Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Culture Matters: ESL in the Classroom - A New Article I wrote concerning the challenges and opportunities when teaching an English Language Learning Student

Culture Matters: Developing an Appreciation for the ELL’s Cultural Background and Its Potential Impact on Your Classroom By Dr. Peter Zsebik Public education, the century old bastion of social preparation, is facing many challenges from today’s sociopolitical environment. With unprecedented changes occurring in our society ranging from technological advancement to global economic upheaval, and from the existing ubiquitous immigration patterns to the far-reaching influences of the media, we find that the current social dynamic of our society has left many in the teaching profession questioning how to best get the job of educating accomplished for today’s social environment. In this paper we will focus on the impact of immigration on public education. To this end, one could suggest that Arjun Appadurai’s attempt to outline the narratives within society as ‘Global Cultural flows’ (1993, Featherstone) has been one of the most succinct in academic literature in defining the social forces impacting public education. Appadurai suggests that: “...there are five dimensions of Global Cultural flows which move in non-isomorphic paths. Firstly, there are ethnoscapes produced by flows of people: tourists, immigrants, refugees, exiles and guest workers. Secondly, there are technoscapes, the machinery and plant flows produced by multi-national and national corporations and government agencies. Thirdly, there are finanscapes, produced by the rapid flows of money in the currency markets and stock exchanges. Fourthly, there are mediascapes, the repertoires of images and information, the flows which are produced and distributed by newspapers, magazines, television and film. Fifthly, there are ideoscapes, linked to flows of images which are associated with state or counter-state movement ideologies which are comprised of elements of the Western Enlightenment world-view - images of democracy, freedom, welfare, rights, etc.” Interestingly, Appadurai’s views suggest a one way flow, from western to non-western cultures.This may indeed be the case as western countries generally hold the power and wealth necessary to induce movement within these flows. Nevertheless, there is no reason to suppose that these flows are exclusively unidirectional, and in fact our 21st century global economy appears to negate this unidirectional concept, with various agencies in the economy attempting to manipulate and control these ‘cultural flows’ to varying degrees (Appadurai, 1993), which in turn has a direct influence on our contemporary educational environment (Zsebik, 2003, 2010¬). To take this one step further, we can now argue that holding any paternalistic notions of teaching English to non-native speakersmay require a cultural shift in pedagogical understanding to better reflect the current socio-economic realities of our global environment. To ignore these social changes and carry on within an historically referenced notion of public education will inevitably do all involved a disservice. These observations, however, carry serious implications for educators in most public education environments. It means that not only is there more academic demand for learning English as a Second Language, it also means that there is a need to develop a ‘global awareness’ within public education– to realize the social and political ramifications of our pedagogical choices for those who come from another culture or nation. Everything from what we teach, to how we teach, and indeed to why we teach certain knowledge basesin today’s education system may need a closer examination to determine if our current pedagogical choices are appropriate for preparing today’s ESL learners not only for their new country but also for tomorrow’s society. This means that our responsibility to our students is coloured by the choices we make. In turn, the lens by which we should make these choices should not be just our own, but rather also that of the students in front of us and their understandings and needs to be successful in their chosen society. Within the context of this paper as well, we must concern ourselves with the type of political motivations that prevail in a school and its supporting community (op cit. 2003). While some aspects may seem obvious, such as a teacher’s relationship to students, what may not seem so incidental is how the school and its community defines its ideological orientation to and for the students and parents, in this case students and parents whose cultures are not necessarily shared by the majority of the community. In his preface to Freire’s book Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1990), Shaull states: There is no such thing as a neutral educational process.Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate the integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity to it, or it becomes “the practice of freedom,” the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world. The implication from Freire’s observation, while written perhaps with a certain political motivation regarding his own homeland, still lends itself to opening up the proverbial can of worms. Questions that begin to spill out may include: • Why are we teaching what we are teaching? • What are the political motivations behind our choice of methods and materials? • Is the curriculum appropriate for our postmodern world? • Are we creating a truly inclusive educational programme? • What is our purpose for teaching; for learning, for experiencing, for grading, for assignment orientation, for the system, etc.? Once we begin to think about the broader implications for what we do as a profession, it becomes easier to see that we are not just teaching English to children of other languages – we are in fact teaching the culture that is connected to that language we are teaching. Linguists the world over are in almost total agreement that language is defined by the culture from which it