I won’t go in-depth into culturally responsive/relevant teaching right now, but I just want to go on record as saying I just finished it and wow! What an amazing, deep, though-provoking book examining different aspects of culturally relevant teaching. I have a deeper understanding of what it is on a theoretical basis and am quite happy that I have included many features of culturally relevant teaching in my classroom instruction already. I am prepared to do more.
If you haven’t already, pick up a copy and read it for yourself.
Again, that’s Culturally Responsive Teaching by Geneva Gay.
About two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to visit a high school American History class and what I saw shocked me.
On the board was listed 10 weeks worth of homework assignments by due dates:
- Chapter 1
- Chapter 2
- Chapter 3
- Q&A, pg blah blah
- Chapter 4
- Chapter 5
- The Constitution
Well, at least there was clear expectations…for the materials that the students need to cover. What exactly are the students supposed to learn of American History? I don’t know, but I do know they need to read a chapter a week, who cares what the chapter’s about.
Perhaps I’m alone in looking at the list and feeling outraged.
Somehow, I thought History class should be more interesting, more involved, more though provocative given the state of our country today.
Now, keeping in mind that I’m a second grade teacher and that MY American History teacher taught in the EXACT same manner as above and I don’t remember a THING about American History, here’s a proposed list of assignments that I would have liked to have seen on the board.
- Who lived in pre-colonial America? Choose one people to read up on, create an artifact relevant to these people and be prepared for show-and-tell.
- What happened to indigenous population once European settlement of the Americas began? Choose a side, pro or con, and be prepared for a debate on the benefits of European settlement.
- Could colonial America be built without the use of slavery? Be prepared for a debate on the pros and cons of slavery. You will be assigned a side at the time of the debate.
- Was it ethical for colonial America to declare independence from Great Britain? Write a Declaration of Independence to secede California from the U.S. You may work with partners or alone.
And so on.
It’s not as if as a teacher you would need to create new materials. The mandated textbook could be used to find all this information. Of course, some students might decide it’s worth their time to look up the information on the Internet, maybe even a library search, or a discussion with their parents…
I don’t know. I’m not a History teacher. Maybe you History teachers can weigh in on this. What do you think?
One of the tenets of Culturally Responsive Teaching is that students from different cultural background would have different communication styles which may clash with the communication style of the teacher. So, how do we teach students who communicate differently from us?
In America, the dominant way to organize communication is “topic-centered”. We focus on one topic at a time and logically follow through to a conclusion in an orderly manner. It’s very linear. If we are part of the dominant culture, we automatically think this is the correct way of organizing our thinking, our speech, and our writing.
Research have shown that Latinos, African Americans, Native Americans and Hawaiians are inclined toward topic-associative style of organizing communication. This style is thematic, associative, and integrative. A topic-centered communicator would view this form of communication as rambling, straying off topic, and not organized, when in fact, the topic-associative communicator is giving you ALL the information, ALL the associations, EVERYTHING relevant to the topic.
In the Classroom
Be honest, in the classroom, particularly in a culturally diverse classroom, how many of you teachers think that your ethnic students are ramblers and don’t communicate well and that their writing is awful and disorganized? I can point to each child and give an illustration of how the child is a topic-associative communicator in my classroom, and if I didn’t know about the difference in communication style, I would have immediately said my students are disorganized thinkers. In actuality, they are organized in an associative manner, not topic-centered.
Here’s an anecdote. My grandmother would try to tell these stories about her past. However, for us young grandkids, she never quite got to the “point” of the stories. She never gave us a plot with a problem and a solution or a punchline. We never got to hear the ending of the stories because we got impatient and walked away. Why? She would spend all her time talking about the people and places related to the stories. “Once, your grandfather took me to visit Uncle so and so. Remember Uncle so and so? He had that daughter who married so and so. What was her name? I think her name was so and so. He gave her a pig for her wedding day. That was a great day. Your aunt so and so was there…” We missed the entire point of why grandmother was talking with us..she was talking about people, not plotlines. Grandmother was very much a topic-associative communicator.
How to Bridge the Styles in Writing – An Example
As a culturally responsive teacher who wants to use the students’ strengths to build a bridge to academic success in a dominant culture that IS topic-centered, what do you do?
