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Cultural Sensitivity in the Classroom
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The topic we have decided to address is cultural sensitivity in the classroom. Living in Toronto is extremely different from living anywhere else on this earth. One reason why, is the cultural diversity of Toronto. Even in today’s workforce there is a massive amount of cultural diversity that is why having cultural sensitivity in today’s classrooms should be a huge asset. Canada is a country that is now relying on immigrants coming to our country to help run the economy. It is an extremely good thing that people from different cultures are trained to speak English before they come to Canada or having them take an English learning course once they arrive in the country. By doing this, they are given an equal opportunity in Canada.
Luckily we were born in Toronto where we all communicated using the English language. We found that the students that couldn’t speak English were seen as second class students in an English speaking school. Not only were they set back in the classroom but also among peers as well, due to the lack of communication with other students. These students were mocked on their clothing, accent or if they can’t speak English, their language.
As children we don’t realize how our actions truly do affect others. Just like how Albert Bandura stated that our environment affects ones behavior. If your whole environments in treating you like an outsider how does that affect ones behavior (Boeree, p. 1). Having multicultural diversity in classroom eliminates the ‘outsiders’ label and gives everybody and equal chance to be educated. Even before immigrant students start entering in to the schools, they should be enrolled in a classroom where they are taught English. This way these students can enter the classroom on a more equal playing field with the rest of the students instead of being labeled as an outside due the lack of communication. Also if they are educated on the English language they also do not worry about being teased or put aside because of their language.
Having a multicultural diverse classroom would be a great way for students to educate themselves about other cultures and different types of people which would get them ready for the real world. Another benefit to this is that once a person is taught how to speak English, that student is now bilingual or maybe even trilingual. Not many educators see this, but it is a huge benefit in the class room. If a student can communicate with the rest of the students and even teach them the language that they primarily speak it makes for a much more inviting classroom.
Marite Haynes stated that the literature also has to change to help introduce multiculturalism to the class room (Haynes p.1). I agree with his statement because I clearly remembered that all children’s literature involved only English words. Teachers teaching TESOL course should use more books that can educate others about the diversity of languages and cultures. These books can also make non English readers more comfortable having words that they recognized mixed in with the language they are learning.
The literature must change to help stop children’s minds becoming ignorant and one sided. Having a lack of culture diversity will tend to leave students following stereotypes that the media portrays about different cultures. Mainstream books not only effects culture but provides children with a since of what is normal and what isn’t normal. By teaching cultural diversity it shows children to be open minded to those who dress, act or speak differently from themselves.
Donovan Fernandes & Julie Rivett
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‘Culture is the whole complex of distinctive spiritual, material, intellectual and emotional features that characterizes a society or a group. It includes creative expressions, community practices and material or built forms.’ The UN World Commission on Culture and Development Report (1)
A teacher must be aware of different cultures and be sensitive to them. This is essential if a teacher wishes to be effective, create a bond and a mutual respect for his/her students and for them to learn to the best of their abilities. A lack of Cultural sensitivity can create divisions in a classroom between the students and between the teacher and students.
A study in Milwaukee (USA) examined 12 instructors. The study involved interviewing teachers with questions about their preparations for teaching in a diverse setting and about their curriculum goals. The study showed that the teachers had 'extensive preparation in handling a diverse classroom' but 'they still suffered from a cultural shock.' The study also showed however, that 'After being immersed into the classroom, these teachers learned many new necessary traits for being culturally sensitive. They learned to respect bilingual students, introduce diverse literature, and acknowledge background knowledge and experiences (Cross, 2003).' (3)
This study shows that no matter how prepared a teacher feels, cultural sensitivity is always a challenge. The teaching experience in itself helped the teachers to overcome the cultural barriers. This could be due to the teachers understanding the characters of the students, their interests, lives and forming a bond.
Ways to avoid cultural insensitivity in the classroom:
'Cultural knowledge, even cultural sensitivity, cannot be translated smoothly into course design and teaching style when that knowledge and sensitivity is still a matter of abstractions.' (5)
1. A teacher should create a welcoming classroom atmosphere by 'using cooperative groups and projecting genuiness.'(4) The teacher should familiarise his/herself with the students and focus upon the unique nature of each person. It is important to ask the student what he/she needs.
