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Schools are the places where the children shape their personalities and behavior. Like a child who shapes his or her personal outlook, even the school will be shaped by diverse cultural practices and values of the society. In essence, schools also reflect the existing norms of the society for which they set up. Interrelated and closely bonded beliefs and values are very common the culture of the schooling.
In this chapter, an attempt was made to relate the basic ideology that underlines the culture in the US with many core values and beliefs. In addition, a link was made to relate the basic ideology as a means of divulging the deeper meaning of culture. Child rearing is a very meaningful approach that one can use to reveal the deeper meaning of the culture. Rearing children in a classroom has a strong link with the underlying culture of diverse ethnic groups.
Several authors in the past have tried to explain what childrearing is, especially in the context of existing cultural practices. Almost all authors believe that childrearing is a mirror of different cultural ideologies along with practices and values of different cultures. Ogbu (Ogbu, 1981) believes that parents prepare their children for the society and the world as they know and experience it. Society can easily influence and shape our schools. The core values and practices of the society are some of the critical factors that shape our schools.
Educators, students and parents may never understand the deeper meaning of culture within the ambience of school learning. Traditional definitions of culture given by noted anthropologists may not be sufficient for designing and executing school learning experiences that are so common in culturally different settings. In this section, we will treat objectifying culture as the basic step in the process of designing and constructing a simple and workable definition of culture. This simple working definition will help us streamline planning school learning experiences among different people.
What is objectifying culture?
A simple depersonalization process that helps us in conducting critical examination of the ideologies that support accepted and acknowledged social behavior and cultural practices. Ideologies and beliefs can reflect different aspects of deep meaning of culture. Schools are the learning centers that also reflect the cultural norms of a larger sized society. Deeper meaning of the culture can also be revealed through inspecting and evaluating ideologies and any interconnected beliefs and values. One can also reveal the deep meaning of culture by including communication among parents, teachers and students, and different social interaction patterns, as well as childrearing methods and practices.
The Culture of Practice in a Struggling School
Every teacher is different. Each one of them has own ideological stance and understanding of culture. In fact, these two viewpoints shape how they see school curriculum, learning process, pedagogy and social context that allow learning in school. In nutshell, the way and manner in which a teacher understands the culture influences in the school, will ultimately influence his or her ability to provide meaningful and productive learning experiences to the students. This chapter will provide two main benefits:
It provides you a solid groundwork to comprehend cultural diversity in a classroom;
It also helps you learn how to teach traditionally underserved students, who come from diverse and experiential backgrounds.
Hollins (Hollins, 2006) reported about an approach, which was identified as a structured dialogue, playing an important tool to assist convert the culture of practice followed in a low performing school. In such schools, teachers also learned how to teach traditionally underserved urban students. The first part of this chapter presents you the study as reported by Hollins. On the other hand, the second section of this chapter deals with the things that teachers learned in their classroom, in the form of a structure that is planned at divulging the deeper meaning of culture within the ambience of a school.
The most critical components of this framework are:
Culturally mediated cognition and
Culturally mediated instruction
The main goal of this dedicated discussion is to bring an awareness of the culture of practice in very low performing urban schools. This expertise will empower you to evaluate your own progress as a dedicated classroom teacher and shun possible scenarios where you will be introduced unconsciously to the prevailing practice of culture.
What is a structured dialogue?
It is an intricate process of learning, where all teachers come together in a study group styled format, to discuss and learn more about their classroom dialogues. In the process of conducting a series of dialogues, teachers can describe the unique successes and special challenges they encounter in their classrooms along with evidences and testimonies from each of the participating teacher. The most significant benefit of a structured dialogue process is the teacher's ability to learn from other on different methods that can help in improving classroom practices and student learning outcomes.
Identifying a Developmental Trajectory
Hollins (Hollins, 2006) also worked on developing a developmental trajectory for modifications in the culture of practices in many of the underperforming urban schools. This trajectory involved three positions and three markers.
The positions were:
A Natal or initial culture identified in many of the underperforming schools just at the initiation of the study.
A transitional position, when old practices and values were replaced or changed with new ones by the participating teachers
A transformed culture, where all participating teachers adapted new and fresh values, practices and perceptions
On the other hand, three important markers suggested for changes in the teacher's culture of practices are:
Teachers' perceived perceptions and opinions about students,
Teachers' perceived perceptions and opinions about instruction and
Interrelationship among different teachers
Learning more about different positions
The natal position is a simple, yet effective approach to structured dialogue. The teachers of a school join as a group, in low performing schools, to hold a deficit viewpoint of their students to focus on a number of issues like:
Lack of skills, knowledge and information among students
A perceived negative view of a student's conditions of living
An attitude that parents show disinterest in their children's education
In fact, every classroom is bound to lead to differences in learning outcomes. These differences could be due to a number of reasons like:
Student's effort and dedication towards studies,
Intelligence, skills and perceived smartness
Family's social status in the society
In a natal position, teachers may or may not visit each other's classroom or they may or may not talk to each other regarding their teaching methods. In fact, classroom instruction delivered by teachers was private and confidential. School authorities ensured that new teacher inductees were formally socialized into this new culture.
