Culture in the Classroom Discussion – 2012

Growing up, do you remember being introduced to other cultures as part of your schooling in any class besides social studies? Do you remember being asked to talk about your family and cultural customs as part of a classroom lesson? Did you have homework assignments that required you to speak to people in your family or community to learn more about your personal history so you could share that information with your class (again, in any class except social studies)?

Cultural inclusion or inclusion of the diverse learner is an important approach to reaching your students in a context that they can understand and in a way that interests them. Read this article on Strategies for Working with the Diverse Learner from Montgomery County Schools in Maryland, watch this video on culturally diverse learners, and contribute the following to the discussion: For those of you who have you had an experience where your culture was included in a classroom lesson: Did your teacher honor your culture and accurately represent you or were you embarrassed or uninspired by how the lesson was delivered? What can you offer as a learning opportunity to your teacher-classmates from that experience? If the experience was miserable for you, what could have changed it? How would you approach the same or similar topic as a teacher? If the experience was great, what made it wonderful?
Make sure to include your first name and last initial to get credit for this post in GED 500.

12 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Jennifer Cole on February 25, 2012 at 3:18 am

    I do not remember learning about different cultures outside of history classes during elementary school. I do not even remember having students from other countries or with a language barrier in any of my classes. I am Caucasian and have always just followed my culture because most of my teachers were Caucasian. I remember doing country reports which gave insight to different cultures, and we got to bring in food that is eaten in our country. Besides history class, I never learned too much about other cultures. My dad is from England, but that never made me feel like I was part of a different cultural background.
    I know that today, teachers need to be very prepared to teach in a diverse setting, especially in California. I have been observing a 5th grade class at an elementary school, and I found it very interesting to see the teacher speak to her students in both Spanish and English. She has two students how have only been in the country for 2 years; one is from Columbia and the other Mexico. They speak broken English, and she explains things in Spanish to them if they are having trouble. I know that it is hard to find bilingual teachers, but I think this is very motivating for these students because they have help and the teacher does not leave them to learn on their own. The teacher will also go over vocabulary words in English and Spanish for the whole class so that they all are learning both languages. I think this makes those students who have a hard time in school due to a language barrier feel much more comfortable and accepting of their culture.
    I know that some teachers try and celebrate different holidays according to the different cultures of their students. During Christmas, this can be difficult for students who do not celebrate that certain holiday, or celebrate it in a different way. I think it is important for teachers to acknowledge all of their student’s special days and try to allow them to share what they do with their families. I think this also helps students to respect each other’s differences and learn from each other.

    Jennifer C


  2. Posted by Kathryn Smith on February 27, 2012 at 4:57 am

    The idea of being culturally relevant or culturally responsive was an idea coined by Gloria Ladson-Billings. Positive relationships, high expectations, and lots of group work are all characteristics of a successful culturally relevant pedagogy. Both concepts are focused on the ability of educators to make connections with the school culture, state-mandated curricula, and the children’s homes and communities. It’s important to remember that every child enters the classroom with their own unique background. Student’s all have the capacity to learn, but teachers must be willing to adjust their teaching methods to account for the diversities that exist in their classroom. One of the most important benefits is that it teaches students to appreciate and understand other cultures.
    Growing up in Arcadia California, from a very young age I was exposed to a number of diverse cultures. Though as a young girl, I didn‘t always recognize the cultural diversities that existed between myself and my friends. The first assignment I remember noticing the differences amongst my peers was a family tree project I did in fifth grade. This was a great experience for me because it allowed me to learn the history of others in my class. We all came from different families with various backgrounds, and I found it quite enjoyable to learn how unique we all were. High school is when I really gained a deeper understanding of the various backgrounds that existed amongst my peers. Being accustomed to seeing people of different color, ethnicity, and race than myself; I never really considered the differences that existed between us.
    Today, my family has two exchange students, one from Vietnam and the other from China, living in our home. Having these two boys living with us has definitely opened my eyes to the diverse cultures that exist here in America. I specifically remember one day, when one of the boys came home after school rather upset. Apparently in his history class they’d discussed the Vietnam war, which Americans view as a victory since we suffered far losses in terms of deaths. In Vietnam however, students are taught very early of the victory Vietnam had over the Americans, and they are quite proud of it. So to come here and hear a teacher say something quite different was very upsetting to him. Whether in reference to study or learning habits, communication skills, or even preferred cuisine; there are many traditions, beliefs, and customs that differ throughout society amongst different ethnic groups. It is very important for everyone, not just students, to be educated on the different people and cultures that surround them. Recognizing diverse characteristics of students is an extremely important job for the classroom teacher. Teachers should work to understand their student’s as individuals, and aim to develop a mutual respect for the diversities that exist between them.

