Research/tech assistance org
Kathleen Wilmeth's response
Teachers sometimes misinterpret the behavior of students because they do not understand the cultures they come from. When teachers and students do not share the same understandings and expectations, they can easily clash. This culture clash can be avoided only when teachers understand the cultural background of their students. Students are often required to leave their family and cultural background at the school door and join an atmosphere of learning that is inconsistent with their home and community experiences. The differences between home and school may lead to misunderstandings between student and teacher.
There must be a high level of communication between the teacher and the student. Students need to feel confident that they are respected for who they are, as well as for their individual backgrounds. When teachers verbally express their willingness and interest in learning about their studentsí cultures, an active respect develops between the two. Once this respect is evident, there is a willingness to share by the student.
A variety of classroom projects can be planned to allow students to share their respective histories. Students can present information related to their culture with the inclusion of a family member. A great deal of information can be made available to the teacher and to other students in the class from such interactive situations.
Literature can provide an initial impetus for students to share their particular experiences. Introducing cultural stories within the classroom setting can set the tone for discussion.
Similarities as well as differences amongst studentsí backgrounds can be discussed. While some students may not be able to relate to written stories, they may have personal experiences that constitute interesting stories. Acceptance of these personal stories gives students the confidence to share even more.
Home visits are another appropriate approach to learning about student background.
Awareness of the relationships within the family unit can help gain insight into their way of using language and literacy. Meeting family members and understanding how they interact within their cultural realm provides teachers with information about prior knowledge and expectations. Sensitivity to the differences observed as well as acceptance are critical pieces in learning about backgrounds and experiences.
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