Why Cultural Awareness is Imperative in the Classroom
A student’s journey to learn a new language can be met with a multitude of intimidating aspects. The vocabulary and grammar alone are enough to create a challenge, but add on to that the reading, speaking, and writing components and the challenges can become daunting. With all the difficulties that come with teaching and learning a new language, the last thing that should ever be an area of discomfort or distress should be cultural awareness within the classroom. For the students and teachers alike, the classroom must be a place of tolerance and respect. Cultural awareness should not only guide how the teacher approaches the lessons but should also set the overall tone of the learning environment.
This post was written by our TEFL certification graduate Lilly N. Please note that this blog post might not necessarily represent the beliefs or opinions of ITTT.
There are many factors in a classroom, and in each student’s personal life, that has the potential to distract from learning. Considering all things from family difficulties, financial struggles, to differing learning personalities, there is a never-ending plethora of possibilities.
Culturally aware attitude
Teaching with a culturally aware mindset can manifest in many different ways. For instance, knowing the specific backgrounds your students come from can help you to cater to specific challenges they might face. For example, consider students that come from a culture where the norm is to show a great amount of respect and formality in the classroom. In this case, there could be challenges that arise with trying to get students to participate, with them feeling comfortable with noisy activities or discussions, or with how the teacher establishes rapport. Having an understanding of the cultural differences of where both the teacher and students come from allows for potentially awkward or even offensive situations to be avoided.
This is particularly the case when you have a classroom of students from all different cultural backgrounds. Promoting cultural awareness, in this case, is vital for the functionality of the classroom and for the creation of an environment that promotes inclusiveness. When students feel accepted and comfortable in their classroom, they are more able to focus on learning and not only feel able but also excited to participate. When cultural awareness is established within the classroom and among the students, productive learning commences.
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Influence of this mindset on activities
A way in which you can implement an attitude of inclusiveness in the classroom could be during learning activities. During fluency, grammar, or even vocabulary practice, you can make sure to express interest in the varying backgrounds the students come from. Encourage them to talk about, celebrate and educate each other about these differences while using the specific lesson content you are teaching. Furthermore, establishing rapport with students is also a manner to promote cultural awareness. This could be as simple as taking the time to learn and correctly pronounce each student's name and make sure their classmates can as well. This not only creates a sense of comradery but welcomes in the culture in which they are from as an integrated part of the classroom.
Other points to remember
It is also imperative to maintain a high level of performance expectation and to hold every student to the same standards. The success of creating a place where cultures are celebrated is strongly rooted in the simultaneous creation of fairness and equal opportunity. Students will be much more responsive and tolerant in a class where they do not feel their differences are limiting. The teacher should be aware of whether the student is facing the innate challenges of the language or difficulties due to their cultural background. For each case, the lessons can be modified to target the needs of the students concerning the source of the problem. By doing this, you allow for the creation of an even playing field within the classroom. When everyone’s specific needs are carefully met, you can then implement a common ground for performance expectations and evaluation methods.
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In a classroom that has been mindfully created, you ensure the quality of lessons is to the highest potential standard and the effectiveness of the teaching method is due to its inclusive nature. Creating an environment of cultural awareness is not only vital for the teacher’s success but more importantly, for the success and motivation of the students. After all, this is the goal of any aspiring teacher. It is the goal to not only being great but to inspire and unlock the greatness in the minds of those we teach.
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