School districts nationwide are using high-impact tutoring to accelerate students’ reading and math skills and help close learning gaps, and research has linked this practice with improved student achievement when implemented well.

There is also a growing body of evidence suggesting that when educators use culturally responsive and inclusive teaching practices in their classrooms, students experience better learning outcomes.

If both high-impact tutoring and culturally responsive teaching are successful strategies for boosting student achievement, then it stands to reason that tutoring becomes even more effective when delivered in an inclusive and culturally sensitive manner.

Benefits of a culturally responsive approach

Culturally responsive teaching incorporates students’ cultures, languages, and life experiences into the educational process. It helps students feel seen, appreciated and welcomed as part of the learning community. It promotes a sense of safety and belonging, affirms students’ self-identity and taps into their lived experience to help them understand the content they’re learning.

Research shows that when students see themselves represented in school, they’re more likely to become engaged in their learning—and thus more successful. When students feel like they belong, they become more deeply connected to their school community and motivated to succeed. The U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) provides research references of the studies supporting culturally responsive teaching and its effects on student outcomes.

Culturally responsive teaching not only fosters a sense of inclusion that leads to deeper engagement; it also helps students connect what they’re learning in school to their prior knowledge and experiences.

“Culturally responsive teachers connect academic concepts to the everyday lives of their students, a strategy that makes learning experiences more personally meaningful, engaging and effective,” the nonprofit think tank New America says. “For instance, in one study of roughly 1,400 San Francisco high school students, researchers discovered that participating in an ethnic studies course that emphasized cultural affirmation was associated with improved attendance as well as GPA gains.”

Keys to success

Incorporating culturally relevant and inclusive instruction into high-impact tutoring programs can amplify the benefits of tutoring for students and make sessions even more effective—which is why the National Student Support Accelerator has issued guidance on delivering culturally responsive tutoring.

Based on this guidance, as well as my own experience as an educator and K-12 administrator, here are four keys to success in making tutoring more culturally responsive and inclusive:

1. Build relationships.

Establishing strong relationships with students is critical for raising achievement, and research confirms that pairing students with a consistent tutor for the duration of the program leads to better results.

When tutors get to know the students they’re helping on a personal level, they can build an authentic connection that validates students’ identity and ensures they are comfortable in the relationship, while also tailoring instruction to students’ lived experiences. Tutors can do this by encouraging students to share information about their culture, neighborhood, and other important influences in their lives—and then skillfully integrating this information into instruction.

2. Ensure that tutors are trained in culturally responsive teaching practices.

Effective tutoring requires certified instructors who are highly skilled in their craft. Tutors should receive ongoing training and support not only on the delivery of academic content, but also on the skills needed to promote cultural awareness, foster inclusivity, and develop a positive rapport with their students.

3. Use diverse and inclusive tutoring materials.

The reading passages and other materials used within tutoring sessions should incorporate a wide range of identities, cultures, experiences, etc. so that students can feel seen and represented within the content.

4. Consider student and tutor backgrounds.

A study released earlier this year, involving more than 18,000 students across the United States, suggests that young children who are taught by a teacher of the same ethnicity as themselves develop better learning and problem-solving skills by the age of seven with this being most impactful for Black and Latinx students. The study adds to other existing research confirming the academic benefits of having students taught by educators of the same ethnicity.

Although it isn’t always possible to match students with tutors of the same ethnicity, this practice becomes more feasible when tutoring services employ a highly diverse staff.

The research is unequivocal: Students who experience culturally responsive teaching tend to be highly engaged, motivated, and connected to their school—and this translates into greater academic success. Integrating culturally relevant and inclusive teaching practices into the high impact tutoring that students receive can make an already powerful instructional strategy even more effective.

About the author

Gaelle Belhseine is the Director of Curriculum and Production for BookNook, a high-impact, all-in-one tutoring solution that has been proven to increase student achievement through online tutors and engaging curriculum, fueled by a synchronous online learning platform. BookNook tutors are trained in culturally responsive teaching strategies and use high-quality texts that are carefully chosen for their diversity in race, gender, ability, culture, location, perspective and experiences.