Responsive learning environments are physically, socially, emotionally and culturally responsive to the identities of learners. More importantly, responsive classrooms are warm, accepting, respectful havens in which learners are free to be themselves, to trust one another and to accept individual differences.
A responsive learning environment approach, in which rich and stimulating learning experiences can take place, helps to challenge gifted students and to ensure that their special abilities are nurtured, developed, and recognised. The term culturally responsive environment approach reflects the importance of being responsive to the strengths and needs of all gifted students, including those whose cultural background differs from the majority culture of the school (MoE, 2012, p. 79).
Riley (2000) outlines the ways the ‘creation of a responsive or invitational learning environment’ provides the context for qualitative differentiation. This process includes consideration of physical spaces and social-emotional spaces. Riley introduces a range of factors that kura/school/ECE settings can explore as they develop responsive learning environments for gifted learners in their contexts. For example, she poses the following questions for educators to consider, based on the characteristics of Cathcart’s (2005, p. 27) ‘invitational environment’:
Cathcart, R. (2005). They’re Not Bringing My Brain Out (3rd ed). Auckland, New Zealand: Hodder Education.
Bevan-Brown (2005) explains that four of the ‘ingredients’ of a ‘culturally responsive environment’ are:
The Educultural Wheel (Macfarlane, 2004) provides a framework for a school-wide approach to developing culturally responsive environments. This framework has at its heart the concept of pūmanawatanga (morale, tone, pulse) supported by, and supporting, the four interwoven features of whanaungatanga (building relationships), manaakitanga (caring), rangatiratanga (teacher effectiveness) and kotahitanga (bonding). These interwoven features offer teachers four sets of strategies that assist in the identification of, and provision for, gifted Māori learners. The Educultural Wheel encourages teachers to incorporate cultural knowledge, skills and dispositions into their professional practice.
In a presentation entitled Identity and whakapapa: A curriculum for the gifted Māori child, Melinda Webber (2012) (PDF, 713 KB) noted that engagement, learning and progress are maximised when educational experiences:
Webber (2012) highlights the importance of a culturally responsive localised curriculum for gifted Māori children with ‘content that values, affirms and develops learners’ whakapapa and identity, and celebrates exceptional tupuna’. This curriculum ensures that ‘learning experiences are as closely linked to the Māori child’s whānau/hapū/iwi whakapapa, traditions and stories as possible’. This supports ‘the development of strong ethnic identity and subsequently the improved self-concept with regard to being Māori and Gifted.'
Recent iwi based research by Macfarlane, Webber, Cookson-Cox & McRae (2014) found that high-achieving Māori learners displayed the following characteristics. They:
The diverse Pasifika population in New Zealand continues to grow and kura/school/ECE settings/Kāhui Ako need to ensure they have a culturally responsive learning environment that recognises and develops culturally specific giftedness. It is important to connect and respond to the identities, languages and cultures of each Pasifika group in kura/schools/ECE settings/Kāhui Ako. Values such as respect, service, leadership, family, belonging and relationships are important within Pasifika cultures and underpin the qualities and abilities valued by Pasifika communities.
"Good Pasifika learning requires that the teacher must have all three of the following teaching strategies: allowing Pasifika students respect as a learner; being able to scaffold Pasifika learning at the right level; and engaging their Pasifika learners in active learning. The Pasifika student must have confidence and trust in their teacher to engage with the teacher in the active pursuit of learning. The classroom teacher must also have confidence in the Pasifika student’s ability; e.g., high expectations. If any of the parts described above are missing Pasifika learning is poor."
Her study showed that good pedagogy by teachers who like and believe in their individual Pasifika learners’ abilities to succeed in the palagi education system make a difference. Conversely, progress for Pasifika learners’ achievement can be impeded if teachers hold views about ‘Pasifika ways of learning’ that do not acknowledge that there is more than one Pasifika identity and many ways of developing strengths.
"An effective pedagogy that is culturally responsive to Pasifika ensures that the school’s curriculum provides relevant contexts that can engage learners from different cultures … ensures Pacific learners can draw on their own knowledge of the world and to enable success through building on activities and experiences, with which they are familiar or confident."