A Study on Learning about the Interdisciplinary Curriculum

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The discussion in the previous sections highlighted how important it is to balance the domains of curriculum and in what way related strands act to influence humans. You can balance the curriculum through an inter-disciplinary approach. To carry out this task, you must rely on your present knowledge of specific subject topics.

Today's structure of the school curriculum relies heavily on a number of specific disciplines. Each of these disciplines consists of many principles, theories, legal viewpoints, concepts and procedures for inquiry. These principles decide how one can synthesize, derive, validate, agree or disagree on different strands of knowledge. For example, if you think about the history of the country, you will see that there is a heavy emphasis on conflicts, changes, transformations, and a sense of scarcity.

Most of these themes and topics are in the descriptive domain. However, you can even express them in an expressive domain in the form of music and literature. You can represent each one of them in three strands of the curriculum. It is also possible to organize and streamline the existing curriculum into two domains and three strands. For you to integrate the curriculum across different disciplines, you may need to work with people, who possess comprehensive knowledge about other disciplines.

Validation of school curriculum

The first chapter of this book stated that a valid and relevant curriculum contains both cultural knowledge and knowledge about culture. Consistency with which both types of knowledge are integrated will decide acceptability and reliability of the school curriculum. With a good curriculum, you can expect the outcome you always wanted. You can evaluate the outcome in the form of students' classroom performance. You can validate a school curriculum by finding out the extent to which it meets the pre-established criteria.

Methods to Redesign the Curriculum for Culturally Diverse Students

This chapter will expand on previous chapters to find out learning experiences for many underserved populations. These experiences will be more meaningful and far more productive than those observed in traditional and conventional classrooms will. The possible reasons for an increasing rate of academic failures could be due to a number of reasons like an absence of equally accessible, thoughtful, meaningful and productive curriculum for all ethnic groups. High disparities in school practices are visible in such issues like very high school dropout rates, inferior performances in standardized tests and discrepancies in cumulative grades.

For example,

According to the National Center for Educational Statistics (Mini- Digest of Educational Statistics, 1994), the percent of high school dropouts among persons of 16 to 24 years of age include 27.5 percent Hispanic origin, 13.6 percent Black ( non- Hispanic), and 7.9 percent White ( non- Hispanic). The same agency from its 1995 report quotes that Black, Hispanics, and American Indian students showed lower average achievement test scores in science and mathematics than White and Asian students. This indicates that there is a perceived divergence within various ethnic groups on all accounts of school performance.

School managements across different schools have introduced many changes in their school practices for identified student populations. This chapter examines and evaluates the current relationships among reasoning for group variations in classroom performance, the reasons provided for the performance and measures recommended. This chapter also evaluates some essential practices in creating a meaningful and result oriented learning experiences for students, who come from a number of cultural and ethnical backgrounds, especially those who are underserved.

The reasons for school failures

Four different categories of reasons explain and deliberate differences found in academic and intellectual performance of students from various ethnical groups. They are:

1) Genetic inferiority

2) Cultural deficit

3) Mismatch in culture

4) Contextual interaction

Genetic inferiority

Biological determinism or genetic inferiority are two of the most important factors that can affect the classroom performance of children. Many people support the theory that some races are naturally inferior to others (Jensen and Johnson, 1994; Lichten, 2004; Lynn, 1999; Rushton and Rushton, 2003). These researchers believe that there is an inherent relationship between size of the brain and intelligence. They also believe that intelligence of a person is determined biologically and you cannot be alter or change it by schooling. In many schools, teachers and the management choose the most logical choice, that is to provide the best possible academic help to most capable students, usually from the white origin, while neglecting those are less capable, the majority of whom are from ethnic groups of different kinds.

Cultural deficit

A deficit in cultural values is another possible reason for school failure among students. Some people believe that values and cultural practices learnt at children's home are deficient. In other words, they also believe that the deficiencies observed may be inherent in the culture itself. It could even be a valid response to the prejudices and racism observed in the society.

A supporter of this theory has been Dr. Ruby Payne, who believes that people from middle class background have "hidden rules" or "mental models" those are not available to the poor. Payne (Payne, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2005) also argues that children who live in poverty are tagged by values, behavior, and leaning towards life and work that is sometimes dysfunctional. Her beliefs also include such theories as poor children's inability to learn how to work, lack of self-confidence and a tendency to live with conflicts, disorders and violence. However, this author's hypotheses border on stereotypical beliefs of people who are colored.

Finally, the author also believes that it is almost impossible that poor children will reach success levels both in school and in life, without seeking the support of mentors and sponsors. These sponsors and mentors may need to help poor children wriggle out of poverty by providing an access to possess "hidden rules" of the middle class people. Slavery and racism of two or three century's timeframe may have resulted in experts singling out African Americans as culturally deficient. Two other factors attributable for cultural deficiency are family relationships and language usage.

