Culturally Relevant Teaching Part 2 – High Expectations

November 13, 2007 at 9:08 pm | Posted in best practices, culturally relevant teaching, education, elementary, graphic organizers, strategies, teachers, thinking maps, writing | 3 Comments

My previous post explores some of the philosophy behind Culturally Relevant Teaching (CRT), or the whys.  This post, I want to explore some of the hows.  That really is what we need.

If you are reading Part 2 of my posts, then I assume that I am preaching to the choir.  You already intuitively know why CRT is a good thing and you want to do it.  So how do we go about integrating CRT into our daily instruction to maximize student learning?

High Expectation – from Can’t to the Absolutely Can

Do you have high expectation of your diverse students?  Do you really believe that everyone can learn and succeed?  OR Do you answer, “Yes, but ______.”  If you qualify your answer with “but” then you do NOT have high expectations for your diverse students.  You can stop reading this post right now and go pick up some books with researches that prove again and again that ALL students can learn, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, socio-economic background, parental involvement, whatever.  Until you believe absolutely that all of your students can learn, can be the A student, then nothing that you read or try will help your students any.  I don’t know how else to put it.  The anonymity of the internet blog allows me to write this, “If you don’t have high expectations for all your students, then you SUCK as a teacher compared to what you can truly do.”  (I just know I’m about to get another slew of e-mails attacking me. *ducks*)

What does high expectation look like in the classroom setting?  Here is another real life example from my school.

All teachers are trained to use Thinking Maps, targeted graphic organizers.  In particular, all teachers are trained to use these graphic organizers along with sentence frames to help students communicate orally and in writing.  All teachers.  I took a walk with many other teachers, just to see examples of writing in the classrooms, as part of our professional development.  With one exception, all first grade teachers had their students copy teacher created writing samples from the board.  By this I mean in all subject areas, in all topics, just all writing samples were teacher created, student copied.  These teachers expected that their students can not write and so do not even give them the opportunity to try.  The one exception is a first year teacher who doesn’t have that low expectation.  In fact, she has high expectation.  She expects her students to write coherently and she gave them the support they need to do so.  She gave them the sentence frames, without filling it in for them.  She gave them Thinking Maps from which they can pull words and ideas.  She lets them go at it.  Some students made mistakes and she helped correct the mistakes without taking over the students’ writings.  High expectation.

Having high expectation is probably the most difficult part of being culturally responsive, because it’s just so easy to blame the students for failure, and so hard to say, maybe I’m not teaching very well.

If you answer with an unqualified yes, then let’s move on to other, easier strategies for integrating culturally relevant teaching.

Part 3 – We Communicate Differently – Coming soon to a blog near you!

Our dominant, white culture communicates very differently from the cultures of our diverse students.  Visit my post on how we organize our communication differently.  Next post will go more in depth into this and how to utilize this difference in the classroom.

Organizing Ideas in Discourse and Writing

October 28, 2007 at 12:18 pm | Posted in best practices, culturally relevant teaching, elementary, graphic organizers, inner city, learning modality, second grade, strategies, thinking maps, writing | Leave a comment

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.

Friendly Letter – Oral Rehearsal Using a Flow Map

October 3, 2007 at 6:22 pm | Posted in best practices, ELD, elementary, graphic organizers, learning modality, second grade, strategies, thinking maps, writing | 4 Comments

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.

Friendly Thank You Letter – Using Thinking Maps

September 25, 2007 at 6:10 pm | Posted in elementary, graphic organizers, Open Court, second grade, strategies, thinking maps, writing | 4 Comments

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.

You can also read more about writing using Thinking Maps at my previous posts.

The prompt

Please write a thank you letter to Ms. R using the friendly letter format.

Second grade Open Court teachers in LAUSD would recognize the prompt as the unit assessment prompt, modified.

The Rubric

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.


The Context

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.


Continue Reading Friendly Thank You Letter – Using Thinking Maps…

Teaching Complete Sentences Using a Tree Map

September 4, 2007 at 5:01 pm | Posted in differentiated instruction, graphic organizers, second grade, thinking maps, writing | 3 Comments

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.

complete sentences tree map

Introductory Lesson

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.

