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December 6, 2022

Culturally Responsive Instruction for Holiday and Religious Celebrations Part 2

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This Part 2 of 2 excerpted article shows teachers how to bring rich cultural content into their teaching and 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 1 here.

By Dr. Cynthia Lundgren and Giselle Lundy-Ponce

Celebrating Holidays

When it comes time to highlight specific cultural holidays, how do you pick the right culturally responsive materials? No matter what you choose to shed light on the subject (a lesson plan, ongoing unit study, field trip, cultural fair, special performance presentation, etc.), the goal is to expand your students' knowledge, interest, and respect for the group being featured. Here are some ideas to help you highlight multicultural and religious holidays appropriately, and select the right activities and materials:

Recognize Little-known Role Models

Recognize various talents and accomplishments when focusing on people. Do not limit your commemoration to famous leaders and heroes. Go beyond Martin Luther King, Cesar Chavez, and Susan B. Anthony to find other little-known role models who are historical and contemporary. Not sure where to start? Check out these blogs featuring inspiring labor leaders, farmworker rights activists and historical indigenous figures.

Consult Multiple Sources

Consult more than one internet or library source and do not expect a student to be your sole "ambassador" or resource for finding out about a whole culture or ethnic background. Multiple sources are always a good idea for formulating knowledge about a particular subject. More importantly, do not put a particular student on the spot without asking them beforehand if they are comfortable sharing information with the whole class. Each student is an individual and their experiences may or may not be similar to that of the group they represent.

Make it more than just about food, music, or popular icons.

Incorporate Your Research into Existing Lessons

Incorporate the information you select into existing lesson plans or special projects. Don't miss out on the opportunity to make this into an ongoing process for learning. One great source of information is children's books, which often have background information and activities, such as these titles about Ramadan, Chinese New Year, and Día de los muertos

Learn the History

Make it more than just about food, music, or popular icons. As with the earlier tips on holiday celebrations, it is best to precede these types of events or approaches with meaningful and thoughtful pre-planned lessons, information, and learning. There is more to St. Patrick's Day than wearing green and pinning up images of leprechauns — turn the holiday into an opportunity to learn about the Irish people and their history.

Recognize Diversity within a Common Group

Seek various representatives to show the diversity within a common group. Keep in mind that no one group is as homogenous as it might seem. To illustrate, Latinos may share the same language and have very similar customs but there are many cultural differences between countries — for example, only Mexicans celebrate Cinco de Mayo; Argentinians, on the other hand, will most likely have never heard of the celebration or know what it stands for, and will celebrate different holidays. "Chinese" New Year, on the other hand, is not only celebrated by the Chinese. Other Asian cultures refer to it as Lunar New Year.

Help students develop their own culturally sensitive skills to be successful in our diverse, multicultural, and global world, enriching not our classroom, but our nation as well.

Plan Ahead

Plan ahead of time. Don't wait until the day of the celebration or designated month to bring up the subject. If the topic at hand involves a heritage group represented in your classroom, consult with the student and their families about your plans, and find out if they are interested in and comfortable sharing stories, traditions, or family history. Ask them for suggestions and ideas.

Let All Children Share Their Heritage

Encourage other children who may not have "official" holidays representing them or whose families have lived in the U.S. for multiple generations to explore and share their own heritage and background. For children who come from the mainstream background, ask them where their ancestry is from. Students may not realize that people of European background do not share the same languages or traditions — for example, explore the differences between countries like Sweden and Portugal or Hungary and Scotland. While they may not relate to the language and customs of their ancestors anymore, it is important to point out their own immigrant roots and emphasize how rich we are as a nation because of our immigrant heritages.

Final Thoughts

Ultimately, these strategies for cultural responsiveness support our goals for student achievement in two ways. First, we build a democratic foundation for equal access to education. Secondly, we help students develop their own culturally sensitive skills to be successful in our diverse, multicultural, and global world, enriching not our classroom, but our nation as well. View related resources from Colorin Colorado here.

Celebrate Winter Holidays

Winter traditions –whether it’s celebrating family, the new year or just a simple meal together – bring us together and remind us what we have in common instead of what divides us. Celebrate inclusivity and community this season and share these curated prek-12 winter holidays lessons and activities.

Colorín Colorado

Colorín Colorado provides information, activities, and advice for educators and Spanish-speaking families of English language learners.

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