Tag Archives: teaching

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!

Teaching for Today

13 Mar

If we teach today as we taught yesterday, we rob our children of tomorrow.
~ John Dewey

To teach and to educate are words that are often used interchangeably in the English language but if we were to look at the origin of these words we would see that while to teach has its roots in the Germanic language meaning “to show, present, point out”, to educate is made up of two Latin words: educare and educere and means “to lead out and led out.”

educateTo educate assumes that a learner already possesses the knowledge and only requires a guide or a mentor to lead that knowledge out whereas to teach implies that knowledge has to be imparted on to a learner through the presentation of facts and the showing of skills.teach

To Teach or To Educate

In today’s technology driven world, students have access to an abundance of information anywhere and at any time, giving them ample opportunities for learning. As a consequence of this, teaching cannot be about the presentation and imparting of information but rather the assimilation and assessing of that information.

teacherrole1a

With this in mind, teachers’ roles are no longer about lecturing nor the teaching of rules. Teachers have to be flexible, and willing to learn, relearn, and unlearn, to remain abreast of their students’ needs.  They have the opportunity to design, create, and collaborate in a learning environment of their own making. Planning, organizing, engaging, and connecting learners of all ages and at all levels in learning activities and project based-learning are the aims of education today. Providing students with opportunities to develop their communication, collaboration, creative problem solving, and critical thinking skills are the goals of schooling.

Teachers monitor and guide learners so they can find their own path to knowledge, and lead them to their inner wisdom thus applying the true meaning of the word educate!

Mobile Technology for Teaching and Learning

10 Nov

Necessity breeds invention, the old saying goes, and in the case of bringing education to those with limited educational resources, and closing the gaps between those who have access and those who don’t, this necessity is turning people’s attention to mobile technology for creative and innovative ways to learn from one another and the Internet.

In developing countries, poor infrastructure, and the relatively low cost, availability, and mobility of mobile phones have resulted in mobile technology as the way to get online and connect locally and globally. It is why mobile technology is the tool that innovative and concerned citizens are turning to in an effort to connect students and teachers to educational texts and a global community of educators.

Africa is a great example of such a scene where mobile learning is being used to reach marginalized populations.

In Ghana, with the help of e-readers, villages have access to hundreds of books that could never be physically sent to a library.

Despite its limitations – unavailability of local language books in some countries– e-readers have opened up the world to curious learners and can be a very effective and inexpensive way to eradicate illiteracy globally.

Nigeria is another example where UNESCO is piloting a program with English Language teachers who send daily messages on how to teach English to teachers throughout Nigeria. UNESCO has received feedback from participating teachers that the support is changing their teaching style and helping them to improve.  As a result, teachers are part of a global village of educators where they can collaborate and share their concerns, challenges and successes.

Screen shot 2013-11-06 at 8.18.58 AMIn Kenya, Eneza is a group of individuals who wanted to ensure that every child in Kenya has access to information no matter where they live and how poor they were. They decided to put together the information and content that is relevant to the local context on mobile devices and make it available to students everywhere. In addition, they provide tips and tricks for teachers and parents to help their children learn.

Innovation hubs, like the iHub in Kenya, are places where teachers and tech savvy can meet and optimize the use of simple technologies for teaching and learning. Creating more innovative spaces like the iHub in Kenya, providing e-readers with native language textbooks, delivering qualified trained online communities of teachers for remote areas, are some of the low cost effective ways to meet necessity, breed innovation whilst creating global communities of learners and teachers.

Planting the Seeds of Empathy

28 Oct

Yet, taught by time, my heart has learned to glow for other’s good, and melt at other’s woe – Homer

Putting ourselves inside the shoes of another – as the old saying goes – has never been more relevant – This, according to an article written by Forbes contributor Georges Anders, who makes the observation that the number one job skill that will be in highest demand for much of the workforce in 2020 is empathy.

What is Empathy?empathy

Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the feelings, experiences and motives of others. Empathy enriches relationships and builds trust among individuals. It is a vital tool in building a community of caring, collaborative, creative citizens who are active, contributing members to the global world we live in.

Can WE Teach Empathy?

For as long as teaching existed, teachers have always shown empathy towards their students. They know that students learn best when they feel supported, respected and safe. And although teachers do agree that teaching empathy is important to the overall success of a student, more often than not, it is ignored because funding is based on reaching state standards and test scores, and a skill such as empathy is not as measurable as a skill in math, science or literacy.

Today population mobility is such that more and more people move from one country to another for their work.  As a consequence of population mobility, linguistic, cultural, ‘racial’, and religious diversity is permeating the classroom walls and with its diversity comes diverse problems for schools. Teaching empathy is no longer an option. To better prepare today’s students for tomorrow’s world, empathy must be taught.

Teaching children to be empathetic can simply begin by teaching them to be good listeners.  Pointing out to them the things they have in common with other people or modeling sympathetic behavior through role play are also other ways that empathetic behavior can be taught and modeled.

For more ideas on teaching empathy, check out Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, where you can find classroom resources, by grade level, to teach students about empathy.

Teaching English with the Vlog Brothers

2 Oct

Video is an excellent medium for use in the language classroom. It can be used either for teaching or revising. Research shows that students are more likely to retain complex information when it is presented in video format. Furthermore, students take ownership of their learning as they make decisions about when and where to view their videos and how often.  With John and Hank Green, the two brothers who are the creators of Vlogbrothers, students are entertained as they are introduced to simplified complex subjects thus creating a learning experience that is motivating, memorable and engaging.

The origin of the Vlogbrothers YouTube Channel was a one-year project that the two brothers started in 2007 when they committed to update each other every weekday of the year using a video no more than 4 minutes long.

Since then, Vlogbrothers, where the brothers post video blogs on different subjects, has grown extensively to include many projects such as “Crash Course“,  where John Green teaches you US History and Hank Green teaches you Chemistry.

Check out the following video for a taste of John and Hank!

Another note-worthy project started by the brothers is Project for Awesome where individuals are invited to create videos about their favorite charity. What a great class project that would make!

John and Hank are very popular with middle and high school students. As the teacher, however, if you do plan to use their videos, it is vital that you watch all the material to be shown to students beforehand.