Well, I’ve been thinking about why the way I’ve been teaching writing has been such a success with my inner city students. I build in all sorts of scaffold. I give them all sorts of graphic organizers. I expect and receive successful writings. All this and more.
But, looking at it through the lens of communication styles, I can clearly see now that I have created a bridge from one style to the other for my students, using the strength of one and carefully teaching my students how to do the other. Or, to be more precise, “Write from the Beginning”, the writing program, has built this bridge. I merely strengthen it.
Looking carefully at how I teach writing using Thinking Maps, we can see that we start with my students’ strength, topic-association, by using a Circle Map. First in conversation, then in the graphic organizers, my students are encouraged to think about and write down everything that is associated with and related to the writing topic. Because we are using a circle to organize our thinking, everything is related and nothing is more important than the other. We honor all associations.
Next, we start making decisions about what we need to focus on, beginning the bridge to a topic-centered piece of writing. We do this through a Tree Map, picking out three main ideas. We then move to a Flow Map and piece, by piece, organizing our ideas in a topic-centered sequence, moving from one completed idea to the next and coming to a conclusion.
Our final writing is very much topic-centered and would please any topic-centered communicator.
When I remove this bridge, my second graders immediately produce writing that is topic-associative because that is their communication style. That bridge is clearly not solid yet and my students still need scaffolding, but as we continue working together throughout the year, my students will become more adept at crossing that bridge independently.
My goal of course is for my students to be able to use two styles of communication and be able to make decisions about when is appropriate to use one or the other. Already, I see two students who are able to do this by themselves, with minimal guidance.
Lately, this topic has been on my mind. I would like to examine a “case study” to illustrate how physical space and what I jokingly call psychical space must align in order to produce real learning.
In this real classroom at my school, a teacher arranges the tables and chairs into groups of six students. The students face each other. The table groups are arranged throughout the overall classroom. The teacher explains that this fosters collaborative group learning.
On the surface, this sounds like a good idea.
The table groups are arranged in such a way that there is no “carpet space”, a place for the students to come together on the carpet throughout the day to interact as a whole class. The students are expected to remain at their tables and not interact with students at the neighboring tables. The teacher has a desk at the front of the class and stays there. He does not rotate or walk among the students. Students in the “collaborative” groups are expected to work quietly at their individual work, with very little small group work assigned. In reality, the students are isolated from each other and from the teacher. There is no real collaborative learning going on. (Also, because I’m nitpicky, a third of the students face the back of the class, a third face the sides, and only a third face the front where the teacher is and where instruction takes place.)
Almost any physical arrangements in the classroom can work to enhance learning, so long as teacher thinks through what the goals are in the classroom.
This teacher wanted a physical space that fosters collaborative group learning. To make it work, he needs to arrange his teaching to foster collaborative group learning as well. He needs to teach students how to work in groups in a focused manner and then have students actually work in groups in a focused manner, not just do quiet individual work sitting in a group. He needs to collaborate with the students as well by interacting with them, moving among them, having conversations with each group and each student. To further enhance collaborative group learning, he can change the groups for different activities, have students present to each other, have different groups converse with each other. While not necessary, I prefer a carpet space where all students can come together and discuss as a whole group in close proximity to each other and with the class. If the arrangement of the tables don’t have all students facing the “front” of the class, then have instruction take place all over the classroom.
So, what’s your physical space and psychical space like?
Please leave comments with your reflection or link back from your blog.
If you don’t know about the Free Software Directory, do get acquainted! These softwares are created by professional developers who believe that software should be free, not making money for already wealthy companies.
There is a list of great educational software there. I’m testing out gcompris right now and so far, so good! I’ll let you know more.
For this coming week, I will be participating in Unit Opener Planning Week (and hope you will be too!). This is primarily geared toward Open Court units, but always take ideas that you like and tweak them to suit your needs!
Okay, here’s my first idea which I heard through a colleague and hope to implement at my school.
Have collaborative unit openers among your grade level.
