In a Brooklyn social studies class, middle school students in a circle talk about how a culturally diverse classroom can help them learn better. Each child is given a small stuffed toy before speaking and must summarize what the previous student said.
"Imagine the power if adults had that kind of practice every day, where we actually listened to each other," said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
It's part of an effort to weave a concept called “culturally responsive” and “sustaining education” into the city's curriculum. The idea is that students learn better when they feel their cultures and identities are reflected in what they study. Carranza used the story of Alexander Hamilton as an example.
"You could read that in chapter after chapter, but isn't it more fun to go see Hamilton the play? And hear about it in hip-hop and hear about it in rhyme?"
Carranza visited M.S. 88 to highlight New York City’s Education Department's embrace of culturally responsive education.
As part of the effort, the department is looking to shake up school library shelves, revamping the book list to better reflect the city's diversity.
"We're going to start with surveying our parents and our students and our educators and working with our partners in the city library system," said Carranza.
Carranza says there is evidence that a more diverse list of books in a school's library gets more students interested in reading, and he says that evidence can be found right here at M.S. 88.
"It's not a coincidence that … M.S. 88's library saw a 70% increase in the circulation of their books once they focused on making their library more culturally responsive."
He also announced a fellowship program, which will allow teachers to help shape the new culturally responsive curriculum.
"Sixty teachers from across all grade levels, all content areas, and from all boroughs will meet regularly to develop tools that teachers can use to tailor instruction to the students in their classrooms," Carranza said.
The chancellor framed the embrace of culturally responsive education as part of an effort to improve instruction.