2. It is important to 'Incorporate different cultures into teaching content.' (4)
3. A teacher should 'Recognize that cultural differences are often adaptions.’ (5) A different way of doing things is not there to impede teaching.
4. It is important for a teacher to 'Make expectations as clear as possible right from the beginning and give students a chance to comment on them.' (5)
5. A teacher should make it clear that questions and comments are welcome in the classroom and the students should feel free and comfortable to speak in class. They should be told how they can be good students. The students should not be punished for not being responsive or for working in a way that the teacher is not used to.
6. Sometimes compromise is necessary. It is important to be '...prepared to negotiate modes of participation so students can find ways of completing the assignments that are comfortable for them and which meet the standards of the course.' (5)
7. it is vitally important to give '...clear, early and supportive feedback so that students have maximum opportunity to adapt themselves to the course as much as they can...'(5) this helps the student to understand where they need to improve and what their current level of language is. Also positive feedback is a great way to provide encouragement and motivation to the students.
8. Students from different countries will often work in different ways so a teacher should 'Distinguish between quality of work and mode of expression' so that the grading 'depends only on the quality of the work presented, and not on the individual's way of presenting that work.' (5)
A teacher must understand the fact that '...people are different, and that profound differences between people often arise from the long-standing cultural traditions within which those people have been raised.' (5) These differences must be respected and the teacher must understand each individual and try to form a bond with them.
Denise Gates explains how a teacher can be culturally sensitive, it is important for a teacher 'to establish a climate in which all students feel comfortable, starting by identifying their own teaching styles and the biases they bring to the classroom. Acknowledging the difficulty of conducting class in a culturally inclusive manner…it will serve to enhance their teaching skills and foster an environment conducive to learning.’ (2)
Word Count: 700 words exactly (not including source references, numbering in text and the title).
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Teaching English as a foreign language can be a very new experience for both teacher and student. In almost all cases the students and teacher have different cultural backgrounds which can either lead to tension or an excitingly diverse classroom environment. It is essential to be aware of the necessity of cultural sensitivity in the classroom to lead to the most productive learning experience.
For teachers in a diverse setting it is essential he or she have an empathetic disposition (433 McAllister and Irvine). To be empathetic culturally is to look at any situation from the perspective of a different culture (433 McAllister and Irvine). “Teachers described various attributes that defined empathetic behavior, such as sensitivity, patience, respect, tolerance, acceptance, understanding, flexibility, openness, and humility... (439 McAllister and Irvine).This empathetic feeling can hopefully lad to a more open, attentive, and positive classroom. These students with considerate teachers tend to be more motivated and perform better than others (434 McAllister and Irvine). It is important as a teacher said, “I should try to put myself in their place and wonder how I would really feel (437 McAllister and Irvine).”
One would have to imagine the realities of the difficulty of learning and new language; especially one as complex as difficult as English. The task at hand is complicated enough and making a student feel comfortable in their classroom environment will undoubtedly help the learning process. A student that is intimidated or uncomfortable may not be as wanting or willing to participate in the activities at hand and their learning may therefore be slowed. It is necessary therefore to be understanding of a students’ cultural expectations and needs in order make the learning environment as productive as possible.
Becoming empathetic to cultural realities can be more easily achieved by creating an immersion experience. In one study teachers visited families in their homes (438 McAllister and Irvine). Understanding lifestyle and customs is necessary for a teacher to understand how students will behave in a classroom. Students from different cultures do not share the same expectations for the classroom environment (200 McCargar) which is why it is so necessary to become accustomed to the new culture in which one is teaching. In the case of a multicultural classroom, background research would be prudent in understanding the different cultures that as a teacher one would be exposed to.
“…that the intercultural role of a teacher is one of being aware of, and sensitive to, the cultural background of his or her pupils, which forms and important underpinning to successful schooling. The teacher should be perspicacious and culturally sensitive, and she should try to put this cultural sensitivity into action, making use of the “cross-cultural interfaces” that exist in culturally diverse classrooms… (3 Thanasoulas)”
Through understanding the culture in which one teaches a better learning environment can be created for students. As all cultures have different expectations for teacher-student relationships this perceptiveness is key to a well functioning classroom. It is also a good establishment of rapport with the students if they find the teacher to be aware of their needs and understanding of their different and yet interesting cultural background. With active attention paid to cultural sensitivity the classroom can become an even greater learning environment.
