Incorporating Cultural Awareness into the Classroom
What does cultural sensitivity mean? According to Southeastern University, cultural sensitivity means “being aware that cultural differences and similarities between people exist without assigning them a value.” Therefore, a teacher should refrain from assigning a particular value, such a better or worse and good or bad, to any activity or interaction. It is important to be aware that both the teacher and the student(s) carry certain cultural norms, and a level of respect with these differences in culture is vital for student success. As such, how does a teacher incorporate cultural awareness into their classroom curriculum?
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Jennie H. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
According to The Edvocate, an organization created in 2014 that promotes shifts in American educational policies, there are six methods that a teacher can use to foster cultural awareness in the classroom.
First, a teacher should express interest in their student’s ethnic background.
Students, especially young learners, are curious about the people around them. Therefore, the teacher should allow classmates to share information about their ethnic background. This allows the students to foster trust with the teacher and their classmates. One way to do so is through a survey game where paired students can ask questions about traditions, social behaviors, etc.
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An additional method is altering your role from instructor to facilitator.
This ultimately reduces “the power differential between the instructor and student” (The Edvocate). One such way of doing so is providing a questionnaire to the students addressing what they wish to learn in the class and/or what interests them. This method gives students a feeling of power over what they will be able to learn; therefore, motivating students to continue learning.
A third method is maintaining a level of sensitivity to language concerns.
Learning English is a difficult, but rewarding, course of action. It can also feel marginalizing for students who are at the beginner level. The best way this method is achieved is for a school to have a well-organized placement testing structure. This will ensure that students are placed in the class most appropriate for their language learning level. Even if a school does not have a well-organized placement testing structure, the teacher will still need to hand out a diagnostic test to see what level of English their students have obtained. This will chart how the course will be organized for optimal student learning.
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A fourth method is to introduce and maintain high levels of expectation for student performance.
A teacher should set expectations for their students for the kind of work that will be expected, and how it will be graded. A teacher may be teaching a diverse set of students who are coming from different educational systems with varying grading methodologies. It is the responsibility of the teacher to address, on the first day of class, expectations for their students to eliminate discrepancies in grading, and the possibility for students feeling targeted by the grading level structure.
A fifth methodology is introducing self-testing.
Self-testing will help students become active participants in their English learning journey. These self-tests will not be “graded,” but rather a response to see how well a student is absorbing new material. Self-tests are frequently known, according to iTTT, as progress tests. Progress tests will help students, of all backgrounds, know where their weaknesses and strengths lie. Progress tests will help a student understand what they need to study further to grasp the material. This allows students to take learning into their own hands.
The last methodology, and the most vital methodology, is creating and maintaining an “inclusive” curriculum. This means using material that is appropriate and associated with a student’s cultural background. For example, if a student is learning new words surrounding “food” it would be best to use dishes from the students’ country rather than an American dish. That way, a student can recognize the meal while also feeling appreciated. One of the most important factors is to stay away from culturally sensitive topics such as religion and politics. Using these topics in the classroom can cause students to feel uncomfortable and unwilling to learn. The goal of the class is to ensure students feel welcomed, safe, and included in their English learning.
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Altogether, a teacher can easily incorporate cultural awareness into the classroom. By using the methodologies above, as well as others introduced by various researchers and teachers, an inexperienced teacher (or an experienced teacher) can create a classroom environment that feels inclusive, safe, and conducive to learning.
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