Next, will be the transitional position. During this position, teachers may never talk negative about a student. However, it is quite difficult to realize similar outcomes with all the instructional approaches used by the teachers. This issue resulted in a serious discussion about the existing relationship between the teaching approach and the student-learning outcome. Dialogues about individual teaching practices veered towards personal, although individual teachers were careful about assuming responsibility for learning outcome among students. Senior teachers started giving better attention to the induction of new teachers by setting up informal and personal mentoring sessions. These sessions always included provision of guidance and help about teaching methods and approaches. On the other hand, transformational position is the last position that emerges during the third year of the study. The positive aspect of this position was that teachers always talked positive about their students. In fact, positive outcome was the most significant benefit of this position. With the initiation of this position, teachers talked more about:
The information students know and understand
What should they know more about
What instructional methods appeal them the most
Teachers also found time to discuss many other issues like:
The existing relationship among teaching methods and approaches
Attributes of the student community
Learning outcomes and results
Teachers become more responsive by taking full responsibilities for their student's learning outcomes. Teachers also start talking more about their students' strengths, weaknesses and other related issues. In fact, everyone in the pubic knew about what students are doing and how they are performing. Teachers took each other's suggestions seriously, visited other's classrooms and later assumed full responsibility for their own classroom actions. All senior teachers started taking additional responsibilities about the new inductee teachers.
Hollins (Hollins, 2006) presented the concept of developmental trajectory that is closely related to the typology subject discussed in Chapter I. The trajectory and typology discussed here gives you three important positions with relating categories of indicators for conceptualizing teaching methods. When you compare positions and indicators in the typology highlighted erstwhile in the first chapter of the book, with those of Hollins', many similarities may exist between the indicators, across many positions in the typology and the trajectory.
You can observe that the Type I teachers mentioned in the typology are almost similar to the teachers that were mentioned in the natal position, especially in the trajectory on indicators for teachers' viewpoint on students and instruction.
On the other hand, many indicators in the transformational position lying on the developmental trajectory and in the Type III in the domain of typology indicate towards the application of a teacher's knowledge and awareness about:
The intricate relationship between many student attributes and experiences
Instructional and teaching practices adapted by the teacher
Learning outcome as a meaningful support for teaching that is productive and result oriented.
As mentioned elsewhere in the book, a structured dialogue is an efficient tool for assisting the complete transformation of a community of teaching practice and practices of individual teachers. If you are a beginning teacher, who is just starting to interact with your students, you can use this tool to improve your teaching methods and practices. The typology and the trajectory are very beneficial to teachers, old or new, in many different ways.
The term typology is descriptive; it tries to explain the perceptual position, and response of teachers who are hired to teach in K-12 schools.
It is a very convenient tool for analysis, evaluation and introspection for planned personal growth.
On the other hand, developmental trajectory means the transformation of the practice of culture in an underperforming school with that of a learning community that focuses on enhancing student learning outcomes.
Tip: When you recognize different indicators of position in a culture of practice followed in a school, you can easily understand how to interact and converse with colleagues and in what manner you can monitor and evaluate your own individual growth after participating in a community of practice. Both trajectory and typology are very beneficial to teachers in many ways.
However, the typology model presented before in the first chapter, only detected the basic characteristics of teacher's perception and practices along the lines of three positions, and it did not provide a structure for comprehending the existing relationship between different culture and school practices. Hence, the remainder part of this chapter will provide a platform for understanding the existing association between learner's cultural backgrounds, classroom learning mode and learning outcomes.
Cultural Diversity in a Classroom
This course framework will provide you a theoretical perspective for culling knowledge base from other chapters and elucidate the structure to assist application to practice. The main concepts embedded in the framework will give a broader meaning for locating self-identity within the ambits of a culturally diverse society for
Making an inquiry into students cultural and experiential background,
Undoing sensitive elements from purposeful learning for students who from diverse communities and study in elementary and secondary schools
The other objective of this chapter is to make clear the existing relationship between culture, cognition, pedagogical practices and many learning outcomes. The underlying structure for comprehending cultural diversity in a typical classroom consists of two major parts, namely:
Culturally intervened cognition and
Culturally intervened instruction
The former refers to the manner in which a student's brain, memory structures and critical intellectual processes enhance, support and develop within a given cultural context. On the other hand, the latter includes a number of important components like culturally intervened cognition and prized knowledge and skills in school curriculum and culturally correct social scenarios for learning experience (see Table 7.2).
Bransford, Brown, and Cocking (1999) pointed out that, "all learning involves transfer from previous experiences" (p. 56). The monumental work of Piaget and Vygptsky provides a theoretical ground for understanding cultural diversity in a classroom. This theory draws on available information processing to explain different structural components among different cultures, cognition, and pedagogy and learning experience for different cultural backgrounds.
Note that you can find structural components among the participating individuals and groups, who are studying under different school settings. On the other hand, culture is unique and dynamic with constant changes and modifications.
How do you handle a culturally diverse classroom? Explain how you want to teach and train your children, especially in the context of existing cultural practices. Explain how you will develop an ability to provide meaningful and productive learning experiences to the students, who are studying in a culturally struggling school. Differentiate between culturally mediated cognition and culturally mediated instruction. Explain your plan of action to make structural dialogue a success.
Pause and Reflect
As a teacher, why do think that a structured dialogue is an efficient tool for assisting the complete transformation of a community of teaching practice and practices of individual teachers. Provide reasons for your argument. What are the possible bottlenecks and potential problems that are likely to crop up, when you are using structured dialogues? Think of some strategies and plans to use different perceptions.