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Cultural sensitivity is a process of becoming culturally competent. Cultural competency can be achieved by focusing on attitudes, skills and knowledge Dr. Campina-Bacote expands on this concept with a model of cultural competency that identifies the process as “ becomingculturally competent, rather than being culturally competent” (Many Faces On-Line, 2003) Along with skills, knowledge and attitudes or awareness he identifies seeking cultural encounters as a step to develop cultural competence (Many Faces On-Line, 2003).
Cultural competence in the classroom enriches practice in teaching and learning English. Understanding the theory of culture can identify barriers to success in the teaching environment.
The theory of culture identifies Values, Worldview, Time-Orientation, and Social Structure as defining characteristics of cultural diversity. Age, gender, race, language, religion and socio-economics define culture also. Values are anything of importance to an individual or a culture. Values drive behaviors. A person’s worldview consists of
his or her own assumptions about the nature of reality. Most people believe their worldview without question. This leads to ethnocentrism. Ethnocentrism is the belief that one’s own way is right and natural and other ways are inferior, unnatural, uncivilized, etc. Cultural relativism looks at behavior and beliefs in their own cultural context. Cultural relativism accepts that other ways may be different but equally valued.
Time orientation notes that some cultures have emphasis on past, present and future. Past focus is a traditional culture focusing on how things have always been done. Present time orientation looks to today and may make plans or provisions for the future. Future time orientation plans for the future and has faith and trust in technological innovations. In terms of power, authority and opportunity a social structure may be egalitarian or hierarchical. In an egalitarian society such as the United States or Europe all people are equal in theory if not in practice. Social status in hierarchical societies is based on characteristics such as age, sex, lineage, or occupation.
Understanding the culture of the students in the classroom is important to facilitate learning language skills and prevent barriers to
the student-teacher interaction. The teacher should understand their own culture and how diversity works in the classroom. Samovar and Porter (2004) suggested “that in order to become a better intercultural communicator, an individual should stay open-minded, if uncertain ask questions, avoid stereotyping, avoid power and power games, give others the benefit of doubt, don’t judge, be open and flexible and keep a smile on his/her face.” (On-Line, 2007 SW_JOURNAL)
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Teaching is the highest form of understanding. (Aristotle)
A culture is a grouping within which values, norms, beliefs, patterns of behavior, rituals, customs and traditions are shared. To best serve their students, teachers at any level need to be especially sensitive to differences between their own culture and that of their students. This may begin with a careful look at their own worldview. Unintentional biases should never be promoted and are very easily overlooked, especially by the western mind. Changing family composition, socio-economic status, ethnicity, and religion are all areas teachers need to pay special attention to.
There is often an inclination among Americans, especially those who have not lived outside their own culture, to be overly ethnocentric. It is a social blindness, most often a product of being raised in a society that is homogenized by mass communication. Most importantly, such a lack of awareness can have a detrimental impact on the classroom environment, leading to lack of mutual respect, understanding and general acceptance. On a personal level, it is likely that a teacher would inadvertently offend students and fellow faculty of another culture and religion without some basic appreciation of the essential nature of that culture.
If an instructor or teacher neglects to be sensitive to important aspects of his or her students lives and culture it would be very difficult to effectively teach that group of people and to earn the respect of whatever group he or she intends to teach. In Thailand, the predominant religion is Buddhism. Among the most revered figures of this institution are the monks. Certain rules are important to follow so as not to cause conflict. For example, a woman may not sit next to a monk in a temple. Though difficult to wrap the western mind around some of the sensitivities associated with religion, they are nonnegotiable and deserving of appreciation.
Likewise the monarchy in Thailand is inarguably an incredibly sensitive subject. The present King has devoted his entire life to the well being of his subjects. Therefore, (amongst other reasons) the royal family has a special place in the hearts of all Thai people. It would be easy to generate dialogue concerning the royal family which would be taken as ignorant and hurtful. To be unaware of these facts could not only offend colleagues and students, but also is a potential cause of serious legal trouble.
Western culture vs. Thai Culture is an example which can form a paradigm through which all comparable situations may be viewed. In the end, it is essential to respect and be aware of cultural differences such as these in order to receive the same respect in return and be taken seriously as a teacher. To teach well the teacher must achieve this higher form of understanding.
Sarah D. Balkany