Continuing on the Road to Cultural Competence

According to Sue & Sue (2003) cultural competence is “active, developmental, an ongoing process and is aspirational rather than achieved” (p.1). Growing as an individual and as a teacher is a journey that takes time as well as patience. Significant transformation is preceded by many small, degrees of change and becoming increasingly more culturally competent requires sensitive awareness, personal reflection, understanding and willingness to adjust one’s attitudes, words and behaviors in order to prevent marginalization and promote the success and happiness of all students regardless of age, race, religion, culture, gender, sexual preference or socio-economic status. When it comes to culturally competent instruction in the classroom, the ASCD Improving Student Achievement Research Panel (1995) provides a strategy list that, as a future high school English teacher, I am going to refer to regularly to ensure that my classroom is a safe and positive space for the growth and development of each of my students:

 

Strategy 1: Maintain high standards and expectation

Strategy 2: Incorporate the home culture

Strategy 3: Encourage active participation of parents or guardians

Strategy 4: Capitalize on Students’ Backgrounds

Strategy 5: Use culturally relevant curriculum materials

Strategy 6: Identify and dispel stereotypes

Strategy 7: Create culturally compatible learning environments

Strategy 8: Use cooperative learning

Strategy 9: Capitalize on students’ culture, language, and experiences

Strategy 10: Respect community language norms

Strategy 11: Use thematic, interdisciplinary teaching

 

In reflection, after completing the cultural competence self-assessment adapted from Sue & Sue (2003) one of the areas that will require development is “Knowledge.” In order to be a culturally competent professional, I need to “have a good understanding of the socio-political system’s operating in the U.S. with respect to treatment of marginalized groups in our society” (Sue & Sue, p.3). Also, I will need to have “knowledge of institutional barriers that prevent diverse groups from using services” (Sue and Sue, p. 3). To develop these areas of competency I will pursue students and parents and ask them to share about their own experiences, but beyond that, I will need to do outside research about the past and present experiences of different groups in order to understand where my students may be coming from and how I can best meet their needs. I will need to be more intentional about knowing what is happening presently both in the community and nationally in order to develop my knowledge-based competence and lay the foundation for advocacy.

Since I am not currently teaching, I took this self-assessment with my past working experience in mind, as well as my day-to-day encounters with others, so I am looking forward to getting into the classroom full-time, and being able to employ the awareness, skills and strategies I have acquired. Taking this self-assessment on a monthly or bi-monthly basis will be an effective way of measuring where I am being effective and in what areas I may be lacking in awareness, knowledge, skills or advocacy (Sue & Sue, 2003). This type of personal accountability and professional reflection will make sure that I continue toward my goals in pursuing cultural competency.

 

References:

Adaptation of “Strategies for Culturally Competent Instruction” from:

ASCD Improving Student Achievement Research Panel. (1995). R. Cole (Ed.), Educating everybody’s children: Diverse teaching strategies for diverse learners.

 

Adaptation of “What Is Cultural Competence?” (www.CulturesConnecting.com, 2009) from:

Sue, D., & Sue, D. (2003). Counseling the culturally diverse: Theory and practice. (4th ed.). New York, NY: John Wiley.

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Strategies for Bilingual Education

According to Ovando and Gourd, Holm and Holm (1990, 1995) capture the common characteristics of bilingual education: commitment to bilingual instruction, culturally and linguistically relevant curriculum, as well as local community and parent involvement in and controls of education (Banks, 1996, pp. 314-315). While watching the video clip, I observed many useful strategies utilized by Maria Cantine Fernandez in her bilingual classroom. With “commitment to bilingual instruction” in mind, Fernandez employs constant repetition to create familiarity and promote the acquisition of new vocabulary for her EASL students. She helps students understand the structure of sentences in English by combining experiential, visual, verbal and auditory learning: students read and reflect silently and aloud, and students listen to a recording of a story while following along in the book. As part of a “culturally and linguistically relevant curriculum”, Fernandez frequently traverses languages, introducing challenging words in English and also providing the Spanish version of that word. She has her students act out portions of a story that may be difficult to understand due to intricacies of the English language such as homophones. For all students, especially bilingual and EASL learners, the physical activity or acting out or role-playing provides memorable context for language concepts. Fernandez also employs visual aids and word games to keep students engaged and promote the learning of sentence structure and academic language which includes the meaning and proper use of different words.

Ovando and Gourd suggest that a vital aspect of “commitment to bilingual instruction” includes developing a place and status for minority languages which requires moving away from Western—English centered curricula (Banks, 1996, p. 307). As part of my future high school English classroom, this means incorporating literary works that will provide insight into other cultures and offer a legitimate voice to languages that may otherwise remain unexplored. To provide context and insight into culturally or linguistically relevant aspect of different works of literature, a graphic organizer, or list of terms, imagery and relevant themes will help jumpstart and prepare students for their reading assignments. As part of English instruction, all students, especially students with disabilities, bilingual or EASL learners in the high school setting may benefit greatly from working in pairs or small groups to explore unfamiliar academic language and navigate the meaning of different words or literary themes, reinforcing learning through collaboration. And while all of the above mentioned strategies are valuable for all students, knowing who my students are and what they need will most influence how I tailor, structure, and re-structure my English classroom.

