status.  These threats take the form of attitudes or stereotypes that affect our understanding, actions, and decisions in an unconscious manner.

The implicit associations we harbor in our subconscious cause us to have feelings and attitudes about other people based on characteristics such as race, ethnicity, age, and appearance.  These biases are activated involuntarily and without an individual’s awareness or intentional control. Residing deep in the subconscious, these biases are different from explicit racism that individuals may choose to conceal for the purposes of social and/or political correctness.

Internalized oppression happens when people of color or poor people unconscious take in the negative messages of the larger society about their worth, intelligence, integrity, criminality, etc.

Fortunately, implicit biases are malleable.  Our brains are incredibly complex, and the implicit associations that we have formed can be gradually unlearned through a variety of debiasing techniques.  Similarly, it is possible to heal from internalized oppression.

A good starting place is the Kirwan Institute’s work around implicit bias.


Here is to getting in a little more leisurely learning.