Cultural sensitivity in the classroomNowadays it is very common to find multicultural groups and one of the biggest challenges for teachers is to modify or adapt the curriculum to satisfy the students’ needs in relation to culture. Teachers need to properly address cultural sensitivity issues to ensure students’ learning flows without prejudice or discrimination. Instructors can increase their students’ motivation and language skills by understanding the potential problems with cultural sensitivity.
Knowing the customs and traditions of a particular culture is crucial to developing cultural sensitivity and making students feel they are part of a respectful community where they can proudly share their culture and practice their language skills.
Cultural sensitivity must be enhanced instead of ignored. In “Development across the life span”, Robert Feldman lists some interesting aspects about different cultures: Hispanic adolescent girls view their mother's sister as a role model in their life, so getting to know "aunty" as well as the parents would be tantamount to understanding such a student. Asian cultures typically value a collectivist orientation which values family or group needs over individual ones, so the Asian student who may appear shy to the uninformed teacher may be expressing a cultural mind set by not wanting to call attention to himself or otherwise diminish the abilities of classmates (Feldman, p. 376).
Sometimes we could even find classes where all students are from spanish
-speaking countries. For instance, in these cases the cultures of Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Columbia, and Mexico are vastly different, and teachers should not assume that students who share a common native language will share similar cultural backgrounds, beliefs and traditions that should be honored and preserved.
Specific knowledge about students’ background is such a relevant part of english teaching and it will help teachers develop cultural sensitivity, relate to the students more easily, lead to more successful instruction and more fulfilled students willing to embrace both a new language and a new culture, and modify their curriculum.
The right way toward cultural sensitivity awareness is to create a learning environment that recognizes students’ different cultures in a positive way. Decorations such as country maps, flags, and pictures can bring a taste of each nation into the classroom. Students should be encouraged to work with others from different cultures and teachers can arrange group projects to have students share and explore one another’s cultures and heritage.
This can be done in several ways, such as: writing assignments, oral presentations on students’ native countries, organizing school talent shows to showcase culturally unique skills, comparing holidays in different countries during classroom or school-wide celebrations, etc. These cultural sensitivity practices should be to impress upon students the value of other cultures.
Teaching content is one of the most challenging objectives teachers must achieve; framing the content within the students’ culture to make it more relevant. According to Geneva Gay, an excellent way to introduce literature content in the curriculum is keeping the different cultures within the "familiar and friendly framework" (Gay, p. 33). This will more likely hold the students' interest and enhance their self esteem regarding their culture making them better students.
As we can see, cooperative, learner centered instruction works very well in the diverse classroom. Teaching content about the cultures and having students work together in small groups is a culturally responsive technique that will help students speak more freely with their classmates. It can also bring peer tutoring into play so students get more individual attention and are more likely to actively participate in the learning process.
A culturally diverse curriculum is a necessity no matter who the students are. In the future, the world will be smaller, more complex and infinitely more diverse than it is today. Students who respect and know about culture will ultimately develop a better understanding of the cultural differences around them. This will help them to be better members of the society as a whole.
Feldman, Robert S., Development across the life span, 4th ed., Pearson Prentice Hall, 2006
Gay, Geneva, The Importance of Multicultural Education, Educational Leadership, December 2003/January 2004, pp. 30-35
The Knowledge Loom, The Education Alliance at Brown University, www.knowledgeloom.org