Cultural Responsiveness

What an ass.

Putting the ‘ass’ in assessment

I have always followed the principle that it is important to treat all people equally and until recently made no particular effort to draw attention to culture in my classroom. This approach was clearly not culturally ‘responsive’ since it did not ‘respond’ to culture, but rather ignored it.   Sadly, it is clear from the many conversations that I have had with teachers that I was not the only person to do this.  Thankfully,  I now recognise that this approach was not only wrong, but harmful.

Being culturally responsive means valuing culture and taking steps to sustain it.  It involves celebrating the rich  values  of Maori and promoting them in a way that  avoids tokenism.  It means allowing Maori to express their identity, not feel that they need to suppress it.


What has become very clear is that developing a culturally responsive pedagogy  enriches teaching.  A central goal in my practice at the moment is to embed formative assessment in my classroom. What strikes me is the similarity between culturally responsive pedagogy and formative assessment practices.

 (McLoughlin, 2001, p. xx)

(McLoughlin, 2001, p. 10)

McLouglin (2001) commenting on cross-cultural learning within an online context clearly identifies the features of a culturally responsive approach to teaching. It is noticeable that features such as learning in a community, authentic assessment and the learner as social and networked are also features that need to be applied when implementing formative assessment practices in the classroom. (Wiliam, 2011)

Bishop, Berryman & Richardson (2002) comment that culturally responsive pedagogy encourages students to self-evaluate and use formative assessment practices when giving feedback and feedforward. Cowie et al., (2011) comment that teaching in a culturally responsive way involves power sharing—tuakana teina in action (p.3) and ongoing assessment for learning is integral to teaching in a way that is responsive to student ideas and expertise (p.4) These are key aspects of effective formative assessment. A key quality of a culturally responsive teacher is their adherence to the concept of ‘Ako‘ which aligns directly with the concept of student as teacher required for effective peer assessment – a vital component of formative assessment (Wiliam, 2011). Likewise, the principle of ‘Kotahitanga’ is the basic feature of formative assessment where teachers promote, monitor and reflect on outcomes that in turn lead to improvements in educational achievement. (Ministry of Education, 2004)

It is very clear that the key principles that underpin both culturally responsive pedagogy and assessment for learning practices, align.   Almost perfectly.   If we are to raise achievement, in a culturally responsive manner,  then we should look to embed assessment for learning practices in our 21st century classrooms.



Bishop, R. (2009, September 1). A culturally responsive pedagogy of relations [Video file]. Retrieved from

Bishop, R., Berryman, M., & Richardson, C. (2002). Te Toi Huarewa: Effective teaching and learning in total immersion Maori language educational settings. Canadian Journal of native education, 26(1), 44-61. Retrieved from

Cowie, B., Otrel-Cass, K., Glynn, T., Kara, H., Anderson, M., Doyle, J., . . . Parkinson, A. (2011). Culturally responsive pedagogy and assessment in primary science classrooms: Whakamana tamariki. Retrieved from Teaching and learning research initiative website:

Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential. London: Robinson.

Hogan, M. (2012, July 18). Culturally responsive practice in a mainstream school [Video file]. Retrieved from

McLoughlin, C. (2001). Inclusivity and alignment: Principles of pedagogy, task and assessment design for effective cross‐cultural online learning. Distance Education, 22(1), 7-29. doi:10.1080/0158791010220102

Ministry of Education. (2004). Effective teaching profile / The development of Te Kotahitanga. Retrieved from

Ministry of education. (2007). Key competencies / the New Zealand curriculum. Retrieved from

Tauli-Corpuz, V. (2012, October 1). Understanding indigenous worldviews [Video file]. Retrieved from

Wiliam, D. (2011). Embedding formative assessment [Kindle]. Retrieved from

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