This Part 1 of 2 excerpted article shows teachers how to bring rich cultural content into their teaching in a way that expands students' knowledge, interest, and respect for the group being featured. The article offers suggestions that teachers can use throughout the school year, as well as when observing cultural and religious holidays and celebrations. Read the full article here. Read Part 2 here.
By Dr. Cynthia Lundgren and Giselle Lundy-Ponce
The first step in implementing more culturally responsive instruction is recognizing how our own cultural conditioning is reflected in our teaching: how we set up our classroom, establish relationships with students, even how we design and deliver our lessons. This article shows teachers how to bring rich cultural content into their teaching in a way that expands students' knowledge, interest, and respect for the group being featured. The article offers suggestions that teachers can use throughout the school year, as well as when observing cultural and religious holidays and celebrations.
Meaningful Multicultural Education in a Nation of Immigrants
Our nation is rich in many cultural and religious traditions, and celebrations focusing on specific groups have grown and become more popular in the last twenty years. Some of the most prominent are African-American History Month, Hispanic Heritage Month, and Women's History Month. Growing in popularity are American Indian/Alaska Native Heritage Month and Asian Pacific Heritage Month. Along with these we also observe and recognize Martin Luther King Day, St. Patrick's Day, Chinese / Lunar New Year, Cinco de Mayo, Dia de los Muertos, Kwanzaa, Labor Day, the Jewish holidays, Ramadan, and many others.
Culturally Responsive Instruction
At the point we decide that we want to implement more culturally responsive instruction, where to do we start? The first step is recognizing how our own cultural conditioning is reflected in our teaching: how we set up our classroom, establish relationships with students, even how we design and deliver our lessons. When we acknowledge that our classrooms are natural extensions of our own culture, we can begin to make room for the cultures of others. This can be done in a few simple ways:
Integrate Cultural Traditions
Look for ways to integrate cultural traditions of your ELL families throughout your school. Becoming familiar with and including the cultural traditions of your ELL families within the larger school community not only creates a welcoming and respectful school environment — it has practical considerations for scheduling, opportunities in the classroom, and improved communication and engagement with families. (See more tips on how to integrate ELLs' cultures effectively in this excerpt from our ELL Family Engagement guide.)
Include Diversity in Classroom Visuals
Add classroom visuals reflecting the racial and ethnic diversity of the classroom. Look for images that come from various sources and steer clear of long-held harmful stereotypes (e.g., Latino people wearing large Mexican hats, Asian people working in rice fields, etc.). If you cannot find any adequate images, hold an event inviting the various families to school and take photos of the children interacting together and with each other's families.
Provide Diverse Books
Incorporate books with multicultural themes and different perspectives into classroom readings. For recommended titles, consult our booklists on Colorín Colorado and Reading Rockets. Also, do not automatically discard books that reflect the mainstream culture. Discuss all these books (multicultural and mainstream) with students and ask them what they learned that they did not know before about the characters, situations, geographies, etc.
Discuss Universal Concepts
Explore themes that are common to all cultures. Discuss universal concepts like the importance of families, the search of a better life through migration, friendships, uses of music to express emotions and celebrate, and different kinds of work, etc.
Learn about Students' Lives
Take interest in students' lives outside of school and asking questions about community events and traditions. When possible, call students at home to follow up on an assignment and introduce yourself to their parents (ask your school about an interpreter if needed). After this type of initial contact, try and visit students at home, visit their neighborhood and the places they shop, and participate in community events. Keep an open-door policy in your classroom for their families. Sometimes, families may be hesitant to interact with you due to language or perceived cultural barriers.
Schedule Around Religious or Cultural Holidays
Ensure major assignments or exams do not fall on religious or cultural holidays. Plan this calendar far in advance. Students from a particular country may have more religious holidays than other groups and you also want to inform others in the school about this so that no misperceptions or misunderstandings arise.
Integrate Ethnic Art into Your Classroom
Integrate ethnic art, music, and games into classroom activities. For information about ethnic art and games, consult Learning for Justice, and for international music selections and fun classroom activities, consult Putumayo. You can also visit special museum exhibits, conduct a field trip to a special performance, or invite artists and performers to your school.
Provide Materials in Students' First Language
Support English language learners and their families with materials in their first language. If your school does not have ESL or bilingual education teachers or specialists, see if the district can help. Do not make the children in your class who are becoming proficient in English be your primary mode of communication with other children of the same language background or with families. If an adult interpreter is not available, look into recruiting a volunteer from the community who is familiar with school issues. For more information on supporting ELLs and their families, visit Colorín Colorado's Educator Section.
Explore Current World Events with Students
Use current world events to teach students to read, think, and discuss from multiple perspectives. The internet and television broadcasts from other countries can provide international versions of world events. Responding to events from a variety of perspectives not only reinforces critical literacy skills, but establishes a forum for voicing disparate perspectives.
English Language Learners
Unlock the potential of English language learners (ELLs) with Share My Lesson's curated, prek-12 content. Explore how you can drive innovation and make a change in a student's life with these indispensable resources.