This meeting was designed to get us thinking about our ability to create a culturally responsive environment that reaches out to diverse learners. The following questions are some prompts that we can use to get started:
1. Think of at least three experiences in your life in which you were highly motivated to learn. What were you interested in and why? Which people/teachers influenced you most during this time? What did these people do to ignite your passion?
We went on to consider the cultural foundations of motivation. The following reflections were used to help us start this process:
2. Contextualize your learning experience not only by what happen, but also the cultural environment in which is took place. In particular, compare and contrast your answers to the following two sets of questions.
I. What did you actually learn: What were you learning? Who were two major influences in this particular educational experience? On a scale of 1-100 how dedicated to your learning were you (1 = no motivation, 100 = extremely high)? How do you use the skills you attained during this time today?
II. How did the cultural perspective around you affect your learning: Where did the majority of your learning take place? In what language did you learn? How well did your teachers understand your cultural identity? How well did other people in your learning environment understand your culture (fellow students, friends, family, etc)?
In going through this exercise, do you feel you were extremely comfortable and supported in your learning? Were there other people who you identified with that helped support you as you continued in your education?
Now imagine a student in your class who does not identify with most of the students in class, who doesn’t have very similar experiences and whose social support network is far displaced from the educational environment. How can you as a teacher use the shared time and energy available to you to help this student proactively build a new support network and bring her own cultural identity into the learning process?
We went on to briefly list some simple ideas that we can implement to break down barriers to learning by introducing culture into the educational environment:
3. Can you think of any simple and effective ways to represent cultural diversity in your classroom and learning environment. Examples include:
Example 1: Playing warm up music in five minutes before class from all over the world.
Example 2: Have a sign: "I am interested in your culture" that is displayed in my office.
Example 3: Asking each student to teach me how to say hello in their native language and use this greeting in future lectures.
Example 4: Keep an Atlas on hand in office hours and have visitors show me where their family came from and tell me a little about what that place is like.
Example 5:Keep a publicly accessible list in your office. On this list, have your students suggest cultural foods they think you should try, as well as a small description where these food come from and a few places (locally) you might be able to find them. Make a commitment to try at least five of these in any given quarter and share your experiences with the class during warm up.
This discussion was meant to introduce this line of thinking to our participants. There is much to be said about the role of culture in learning (the culture of the individual students, the educators understanding of culture, and the learning culture of the institution). We as educators have the power and ability to help students create and understand. Being aware of these issues is one way to improve ourselves as we educate others. If you are interested in learning more about this topic, you might start with:
Creating Highly Motivating Classrooms for All Students: A Schoolwide Approach to Powerful Teaching with Diverse Learners by Margery Ginsberg and Raymond J. Wlodkowski