Among your grade level, have each teacher create one truly exciting 30 minutes unit opener lesson, rather than plan for an entire day of unit openers. On the day of the unit opener, each teacher will teach the one lesson to each class, rotating from one classroom to the next. The benefits are many. Teachers collaborate. Teachers are only responsible for planning one 30 minutes lesson, but students benefit from 3 or 4 or 5 excellent lessons. Students get to meet and experience being taught by different teachers, different modalities, different styles. On a more selfish level, because teachers are teaching someone else’s students and know that other teachers will be teaching your students, you tend to feel competitive and want to create the “best” lesson, pushing your unit openers to a higher level of rigor and fun.
I can’t wait to try this at my school!
Please visit Creating Lifelong Learners by Mathew Needleman this coming week to participate in or get ideas for opening up a learning unit. This is geared toward Open Court units, but I say, you can always get ideas for your own units and anthologies! So come along for this exciting collaboration!
I will be participating as well and posting my ideas here on this blog, but there will be many, many teachers and coaches creating excellent ideas all across the web. Please do consider joining in!
This video was taken by a friend during our writing process about two weeks ago.
This student was absent during the days when we worked on our Flow Map so he had to use the class created Flow Map for his writing. The other students use their own Flow Map. In the video, the student is orally rehearsing his writing prior to writing. He is doing what we call “Pull Out and Talk”. For a more detailed explanation of our writing process, please visit this previous post.
This was our second major piece of writing in the second grade Open Court unit, Kindness. The prompt was: Please write a thank you letter to the elves as if you were the shoemaker.
Why Oral Rehearsal?
Why do I insist that my students orally rehearse before writing? Almost all of my students are stronger in the oral language than they are in the written language. I found that they were intimidated by writing and could sit for hours staring at a blank sheet of paper before writing or would write everything in three or four incomplete sentences. Allowing my students to talk and think aloud reduces the affective filter. Also, allowing my students to make plenty of mistakes while talking and then fixing their mistakes orally ensures that less mistakes show up on paper. With oral rehearsal, my students’ writing is stronger and more detailed.
This video was taken in my class two weeks ago by a friend. The video shows two students playing a math “game” while independently practicing two digit addition. Using two dice (or die, I could never tell), one student rolls the “tens” while another student rolls the “ones”. They do this twice, writing down the two digit addition problem they have created. Then, they add using manipulatives. Listen carefully to the boy’s think-aloud. He actually says he “expands” the number using manipulatives. Then, the two students add using “Spiderman” math. Spiderman math is just a fun way of calling addition using expanded form.
Spiderman math is the scaffolding step between using manipulatives and the standard algorithm. These two students are not quite ready for the standard algorithm yet, but they are more than proficient with manipulatives…they are in the in-between stage, thus they use both manipulatives and Spiderman math.
These students are not ready to regroup, which is the old fashion carry and borrow concept. The next problem they do which involves regrouping, they become totally confused. They are able to do the problem using manipulatives, but don’t know what to do even in Spiderman math. Imagine forcing these students to use the standard algorithm immediately. They will spend the next two to three years of their lives randomly putting a “1” on top of their addition problems. Ask third and fourth grade teachers if this is not true. Allowing them to first explore addition using manipulatives, then Spiderman before the standard algorithm will help them understand when and why regrouping is necessary.
Other students in the class are at various stages. Six students can only use manipulatives, and even then, two or three are having difficulty counting. Two students are able to add two and three digit numbers using mental math quickly and accurately because they can visualize expanding the numbers, mentally grouping the tens and ones together. And yes, I teach them this because if they can do this, they are truly understanding addition. They are definitely NOT adding one column of number, then moving to the next to add that column of number, which is what many teachers demonstrate to students, thinking that the shortcut will help the students get the right sum. Yes, the shortcut will get the students to the correct sum, but it will not help them understand addition and learning how to regroup will become even more difficult. How do I know that these two students are not simply adding one column, then the next? I listen to their think alouds.
Our class have not started learning to regroup yet, though most of my students are already able to do it using manipulatives.
I like teaching math like this. I use games rather than an impersonally generated sheet of problems because the students are more motivated and they have fun. Given a choice between a sheet of problems and generating your own problems using dice, which would you have more fun with? Here, I am also tapping into many different modalities. My tactile students have the dice and manipulatives. My social students have partners. Obviously, my verbal student is talking himself through his problems. My visual students can see the numbers using manipulatives. What other modalities can I tap into?