Knowing who a student is, his or her interests, abilities, learning styles, etc. will be essential to tailoring a classroom that challenges, inspires and provides for specific needs while keeping him or her engaged and motivated. This requires collaboration with other teachers and school counselors (Sink, 2013, slide 9), attention to Individualized Education Plans (Sink, 2013 slide 7), and involvement and conversation with parents and the local community. Parents and families know their students best and have much insight to offer. All of these elements combined will help me as an educator to provide the most beneficial and individualized instructional practices for both “mainstream” students as well as bilingual students, EASL learners and students with disabilities.

Resources:

Banks, J. A. (1996).  J.A. Banks (Ed.).  Multicultural education, transformative knowledge and action: Historical and contemporary perspectives. New York: Teachers College Press

Sink, C. A (2013) Language and Students with Disabilities Slides:  Retrieved on February 23, 2013 from: https://bbweb-prod.spu.edu/webapps/portal/frameset.jsp?tab_group=courses&url=%2Fwebapps%2Fblackboard%2Fexecute%2Fcontent%2Ffile%3Fcmd%3Dview%26content_id%3D_831476_1%26course_id%3D_62826_1%26framesetWrapped%3Dtrue

Bias in the Classroom

As a professional educator, addressing possible bias in future courses I teach will begin with my personal humility. My hope is to create a classroom culture where all students feel free to express who they are in a respectful way without fear. This requires reciprocal respect, honesty, and openness from both students and teachers. To promote this type of environment and address my own possible biases, I will need to be reflective, humble, open to criticism, and able to admit shortcomings, oversights and mistakes I make while teaching or interacting with students. As Professor Sink suggested, not only does this make me more accessible and relatable as a human being, but also creates a safe space where my students are able to make mistakes as well as take responsibility for them. This type of attitude is so important in helping students develop cultural competency and respect for all people.

Stuart Biegel’s article, “The Right to Be Out: Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity in America’s Public Schools” was really valuable in providing strategies for improving the sense of community within the school and classroom. Reflecting on the influence of an educator’s attitude on students, Biegel quotes Rick Lipkin:  “Given our socially reactive brains, we must ‘be wise,’ and be aware of the ways that our moods influence the biology of each life we touch” (Biegel, 2010, p. 104). With that quote in mind, bias may mean favoring or disfavoring particular students, which is unacceptable. As Martha Bigelow states in her article, “Somali Adolescents’ Negotiation of Religious and Racial Bias In and Out of School,” “schools are often places that reproduce larger societal systems of discrimination” but I would abhor this to be the case in my future classroom (Bigelow, p. 33). Our implicit and explicit attitudes and behaviors and the content we teach has the potential to be profoundly positive or debilitating to individuals, especially to students who are already vulnerable or marginalized.

As educators, we must set the tone by not only addressing the needs of all of our students, but also by displaying “open and explicit respect” for every individual in our classrooms (Biegel, p. 104). Every student is unique and will bring with them a host of biases, thoughts and attitudes about any given aspect of another student’s cultural identity, religious identity, or gender identity; but without respect, collaborative, constructive, discussion-based learning will not take place and even more so, individuals or groups of students may feel further isolated and unheard. Without an unbiased classroom culture centered on respect, students will miss out on opportunities to teach and learn from one another and what a shame that would be.

Providing students with access to multiple perspectives within the curriculum is an important part of avoiding bias in the classroom. I reviewed an English text, England in Literature and found it to be a valuable text for use in my future British Literature sections of an English curriculum. In accordance with the title, this resource provides literature from Medieval Age to the twentieth century. As most would expect, the majority of authors and perspectives represented are male, although there are images of both men and women throughout the textbook. And while women are underrepresented for many reasons, different depending on time period and context, studying the roles of men and women as they relate to different texts would be as important part of their understanding. While many of the classics provided in this text are written by men, it may prove valuable to analyze lesser known works written by females and to discuss why they may be less famous. Also in hopes of eliminating bias, it would be useful to provide opportunities for students to analyze how a work is a commentary or criticism of social norms and gender roles.

Other than a small section on Celtic literature from Ireland and Whales, as the title suggests, most of the authors represented are English—white, Anglo-Saxon, Catholic-Christian Englishmen. So unless I was teaching a course solely focused on British Literature, other materials would be necessary to provide students with works written by authors of other countries, cultures, and religions. However, this resource does provide valuable variety in literary genres from epics to poetry, and short stories to plays. So while this text is hardly a multicultural masterpiece, it serves as a valuable collection of British texts from which to teach a section on British literature or as supplement to a more comprehensive curriculum.

Resources:

Biegel, S. (2010). The right to be out: Sexual orientation and gender identity in america’s public schools. Chicago, IL: University of Minnesota Press.

Bigelow, M. (2008). Somali adolescents’ negotiation of religious and racial bias in and out of school. Theory Into Practice, 47, 27. 33.

Pfordresher, J., Veidemanis, G., McDonnell, H. (1989) England in Literature. Scott, Foresman (Ed.) Glenview, IL.