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.
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?
This is a piece of writing my second grade students work on for two weeks. It helps prepare my students for the Open Court Unit 2 writing assessment. This is the first major writing assignment in Unit 2 for us. I used the writing process that I learned from Write From the Beginning because it explicitly teaches many skills and makes clear the writing process.
Please write a thank you letter to Ms. R using the friendly letter format.
The class rubric is charted and hangs in front of the class through out the entire writing process. I refer to it again and again daily as well as whenever I teach a particular skill that is mentioned in the rubric. Every student knows exactly what needs to be done to get a good grade.
While working in the computer lab one day, the fire drill alarm went off and drove us out of the computer lab. Ms. R invited the students to return after recess to complete the presentations that they were working on. The students felt grateful and excited at the opportunity, and I immediately grabbed at the chance to do a major piece of writing using a shared experience. Also, I couldn’t resist the urge to do some relevant writing with a real-world purpose. Ms. R was very happy to receive these letters.
Pre-write: The Circle Map
We started by brainstorming some things we want to write about using a Circle Map. We did this as a whole group using Think-Pair-Share and small group discussion strategies. Then, the students created their individual Circle Maps. Students were encouraged to “pull out” from the class circle map and to add their own ideas.
I never did learn the difference between a list of criteria and a rubric. In any case, this is how I grade my student’s writing.
My students are very familiar with this format and they know exactly what they need to get a good grade, because it’s charted and reviewed almost daily. Whenever we have a related lesson, I refer back to this rubric. For example,we’ve been working on writing in complete sentences. I refer back to this rubric and remind my students that complete sentences are worth 5 points. We are very goal oriented in my class. I will post more on our second grade friendly letter writing assignment in my next post. For now, I just wanted to share the rubric.
Why a rubric like this? It is directly connected to writing standards. For students, it makes explicit what they need to do in their writing. For teachers, it makes clear what a particular student needs to work on, and through several assignments, you can measure a student’s growth in a particular area.
For those of us who work with second grade Open Court in LAUSD, we know that Unit 2’s writing assessment is to write a thank you letter to a friend. Thus the rubric. We are very goal oriented, did I mention that?
This rubric is modified from the Write From The Beginning program.
I translate the 20 point system into a 4 point grade like this:
- 20 points – 4
- 19-16 points – 3
- 15-10 points – 2
- <9 points – 1
This is a new idea for me. I’m still working out the kinks. Let me know if you have any suggestions.
My second graders have difficulty writing in complete sentences, even my most advanced students. I recently started using a tree map, a targeted graphic organizer, to teach students how to write in a complete sentence.
I first introduced the Complete Sentences tree map to my students as a whole group because they all need to learn this. Later on, I took it to small groups to work with students who have particular difficulties with this. We talked about what a sentence needs in order to be complete. The students immediately say “A capital letter!” and “A punctuation mark!” Kudos to them! They’ve been listening! Next, I explicitly tell them that a complete sentence needs a subject and a predicate, and a predicate needs a verb. I show them the tree map already mostly charted, except for some words in the predicate. I point out the subject. We talk about it being the Who and What of a sentence. We talk about the predicate, it being the What Happens. We talk about how crucial it is to have verb in the predicate or we don’t get any What Happens whatsoever. Yes, we use the academic language.
Then, I model orally pulling out simple sentences from the tree map. “The bear is brown.” Students catch on pretty quickly from the pattern and give me sentences like “The bear eats honey.” More advanced students are already pulling out “The bear eats honey and fish.” We also pull out non-examples or examples that are wrong. What happens when you leave off the subject? “Likes to play.” What happens when you leave off the verb? “The bear honey.” These are all common mistakes when students write, so a discussion on what is wrong is invaluable to them.
Next, I model pulling out simple sentences and writing them correctly with appropriate capitalization and punctuation. (I also model writing in a paragraph format. I know that’s not the focus of the lesson, but I expect my students to always write in a paragraph format, so I must model its use at all time.) Finally, students go off to practice writing complete sentences in their writing journal using the class created tree map. No, students aren’t creating the tree maps themselves. That’s an entirely different lesson. (I must insist on the paragraph format though, sorry.) We are focusing exclusively on writing complete sentences.
I start by asking students what does a sentence need to be complete? I already have the new tree map charted, without the words subject, verb, and predicate in place. We fill those in during the discussion. Your typical students will say “A capital letter!” Good for them! That’s one student who has got that standard down! More advanced students will begin to say “verb, subject” and a strange variant of “predicate”. Then, we pull out a few simple sentences. Again, some students will start to use conjunction or a pronoun for the subject. If the student brings it up at this point, I add it to the tree map or I praise the student for the complex sentence and encourage other students to use pronouns or complex sentences when they are ready. I also start to encourage descriptive language (dark, green). After doing this orally, we return to our seat to practice.
You can already see how I begin to differentiate instruction using what the students bring to the lesson and then encouraging one step more. I use the words “when you are ready” a lot initially, then I start to suggest to certain students to try the next step. The writings are very varied, depending on the students’ ability. I have three students who are straight on using simple sentences, no pronouns. I have a few more students who are playing with the pronoun, some who are using the conjunction “and” and a small group of students are using more complex sentences with descriptive words and phrases.
I haven’t had a third lesson as a whole group yet, this being a new thing in our class. BUT, I have had small group instruction going over simple sentences for my struggling writers. I have also added this activity as part of my morning routines so that students come in and immediately start writing complete sentences while I take roll. After two whole group lessons, most students can write complete sentences using a teacher created tree map. Now, during our regular writing lessons, we can talk about what a sentence needs to be complete. During revisions, we can talk about what this student’s sentence needs in order to be complete. It is now part of the language and the norm of our classroom.
