CROSSING BORDERS TO CREATE
"CULTURALLY CONSONANT EDUCATION":
AN ANALYSIS OF TECHNIQUES THAT ARE ACADEMICALLY EMPOWERING FOR CHILDREN OF IMMIGRANT AND GUEST WORKERS
This analysis is to help us better understand how teachers can apply specific strategies to assist in addressing the global challenges that face educational systems that work with ethnically heterogeneous student populations. Universally higher levels of education for larger numbers of students are being demanded of educational systems that were designed decades or centuries ago to meet very different requirements (Darling-Hammond, 1996). As most countries of the world become more economically dependent on the vacillations of the global money market, numerous countries continue to experience the processes of immigration or emigration (Eldering & Kloprogge, 1989). It is now more common for entire families to immigrate with their school age children, or start families in a host country. Because school systems and their expectations may vary widely, it is crucial both for the students and their families and also for the teachers in the new country that the cultural capital of the students is not dismissed at the schoolyard gate.
Research has shown that the single most important determinant of studentachievement is teacher expertise (Armour-Thomas, 1989; Ferguson, 1991). Given global trends that indicate that the world's predominant growth populations are largely students of color, we can expect that tomorrow's schools will need more teacher experts who can cross these borders that separate groups, whether the borders are geographic, physical, linguistic or cultural. This paper will discuss curricular processes, parent/community outreach efforts, and teacher in servicing that allows for a culturally consonant school system. In addition a critical inquiry technique that fosters the creation of culturally consonant literacy lessons will be demonstrated utilizing the Gloria Anzaldua book Friend from the Other Side/Amigos Del Otro Lado.
As Langer (1991) says, "Literacy can be viewed. . . as the ability to think andreason like a literate person, within a particular society" (p. 11). This being so it becomes incumbent upon all educators to insure that students in either bicultural or multicultural learning communities have the full opportunity to enhance their literacy levels across the range of their learning experiences. Since children's classroom experiences will interact with their individual and collective background factors to influence how they conceptualize themselves relative to literacy, it is crucial that the teachers and students understand and validate each others' various and varied experiences. It must start with the teachers preparing themselves to know of and bring out the cultural capital of each and every student. This is crucial to the integration of each class member into the learning community.
An examination of the demographics of the teaching profession in many areas of bicultural or multicultural populations will reveal a lack of parity in participation by the various ethnic or national groups. A close examination of the primary school teacher population of the state of California illustrates this point well. Although California has one of the most ethnically and linguistically diverse populations in the world, this diversity is not replicated in its teacher population. Currently 85% of the primary school teachers in the state of California are Caucasian, monolingual English speaking females.
It is imperative that teachers move to the unfamiliar, away from the construction of literacy based exclusively on what worked for them, or may have been successful with students in the past. Given when and where they were trained, the issues of multiple forms of literacy may not have been addressed. A large body of research exists that documents the success of using cultural knowledge to engage students in active learning (Au & Jordan, 1981: Gutierrez, 1999; Reyes, 1992; Tharp & Gallimore, 1988). A single approach to literacy, no matter how successful with many students can not be the template for all students.
When we examine the context of literacy development we must expand beyond the classroom and bring home and community practices into focus. What are theexpectations teachers have of parents in the literacy arena? Are these expectations realistic across the spectrum of parents? Do all parents have the same knowledge of and expectations of the teacher and school in regard to their children's developing literacy? And, finally how is this being communicated? The concept of "Cultural Consonance" is discussed more fully in several of my earlier works, but will be defined succinctly below so as to set the parameters
for the discussion. Cultural consonance exists when there is a cultural congruence, or bridge, connecting internal motivation to learn and the external requirement of objective, formal academic constructions. Rather than considering the concept of building a bridge between these areas of learning, consider the musical analogy of notes which form a consonance, or harmony, like a chord.
The focus becomes the transformative character of knowledge and the potential power that comes from full participation of every student which, ideally, can carry over to further participation and empowerment. The term which sums up the completion of such bridges, or social harmonies I call cultural consonance.
