Monday, November 9, 2009

Cultural Diversity in the Classroom

Recently, I read in Dennis Baron's blog, The Web of Language, about two cases in which a teacher's lack of cultural sensitivity led to some issues with students. In one case, a student from India who was taught in his home country that there are four kinds of nouns--person, place, animal, and thing--got a "C" when he identified a "horse" as a "person" given the American choices of "person," "place," or "thing," in a Nouns Game. In another case, an American student studying in France was scorned when she stated there are "seven" continents, when in France, students are taught there are "five." Read the blog post: The Noun Game. How might we in using technology in the classroom also overlook an individual student's cultural background? Do you agree with the points that Baron makes about cultural differences in the educational setting? Have you had similar experiences?

Images are from Baron's post at the The Noun Game


carrie said...

What an interesting dilemma this student Ganesh faced. Personally, I feel that the teacher was at fault. Education can not always fit into perfect little buckets. It is not black and white like that and in my opinion the teacher should have used this opportunity to ask Ganesh, "Why do you think a horse should be put into the person bucket?" Perhaps he/she could have openned it up to the rest of the class and asked, "Does anyone have a differing opinion from Ganesh's?" I think that if a student can back up his/her stance (not just with nouns but with any concept) that shows he/she understands the material than this shows learning. A short discussion about why "horse" could have fit into either category might have cleared up confusion for other students as well.

I recently had to review nouns in a third grade class while subbing. The categories were, however, person, place, thing or animal. There were many instances where the nouns overlapped categories. For example, "pool" can be a place or a thing. We had to take some time (about 30 seconds) to explain why and when it can fit into either category. Furthermore, isn't it our job as teachers to show our students that we need to be open-minded and be able to see that not all things fit into a "box." Multiculturalism starts with this concept. What do you think?

Caitlin said...

I think that it is extremely important to take a child's cultural background and experience into account in the classroom. To really teach is to know your students and take all of their experience into account when assessing progress. This is why we take into account background knowledge. I agree with Carrie, that instead of just marking the child wrong, she/he should have probed the child further, and took into account the cultural understanding that this child had.

Kylie said...

This reminds me of the "one size fits all" concept. The people that make up our world do not fit into perfect little buckets. I agree with Carrie that the teacher should have asked Ganesh to explain why he put the horse into that particular bucket. Had the teacher done that she/he might have saved themselves some embarrassment. I taught a class of second graders that had 5 ELL students in it. It was then that I realized how much we (Americans) take for granted when it comes to what we know. In my class taking picture walks in books became a lesson on “what are those things called.” It is easy to forget that we don’t all have the same background and background knowledge. But, in my opinion this teacher should not have been so quick to give the student a C. Had he been placing the noun game cards in the appropriate bucket up to that point? Or, was this a one shot deal?

Kate said...

After reading this article, I felt ashamed to be associated in the same profession as Garnesh's teacher. It is imperative that the teacher be understanding, aware, and sensitive to a student's cultural background. When Garnesh placed the horse in the "person's" bucket, it was up to the teacher to then have Garnesh rationalize his choice aloud. After he did this, the teacher would realize what he had been taught in India. He should not be penalized for answering a question incorrectly based on the rules and conventions of the English language. As a teacher it is important to be flexible. After hearing Garnesh's explanation of why he placed the horse card in the "persons" bucket, she should have given him credit for his response. Education is not black and white. There are many gray areas. While it is important to be consistent, it is also just as important to be flexible and sensitive to cultural differences. I personally believe that this teacher was extremely narrow minded and that saddens me. As a teacher, it is important to be open minded and adaptable. A teacher can exhibit these traits and still have credibility. Had Garnesh explained his reasoning, she would have come to realize that he did understand nouns perfectly. Education is constantly changing and teachers need to change with it. Also, the teacher should have embraced Garnesh's choice as a teachable moment. Not only should she have asked Garnesh to explain his reasoning, she also should have asked the class to weigh in. Opening this scenario up for discussion would clear up confusion. Handling the situation using this approach would have been more effective and would have allowed Garnesh to feel validated by his choice. Instead, the teacher just responded, "no" and gave this child a C. How unfair and unjust. I'm sure that Garnesh will never forget what happened to him that day. As teachers, we all need to remember that we have so much power. Everything we say and do has such an impact on children. This is article was a great article to read as a reality check so to speak in making sure we are cognizant of what we do and say in the classroom and the effect it has on our students.

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