I am pleased to support the Adult English language Acquisition Discussion list on the topic of cultural diversity in the classroom. With twenty years of classroom experience and fifteen years of professional development work, I have had classes with twenty-two different cultures alive and well in a class of thirty. About ten years ago, I became very interested in how cultures work together and how I could forward that effort in my classes. I see this in two parts—where you start and where you want to go. I realized that it was important to become aware of my own biases in the classroom and to find ways to reveal personal biases of the learners as well. It is always part of the equation to know where you are in the beginning of your work in cultural diversity. Once you know where you are in terms of your personal and cultural identity, you can begin to make shifts in your attitudes and ways of viewing events around you. Learning more about new cultures impacts attitude and may shift long-held biases as well. When this happens, it seems that you might become a more effective teacher. I hope you will join us for this adventure and I look forward to reading your comments and questions and to sharing resources with you. I also hope you will share ideas and resources with one another on this topic. Please feel free to post questions in advance of the starting date of November 8th.
Sharon McKay is an ESL Specialist at Center for Applied Linguistics. Sharon earned her Master’s degree in Teaching English as a Second Language from Georgetown University. She has spent more than twenty years in the ESL classroom at Arlington Education and Employment Program (REEP), teaching all levels from literacy to academic and workforce transition. Working in adult education, Sharon has engaged in curriculum development and instruction for multiple venues such as landscaping, hotel employment, hospital employment, medical technology, and retirement home employment. She has also coordinated the refugee education program. Throughout her tenure working with adults learning English, Sharon has discovered a multitude of opportunities and challenges of cultural diversity in and out of the classroom. On a daily basis, students have brought their cross-cultural confusion and biases to class. Sharon has developed cultural diversity tools for working through this confusion for both instructors and students. She has shared these tools with teachers and teacher trainers in professional development offered through states and at national conferences such as the Commission on Adult Basic Education (COABE) and Mountain Plains Adult Education Association( MPAEA). Sharon is currently teaching a literacy class that recently tackled the meaning of Halloween in U.S. culture. In the light of day, culture is not so scary.
Definitions of culture abound but Peace Corps has a list of cultural components that are practical and useful in the classroom. It is from Worksheet #1: Features of Culture on page 11 of Building Bridges: A Peace Corps Classroom Guide to Cross-Cultural Understanding. You might also want to look at Worksheet #2: Everyone has a Culture-Everyone is Different on page 12.
You can get an overview of some of the instructional issues surrounding culture from the website everythingESL.net, ESL Teacher as a Culture Broker.
For an article that includes more substantive research, see Teaching Culture in Adult ESL: Pedagogical and
Ethical Considerations by David Johnson in TESOL-EJ June 2005, Volume 9, Number 1.
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