    Kathryn S.


    • Posted by Lauren Lacayo Rodas on March 1, 2012 at 10:20 pm

      I agree that it is important for teachers to understand students heritage and cultures. To create an atmosphere which thrives on cultural welfare and communal respect, parents are able to connect to teachers stronger; as well as, work more closely with their children.


  3. Posted by Nardine S. on February 28, 2012 at 8:18 am

    I am Egyptian I came to the United States when I was 11 years old. Growing up I do not remember learning about any ones culture except in social studied classes. I was introduced some classes as a new student and some classes introduced me as a new student from “Egypt”. I do not remember what so ever getting a specific homework assignment of a lesson about culture. As I started to learn English and started to communicate with the other students questions about my culture came up, but it came up outside of the classroom though. Not that I think about it, it a little disappointing to me that I didn’t learn about cultural diversity inside of the classroom, instead I learned it on my own as I grew older. Even in social studied and history classes I don’t remember doing anything except on the first day of school each person had to introduce him or herself to the class that’s when everyone said where they were from or their background and that was it. I personally was trying to introduce my culture to my friends in class by bring in a special dish for lunch. When I was younger I knew where other students were from when they told me because I was good in geography, but I did not know anything about their culture. When I was in class many others around me oh you are from Egypt, that is so cool is that in Asia? Sadly I have to say even by 7th and 8th grade some kids did not even know where Egypt was on the map so I did not expect them to know anything about my culture. I honestly wish I got to learn about different cultures in class time when I was younger; I believe that would give us much more exposure and experience of other students around us. I do not remember any of my teachers for day one in school until now where cultural diversity was discussed until today.


  4. Posted by Nardine S. on February 28, 2012 at 8:19 am

    Nardine S.


  5. Posted by Corine Scrugham on February 28, 2012 at 5:36 pm

    Growing up I learned a whole lot about other cultures in elementary school. We included a lot of culture into language arts. I especially remember around the holidays my teacher would read us many stories about different families’ customs and traditions. Besides Christmas we were introduced to Hanukah and Kwanza. For instance, our teacher had us make Latkes as a class and play Dradle, a Jewish tradition. I also remember being asked about my culture and sharing a special family custom or tradition with my class. We even had potlucks where everyone brought a special family dish and shared a story about it. In middle school I remember my Biology teacher ask us to poll our parents about silly stuff, like their favorite band or group. We then learned to categorize them into different Orders, Families, Kingdoms, etc. It seemed as if my teacher was open to all cultures and honored everyone’s outlooks.
    As a future teacher in Southern California I know that I will have a multicultural classroom and will need to use specific techniques to engage and teach each student. It will be extremely important to use scaffolding, VAKT and differentiated instruction, in order to be an effective teacher. I will also need to get to know each of my students on a personal level and be open minded to their needs and encourage all of their aspirations. I do believe that each child can be successful and I want to assist them on their educational journey.
    Lots of families come to the United States for opportunity and have high expectations of the schools. The children interviewed in the video all seemed very motivated to succeed. They all came from a common area, Latin America and have similar aspirations like to be, a teacher, a lawyer, a veterinarian, a police man, etc. Most the students explain that English is very hard to learn and that they prefer subjects like math. They also explain that in order for them to learn teachers need to grant them extra time to understand, and need visuals like pictures. They state that working in groups is very beneficial to their learning.
    Implementing scaffolding, VAKT and differentiated instruction is a must in a multicultural classroom. The children interview, with out knowing the proper terminology said so themselves. It is also important to have in mind that even if you do not have English Language Learners (ELL’s) in your class, all children learn differently, so using these techniques will be beneficial to all students! My first impressions of these students did change as the video progressed. I was so surprised on how determined these students are to learn English and to succeed. As a future teacher, I would be honored to have these students in my class.
    Corine S.


