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Curriculum Alignment and Culturally Responsive Teaching

Curriculum Alignment and Culturally Responsive Teaching

February 14, 2023

In this 10 Minute Tuesday, Eduplanet21 speaks with PLUS Author Dr. JT Taylor about the connections between Curriculum Alignment, Culturally Responsive Curriculum, and Professional Learning. JT goes in-depth on a Tweet he posted about this topic, and provides practical examples for practitioners. 



Instructional Reminders for Principals

About Dr. JT Taylor:

Dr. “JT” Taylor, CEO of Purpose Pushers, is an award-winning educational leader, researcher, author, and national speaker. He has presented at the national conferences of many professional organizations, including ASCD, NCTE, and AMLE. JT has been featured in a WHRO commercial titled “The Teaching Profession” and has presented across the nation at K-12 schools, colleges, and universities. He has won numerous awards throughout his career, including Iota Phi Lambda Emerald Educator, Teacher of the Year at Oscar F. Smith High School, Overall City-Wide Teacher of the Year for Chesapeake Public Schools, and 2019 ASCD Emerging Leader. JT has over 14 years of experience working as a Special Education Teacher, Title I Instructional Coach, and a full-time Educational Consultant. JT earned his Doctorate in Philosophy in Advanced Educational Leadership from Regent University. 


If you prefer to read a transcript of this conversation, it is available below.



Full Transcript: Curriculum Alignment and Culturally Responsive Teaching


Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


Welcome to Eduplanet21’s 10 Minute Tuesdays. These are conversations with experts in education. My name is Clare Coupe Scott, and I am responsible for marketing and professional learning at Eduplanet21. Today, I'm delighted to be joined by the newly crowned Dr. JT Taylor from Purpose Pushers. Thanks so much, JT, for joining me today.


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


Absolutely, Clare. It's a pleasure to be with you.


Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


One of the things, JT, that you and I have spoken about many times is that I love your social media. I follow you on Twitter and LinkedIn, and I think you're very insightful. And so today, I want to focus a little bit on curriculum. I noticed a tweet in January of this year that says:


#1 Don’t assume that all teachers understand how to align curriculum, instruction and assessment.

#2 Don’t assume that all teachers have the capacity to make an aligned lesson culturally responsive.

#3 Provide PD on number one and number two.


And since Eduplanet21 is a curriculum management platform supported by professional learning, I thought this was a pretty great tweet. So, if it's okay with you, that's what I'd like to focus a little bit on today.


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


Outstanding. I would love to delve a little bit deeper into that tweet.

What is Alignment?

Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


Let's start with #1. Talk to me about alignment. How would you define curriculum alignment with instruction and assessment?


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


So anytime you're engaging in teaching and learning, there has to be some type of expectation, some type of curriculum that we're going to use. So the question is, what do we want students to learn? And what we want students to learn, that's what we're focused on teaching, nothing more, nothing less. We want to make sure that whatever we have determined in terms of skills, concepts, knowledge, information that we want students to gain, that's what we want to focus on. So when we talk about aligning the curriculum, we're talking about aligning what's written in their written curriculum. Whatever standards have already been determined, whatever skills have already been determined that students need to achieve a level of mastery in, we want to align that written curriculum with the actual teaching and the instructional component.


And so, when we're talking about alignment, we're talking about taking that written curriculum and making sure we teach according to the written curriculum. When we do not align the curriculum, that's where all of the problems pop up in education. You might have a teacher who has a written curriculum. Let's use science, for example. There may be science standards, science skills investigations that students need to engage in, concepts that students need to learn well.


We need to align that curriculum with our actual teaching practices. When we fail to align that curriculum, we teach a lesson that is not aligned. And anytime you teach a lesson that's not aligned - when it comes to testing those students, when it comes to assessing those students - they will never demonstrate mastery. They'll never demonstrate proficiency, because we spent so much time teaching things that they're never going to be assessed on. And that's the biggest issue in education, is aligning curriculum, instruction, and assessment.