stems, but a culture can also be defined through its language. Most educators understand this connection, and yet we have chosen to isolate these two otherwise inseparable elements –maintaining the attitude that the 4 different curricular frameworks outlined below define a specific curricular hierarchy within public education – with the academic curriculum metaphorically towering over the other curricula, and this may not be the most productive of hierarchies anymore. Here then are the 4 universally accepted curricular areas that occur within any chosen educationalenvironment: The Academic Curriculum – what might traditionally be considered to be the curriculum – e.g. subjects taught in school. The Pastoral Curriculum– to include personal guidance (e.g. social skills, relationships), educational guidance (e.g. study and information-finding skills) and vocational guidance (e.g. learning about careers and occupations)”. The Hidden Curriculum - might be defined as adaptive learning usually undefined and unacknowledged by the school: the ‘hidden messages’ students receive as part of their schooling by the rest of the school community. The Paradigmatic Curriculum - the sociological interaction of individuals in the school community who are concerned with developing that school community. (Zsebik, 2003) It is interesting to note that while we have become most familiar with the Academic curriculum as determined by various governmental or other recognized educational authorities, we may often fail to recognize the importance of the other three curricular frameworks as an integral part of a student’s education. All too often these areas may be left to chance which may result in unintentional inconsistencies in the total curricular delivery. This is particularly problematic if the immigrant student falters perhaps due to an often unintentional cultural hegemony that has been adopted by the institution. There will be those in the education community who disagree with these notions. It may be that their response will be something to the effect that if people had immigrated to these shores, then are they not here to learn what it is to be Canadian, and by extension to conform to the norms of our society? Past history does show public education systems the world over as an effective socializing agent, and indeed they have produced a certain homogeneity for Canadian society. However, in today’s multicultural environment, does a focus on this same homogeneity, unintended or otherwise, still provide for a valid educational focus? Well, yes and no. Whether we like it or not, public education is still a political animal that needs constant attention and direction. ‘Yes’ students come to learn what it means to live in Canada and to be successful in this cultural situation, but also ‘No’ it does not mean that they must forget their own cultural identity and replace it with some systemic boxed version of our choosing. If we truly believe this, then this means that our due diligence as educators should also extend not only to teaching the Canadian identity, it should also be protecting the ELL’s primary culture so that it can also thrive. The days of cultural submergence are past, and the new age of multiculturalism (following on the heels of postmodernism) should be embraced as part of public education’s change for the future. In fact, this perspective would better maintain our cultural mosaic, and it would help define Canada as a nation of nations well into the 21st century. So what types of political environments determine one’s intellectual outcomes? In the diagram below, we see how Freire (1990) summarized the different types of intellectual outcomes a learner can achieve (above the line), while Zsebik (2000) has indicated that there are 5 main political levels of classroom interaction (below the line). Research has indicated (ibid.) that there is a direct correlation between these two spectra and when juxtaposed, it becomes much easier to see that a student’s resultant intellectual outcome is defined by the political nature of the school environment which is defined by the (most likely the majority) of individuals in that environment. This observation can be summarized using the diagram found below: Transformative Critical Accommodating Hegemonic Intellectual Intellectual Intellectual Intellectual ----------------------/-------------------------/----------/------------------ Radical Liberal Moderate Conservative Reactionary Figure 1 – Diagram of the political spectrum and its potential educational outcome (Zsebik, 2000) (PLEASE SEE PREVIOS POSTS FOR CLARITY) From this we can see that the type of political environment we create in a school very much influences the student’s intellectual outcome. It also means that in order for educators to effectively do their job of socializing and preparing students for tomorrow’s world, they must be aware not only of the basics of the different curricula and the latest teaching methodologies and classroom management skills, they must also be aware of the type of sociopolitical environment they are creating in each classroom, and by extension in the entire school environment. Defining the (ESL) School Environment There are two more items that also need to be taken into account, especially as it pertains to the ESL classroom. The first is that oftentimes the different minority cultures found in a school context can be, inadvertently or otherwise, dismissed by the dominant culture of the institution. This may be seen by analyzing the interaction between the different players found within the institution. These players can be defined through the mnemonic of S.P.A.C.E. (Zsebik, 2003) These elements can be summarized as follows: S tudent P arent A dministration = The S.P.A.C.E. Factor C urriculum E ducator Briefly, the interaction between these five elements of SPACE not only helps to define the pastoral and hidden curricular framework of the school environment, it also helps to define if there is a dominant culture in the school, where they reside, and their relationship to the rest of the school culture(s). An analytical breakdown of this nature can help with determining if there is a need for a change that aids in producing a more politically (as discussed above) appropriate situation. Interestingly enough, we can now interpret the relationships found within the SPACE Factor utilizing the notions of Geert Hofstede who researched the dynamics of institutional cultures which he has defined as: …the collective programming of the human mind that distinguishes the members of one human group from those of another. Culture in this sense is a system of collectively held values.