In a forum I have been participating in this week, a point came up that peaked my interest. The topic is building positive learning environments, and one of my discussion mates stated that to build a positive learning environment, classrooms should be inclusive. I thought about this and have taken it a step further.
In language teaching, creating a positive, inclusive and culturally aware environment is critical for building an atmosphere that is conducive to learning. To do this effectively, classroom behaviours and expectations need to be set clearly on the first day of class.
An article on Tomorrow’s Professor mentioned an important point supporting the construction of positive learning environments through inclusion and cultural competence, which is: Do not talk down to students. Teachers can do this by:
- Avoiding judging behaviors, which cause students to feel inadequate.
- Avoiding stereotyping. Do not target examples and questions towards certain groups in your class
Increasing cultural competence in the classroom will impact group dynamics, help tailor feedback to the individual, and strengthen teacher-student and student-student rapport. Thus, creating a positive learning environment and building inclusive classrooms. This link provides a variety of strategies teachers can use to create more inclusive classes.
The article Cultural Competence: A Primer for Educators, The Diversity Toolkit suggests a few strategies that can be applies to an institution as a whole. Of these strategies, two of them stand out in terms of cultural competence and inclusion, which are:
- Valuing Diversity. Accepting and respecting differences—different cultural backgrounds and customs, different ways of communicating, and different traditions and values.
- Institutionalizing Cultural Knowledge and Adapting to Diversity. Culturally competent educators, and the institutions they work in, can take a step further by institutionalizing cultural knowledge so they can adapt to diversity and better serve diverse populations.
In my own classroom, I tried to include a cultural element to various assessments taking place. For example, if we were staging a debate on animal rights, the students would receive a list of the different perspectives they had to use when supporting their arguments. The perspectives would be historical, political, religious, etc. They would then relate these to their own culture and beliefs. Other strategies I use are interviews, conversations and timed writing tasks designed to build self-awareness and appreciate the multi-cultural setting of our classroom through reflection.
The school I currently work for has organized professional development workshops focusing on language issues specific to each country, and as a result, teachers are more confident in providing individualized feedback. A series of workshops is also being created on the idea of cultural competence and how it can be used in the classroom.
Diversity Toolkit: Cultural Competence for Educators. National Education Association. (2012-2105). http://www.nea.org/tools/30402.htm
Rick Reis. Tips on Sustaining a Positive Learning Environment. Tomorrow’s Professor: Stanford Center for Teaching and Learning. http://cgi.stanford.edu/~dept-ctl/tomprof/posting.php?ID=368