Unlocking Cultural Puzzles
by Judie Haynes
Understanding and interpreting the cultures of English Language Learners (ELLs) is an important part of the ESL/bilingual teachers' role. Awareness on the part of mainstream staff members will help them deal more effectively with cultural questions. As ESL/bilingual professionals we need to teach strategies which help our colleagues understand the role culture plays in the behavior and learning of ELLs.
Role of ESL/Bilingual Teachers
Whenever a mainstream staff members thinks an ESL youngsters' behavior seems unwarranted, bizarre, rude, or in some way unexpected, it's possible that this is a sign of cultural misunderstanding. And it is the ESL/bilingual professional who is called upon to unlock the cultural puzzle.
Can ESL/bilingual or classroom teachers learn all there is to know about the various cultures in your school? No, of course not! However, training in culture can help.
Effective staff development courses are a way ESL/bilingual professionals can help mainstream staff members better interpret the cultures of the diverse student populations in your school. Participants will gain an awareness of how much culture affects language acquisition and behavior. They will gain insight into their own culture and learn some tools to help them unlock cultural puzzles.
Download our cultural scenarios from the Culture Quiz and choose those you think are relevant for your school and second language population. This lively activity is a favorite at staff inservice programs. Divide participants into groups of three or four and provide each group with one or two cultural scenarios. Have groups discuss what they think is causing the problem in their scenarios and present their conclusions.
Scenarios included in the Culture Quiz are based on the my actual experiences and those of my ESL colleagues. The responses included are not necessarily the only possible answers.
Scenarios from the Culture Quiz
Here is a taste of scenarios from the Culture Quiz:
- As your second grade class lines up for a field trip, you count your students as you walk down the line touching each of them on the head. You notice that several students pull back from you.
- You are a 4th grade teacher. You have a friendly boy in your class from the Dominican Republic. He speaks very little English in the classroom and doesn’t seem to be making much progress. When you give him directions, he seems to be confused. You are sure he is putting one over on you by pretending not to understand because you have heard him speak with the other children on the playground.
- Hung is a bright ESL student in your 3rd grade class. He listens to you attentively and follows directions well. However, he is very rude when a classmate is speaking. He either talks to his neighbor or day dreams. He never joins in any class discussions.
- Your 4th grade Malaysian student seems to be very good at Math. He gets "100" on his spelling tests. No one in your class knows the names of the state capitals better than he does. However, he seems to have a hard time comprehending a simple reading passage.
- You are a first grade teacher. A Korean student comes into your class in April. During a discussion of age and birthdays, this student says that she is 8 years old. The other students in your class are turning seven. The office tells you that she has been correctly placed.
- You are a 4th grade teacher with a new boy in your class from Syria. He speaks very little English. He is having a problem getting along with the other students. He has fights on the playground every day which he seems to provoke by constantly touching the other boys.
© 1998-2004 Judie Haynes, www.everythingESL.net