Why Consider Cultural Relevance Before Teaching a Text?

December 15, 2022
Culturally Responsive Teaching
Student Engagement
Lesson Planning
Amy Rogen
Relay faculty

We know that many students across the country are experiencing a tremendous learning loss due to the pandemic (see here and here).  Recent research has shown that one of the best ways to help students recover academically is to provide access, and appropriate support, to rigorous texts and tasks. 

Analyzing a text for complexity is an important step in doing just that. Often, when we think about completing a text complexity analysis, we use Common Core’s Three-Part Model to analyze the qualitative and quantitative dimensions of text complexity, as well as reader and task considerations.  

In addition to these three components, it’s equally important to consider the cultural relevance of a text. We know that students become more invested and engaged in content when they see themselves reflected in the material. Because cultural relevance is not fixed, even if you are using a curriculum that already has provided texts, it is still critical to evaluate those texts and support students in accessing them. Only by understanding students and a text deeply can we truly plan for student-centered instruction that allows for students to access complex texts without removing the rigor.  

5 Tips for Analyzing the Cultural Relevance of a Text  

  1. Start by considering how you and your students will relate to the text by reflecting on the extent to which the text provides mirrors to see their own experiences represented in a text and windows to learn from experiences unlike their own.  Use this tool for selecting diverse texts to help. 
  2. Identify potential rationales for reading the text with your students in support of integrating Gloria Ladson-Billings’ three pillars of culturally relevant pedagogy: academic success, cultural competence, and critical consciousness. 
  3. Reflect on the extent to which the text will be challenging for individual readers.  Think about what you know about your students’ motivation, knowledge, interests, and experiences. 
  4. Consider how you will activate students’ prior knowledge of the text by making connections to students’ lives, experiences, opinions and to previously learned concepts or skills. 
  5. Think about how you will build background knowledge on the topic or themes of the text to support student understanding such as previewing vocabulary, using a paired text, or using a knowledge organizer

These steps are critical to ensuring that all learners are able to access appropriately challenging texts.  Relay’s workshop on Analyzing the Complexity and Cultural Relevance of a Text walks participants through these steps in more detail and provides resources, including a planning template and strategy bank, to support teachers in analyzing a text and planning scaffolds or enrichments accordingly to promote comprehension. Reach out to for more information! 

Amy Rogen

Amy is the Director of Content Development for Teacher Professional Education at Relay GSE, where she collaborates with the design team to develop and facilitate workshops for teachers across the country. Amy has significant experience in elementary and higher education, both teaching and coaching K-12 teachers. Her research interests include educational leadership, culturally responsive teaching, and teacher professional development.


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