Effect on Independent Writing
What is the effect on students own independent writing? This is really just a four days old lesson, so I can’t really say yet. I can say that we can point to an incomplete sentence and revise it easily now, rather than have students stare blankly at me when I demand a complete sentence. I predict that with time and consistent practice, more and more of my students will be able to write independently in complete sentences without prompting.
This past week, my students and I started an exciting new project. We are learning how to create a presentation using Apple’s Keynote! Keynote is rather like Powerpoint. It is a part of the iWork bundle.
So far, so good! The kids are excited. They love adding animations and effects to their images and words.
I started the lesson by using a Powerpoint presentation on “Kindness” from OpenCourtResources.com. “Kindness” is our literacy unit for the next 6 weeks. I prefaced the lesson by explicitly telling them that this is a presentation, that adults use this to share information, that we will learn how create our own presentation as an option for publishing our writing and sharing our ideas, yadiyadiya. Then, we started creating our own “Kindness” presentation as a whole group, which is to say, every student is creating an identical presentation at their own workstation by following the teacher step by step. My rationale for doing it this way? Most of my students only ever touch a computer at school, usually to play a “learning” game, and have never seen a presentation before. Whole group is the only way to go.
During this lesson, I found that I had to teach them EVERYTHING, down to what double-click means. That’s expected since they are a) second graders and b) mostly computer illiterate because c) inner city students have very little access to technology.
I am so thankful that (though our classrooms have ten years old computers that is no longer serviced by LAUSD), our computer lab has (slow, but functional) computers and a projector. Also an excellent computer technician who looks out for these programs for our students. Her only wish is that teachers would make use of these programs, rather than stick the kids on “learning” games for 40 minutes, once a week.
btw, I’m looking into having my students blog, but it won’t work on the computer in my classroom. I’ll have to first get everyone’s parents consent for the students to get on the Internet, and then maybe settle for blogging as a twice a month thing done only in the computer lab. We shall see.
For the last two weeks, my students have been having fun learning math in non-textbook ways. One game that we have been using on a daily basis for about five minutes each day is “Finger Math”. It quickly gives students practice adding and subtracting in a fun atmosphere, with manipulative support. This activity is easily differentiated and appropriate for first graders, second graders, third, fourth, and so on!
- Have two students face each other.
- Each student choose a number from 1-10.
- When students are ready, they show their number using their fingers.
- Have students quickly add all fingers shown from both students and say the answer.
- The student with the correct answer wins a point. Have students check by counting all fingers.
- Play continues until one student wins. In my class, that’s five points to win.
- Subtract the student with the least fingers from the student with the most finger.
- Play with one hand instead of two hands (meaning 1-5 instead of 1-10) for students who aren’t ready to add the higher numbers. Differentiated instruction.
- For more difficult problems, have three or four students play against each other. This is also an excellent scaffold for adding three addends.
- After each play, have students write the corresponding number sentence in their math journal.
- Instead of adding or subtracting, have students multiply.
I am trying out a new second grade reading and writing homework using the Tree Map. My goal is for students to prepare students to be able to dissect a story, looking at the characters, setting, problem and solution. Eventually, I want to transition into using the academic language of “characters, setting, problem and solution” but for now, I’m using scaffolding language. Take a look to see if it’s useful for you.
I have two students who read 5 words a minute.
I have two students who read 10-15 words a minute.
I have four students who read 20-30 words a minute.
And the other 9 are evenly spread out, reading 30-90 words a minute, which is really nice!
They should be reading about 55 words per minute.
About half my students are English Language Learners. I have only one African-American girl in my class. She worries me because, from observation these last three days, she looks a little withdrawn and separated from the other students. She’s also reading at about 10 words a minute. I know her family and had two of her relatives in my classroom, they were all very low academically and had lots of family and neighborhood issues. I will be paying particular attention to her and help her integrate into the classroom community.
The two students reading at 5 words per minute are both African American boys, sadly. One student has a great, positive, hard-working attitude and is already finding successes in the classroom. His mother contacted me on the very first day and we started working together to help him become a success. We both agreed that he needs the Student Success Team and probably testing for Special Education.
The other boy is having a great deal of trouble adjusting the classroom rules and routines. I spoke with his first grade teacher and his behavior last year was consistently disruptive. His first grade teacher is a National Board Certified teacher with an excellent reputation at our school, so I’m pretty certain she did everything she could to help him learn. However, I already see some anger management issues with him. I also know his family, again, another family of low academic students and some pretty angry, beligerent parents. I called his mother twice, made an appointment for a parent conference today, which she missed. Didn’t surprise me, but it does mean that he’s likely not getting the support he needs at home. I will be referring him to the Student Success Team as well, but I want to sit down with his first grade teacher first to gather evidence.
My highest academic student is another African American boy, just in case people are starting to make assumptions! His mother also contacted me and we’re excited to be working with each other. I’m already wondering if he’s gifted. He comes out with the most brilliant observation!
I have only five other girls in my class, all English Language Learners and Spanish speakers. So far, I have one girl who loves to touch her friends (cultural), one girl who’s consistently late and already absent one day (oh boy), and all lovely, sweet, hard-working girls.
I have one absent-minded artist, barely interested in academic but wakes up and focuses intently one the visual arts. I will be making use of his talent throughout the year!
I have an itty, bitty little accident prone genius. He acts, and feels, like a kindergartener, but he writes, reads, and comprehends like a third grader. He’s also smashed his knees and had his right eye poked in the three short days I’ve known him.
I have one student, J____, who is such a joy, but really, really wants my attention all the time. Is this a second grade thing?
I have a line leader who is always too busy to find his way to the front of the line. Quite funny because then he goes, “Oops!” and runs to the front of the line.
I’ll be observing the kids more to learn more about their interests and quirks. So far, a very different class from my last third grade class.