Steps teachers can take to promote students’ cultural identities and help them succeed academically.
By Marianne Green
“I know mine and mine know me,” declares Jesus (John 10:14). This declaration of awareness and compassion serves as a model for teachers and a call to action. Reflecting on who we are and how we engage our students becomes more important in an increasingly diverse school environment. The National Catholic Educators Association’s Student Race and Ethnicity reports that “Student diversity in Catholic schools has increased significantly in the past 40 years.” Given this data, what steps can teachers take to promote students’ cultural identities and help them succeed academically?
Step one: Become self-aware. Teachers’ own attitudes and cultural backgrounds influence their daily interactions. These attitudes and cultural influences originate from personal experiences within families, schools, and public environments. According to the University of New Hampshire’s Dora W. Chen, John Nimmo, and Heather Fraser, teachers “must first and foremost develop a strong understanding of their own biases, identity, and cultural beliefs” (“Becoming a Culturally Responsive Early Educator”).
The hope for teachers is to remain “objective” and “fair”; however, ignoring personal influences leads to self-deception. Think of Jesus’ additional lesson for us to remove the “splinter” from our eyes (Matthew 7:1-5). How do we begin to notice our biases, our “splinters”? Start by taking Harvard University’s The Implicit Association Test which offers a researched-based assessment tool. This test reveals implicit biases and promotes a greater sense of self-awareness.
Step two: Focus on knowing your students and their unique cultural perspectives. Schedule time during the initial rush of the first days of classes to meet with each student. Arranging these 1:1 conversations can be challenging. Here are some ideas to try.
- Elementary Level: Have Brown-Bag Sessions. Give each student a brown paper bag with three blank index cards. Invite students to write, draw, or cut/paste images of three things celebrating who they are and what they love. Present your own model for the whole group, but also indicate that you will share three more things during these informal 1:1 sessions.
- Middle- and High-School Levels: Explore students’ culture through a Music, Memory, and Me Lesson. Select or have students vote for one of the Play for Change music videos. Show the selected video and discuss how different musicians interpret the song. Discuss the role of music in culture. Share a song that triggers a memory. Model how this song is part your story. Invite them to share their own songs with the overall goal to generate a class Spotify or YouTube playlist. Be sure to develop music guidelines with student input. This lesson allows for student engagement and ownership – and besides, it’s wonderfully fun. Here is a link to my students’ Spotify playlist on the theme of faithfulness.
Step three: Adapt your teaching practices. Author and educator Zaretta Hammond comments, “Many diverse students come from oral cultural traditions. This means their primary ways of knowledge transfer and meaning-making are oral and active.” She suggests intentional lessons designs that use one of the following methods: gamification of materials, use of social interaction, and the creation of narratives (“3 Tips to Make Any Lesson More Culturally Responsive”).
Need a more specific example? Try a Vocabulary Comic Lesson.
- Inform the class that they will compose an original comic using unit vocabulary.
- Determine the medium for this project, or have the students vote for manual drawing or ed-tech applications. Printable Paper Network offers different comic strip designs for manual drawing. Make Beliefs Comix is an excellent ed-tech option.
- Divide students into small creative teams.
- Have groups brainstorm story concepts.
- Meet with each team to review their ideas and give immediate feedback.
- Allow for drawing and design time.
- Present the different Vocabulary Comics using a Gallery Walk Strategy.
Each new year calls us “to know mine” in order for our students to “know me.” Approaching the cultural learning styles may mean making some adjustments, but the results are worth promoting a culturally responsive classroom.
Marianne T. Green, MA, a Golden Apple recipient and independent consultant for the Catholic Apostolate Center, is an adjunct faculty member of St. Joseph’s College. Her recent collaboration with Diocese of Reykjavik is featured on Instagram @Virtual_Disciple.
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