    • Posted by Lauren Lacayo Rodas on March 1, 2012 at 8:26 pm

      Good incorporation of what was discussed in the film. I agree that with the diversity present in today’s classrooms and the vast majority of Chicano/Latino students we as future teachers must take scaffolding for example into consideration. From observation and field hours in different classrooms I have found that teachers feel overwhelmed with their responsibility to teach to the test. This leaves less time for teachers to include multicultural activities and lessons into their teaching. Or so they feel. If we can learn of ways to support all students, including ELL and those with disabilities and incorporate diversity into our lesson planning we will be able to reach out to students and families more, as well as, engage students on a different level.


  6. Posted by Jenifer Boatright on February 28, 2012 at 5:56 pm

    Growing up in two different cities provided me the opportunity to experience schooling in completely different ways. From kindergarten through the middle of 3rd grade I lived in a very low socio-economic area that was populated by mostly minorities and from the second half of 3rd grade through high school I lived in a middle class area populated by mostly Caucasians. The learning experiences varied greatly. When I moved to the higher income area I became the minority in school, or at least that’s what I felt like. Although I was Caucasian like the other students I did not dress as well, did not have the same knowledge and did not have the nice things the other students did. Because of this, I know what it feels like to be different than others. This feeling for me only lasted maybe a year until I caught up with everyone else. I can only imagine how difficult it is for students who are English learners. My teachers never gave me the extra help I needed which made it extra difficult for me to catch up. It is crucial for teachers to differentiate their teaching because students are on so many different levels academically and learn in a variety of ways. We need to learn about our students to understand how they learn best so that they may receive the best education possible. I believe it is so important to incorporate multiple cultures in your teaching so that they students may become aware and educated on cultures different than theirs and to help the diverse students feel more comfortable and accepted. This will become increasingly more difficult for teachers as the years go one because the United States is becoming such a diverse country. If the role of the teacher is to help students learn then we need to do our best to help every single student learn which will vary based on their culture.

    Jenifer B.


  7. Posted by Cristina Cabral on March 1, 2012 at 9:08 pm

    I grew up in a mostly Hispanic community and my elementary school really catered to that. I remember every year, since kindergarten, participating in the big Cinco de Mayo celebration the school held. Every class would practice for weeks a dance or some type of presentation to do in front of the school and the parents. There was also tons of food being sold and games to play in booths. It was like a small carnival. I always looked forward to the Cinco de Mayo celebration, but now looking back I realize that the other cultures represented at our school did not get the same attention. If I was a teacher at that school now, I would try to get the school to incorporate some of the other cultures represented in the school, or at least make sure I discussed them in my own classroom. I would try to celebrate other culture’s holidays like Chinese New Year and other important days that other cultures celebrate. I would also like to do a project like what they did in the video that discusses every child’s background so that we could learn about each other in our classroom and see how we may have different backgrounds but now all share the same community, school, and classroom. I would make sure I introduced the topic to the students by sharing my background and telling them that my parents immigrated to this country and that my first language was Spanish. I think this would make them more comfortable in discussing where their families came from. I would also somehow tie it into a US History lesson to teach them that all Americans, except Native Americans, all immigrated to America at some point in time.
    Cristina C.


  8. Posted by Lauren Lacayo Rodas on March 1, 2012 at 9:48 pm

    Overall I was not taught about cultures and diversity through grade school. However through the volunteering of my mom and a collective of other mothers I was fortunate to experience culture in my classrooms and engage with my classmates and teachers on a different level. Starting in first grade my mom became involved in introducing the importance of culture to my teachers and other parents. She herself has much pride in our Danish culture and migrant parents and family. With combing my dad’s Latino heritage into my sister and my upbringing she believed it was important to continue our cultural learning at school. She organized cultural days throughout my different classes, this included themed potlucks; each student would bring a cultural dish from home and a 3×5 note card about their culture and the food item. We as students loved this day during the month, by the end of the year we each chose a different culture to represent and bring food for each other. Other multicultural events we had were learning the basics of other languages. We learned how to count to 20, the alphabet, and most common sayings in Spanish, German, Chinese and a couple others.
    Having teachers who were open to brining in outside lessons and help from parents was a lesson I learned. It is not always easy as a teacher to not know how to incorporate your student’s backgrounds into your classroom. By having open communication with families we can gain useful resources to teach students about diversity. From the video we were able to see how collaboration and teaching what students already know is a positive way to engage students and bring equity towards each other. We must adjust our teaching styles to fit the different learning styles and personal backgrounds.


