Research/tech assistance org
Maria Portuondo responds
The first step to take, in learning about our students' cultural background, is to converse directly with them. Often students are very willing to share information regarding their language and culture. Some teachers who have engaged in this type of dialogue with their students tend to report that, as a result of this initiative, many students that were shy or quiet have opened up and become closer to their teacher. With very young children, we can request information from a parent, older siblings or other significant adults in the child’s life.
Another important step is to identify and contact what Sandra Fradd (1993) refers to as cultural informants. These may be individuals who are part of the culture/community or who are very familiar with the culture and community, though they themselves are not members of the culture. Sandra Fradd cautions that it is important to be aware that the socioeconomic background, education, age, gender, etc., of the informant can influence the information you receive. It is thus important to explore information from various sources. Many a time schools already have a pool of informants in their teachers or teacher assistants. This is a good start, but efforts should be made to identify and contact other resources in the community.
When exploring the types of questions that will guide you in increasing your cultural background knowledge base, you may consult the booklet A Guide to Culture in the Classroom by Muriel Saville-Troike or the book CREATING THE TEAM: To Assist Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students by Sandra Fradd. These two authors provide samples of questions addressing cultural issues such as education, family, roles, interpersonal relationships, communication, discipline, health and hygiene, etc.
Another way to become familiar with the culture and the community of your students is by attending local events in the community. Many ethnic groups hold special celebrations, fairs or cultural programs where you can learn about the music, dances, holidays, food, and traditions of specific groups in the community where we teach. At these events you may see some of your students and their families. Attending such events also serves as an opportunity to show the students and the family that you are interested in knowing them and learning about their culture – that you value who they are.
Printed material can be a way of expanding some of your knowledge, but learning about cultural background should not be limited to this medium. Most of the time the printed material will give you some useful information about the country of origin. We need to remember, though, that the cultural experiences our students may have in this country may vary somewhat from the typical traditions in the native country. We need to understand our students within the context of the community in which they live.
Fradd, Sandra H., CREATING THE TEAM: To Assist Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, Tucson, Communication Skill Builders, 1993.
Saville-Troike, Muriel, A Guide to Culture in the Classroom, Reston, National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1978.
To reply, please first log into The Knowledge Loom
Back Return to the Forum