Alignment in Eduplanet21

Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


Right. And as I think you know, JT part of Eduplanet’s curriculum platform that's exactly what our educators do. They go in and start with, what do we want our students to learn? What is the end? And then they can look at their assessments, and then they can look at their learning activities. And we have a great feature in the platform that says, did I align this? And it will show them where they did. Did I say I wanted them to learn this and I didn't test for it? Or did I test for it, but I never taught it?


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:




Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


That's something that is built, baked right into the platform.


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


And that makes Eduplanet’s platform - it's PD times two. Because in one sense, just the way the platform is constructed to keep the educator's mind focused on alignment and reflection, because now you can actually see, did I align the written with the talk? And did I actually assess what I taught based on what the curriculum is stated? So, it keeps people actually focused on alignment of the curriculum, which means they're getting two types of PD whether they're conscious of it or not, which is perfect.

Making Lessons Culturally Responsive: An Approach, Not a Strategy

Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


So, talk to me a little bit about #2 in that Tweet, which was that lessons need to be culturally responsive. What does that mean? That seems like a big ask. So, what does it mean and how do we do that?


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


Absolutely. So, first and foremost, Culturally Responsive Teaching. This approach to teaching and learning, it stems from the great work of Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, Dr. Geneva Gay, and a lot of people have read Zaretta Hammond's book, Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain. And so it's an approach.


Let's first start with that. It's not a strategy. It's an approach. It's a pedagogical posture. It's a way of doing education.


And so, when you focus on being culturally responsive, the number one thing that you're doing is you're viewing students culture as an instructional asset. You're viewing students’ culture as an instructional tool. I like to coach educators and explain that the greatest tool you'll ever have to teach a child is knowledge about that child at a baseline. 


Before we even think about teaching that child the curriculum, we need to ask ourselves, what do we know about these students? What are the students interest needs? What peaks their interest? What's going to get them engaged before we even handle the curriculum? So that's what you're doing when you're trying to make a lesson costly responsive. You can design a lesson that's not for particular students. But once you recognize that I designed a generic lesson.


Now, my goal is to make this lesson come alive for that student who may not be in love with science or reading or math or social studies or what have you. So I have to think, what is going to make this student connect with the content? The best way to do that is to make sure that that lesson is responsive to the student's culture. For example, if you have a student who loves soccer, baseball, football or any type of sport you want to introduce math, reading, science utilizing sports because that's knowledge that that child already has. So that child can easily connect to the concept, whatever we're teaching, because they have knowledge from the culture in which that student is bringing into the class. So we're utilizing the student's culture as an asset.


So anytime you're trying to align a lesson and make it constantly responsive, you first need to know who the student is. What is the student's cultural background? What are the students interests, needs, likes, passions, things of that nature, and then making sure that your curriculum actually reflects and mirrors the things that the student values. And so we're seeing the student's culture as an asset and not a liability.


And that's difficult for a lot of educators because typically, when an educator creates a lesson plan, they're creating a lesson plan for all of the students. They're not thinking about that one student who might not embrace math as readily as the other students, because some students are going to come in, they're passionate about math. They're passionate about science. So it really doesn't matter what lesson you create. They're like, “Whoa, give me more. I love this stuff automatically.” But then you have some students, they don't love math. So you have to literally make them love math by showing them how math relates to their lived experience. Dr. Christopher Emdin calls it Reality Pedagogy. So you got to take the curriculum and make it apply to the students lived experiences and live reality. That's when learning comes alive for all children.


Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


So I was going to ask you for an example. You gave me one, but I'm wondering if you could talk about maybe a teacher or a classroom where you've seen this come to life and where you saw a change, because I know you're working with teachers all the time, so I'd love to hear a story from you.


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


Absolutely. I think for a lot of young people, American culture, we love sports. So I think sports is already a cultural bridge for a lot of students, especially when you're talking about, like, a math class, because, to be honest, the number one opposition to, like, culturally responsive approaches is usually a math teacher, because they're like, “Dr. Taylor, well, math is culturally neutral. It's just numbers.” And I'm like, “Yes, while math might appear to be culturally neutral, the instructor, the educator, who's presenting math is not culturally neutral. Every time teaching takes place, we're always pulling from our own culture.” We're using references, we're using examples, just like the analogy that I use about sports, that's because I love sports. So it's easy for me to apply my knowledge of basketball and percentages or baseball and statistics in a math context because I see how baseball applies to math because I'm from a sports culture as well. But that might not apply to someone who's not infatuated with sports culture.


