Tag Archives: multicultural

Culturally Relevant Teaching

6 Jun

Today I witnessed something that brought home to me the importance that culturally relevant teaching has on students’ level of interest, motivation, and comprehension.

roar1A poem by Jack Prelutsky was read during a discussion on the use of imagery to portray feelings in poetry to a Second Grade Class made up of Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese and a few American students. The poet’s intention was to illustrate the loathing of liver that a child felt, however, because 13 out of the 17 children in that classroom ate and loved liver, and had never heard of anyone not liking liver, the whole meaning of the poem was lost on them. Not being able to personally identify with the feelings of the boy not only hindered their comprehension, leading the teacher to think they did not understand the use of imagery in the poem, but went so far as to result in some kids thinking that the animal cries were symbols of the joy that the boy felt about eating liver. Following that lesson, I asked some of the children I work with, to illustrate the poem as they understand it. Included in this post are some of the drawings!

This brought back memories of similar situations I’ve experienced in my 10 years of teaching abroad. One that stands out in particular took place when I was teaching a Third Grade class in Dubai. roar2It was a lesson on measurements. I asked the students to measure things and places in and around their homes. The next day, two of the girls listed 1 kilometer and 1.5 kilometers as the size of their backyards. I confidently corrected their answers explaining that backyards would never measure a kilometer in length – it was far too big! – only to discover later that year that the girls’ backyards were in fact a few kilometers in length as were the backyards of many of the Emirati People!

The other situation I was reminded of was when I volunteered with Asia Child Fund. My work consisted in introducing and training Nepalese teachers in western teaching methodologies. Prior to going, the organizers chose to base the workshops on the children’s tale Jack and the Beanstalk. Volunteer teachers had to prepare activities in math, art, science, and English around this book. When the book was read to the pupils, there was an outburst of surprise, as they could not understand how Jack could exchange a cow for a few beans – even magical beans – since cows are sacred in the Hindu culture and no one would dare trade a cow – for anything!roar3

Making one’s teaching pedagogy relevant to one’s students is of the utmost importance. Taking the time to tweak one’s lessons and examples to make them meaningful and culturally relevant is a must if one’s aim is to have a student-centered classroom where students are motivated, interested and involved.

Time and time again, I witness teaching that is completely foreign to students and not as a result of language barriers. The students may understand the meaning of the words but because they cannot relate to the story, the examples, or the cultural meaning of a passage, they cannot relate to what is being taught and remain disengaged and removed from the learning.

Educate not one or two of your students but educate all who sit in your room today. Begin by becoming aware and familiar with the diverse cultures in your classroom and let that be the guide to your pedagogy!

The Powers of Photography

18 May

Where memory fails, Google remembers! In today’s technology driven world, search engines dig out information about us even when we no longer have a recollection of them ever taking place. That is how I came across a project I took part in, while teaching English in North Carolina, entitled CommonVisions.

Essentially the project consisted of taking pictures using disposable cameras. (Do these even exist now?) There were 20 participants from 8 different countries. The youngest was 12 years old and the oldest around 60. We met twice a month.

It was 2001. At that time, taking pictures meant using film photography and one had to wait about a week to see their ‘developed’ pictures. We were so filled with excitement upon receiving the envelope with our name on it. We would open it hastily and go through our pictures choosing one to share with our group that evening and leaving the rest to savor later.

This was not a photography course. For most, like me, we had no prior lessons on photography nor were any techniques taught. We were told to simply click when it felt right. We were given the medium of photography to capture that which we deemed important and to then use the photographs to dialog about race, ethnicity and culture.

As the English as an Additional Language Specialist, my job consisted of teaching English to Hispanic children of migrant worker. To achieve this goal, I worked at bridging the gap between parents of these children, the mainstream classroom teachers, and the school administration.


America: the land of opportunity, the paradox of our time-
                                                                               George Carlin

During my time with CommonVisions, I took many pictures of my students, their families and their homes.  These photographs allowed me to share and discuss the realities of migrant workers living and working in the States with project participants and co-workers, resulting in a much more profound understanding of the students I teach, their language needs and daily challenges.

CommonVisions is one of the many projects that exist where photography is used to bring about social change and to remind us of our unity as human beings. Kids with Cameras and PhotoVoice are the other two projects that I know of with a similar vision and mission.

