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    #1

    Integrating Student Culture into Classroom Tasks and Assessments

    Hello everyone!

    I am currently pursuing a Masters degree in Education, and I'm hoping to teach English abroad one day. For the course I'm in now we're studying the assessment of ELL students, and part of our final project is to participate in a professional forum. So here I am, and I'm looking forward to hearing from everyone here since I don't have much experience yet.

    One question I'm interested in hearing the answer to is about involving students cultures and backgrounds within the classroom. In your experiences as teachers what methods or practices have you used to actively integrate your students specific cultures, experiences, and backgrounds into activities/tasks or assessments you use in your classroom?

    The adult language class I currently teach has Hispanic, Hmong, and Somalian students who have all recently moved here to the united States. Since there is such a diverse variety of students I find it difficult to teach the curriculum and lessons in a way that connects with and relates to all of my students. So I'm hoping to find advice or learn from everyone's experiences to help me improve in this area of teaching.

    I look forward to your advice and comments! Thank you!

  1. emsr2d2's Avatar
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    #2

    Re: Integrating Student Culture into Classroom Tasks and Assessments

    Given that in an ideal classroom situation, the students should do more talking than the teacher, you can encourage them to be the ones to bring their individual culture into class. If you give them, for example, a discussion topic such as "A typical day at home" (I don't know the age of your students so that might be too simplistic), you will find that their days are very different from each other simply by virtue of their different origins.
    Remember - if you don't use correct capitalisation, punctuation and spacing, anything you write will be incorrect.

  2. Skrej's Avatar
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    #3

    Re: Integrating Student Culture into Classroom Tasks and Assessments

    You're actually lucky - that diversity in languages can be a huge asset in your classroom. Anytime you can pair up students what speak different languages, they learn English faster, because it forces them to speak it, because they can't fall back onto a common 1st language. I envy you, because I face the opposite situation, with my classes being 98% Hispanic, so despite my constant reminders, they just speak Spanish to each other. I just don't have the diversity to ensure that students get paired with somebody who doesn't speak their language. However, the ones who are forced to speak English because their partner doesn't speak their language improve so much faster.

    As emsr2d2 said, it works well to bring up a topic, then compare customs between cultures, including those from the US (or whatever country they've immigrated to).

    I've found it incredibly interesting just to listen to the differences in something as simple as say, child-rearing. We had to cover this as part of our EL Civics, to make sure our students are familiar with some of the US laws and how they can actually get in legal trouble for say leaving their child at home alone. Since most of my classes are Hispanic, they had similar concepts, but when contrasted to some of my Vietnamese and Somali students, there were noticeable differences in what what was deemed acceptable practices. It lead to a intense discussion. Some of their ideas made me wince, and a few times I did have to point out that while differences are fun to debate, some of those practices while deemed okay back in their country, could get Child Services involved here in the US, whether or not they agreed.

    Pick a topic, say a given holiday, and then ask them if they have a similar holiday and to discuss similarities and differences. For example, Thanksgiving will sometimes draw a loose comparison to the Muslim festival of Eid al Fitr. Halloween will draw comparisons to Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead in Mexico. My Somali students are confounded at the idea that it's fun to be scared.

    My Hispanic students always ask my Muslim students why they won't eat pork. Despite having it explained as a religious conviction, it still just baffles them.

    Any topic will work. I have a lesson on modal verbs where we discuss traffic signs and what they mean. This leads to a discussion on difference in traffic laws, and what you can/can't and shouldn't do in Country X. I let the students talk, prompting with additional questions as needed, or to point out instances where they could use the particular grammatical point we're covering.

    Perhaps you're working on vocabulary and reading comprehension. Tailor your reading passing and comprehension questions to be about a particular culture. Then ask students from that culture to verify, or expound on the subject.

    Talk about life goals, define success. Climate and weather comparisons between 'home' and 'here' are a rich source, especially if there's a substantial difference. I'm always amused by my student's definition of 'cold', since they primarily come from warmer climes.

    Have them bring (or use the Internet to find) samples of music and dances from their cultures. I use a lot of songs for diction and cloze exercises. I've done lessons on describing music (primarily adjective based).

    Have a class party. Students love to bring food and try food from another culture - be wary of cultural dietary constrictions. (I'm always secretly a little disheartened when some student inevitably brings pizza or fried chicken.) With advanced students, this can tie into a lesson on recipes, measurements, opinions, giving instructions, mid level students can express likes/dislikes, lower level students can be simply basic vocab.

    Punctuality and time-sensitivity. We say time is money, but in many parts of the world, time is time and money is money, and the two are not related. You need to be on time for your job, appointment, class, etc. This has lead to some rich discussions and some rude awakenings.

    Pretty much topic can be tied back into either English grammar, country-specific civics and culture, or all of the above. Strike a balance between correcting grammar, and letting them talk.

    I usually try and tie it back to a comparison of American culture, to help with culture shock, but so that maybe they're be aware of what what's unintentionally offensive (both to them and Americans), cultural expectations (hygiene, personal space, punctuality), norms (in the US, hand holding is generally an expression of romantic affection where it may not be in your culture).

    I teach the most advanced level students at our center, so obviously a lot of my suggestions reflect higher-level speakers, but most of these ideas can be altered to work with lower and mid-level students.

    Perhaps if you've got a particular aspect of your curriculum you're struggling to integrate, you could post a summary of it, and maybe get some additional ideas specific to that particular lesson.

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    #4

    Re: Integrating Student Culture into Classroom Tasks and Assessments

    emsr2d2-

    I absolutely agree with you that it is ideal to have students do the majority of the talking in class, since conversation is an excellent and useful way for them to practice their skills. Many of the activities we use in class do have at least some conversational aspect to them, even if it just means discussing answers as a class. But each lesson does not always include a major, lengthy discussion with a broad enough to topic for a variety of answers or conversation.

    Some of the discussion topics or questions we talk about in class do help to give students the opportunity to talk about their individual cultures or beliefs. For example with one lesson we held a discussion about what they would do if they won the lottery, which brought up a number of religious and cultural beliefs I wasn't aware of. We've also discussed the differences in family and familial roles between different cultures.

    I really like your example of 'a day in the life' as a discussion topic. We haven't really touched on this topic in detail or at length, and I think it would be interesting for me and the students to see what each others daily life is like.

    The students I currently work with are all adults, so in some ways it's easier to hold discussions on more relevant and significant topics that they might have experience with or opinions on. I just wonder if there's a way to possibly incorporate even more opportunities for discussions into our lesson plans, and a way to ensure they're beneficial to all.

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