Second Lesson

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.

Differentiated Instruction

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.

Independent Practice


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.

New Second Grade Reading and Writing Homework – Tree Map

August 26, 2007 at 8:41 pm | Posted in education, elementary, free resources, graphic organizers, homework, reading, second grade, thinking maps, writing | 3 Comments

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.

Visit my to download the PDF file of the Tree Map.

Updated Reading and Writing Homework for Second Grade

July 8, 2007 at 9:54 am | Posted in free resources, homework, reading, second grade, thinking maps, writing | Leave a comment

I updated my reading and writing homework, which uses a flow map, for second grade.  This is a tentative change for me.  I will observe how my students handle this homework before making more changes.  For now, the changes include some sentence starters to help the students write about their reading.

Please visit my for the pdf file.

NEW – Reading and Writing Homework – Using Circle Maps

May 12, 2007 at 9:31 pm | Posted in elementary, free resources, graphic organizers, homework, thinking maps, third grade, writing | 5 Comments

Just created a reading and writing homework using Circle Maps.  This homework would work well with the younger students or at the beginning of the school year.

Visit my to download both as PDFs.

Back to School

May 9, 2007 at 6:10 pm | Posted in elementary, graphic organizers, teachers, thinking maps, third grade | 2 Comments

Today is my first day back teaching and boy, I’m exhausted! My feet hurt and I was starving (no time for lunch). It’s incredible that after six weeks, I’ve forgotten what it was like to teach! Exhilirating and exhausting, at the same time.

It was a successful day. No major behavior problems. A couple of students received verbal warnings, but no personality clashes, which is the norm. The students were enthusiastic and happy, eager to get back into the swing of things.

We started the day with work and ended the day with P.E. Not a spare moment in between, so no down-time allowing for misbehaving.

I’ve really added rigor to my curriculum, so even though this was the first back at school, the students worked hard and learned a lot, I’m proud to say. Let’s hope I continue to add rigor to my lessons.

Here’s our English Language Development (ELD) lesson for today.


This is a lesson in the middle of the “To the Moon” unit in the “Into English!” program, modified to add rigor of course.  The purpose of the lesson was to compare and contrast the Earth and the moon.

I brought in various photos of the Earth and the moon.  The class spent about 5 minutes wholegroup quickly identifying the features in the photos (building vocabulary).  Then, we did a Think-Pair-Share using the questions, “What is the same?  What is different?”  I gave them sentence frames such as “The moon and the Earth are the same because ___” and “The moon is different from the Earth because _____” to develop their oral language.  The Think-Pair-Share allows the students to access information from each other, not just from me, and gives everyone an opportunity to develop their language and participate.  Then, we break up the students into groups of four to create a double-bubble map comparing and contrasting the Earth and the moon.  My students are quite used to thinking maps by now and can whip them out.  Finally, the groups presented their double-bubble map to the class.  Their reporters were expected to present their findings in complete sentences using the academic language that we practiced earlier.  Done!  The entire lesson took about 30-35 minutes.

The best part?  The students did most of the work.  I merely watched, listened, and asked guiding questions.

Pat on the back!

Writing with Thinking Maps

April 23, 2007 at 7:51 am | Posted in education, elementary, graphic organizers, Special Education, teachers, thinking maps, third grade, writing | 3 Comments

Write from the Beginning Series

Writing with Thinking Maps

I wrote a series of blogs on writing using Thinking Maps and this quickly became a favorite for many readers. So, I decided to organize the blogs onto one post to make it easier for people to find all the articles and to clarify the sequence of our process.

The writing process was taken directly from a supplementary program, Write from the Beginning, from Thinking Maps.

1. How we do it in our class – an explanation.

2. The pre-writing process part 1 – using Circle Maps

3. The pre-writing process part 2 – using Flow Maps

4. First Draft – some samples

5. Flow Map – explanation of the parts of the Flow Map and how we use it for writing.

6. An example from my Special Ed student showing success for all students – The Pre-Write

7. A first draft from my Special Ed student – The First Draft

8. A second grade, friendly thank you letter – The entire process

Please leave a comment to tell me what you think! Thank you!

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