(Hofstede, 1994) His work has identified five dimensions of culture, and each has been defined as residing in high amounts (or high contexts) or in low amounts (or low contexts). They are: 1) Power Distance (PD) – ranging from a centralized to a flat equal organization 2) Individualism (IDV) – ranging from a highly independent to a group orientation 3) Masculinity (MAS) – ranging from a misogynistic to a highly feminist society 4) Uncertainty/Avoidance (UAI) – ranging from rigid to loosely coded social structures 5) Long-Term Orientation (LTO) – ranging from imposed to individually created social goals Hofstede has determined that each culture (not country or nation) has its own unique levels of interaction based on these five dimensions. This is significant for public education because now we can imagine a process for analyzing the differences between adjacent education backgrounds in an ELL, and to utilize this information not only to chart an ELL’s academic curricular progress, but potentially to also evaluate that same ELL’s development from a pastoral and hidden curricular perspective as well. This idea is not complete fancy. Teachers are already reporting generic behaviour patterns as part of the reporting process, but they are primarily in relation to their impact on a student’s academic attainment. However, by utilizing the findings of the above researchers, we now we have the ability to formalize measurement of these non-academic behaviour patterns if we so wished. Now we can see that the potentialities inherent in Hofstede’s cultural dimensions would also help to define the institution outlined in Zsebik’s SPACE of a school environment. A diagram of this could look something like the following between the two concepts: Figure 2 -representation of Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions (LTO, PD, UA, IDV, MAS) and their relational influence on the different elements of Zsebik’s SPACE Factor which in turn defines the educational institution. Also not to be dismissed is the fact that within an ESL context (and perhaps other contexts as well), we find that there is often a lack of homogeneity in an ESL classroom. Often this type of classroom environment holds not only different levels of linguistic (or academic) competence, but also perhaps different levels of pastoral and social competencies as well. These latter are usually defined by the prior experiences an ELL brings with him or her to that classroom from the past. At this point, it becomes interesting to note the type of political environment that has been created within the ESL classroom – one that offers by necessity much more than the stated academic curriculum – and one that is often not mirrored by the rest of the school community. This imbalance can become problematic to the new immigrant ELL, and the notion of providing a safe, nurturing and secure school environment for that ELL becomes impaired. To conclude, we have found that there is a six step process to creating a culturally aware classroom. They are: Step One - Decode the classroom What types of learning cultures do your students come from? Step Two – Find Connections Establish what the student already knows and build on those knowledge bases. Step Three – Understand the student’s emotional journey Every day the student is dealing with the potential for failure or isolation from the cultural paradigm that he or she has chosen to enter Step Four – Provide the Necessary Accommodations and Modifications By understanding the cultural experiences the ELL brings to the classroom, we can begin to help the student to lower his effective filter. Step Five - Acknowledge and embrace the student's background as part of the class experience By allowing these diverse experiences to become part of the classroom dynamic, your students will become more engaged and begin to take ownership. Step Six - Help the student to understand and embrace the different curricular environments of the school. Take the time to provide not only an academic but a pastoral and a hidden curricular overview that helps to inform the student of the cultural imperatives inherent to their new home. If we follow these 6 steps, we can begin to see the importance of recognizing and embracing a student's own culture in relation to the broader school culture so that they can learn to achieve success in this environment and realize their full potential in the public education environment. With this type of broader perspective in mind, our classroom can become even more of a safe, secure, and welcoming landscape ready to help our ESL student’s realize their full potential. References Appadurai, A. (1983). Cultural Flows. In Featherstone, M. (1990) Global Culture: Nationalism, Globalization, and Modernity (pp. 295-310). London, Sage Publications. CBC Archives - http://archives.cbc.ca/society/celebrations/topics/3517/) Freire, P. (1990). The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York, Continuum. Hofstede, G. (1994). Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind: Intercultural Cooperation and its Importance for Survival. Harper Collins, London. Keung, N. (July 17, 2011). The Toronto Star, http://www.amren.com/mtnews/archives/2011/07/immigration_to_5.php) Zsebik, P. (2000).The Politics of International Education, In Hayden, M. and Thompson, J. (2000) International Schools and International Education: Improving Teaching, Management and Quality, London, Kogan Page. Zsebik, P. (2003). A Comparative Analysis of Four Approaches to Curriculum Offered in International Schools, Ph.D. Thesis, University of Bath, UK