So, as an educator, you got to think, what makes this person? Take, for example, when we use references on worksheets, let's say we have a Map worksheet and it has oranges and apples in the elementary class, like count these apples, count these oranges, something so generic. But what about that young person who loves airplanes? So we're talking about using references and examples that the students connect with to help us teach the concepts in science and reading and social studies is really about taking information that you have about that student and using that information, using that student's cultural background and lived experience to be an instructional asset when you're trying to communicate or teach a particular lesson.


Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


I also think it comes down to and you can correct me if I'm wrong even when we're thinking about performance tasks or how students are going to show us that they know something, that we don't have to direct them exactly and let them pick something that's of interest to them to show us that they understand the concepts. We have to get away from always being the one to say, this is how you're going to show it to me.

Core Tenets of Culturally Responsive Teaching

Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


Oh, you're on it, Clare. You're on it. And so here's the three core tenets of Culturally Responsive Teaching. According to Dr. Gloria Ladson-Billings, the number one is academic achievement. You have to focus on helping students achieve a level of mastery and proficiency. You want to tap into the intellectual treasure that the child already has. 


The number two core tenant is what you're referring to, and it is affirmation of students’ cultural competence. So what that means is I'm assuming that my students are brilliant and not the opposite. I'm not assuming that students don't know how to do it or don't have the capacity to engage in a particular lesson. I'm bringing this assumption of brilliance to the table so that it gives me the freedom to say, oh, I'm going to just let you see what you can do. I'm just going to give you the autonomy and the freedom to show me what, you know, opposed to thinking this student may struggle or they need extra scaffolds and different things. Whereas to your point, if we just give the students a task, a project-based assessment, and allow them to play with it, we'll learn a lot in terms of what they're able to do and what supports they might need.


But that's on the educator to feel as if you have the freedom to just allow children to display their brilliance in whatever way they choose. And so I see this a lot, especially in a lot of the school districts that I work with, like poetry. Poetry is a tremendous tool, can be used in every core content by allowing students to express themselves in rhyme scheme. That can be done in math, that can be done in science, that can be done in social studies. But if students are infatuated with rhyme scheme or particular students identified with hip hop culture, it'd be great to allow them to share their responses in that way. But you have to validate students’ intelligence and give them the opportunity to show how brilliant they are. But that's on the educator.


Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


As a child, I always struggled with social studies, and I always thought that if it was all written to song, I would really get it because I would remember it.


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


That's exactly what we're talking about, Clare. So for you, if you love song, then the teacher should validate that and say, oh, you know what? Instead of asking Clare to write a five-sentence paragraph, I'm going to ask Clare or give her the permission to write it in song. And I guarantee, because that's something that you're interested in, that's the culture that you validate, you appreciate, you're going to be more likely to do that. I often encourage teachers, if you haven't used Roadblocks Minecraft in your classroom yet, to help students grasp concepts, you're doing students a disservice because these students today, they're a gaming generation. So, games should be used to help students learn and engage in the content in the curriculum as well.


Purposeful Integration of Cultural Responsiveness in Curriculum Planning

Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


One of the things I believe you know about the (Eduplanet21) platform is that in stage one, the educators are selecting standards. So whether those are science standards or social studies standards. But there's also a spot where we have what we call other goals or other standards. And these are things that schools can use that might be national, whether those are the Habits of Mind or the CASEL Social Emotional Learning framework items. But also, we have districts who put in their profile of a graduate, so they are selecting those items when they are developing all of their units and lessons to make sure that they are covering them. Is there anything that they could be thinking about, including when it comes to being culturally responsive, so that they could ensure that that is a lens through which they're developing their curriculum?


