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Culture is more than artefacts, rituals, and traditions. It is derived from the understanding we acquire through living together as a community and our connections to others within it. I have written previously about the importance of avoiding tokenism, celebrating multiculturalism, and diversity. There are many ways to reflect on our own behaviours, values, and perspectives as a first step toward increasing our knowledge and understanding of others.
In this post, I would like to share five activities that could be used to deepen our understanding of cultural diversity and encourage culturally responsive interactions within the school/educational institution. These activities could be used as part of a professional learning program by educators, or as classroom activities for older students.
1. Iceberg Mapping
Purpose: To reflect on and compare aspects of visible and hidden culture
Preparation and Materials: Either create a handout for each participant or provide supplies for participants to create their own iceberg image. The idea is to draw an outline of an iceberg, which is partially above the surface of the water, but with most of its body still submerged.
- Explain how the iceberg is used as a metaphor to understand culture.
- Invite participants to suggest aspects of surface and deep culture on the graphic. The surface culture, the top part of the iceberg that is visible, is what we see, hear, taste, touch, and smell. This may include things like clothing, foods, famous people, holidays, symbols, languages, and games. The deep culture, the iceberg below the surface, is our attitudes, values, beliefs, and assumptions. This may include things like gender roles, importance of time, notions of modesty, etiquette, views on raising children, body language, and concept of fairness.
- Once enough aspects have been identified for both surface and deep culture, ask participants to reflect individually about what each of these aspects might look like in their own cultural groups. Encourage them to make some notes.
- Participants then work in small groups to share their iceberg maps and discuss how similar or different their maps are, and what this reflects on who they are individually and collectively.
2. Whose Definition?
Purpose: To examine our own understanding of key concepts and consider other viewpoints and definitions.
Preparation and Materials: Prepare a list of key words you want to focus on. This could include terms such as bilingual, multilingual, culture, diversity, multicultural, social justice, equity, othering, microaggression, and racial marginalization. Select your words with your participants in mind.
- Invite each participant to write a definition of each word.
- Taking in turns, each participant shares their definition with the whole group. You may want to allocate an appropriate time limit (30 secs) for each participant.
- Discuss differences in definitions, and what this means in terms of our own assumptions and perceptions. Discuss also whether some terms are more acceptable than others (and if so why).
3. Fostering Cultural Diversity
Purpose: To explore ways of promoting awareness of cultural diversity and considering deeper, long-term responses to celebrating multiculturalism.
Preparation and Materials: Sticky notes, large sheets of paper, markers/pens
- Brainstorm what a truly culturally responsive educational institution would look, sound, and feel like. As participants call these out, list them on the board. Some possibilities may include professional development for all staff on cultural diversity and culturally sustaining pedagogies, support for home languages in parent meetings, multilingual signage around the school, peer tutoring the home language, established home liaison person to strengthen home-school partnerships, and providing culturally appropriate assessment options.
- Participants work in groups. Each group creates a chart on a large piece of paper, with three columns:
- We do this already
- We could do this in the short term
- We could do this in the long term
- Each group writes an idea from the board on a sticky note and places the sticky note on the appropriate column on their chart.
- Compare final charts from each group and discuss your current response to cultural diversity and steps to be taken in the future.
4. Representation of Culture in Literature
Purpose: To explore representations of minoritized cultures in literature.
Preparation and Materials: Identify an author from a minoritized culture with books that are age appropriate for your target students. Select five books by the author. Alternatively, select five books from different authors, but each focusing on the same minoritized cultural group.
- Read and examine the books, considering what aspects of the culture are revealed through the texts and whether the texts are a faithful representation of the culture.
- Discuss how similar or different the culture represented in the texts are to each other and to mainstream culture in your society. What explicit or implicit messages are being communicated about the culture and its people?
- Consider how the texts could be used with your learners to enhance cultural understanding.
5. Strengthening Multicultural Classrooms
Purpose: To identify goals in achieving effective multicultural classrooms and to create an action plan for these goals.
Preparation and Materials: Large sheets of paper, markers/pens
- Participants work in groups of four to five people. Each group creates a table on a large sheet of paper, with three columns:
- What does this look like?
- How will we do this?
- Each group identifies four to five goals they want to achieve to create a culturally responsive and sustaining classroom/school. This may include goals such as celebrate cultural diversity, build links with cultural groups in the wider community, and strengthen intercultural competence.
- Discussion should focus on why the goals are important and who should be responsible for implementing the actions identified to achieve each goal.
About Naashia Mohamed
Naashia Mohamed is a Senior Lecturer of TESOL at the University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her work in teacher education focuses on addressing the needs of language learners in schools and considers how school policies and practices can reduce the educational gaps faced by immigrant children and youth. Naashia has published in journals such as TESOL Quarterly, Current Issues in Language Planning, International Journal for Lesson and Learning Studies, and ELT Journal. Her research addresses issues of identity, power, and equity in language education policy and practice.
View all posts by Naashia Mohamed →
This post first appeared on the TESOL Blog. Reprinted with permission.