Several other authors like Frazier (Frazier, 1932, 1937), Liebow (Liebow, 1966), Rainwater (Rainwater, 1965), and Bernard (Bernard, 1966) also believe that African American families are highly dysfunctional, when compared to culturally capable Euro-Americans. These authors also believe that Africa American have joined the mainstream culture of the country by surrendering their original cultural values. Dysfunctional theorists also believe that children from dysfunctional families do not possess the help, assistance and mentoring, needed to become intellectually capable people. In nutshell, such theories tend to create a false impression that African American culture is inferior and ill equipped to handle modern day challenges.

The supporters of cultural deficit theory also believe that language that the African American speaks is also deficient as their family structure. The research conducted by British sociolinguist Bernstein (Berstein, 1961), states that members from lower social class in England, use a very restricted language code that impedes complex and abstract type of thinking. On the other hand, members from upper class, always use an "elaborate" type of code that helps them develop complex and abstract thinking. Another research conducted by Bereiter and Engelmann ( ) found some resemblances between the British lower class and African American children of the US. These authors suggest that the perceived deficit can be nullified by teaching Standard English to African American students.

The 1996 decision by the Oakland Unified School District in California resulted in a bitter controversy that created a misunderstanding about the usage of African American language in school. This misunderstanding arose because of the order that stated that children's home language should be used for teaching Standard or academic English to facilitate classroom learning. To "improve or enhance" the home-life conditions of the children and to give more structured learning to intercede the "deficiencies" are the two common approaches suggested by cultural deficiency theorists.

In an opinion that borders on camouflage, the proponents actually meant disseminating Euro-American way of raising children. The hidden program is to change the mindset of children altogether to fit them to the existing school program instead of changing it so that better linkages are established between the home culture and existing school practices. Prominent examples for this practice are the Head Start, Project Follow Through, and Title I. These skewed programs were the legacy left behind by President Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty.

Kagan (Kagan., 2002) opined that that the objective of policy that supports the Head Start program is to "make poor and minority women better mothers or somehow compensate for their poor parenting" (p. 526). This policy is still governing all compensatory educational programs, while the basic intentions are yet to change. The original idea of this program was to teach children from three to five years of age. On the other hand, Project Follow Through came into existence to continue the objectives of the Head Start for older children. Similarly, Title I looks forward to provide remediation and assistance to culturally deprived children and low-income students, who display poorer academic performance, especially in math and reading.

Mismatch in culture

Cultural congruence is one of the important perspectives on differences in academic performance among culturally different students. The supporters of this theory believe that poor academic performance among students with different cultural background is possibly due to the Euro-American schooling practices followed in a majority of schools. This practice leads to a situation, where Euro-American students tend to perform well in schools. Right now, all schooling practices need children from all minority groups to learn different perceptions those are other than their own. This situation will become true, when there is an enhanced degree of acculturation experienced outside of school.

The recommendations suggested by the proponents of this perspective to help improve the academic and classroom performance are as follows:

1) Streamline the knowledge and skills that children bring to schools

2) Creating beneficial connections between school learning and cultural knowledge, or knowledge picked outside the school

3) Synthesize a new and hybrid culture that gels with values and practices that children bring to their schools.

4) Create a student community, who believes that collaboration and teamwork are the two basic norms and not competition.

5) Help create a fine balance between the rights enjoyed by students and teachers.

Contextual interaction

Cortes (Cortes, 1986) suggests contextual interaction as another important perspective. People who support this perspective believe that classroom performance and achievement is a function between dynamic interactions between societal and school contexts and between other factors like:

1) Educational input factors (theories, assumptions, hypotheses, and school policies and staff characters),

2) Instructional elements (curriculum design and pattern, instructional techniques and resources available) and

3) Qualities of students (academic skills, language efficiency, self-esteem, goals and motivation)

Note: People, who support this perspective, never propose a specific intervention. However, they suggest a fine combination of different actions to enforce an effect. In some cases, the management may need to reform the entire school process along with many issues of home and the community.

Productive and result oriented learning in elementary schools

The past research conducted on various approaches toward learning in school especially for different ethnic groups and those who are underserved, reveals three main practices:

1) Enable students find out ways to learn on their own.

2) Provide opportunities for a meaningful parent-community involvement in making decisions and

3) Streamline learning with cultural values and practices

Enable students find out ways to learn on their own

Acquiring literacy and learning skills may become a permanent illusion for a number of ethnic minority students, who have the habit of speaking a non-standard type of English or for those who speak English as a foreign language.