  9. Posted by Melinda Sunderland on March 2, 2012 at 12:54 am

    I grew up in a fairly diverse community in terms of socio-economic status, culture, and religion. I don’t ever remember any teacher distinctly teaching us about any of this diversity in-depthly with the exception of Social Studies teachers, which is maybe what inspired me to be a History major in college and become a Social Studies teacher myself. There is a good chance that these discussions had to have come up at some point throughout my K-12 career; however, if I don’t really remember it, obviously they didn’t have a significant impact on me.

    When I did my student teaching at Irvine High School, which has an extremely culturally and ethnically diverse population, I remember the overall atmosphere of the school to be embracing of diversity. The campus had a Diversity Club that hosted a Culture Day. Most of the other clubs on campus hosted food booths and others performed traditional dances in traditional costumes. It was a lot of fun and something that all students were able to participate and engage in. It’s purpose was not to provide a thorough understanding of each culture, but rather to give a brief representation, spark interest, and of course have fun.

    Although I think Diversity Clubs and Culture Days are a great idea and wonderful learning opportunity for students, I realize that there are more “practical” everyday opportunities to integrate teaching cultural diversity in the classroom. As a Resource Specialist, I currently spend a large portion of my work day in small reading groups with students. I have realized that the curriculum adopted by our district actually lends itself to the potential of great diversity learning opportunities. Our Elementary School uses Houghton Mifflin curriculum and I can think of several stories in the anthologies for grades 2 and 3 (I’m sure there are also great stories for the upper-grade students as well but I am not as familiar with them) that lend themselves nicely to lessons in cultural diversity and are great discussion starters in which students could reflect upon their own backgrounds and share them with their peers. For example, there is a story in the 2nd grade anthology called Jalapeno Bagels. Its a cute story about a little boy who’s mom is Hispanic and his dad is Jewish. The boy has to bring a food dish to share with his class for International Day. In the end, the boy decides to bring Jalapeno Bagels to share with his class because it represents a little of his mom and dad, just like him. This particular story contains both Spanish and Yiddish vocabulary and touches on traditions and recipes from both cultures. If well planned and taught and if a cultural climate of acceptance and openness already exists, this story has great potential to inspire students to reflect upon their own families, backgrounds, the languages they speak in their homes, and the traditions that they celebrate and share them with their peers. Similarly, the third grade text contains a story about a little girl Russia, a little girl who’s family is from Ghana, and a little Mexican-American boy who competes in rodeos in Arizona. Like Jalapeno Bagels, all of those stories contain vocabulary in other languages and touch on the family, cultural, and religious traditions of each child. By no means am I arguing that reading these stories in themselves would serve as a sufficient lesson in diversity. However, I have witnessed the power of a skillful teacher being able to use stories such as these to open up much larger and meaningful discussions that apply to the lives of the students.
    Melinda S.


  10. Posted by Karon Floyd on March 6, 2014 at 8:51 pm

    In elementary school I had a very forward thinking teacher in 1968-1969 she talked about Africa a great deal, we also had a few spanish speaking students in class. She would teach us a few spanish words (this is before bi-lingual education) so students who were bi-lingual had a hard time with the language. We had Japanese students,Chinese and Korean students. This exposed us to different groups although we didn’t have a lesson plan on the subject. We would talk about family activities and how we celebrated. Coming from Mississippi in the mid 60’s California was like a cultural Mecca for me. I have been interested in cultural studies since then. She influenced me a great deal. This was my 4th grad teacher. She was related to W. E. B Duboise. K. Floyd


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