Culture and the Classroom

March 7, 2012


Culture can be defined as all of the background and experiences from one’s life (including family, religion, traditions, etc.) that shape an individual. Culture is a very important aspect of classroom learning. Each student brings a set of unique cultural experiences into the classroom. Each teacher does the same. As a group of students and teachers with such wide variety of cultural backgrounds and experiences interact in the classroom setting, it’s possible to have some very serious miscommunications. For instance, when a student is hesitant to offer an answer in the classroom a teacher may interpret this hesitancy as a lack ofunderstanding, knowledge, or interest. However, it’s possible that in the cultural tradition of the student, offering an answer to an adult is not something that a child would do without expressly being called on. Or perhaps, volunteering an answer may be seen as simply showing off. Being aware of some specifics of each student’s cultural background and experiences will allow a teacher to be better able to communicate with her or his students. Students can feel vulnerable, fearful, and overwhelmed when they are interacting with people who do not really know who they are. Taking the extra time and care to get to know about a student’s culture can ease some of this vulnerability and fear.

Culture applies to classroom interactions and student learning in countless ways. I’ll mention a few:

  1. Embracing cultural differences: Having a variety of cultures in the classroom allows us to create an environment that embraces cultural differences. I recently watched a video in which a teacher was explaining to his class the definitions of immigration and emigration. One of a beautiful and memorable ways that he did this was by asking Ali, one of his students, about his experience from Pakistan to the US. By doing this he showing both Ali and the rest of the class that there is a value in bringing unique experiences to the classroom.
  2. The value of varying participation structures: Many ethnic minority cultures place a strong emphasis on cooperation. This makes a small group model of participation a good fit as it may create an environment in which this cooperation can thrive.
  3. Importance of meta-communication: A teacher should briefly introduce a new lesson, question and answer session, or group activity with an explanation of the goals and the participation guidelines. This may make students with various cultural rules feel safe participating in the activity, as they understand it better.
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About Mr. Zerwas

Passionate about Family, Health, Fitness, Nutrition and Multimedia - Teaching Video and Broadcasting and Del Oro High School in Loomis, CA

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