Here is a classical case study that uses an approach to start literacy program that was so successful in some cases. This case study included 15 elementary school teachers who taught in a small school. This school consisted of about 96% African American students. Thirteen out of the selected fifteen teachers consented that they will use the new approach with at least one child. Permission was also given to them involve more than one student, if they wanted to. The guidelines given to these teachers were very simple and straightforward. Some of them were as follows:

Choose a passage and assign it to a child in the class for further reading aloud to a smaller group of children or the entire class. They could also assign individual passages from a story to be recited aloud in a smaller group. If wanted, each student could even read an independently chosen passage like a poem. With the ensuing discussion made on the assigned passage or poetry, children who speak non Standard English or those who speak it as a second language, successfully started acquiring skills of understanding English syntax.

Teachers gave enough time for each student to prepare for reading the assigned passage. Children would read their passage only when they felt that they are ready to read it. Teachers never forced students never forced read the passages in a hurry nor were the students forced to use a particular approach while reading the passage. To prepare for reading the passages, students used their classrooms or homes. Students could also take the assignment at the end of the day. Students could also use their class preparation time to work as a team for giving or soliciting help from each other.

The methods used by teachers were very simple. All teachers gathered in grade level groups to discuss about the new approach and methodologies. Teachers had the full liberty to use three separate, yet fresh approaches and methods. In the end, they were free to choose a particular approach that suited their personal experiences and perceptions; in fact, they were also free to use a method that was most likely to be more effective.

Four out of the thirteen teachers chose an approach that assigned the same poem to all students. Most of the children displayed little seriousness for the exercise; some lost papers, while many others gave a number of reasons why they could not find time for the assignment. In each of the four selected classrooms, just one or two students, who lacked good reading skills, took the given assignment very seriously. In fact, they were able to read the assigned passages very well after some time. Approaches used by different teachers were different as well. Yet, all of them reported higher rates of success.

Two teachers out of the total thirteen gave unrelated passages to individual students. They developed a strategy, where they listened to the children on an individual capacity. With the time, children could show significant progress in their reading pattern. Children who participated also reported that they understood the expression and its relationship vis-à-vis reading quotations. Seven teachers who participated in the exercise gave each child an individual passage from a storybook. Students chose to read the passage aloud to small group of students. Children also prepared for the recitation exercise during the weekend. Teachers allowed them some time to prepare for recitation in the classroom and get into the mood for the exercise. The students who recited in such classrooms showed tremendous inclination to show better results.

Children who participated in the exercise could read the passages very smoothly. They could even respond correctly to teacher's tricky questions at the conclusion of the exercise. One, fifth grade instructor, was so amazed that he had reluctantly given the reading assignment on the last day of the week, not trusting that it would make any difference in the child's future performance! The teacher was really surprised to see that all but one student recited the passage in a fluent manner. The student who performed well in the assignment had limited English knowledge and was in the initial stages of second language acquisition. The teacher who handled this intelligent student, decided to work with him by using the method of repetitive learning by reading. Repeating the assignment for several times, this student could achieve excellence by reading the passage very fluently.

In essence, all the seven teachers, who handled the assignment of reading the passages from a story, reported a dramatic improvement in their reading skills and diction. They could even read any unfamiliar passages just with a few minutes of preparation. The reasons attributed to this remarkable turnaround were that they were successful in developing a very high level of confidence. Not only did they achieve excellence in reading skills, they also helped other students in acquiring confidence like their own. In fact, they were so engrossed in reading out passages that it became very difficult for teachers to ask them to do other classroom work.

Now to recap the above mentioned case study, one can easily say that sustained and focused effort by a dedicated teacher can bring up a student in a way that makes them culturally strong and academically intelligent. Now, the key issues of this method for enhancing the reading skills are as follows:

1) Allowing students to practice during private time

2) Allowing them to pick their own method of learning

3) Allowing them to take assignments, when they feel confident and competent

In a hypothesis called "the balance of rights", Au and Mason (1981) recommended that the teacher would decide what students would learn, while the students may choose the correct approach to learning. One good advantage of this hypothesis is that students will benefit and gain by using methods from their experiential background that are unknown and unavailable to the teacher. When you allow your children to perform in their own initiative, they will utilize the available advantages of cultural practices of African American people, who take pride in their ability give public performances. When you integrate this aspect of African American culture into reading experiences, your students will feel proud, start achieving academic competence, and get peer approval.

Stop and Think

Why academic failures are so common in our schools?

Is it possible to redesign the curriculum for culturally diverse students?

What is your opinion on the case study conducted on African American students?

Assess how and why teachers report a dramatic improvement in their reading skills and diction?

