Multicultural Teaching: from Bias to Responsiveness

Teachers must prepare students to be responsible citizens in an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society; without such preparation the teacher is negating one of the prime directives of education, preparing students to be the future citizens.

When it comes to the social environment there is a vast amount of diversity to consider. To prepare students for a sustainable future, with a diversity of people that must interact through an increasingly interconnected world, the teacher must acknowledge and prepare students for the broader world outside of the classroom. To do this the teacher must be both self-aware and culturally responsive to the students in their classroom.

Through my coursework in diversity I have examined both my own history with diversity, my relationship with culturally responsive teaching, and the issue of diversity as it pertains to my content area.

In a set of blog posts I reflected on both personal narrative and academic research to examine both my personal biases and my desire to be culturally responsive to my students. It was not until I went through this process that I understood how little I like the idea of a melting pot. It is in the melting pot that we all start to look and sound like each other. I much prefer a world where everyone is proud of their cultural identity. Learning to differentiate between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation, I wrote:

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Reflecting on my relationship with students, I also examined how I have historically interacted with cultural metanarratives and how I can better integrate student interests into my curriculum. One example of this is the student one-act play project that I have developed over the past several years that asks each student to respond to the project by writing about what they know.

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Further responding to industry trends and the teaching task of casting a play, I examined the relationship I have with casting students through non-traditional means, colorblind casting, and culturally specific casting.

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It is only through this through process that I can better understand who I am as a teacher, respond to my students needs, prepare curriculum that is culturally responsive, and prepare my students for a diverse and multi-cultural world.

When I teach in a diverse classroom (and every classroom is diverse). I must understand both what diversity I bring to the table, how students may initially view me, and what bias I also bring into teaching. By doing this I can respond to the needs of each student and check my bias before it enters my curriculum.

Some of the important lessons that I have learned, going through this coursework, are:

  1. Understanding my cultural identity allows me to talk authentically about culture
  2. Every student, regardless of ethnicity, has belonging to both minority and majority groups (race, gender, ability, economics, education, and more)
  3. Talking about diversity is difficult; acknowledging that I am not perfect at it both gives me permission to make mistakes with my students and gives my students permission to make mistakes as well
  4. There is no clear answer about what “the right” thing to do is when addressing diversity; for me the only thing I must maintain is respect for everyone in the room

It is my hope that students will be able to mirror and advance my understanding of diversity and culturally responsive teaching. While I may never actually teach a unit on diversity and our multicultural world, we must learn to sustainably work with people that are different from our own self.

Students learn from the environment around them. I can be only a part of that environment. I may or may not actually embrace the messages that they receive in their homes. I may create a conative dissonance for them; I may reaffirm what they already know and practice. Regardless, I believe I can and will model a path to a multicultural world where differences are embraced and built upon.

I would like to continually work to reflect upon and refine my personal understanding of both my cultural identity and my culturally responsive teaching. Specifically in my classroom, I will continue to demonstrate respect for and honor the multi cultural environment that we live in, continue to be culturally aware when I cast productions, begin to involve students in the decision of casting when it is culturally specific character, continue to encourage students to write from a place of cultural awareness and personal meaning, and challenge myself to work against my biases in the classroom.

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How To: Writing Workshop for Performing Arts

Can a writing workshop work for any subject? Yes. Although, this assumes the liberal definition of a text, where anything with meaning, including but not limited to written words, can be composed or written. The “text” in question could be a traditional essay, a painting, or even a performance that eludes a fixed form.

The writer’s workshop allows for students work in relationship to a text by asking a strong question. For example, is Shylock, in Merchant of Venice, a hero or a villain? Students can build buy in by forming their own opinion about that question; they way they perform the text with the acting and character choices that they make will form a unique opinion that is expressed through a performance. The same is true for music. Students may be asked a question about the interpretation of a musical composition, or even be asked to compose an original score in response to an existing piece of music or in response to another piece of art. The performative interpretation becomes the student’s response.

A writing workshop depends on students setting their own goals. With a performance this is simple. The student must select artistic elements and skills that apply to the project. Individual work time is also a critical and simple step. With the given project of creating a performance in response to the question students can work on developing the selected artistic elements in their performance (such as character physicality or musical accent) by performing for each other and reflecting on the performances.

Through focused mini-lessons, derived from teacher observations, the teacher can direct the rehearsal process with a differentiated approach to the content. Further, guiding the meta-learning for the class, the teacher can introduce and model the learning target for the day as it relates to the project of answering the question. As students work, the teacher can provide one-on-one conferences with students by watching their work and asking guiding questions.

While this may not be a traditional writing workshop, it is certainly an effective adaptation for the performing arts. Likely, it would also work for Physical Education or any other skill based content that relies on a demonstration of skill rather than the presentation of knowledge in written form. I have seen it work in my class and can easily see it work in others.