Let us be grateful to people who make us happy. They are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom - Marcel Proust

Let us be grateful to people
who make us happy.
They are the charming gardeners
who make our souls blossom.
Marcel Proust

With today’s ease of capturing photos, doing a project along these lines has a worthy place in any type of classroom, regardless of age and level, and especially in an English Language Learner setting, where students’ background and diversity lends itself to an array of discourse.

Whether you use the pictures for students to tell a story, give an opinion, or simply as a starting point to discuss issues  that unite us as a race, this type of activity will build connections that will once again leap out of the classroom, breaking all barriers, while forming responsible global citizens along the way.

Photography is an effective tool that can ignite a child’s curiosity, give an outlet to a young struggling student, build communities of learners and artists, and even transform lives. I would encourage each teacher to experiment with photography in his or her classroom and each parent to give his or her child a camera.  Why not pick up a camera today and start your own dialogue!


Collaborative Projects Across the World with YouTube

25 Mar

This is article two on using technology to collaborate with classes all over the world at no cost and with little time and training. This week I will share with you some of the ways I have used YouTube to work with classrooms in different time zone and continents.

One of the projects that proved successful was when my students learned a song and the movements that went along with it. Using YouTube to video them, we then sent the link to a school in North America where the first grade class took time to learn the song and the movements that went along with it and then sent us a video of them performing it.  This was a great success at so many levels in that the kids felt a pride in being able to teach a song to other kids that involved not only memorizing words but also doing some tricky movements along with it. In addition, the kids were once again reminded of how similar we are and how we are all capable of teaching one another, no matter where we live and what languages we speak.

Another project was with the fourth grade English learners who prepared a presentation on the ecosystem of where we live and shared it with 6 classes from 6 different parts of the world who also prepared their own ecosystem presentation. The kids were thus exposed to the major world ecosystems and learned about the characteristics of each from students their own age living similar experiences and learning about the same topics. Once the presentations were viewed, the students then posted their comments and asked questions of one another. This project was truly collaborative in that the students were relying on each other to learn all that they needed to learn about the ecosystems of the world and by teaching the facts about their own ecosystem, they reinforced the learned concepts and applied them for an authentic purpose and to a captive audience.

YouTube makes editing, uploading and sharing videos a breeze.  It is a powerful tool that gives teachers total control. Your settings can be set to private so that only those in your project can view the content. It is very user friendly and with a click of a button, you can open up your classroom to the world thus turning it into a global community.

So next time you are thinking of a collaborative project for your students, don’t’ hesitate, expand your simple classroom project and reach across continents. You will be amazed with the learning opportunities that your students will encounter.

If you are hesitant about using YouTube to share your educational experience, you can check out SchoolTube.com. I personally have not used this site but I am told it is a moderated video sharing site for K-12 students, teachers and parents.

Collaborative Projects Across the World using Skype

15 Mar

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATeachers have little or no time to plan collaborative projects outside of their own classroom. In addition, they sometimes fear the training needed to use certain technological tools and are always reminded that due to budget cutbacks, there is no money to plan for collaboration – especially for projects across continents.

In the next few posts, I will share with you how I have been collaborating with teachers on different projects with very little time, at no cost, and with minimal training for the tool used.

It is 10 a.m. on Saturday. I’ve just come back from the market. I get on Skype and I’m greeted by a first grade classroom in North Carolina, 19 little eager faces, in their pajamas, ready for a good night story from their reader across the world, Miss Abinader. I read the book to them and we play a guessing game with clues on the mystery of where their reader is exactly. We learn to say hello and goodbye in Vietnamese then it is time to sign off. These first graders have had a few other teachers read to them from across America and now they had a teacher read to them all the way from Asia.

This project was organized around the Read Across America program. The National Education Association created this program to celebrate reading. It takes place March 2nd, on Dr. Seuss’s Birthday. On or around that date, schools, libraries and community centers across the United States celebrate reading by bringing together kids and books. One teacher wanted to add the multicultural and different time zone experience to the reading celebration and thus began our collaborative and interactive project.

The planning involved was minimal. It consisted of a few emails and the exchanging of Skype names. The gains however were plentiful in that the students participated in a diverse multicultural experience where reading was confirmed as a practice that is used and enjoyed by children all over the world.

In today’s technology driven lifestyle, it is so simple to make Read Across America be Read Across the World. In so doing, we will be one step closer to creating and building a global community of active learners and educators.