Provide opportunities for a meaningful parent-community involvement in making decisions

Torres-Guzman et.al (1994) shed more light on an ethnographic study in a Latino community, which possessed a big fund of knowledge within the domain of their individual houses. These funds of knowledge related to an efficient network that enhanced the resources available to all community members in realizing or satisfying their daily requirements.

For example, some households may have very good knowledge about the art of carpentry, while others may have great skills in masonry and building. Using these diversified skills and efficient network, the community members may share their expertise in building their homes. The most beneficial aspect of this network of knowledge is that it is very easy to use for academic learning in schools.

Within a school, one teacher could design and develop an efficient language-arts module that used community funds of knowledge as pure academic content. To make this experiment a big success, the concerned teacher invited parents, relatives and other community members to share their expertise and skills. These people described in detail how they do the work and how they use their tools and skills. At the end, all students took notes, compared them, asked questions and later shared their knowledge with other students. Though most of the community members were uneducated, that did not deter them from presenting their knowledge in a useful way.

At first, all students were hesitant and reluctant, because they never saw their parents and neighbors as their resource persons in the classroom. However, as time passed, they became highly motivated and enthusiastic to participate in the classroom deliberations. The outcome was truly amazing considering the fact that the resources used for the discourse was local, resourceful and practical. The outcomes experienced by classroom as a whole and students in particular were as follows:

1) Learning experiences were highly conceptualized

2) Acquiring literacy was efficient, because students worked with their own parents and neighbors

3) Parents and community members shared their life experiences in a practical manner

4) The teaching style was familiar, practical and ordinary and this style of teaching touched students' heart and soul

5) The content used was the part of students' lives.

Streamline learning with cultural values and practices

Native African students were non-responsive, when they studied lessons in a traditional classroom, which was set up around a teacher-student-response-evaluation process. In almost all cases, the situation demanded that students answer directly from the textbooks. This type of teaching practice exhibits the total absence of useful linkages between conventional school teaching methods and the values and traditional practices of Native American culture. However, the inquiry-based curriculum allows the students to find out, investigate, observe and evaluate any personal experiences and events from the past and present.

In a classic case study conducted by McCarty and others (1991), a teacher at the Rough Rock Demonstration, used a classroom demonstration in which he showed a group colorful posters that highlighted local community scenes and other events. The teacher asked his students to identify and find out the things or materials that they needed for their daily use. Students were very enthusiastic in identifying or detecting things and materials that they encountered in their daily lives. Later, teachers asked students to create small groups, work together, sort out the items into two main groups, and later find out their types and kinds.

This exercise ended in an engrossing debate that eventually resulted in segregating items into "wants" and "needs". Through this process, students could form an important concept on the basis for generalization about how community members teamed together to solve community problems. In this case study, the researchers believed that "the answer' requires a more complex analysis of the relationship between pedagogy, learner characteristics, and classroom interaction than is afforded by conventional categorizations of learning styles' according to analytic versus holistic, or verbal versus nonverbal performances" ( p. 50).

Available research data suggests that an inquiry- based curriculum may connect and relate with Native American students in many significant ways:

1) The content will always reflect, evaluate, validate and extend what students learn and value from socialization within their culture.

2) The learning experiences that student undergo will be on par with manner in which the students have been socialized to learn outside the school. The author suggests that

children can easily build highly sophisticated and meaningful understanding increment by increment, by ordering and extending their own observations (p.51). This will include a process called "an interactive learning process".

3) Lastly, this method is very consistent with Navajo type of cultural philosophy on learning, basic to which is the suggestion that "knowledge is meant to be used, learners cannot approach higher levels without the supportive knowledge and understanding that enable application of higher knowledge" (p. 51). The authors also say that an essential topic of this philosophy is "individual action and responsibility in learning" (p. 51). Thus, the teacher instructs in a way that empowers students to pursue learning.

However, there might be visible clusters of overlapping or conflicting values and practices among different groups. It becomes imperative for a teacher to recognize all these values and practices within the confines of multicultural school settings because it will make planning of teaching more manageable and flexible. Chapter 7 gives you a complete discussion of the intricate relationship between culture and school learning.

Journal Activity

Study the methods and procedures that allow your students to learn on their own. Using cultural practices of different groups can help streamline school curriculum. As a teacher, how do you create a thoughtful curriculum that helps your students in a significant manner? How do you provide an equally accessible, thoughtful, meaningful and productive curriculum for all ethnic groups? Do you agree with cultural deficit theory? If you do not, give reasons why.

Pause and Reflect

According to many experts, cultural congruency is one of the possible reasons for school performance failures. Do you agree with this observation? As a promising American teacher, what is your opinion on "inquiry based" school curriculum? You can enhance learning experiences in your classroom by including an all-inclusive curriculum that takes into consideration cultural specialties of each group. Create teaching methods that help your children learn on their own initiative.