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.

Content Area Reading Strategy: Academic Lanugage Focus

Secondary students struggle with content area reading because they do not understand the words on the page. What should a teacher do about this? One strategy is to focus on academic vocabulary. Students need to make personal connections to what they read and cannot do this if they are stuck on phonetic decoding. By breaking out the vocabulary acquisition into three tiers (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014) both teachers and students can strategically approach the instruction. Tier One includes vocabulary that the student already knows; teaching these words will help the student activate their prior knowledge. Tier Two words are important over many years in many disciplines both your own and others; examples include parallel, theme, and base; teaching these words will help students make connections to ideas outside of the content and reinforce the meaning in the content. Tier Three words are technical with narrow definition; these words should be taught for the lesson and looked up for further clarity; a student will engage the text at an analytical level. Teaching with vocabulary in mind will help with pre-reading, accessing previous knowledge, connecting to personal experiences, and reading for deeper meaning in the text; these are all proven reading strategies.

Reference:

Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2014). Subjects matter: Exceeding standards through powerful content-area reading (Second ed.).

What’s the problem with American textbooks and how can this problem be overcome?

THE PROBLEM: The problem with American Textbooks is that they are often bland and outdated. The textbook replaces the standards that the teacher should use to derive original and refreshing lessons that are relevant to the student population. A textbook is a homogenous text that is made for universal appeal. With a mandated textbook, teachers are left to either follow the textbook in full (which is hardly teaching) or assemble their lessons around the required components. A textbook, when used as a primary or exclusive teaching device, is equivalent to letting another teacher (the author of the textbook) into the classroom and puts the primary teacher into a position of student management monitor.

THE SOLUTION FROM THEATRE AND ENGLISH LANGUAGE ARTS: Fortunately, both of these subjects have a broader range of choices than the average science or math class. These highly structured fields contain a set sequence of information that the student must master from one year to the next (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014). However, with English Language and Theatre Arts, the instruction has a spiral structure (Daniels and Zemelman, 2014). Students are required to build on past (and similar) learning experiences with the same structure and processes from one year to the next. In English Language Arts, students read texts (ideally in a wide array of genre) and respond to those texts through writing and other interactive activities (such as group discussions). In Theatre Arts, students study a new play each time they go through the process of performance; the text is always changing and the skills build upon the past experience of the student. Both of the subjects are focused on the personalized application and interpretation of the content.

THE QUESTION FOR EDUCATORS: Where does the information for your field live? Suggestion, take a cue from the humanities. Knowledge lives in the student; by capturing the student experience as they interact with the primary source of information, knowledge is formed. A textbook in science can be a reference tool for an educator because it contains the “required information” for the grade level. However, a textbook in Theatre Arts does not exist and a textbook for English Language Arts is seldom used. Further, students will learn and retain more information when the teaching is not exclusive to information processing (a.k.a. regurgitation). Information is retained through a personalization of the information – that is how it turns into knowledge. Lastly, this is how literacy can be build, across the subjects. Literacy must include the ability for one to personally translate, utilize, and generate information within the content. That cannot happen if the information is merely being read, memorized, tested, and forgotten.

Reference:

Daniels, H., & Zemelman, S. (2014). Subjects matter: Exceeding standards through powerful content-area reading (Second ed.).

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”