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Learner Variability and Culturally Responsive Practices

Understanding learner variability helps disrupt the idea of a one-size-fits all approach and paves the way for more equitable teaching and learning. The intersection of culturally responsive practice with the science of learner variability can provide great insight into what it takes to successfully implement culturally responsive instruction with both teachers and students.  It also helps us understand why culturally responsive practices are necessary for reaching and embracing the whole learner.

On November 10, 2022 at 1:00 p.m., we will hear from our distinguished panelists, Courtney Teague, Angela Elkordy, and Leigh Ann Erikson, on how they approach culturally responsive practice in their courses and practice. We’ll discuss some of the key findings from the research on culturally responsive practices, where the research gaps are, and the importance of culturally responsive practices in teacher education and K-12 classrooms. Register today for the Learner Variability and Culturally Responsive Practices, hosted by Digital Promise and AACTE.

Though culturally responsive practices often focus on aspects of racial identity, culture and identity go beyond race. These practices can encompass many different aspects of a person’s identities including native language, gender, and able bodiedness as well as mental health and learning disabilities. When we have a deeper understanding of how factors related to identity, such as  Sense of Belonging, Primary Language and Adverse Experiences can impact cognitive factors such as Working Memory or Attention, we become better equipped to support learners across identities. 

At the Learner Variability Project, we work with researchers and educators to make the research behind learning accessible and to highlight connections across research, to better understand and support the whole learner. Recently we worked in partnership with practitioners and researchers to update our Learner Variability Navigator around learner factors and strategies related to culturally responsive teaching.  As we reviewed the research on culturally responsive practices, some themes and questions emerged.  In much of the research we reviewed, there was an emphasis on the need for educators to have a sense of cultural awareness in order to implement any strategy effectively across a diverse set of students particularly those who have historically been marginalized.  We know that teachers’ beliefs about students, their cognitive abilities and potential affect how the students perform and perceive themselves.  Teachers’ perceptions of individual students may impact students’ perception of themselves and can lead to internalizing stereotypes (Copur-Genturk et al., 2019). There are many ways to counteract Stereotype Threat , but certainly one of the keys is to become aware of our own implicit bias.  Understanding how our implicit bias shows up is critical, but the research in this area is lacking.

As we continued to surface these questions, findings, and gaps in the current research, we looked for ways to make connections and provide resources that could help!  We worked closely with a diverse panel of practitioners who had been putting culturally responsive practices into action for years. Together, we developed a guide for developing that cultural awareness with a whole child lens, and found ways to leverage the research on the Learner Variability Navigator to support deeper understanding of just how important feeling understood, safe, and included in school is to emotional and academic well-being and success.

This is just one of the many ways we hope the Learner Variability Navigator can be used to support a deeper understanding of student centered approaches to learning. The more we equip teachers with an understanding of learning sciences the better able they are to meet their students’ needs.

Register for the webinar on November 10 at 1:00 p.m.: Learner Variability and Culturally Responsive Practices


Copur-Gencturk, Y., Cimpian, Lubienski, S.T., & Thacker, I. (2019). Teachers’ bias’ against the mathematical ability of female, Black, and Hispanic students. Educational Researcher, 49(1), 30-43. https://doi.org/10.3102/0013189X19890577

Jessica Jackson is director of professional learning for the Learner Variability Project at Digital Promise.

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