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


Absolutely. So I went over the number one component (of Culturally Responsive Teaching), which was student academic achievement. Number two component was affirmation of a student's cultural competence. And then the third, which I feel like is the most important because its outcome driven. It is, and it's a lot of $5 words in this one, but it is the facilitation of sociopolitical critical consciousness. And although it's all these buzzwords, all it means is critical thinking


And so I know across the country, particularly in the state of Virginia where I'm located, we have a Virginia profile of a graduate as well, and we call them the five C’s. One of those C’s is critical thinking. I think every educator in every school and district should be focused and driven toward helping students develop critical thinking so that students are not just led astray by misinformation, that students can critique the lessons that they're learning, critique institutions in society. That's a critical lens that needs to be developed. And so, clearly, comprehension skills and critical thinking, they go hand in hand. But I think one thing that we can do to ensure that teachers are focused on developing students in the area, of course, responsiveness, is helping students develop those critical thinking questions so that students can critique policies and practices that might be harmful to them and their particular community.


So I will give you one example. In the state of Virginia, in the Hampton Roads region, there's a city that is directly located in a food desert. And so, a food desert just means that those students don't have a lot of access to whole foods and nutritious foods, and so they don't have access to a lot of whole food marketplaces. So that might be linked to why that particular city has medical issues or lower longevity or higher mortality rate. And the students might not understand how lack of access to whole foods and nutritious vegetables and fruits, how that might impact their ability to live life and enjoy life and the sustainability of life. So that's something that a teacher can talk about in science, can talk about in English, can talk about in math, and connected to and help students develop critical thinking skills so that the students might say, hey, why don't we have access to this type of quality food in our area? And that's when you say, okay, now when you go to social studies, you need to learn who you need to contact, what Congress woman or man, what political individual, who you might need to contact to help address those issues that might be harmful to your particular community.


But a student will never have that critical lens if we don't teach them to be costly responsive. So I think, to summarize it, it's just really a focus on critical thinking so that students can learn how to critique different things that might be harmful to them in their community.


Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


Terrific. So, I know we're running up against our ten minutes. We probably have gone over. I think you and I probably do that a lot!


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


I'm long-winded, Clare. Forgive me, everyone.

The Importance of Connected Professional Learning

Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


So in the institute that you've developed on Rebuilding for Equity and Inclusion, I know you do touch on culturally responsive teaching, although that's a huge topic, so it's certainly not the be all and the end all of professional learning. But I would love you to talk a little bit about number three in your Tweet, which was provide professional learning to your teachers on both curriculum alignment as well as culturally responsive teaching. Can you talk about how and why it's important to marry those two?


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


Absolutely. So, when you look at Rebuilding for Equity and Inclusion, anytime you're rebuilding something, you need a blueprint. No contractor, no engineer, no builder just hops out there and starts constructing something. And so for me, it always starts with what I like to deem a compelling vision. And for me, educators need to have a vision for reaching, inspiring, and educating all children at the highest level possible. And so if that's your vision to increase the academic performance, the academic achievement of each child in a particular school or district, then you need to have a vision for accomplishing that. You need to have a blueprint, a tangible plan that says, here's our goals, here's our expectations, here's the outcomes we want, and here's how we're going to do it. So that's where our course comes directly into the forefront, because you need to rebuild for equity. Equity is ensuring that every child has what they need to actually thrive. So you need to start with a plan to rebuild. And once you start mapping out a plan, you're going to realize that some students don't have access to the same resources as other students, and some students don't have access to culturally responsive materials in the classroom.


So that's where the culturally responsiveness has to come into play, where you start considering groups of students and saying, man, I wonder if this group of students lacks costly, relevant materials. I wonder how many books are in the libraries in these particular schools where students see authors who actually look like them, authors who they can identify with, authors who come from the same cultural background and lived experience as the students. And so that's why it's important to rebuild for Equity and Inclusion, because you want to ensure that every child feels included. No child should walk around the schoolhouse feeling as if they're anonymous, like no one knows them, and they don't feel a sense of belonging. So if we're going to Rebuild for Equity and inclusion, it's going to move you towards being culturally responsive and making sure that you respond to each of the individual students.


Clare Coupe Scott, Eduplanet21:


Fantastic. So, JT, I can always sit and talk with you for hours on end. I feel like we always have great conversations. I really appreciate the conversation, and I know it won't be the last one. So thanks for joining me today.


Dr. JT Taylor, Purpose Pushers:


Thanks for having me. Clare. I appreciate the work that you do. 


Learn more about Eduplanet21 and the Curriculum Management and Professional Learning programs we offer, by visiting here


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