Socially Responsible Practices of Theatre Education: Sign Three

Journal Entry from October 20, 2014 for Theatre Methods

 What is…

At this point I have a decade of experience under my belt in youth theatre. I have a firm grasp on “what is” in my program. This grasp has been continually transforming over the years and has certainly shifted from a more idealistic to a more realistic perspective on what is possible and achievable. Some of the most cumbersome constraints include administrative oversight and school policy, student interests, and limited instructional time.

In my class, as I often describe, I try to create an atmosphere of respect. One benefit of this is that it serves as a backbone for socially responsible actions. We, society, must respect the identities of the people we interact with. We, each individual, must also respect our own history and identity. Too often in theatre, we take licenses to transgress boundaries that are present in society. Sometimes it is very appropriate; it can provoke discussions that allow society to progress. Sometimes, in middle school, the students are not ready to take on those discussions; to cast Romeo and Juliet with two boys, for example, may provoke content that students are not comfortable discussing.

IMG_2248 Continue reading “Socially Responsible Practices of Theatre Education: Sign Three”

Theatre of Differentiation

Over the course of teaching and teacher training, it is important to center one’s practice on areas of potential growth. To do this, one must be reflective, collaborative, and evaluative of one’s teaching practice.

From one classroom to the next and one student to the next, education is never the same. There are similar aspects and best practices that are universal. However, the reality of it is that every day educators face new situations caused by a combination of contextual issues that come with each student.

These issues include: developmental issues of nature and nurture, an integration of multiple learning styles, and a student’s Zone of Proximal Development.

Nature and Nurture: As I noted in the first class discussion, neither side is every completely correct. Continue reading “Theatre of Differentiation”

Learning Drama in the Face of the Learner Paradox

IMG_1976Drama is a perfect study for the middle school student as they enter the fourth phase of Piaget’s stages of development, the Formal Operational Period (Smith, 2012). Students at the age of 11 are starting to think about the world is way that is broader than themselves. They must think both abstractly, logically, and systematically; they begin to look outside of themselves and the surrounding world becomes palpable as their identity begins to blossom. These attributes are applied directly to the study of theatre and English. Both of these courses are text based. In my classroom I expect students to exercise their emerging ability to analyze a text and to connect their new knowledge to life-long lessons.
There are several important factors that the middle school educator must consider for their students. First, teachers must operate in a classroom that is filled with individuals. Each individual has been influenced by elements of nature and nurture as well as their gender (both internal and external). Second, teachers must operate in a classroom that is standardized. Each student must meet the objectives of the course, pass specific tests, and memorize the same material. The learner paradox that the teacher faces is inherent. Students must be simultaneously treated as both individuals and as a collective. This paradox can be accounted for as I create a classroom of differentiation. State learning standards are written with a degree of interpretation that I can take advantage of as a teacher. Because of this, students are able to work towards the standards in different ways; each student can build their path to knowledge and achievement. The practice solidifies my belief in a constructivist approach to learning. I intend to continue to use constructivism as a central modality for all my classes.

There are two central camps in the child development debate, The Nature Camp and the Nurture Camp. Those on the side of nature argue that all of development is pre-determined and the outcomes of character are set at birth. Those in favor of nurture posit that the outcome of a person’s character is primarily from the forces that one experiences as they go through life. However, this relationship is far too binary. There are traits that people are born with, sexual orientation for example, and traits that develop over time, acting with confidence on a stage for example. As Pressley and McCormick (2007) point out, the potential development of a person is subject to both genetics and environmental factors.

Continue reading “Learning Drama in the Face of the Learner Paradox”

The Developing Child in Middle School

IMG_1782Jean Piaget was instrumental in positing four stages of human development. These stages can be directly applied to the work of educators. The fourth stage, Formal Operational, generally starts as students enter middle school in sixth grade around the age of eleven. As an educator of middle school students, my experience is primarily limited to beginning of this final stage. To summarize, the previous three stages are sensorimotor, preoperational, and concrete (Smith, 2012).
The Sensorimotor Period is best represented with the prototypical baby and the game of peek-a-boo. In this stage, babies develop the concept of object permanence in addition to learning to control their motor responses as they coordinate the information from all five senses. The Preoperational Period begins at age two and lasts through age seven, young children develop the idea of abstract thinking. This includes symbolic thinking and ego centered thought. The final stage before middle school is The Concrete Operational Period. This stage starts around the age of seven and continues through 11 years old. Here youth develop the ability to apply their intellectual thinking to actual events (Smith 2012).
The development of an individual is greatly influenced by both their natural born genetics and their surrounding environment as they grow up. There are a number of variable factors that can influence this later category. These factors include: the child’s family members (and their beliefs), the geographical location of the child, the quality of the child’s care as they grow up, the school they attend, the media that the child consumes, and the era that the child grows up in. Continue reading “The Developing Child in Middle School”