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Triumph Learning Isider

In June and July, I began exploring with you the strategies students are helping me share with teachers to address culturally proficient teaching. To review, the first 3 strategies are:

 1. Visibility: Making every student feel acknowledged and included in the classroom.

 2. Proximity: Using physical space to engage students and reduce perceived threat.

 3. Connecting to Students’ Lives: Making linkages between classroom content and student experiences perspective.

The next strategy on this list developed by students is:

 4. Engaging Students’ Culture: Incorporating positive elements of students’ culture into classroom learning and community building.

In order to address this strategy, we have to understand the word “culture." Often we use race and culture interchangeably when they are two very different concepts. Race is a social construct. We will discuss race in November. (Stay tuned!)

What is culture? I like the way my colleague Bonnie Davis defines it in her book How to Teach Students Who Don’t Look Like You. She defines culture as “the total of everything an individual learns by growing up in a particular context and results in a set of expectations for appropriate behavior in seemingly similar contexts” (p.7).

So our culture is our family, our neighborhood, our gender, racial identity, age, nationality and on and on. Take a moment and think about your own culture. My culture is a product of being raised a white, southern young lady who traveled around the country as part of a military family. “Southern hospitality," colloquial language, and a deep sense of honor and duty were part of the conversation and expectations in my household. It shapes how I think and react.

I often drive my husband crazy with my “door is always open” policy and willingness to cook and donate for any occasion. My own boys laugh at their mom’s colorful sayings (yes, they do move slower than molasses going uphill on a hot day in June, at times). And my students benefit from a fierce teacher who will not give up on teaching them, on changing the world.

How would you describe your culture? What has shaped who you are and how you respond and live in the world?

In order to effectively incorporate elements of our students’ cultures into the classroom, we must know and understand our students.

How can we learn about our students in a way that deepens our understanding of their culture?

1. Show and Tell: If you teach middle or high school, you may want to call it something else. But this primary-aged strategy is rooted in something deeply fundamental—sharing about ourselves helps us understand each other a little better. Think about ways you might connect this activity to your content area.

2. Phone Calls Home: Call each student’s home before school or at the beginning of the year. Ask parents/guardians what three things are they think you should know about this wonderful student enrolled in your class.

3. Student Personal Narratives: There is no one more qualified to help us learn about our students than the students themselves. If you are not an English teacher, there are ways you could connect this to your curriculum. Have students write an equation about themselves or a formula to create the perfect “them." Be creative. You will be amazed by what you learn about who your students are and what has shaped them into the wonderful people entering your room.

Once we know our students, then we have to take that knowledge and allow it to inform our practice. Often times, what is construed as a misbehavior in a classroom is a disconnect in cultures between student and teacher.

Our classroom management, our lesson design, and our choices of text can and should all take into account the cultural diversity of our learners.

What do you know about your students’ cultures? What strategies and activities will you use to help you learn about the cultures of the students in your classroom?