The assumption that knowledge is socially constructed is grounded in essential understandings about human activity. First, we have come to realize that learning is primarily a social activity, especially in schools. According to Vygotsky (1962), all higher order psychological functions, including learning and problem solving, emerge first, on a social or interpersonal plane, and then later on an internal or intrapersonal plane. Participation at the social or interpersonal plane involves social interaction between two or more people to coordinate activity face-to-face or at a distance. Often a more accomplished person provides guided assistance in the observation of, or hands-on involvement in an activity. This is the predominate form of learning in schools and other formal educational settings. Guided assistance not only includes deliberate instruction but also other tasks such as structuring the setting for learning and managing student and teacher roles during the lesson. Participation on this plane also involves the transformation of individuals as a result of their social participation. Here the practices, knowledge, skills, attitudes, values, and beliefs of the social group are appropriated by individuals. In other words, students have experiences "outside" themselves that create experiences "inside" them. This process is often referred to as "appropriation" which is defined as the process by which individuals transform their understandings of and responsibility for activities through their own participation. Students also appropriate how tools such as language, measurement devices, materials, technology, multimedia, and rules are used, along with what kinds of problems and solutions are viewed as valuable.
Another understanding mediated through the use of new technology is that learning and development are the outcomes of activity that is mediated with new tools. Among the many tools that mediate learning activity in teacher educationare books, computers, instructional strategies, telecommunications, and multimedia. These often are termed "primary tools"; that is, they are physically evident in the environment in which we use them. A "primary tool" merges with the conceptual knowledge necessary for its successful use; this conceptual knowledge is referred to as a "secondary tool." A major goal of teacher preparation is, therefore, the linking of useful primary tools with powerful secondary tools. In this context, language is the "tool of tools" (Vygotsky, 1978) which structures and welds together primary and secondary tools through social interaction. In this sense, human beings use language and other
signs to regulate their own learning activity as well as that of others. So, there is a greater potential to expand the zone of proximal development by tapping into the cultural knowledge of children whose background is utilized as a positive asset. Finally, the view of teaching being presented is that learning is the result of interactions among teacher, learner, and knowledge. From this view, the teacher is seen as a co-active learner. Both teacher and learner try to transform information into knowledge which is meaningful, imaginative, and useful. Clearly, the focus on teaching and learning activity must be on the transformation of knowledge rather than solely on the acquisition and reproduction of facts. Critical inquiry--the ability to ask provocative questions and seek out creative answers--must be valued and demanded by both teacher and learner. This shifts the classroom focus from simply the management of students and classrooms to a focus on the management of complex intellectual activity which may be shared by both teacher and learner.
For children from other cultures, the teacher must own the responsibility ofintegrating instructional materials which incorporate cultural values and ideas with which ethno-linguistic minority students will be familiar. The teacher will search out books that discuss ideas and concepts that build a common knowledge base that will be augmented at various times by each participant in the learning environment.
One of the ways of fostering a culturally consonant classroom is to use literary strategies that build on the voice and experiences of each participant. Each person will interact with the text and construct the authorís message based on building from his/her own experiences. Cultural capital is the phrase often utilized in the anthropological literature to describe this scaffolding process. To take these types of activities beyond searching for the authorís true meaning, the participants must analyze what they know and believe about what the author is presenting. One of the ways to do this is to use the critical thinking categories sheet that is attachment 1. In a United States/Mexico border situation the utility of this technique can be demonstrated via the Anzaldua book, Friends from the Other Side. Below are the steps the teacher should follow:
a) After having done a picture walk of the book
b) have participants divided into groups (maximum 5)
c) based on age level have students find items from the book that they perceive to be true, possibly true, and untrue. A reason must be listed for the placement of any item into a particular column
d) have the various groups share their examples and reasons
e) teacher should validate each reason and when wrapping up discuss thedifferent things students shared.
With early literacy students this strategy can be done whole group with the teacher asking each one to look for, think about, and then share several items. The items may come from the pictures rather than the text on occasion. Although this activity is being demonstrated using a particular text, various texts have been used with equal success. It would be the teacherís task, in a particular country, to find literature that is developmentally appropriate and addresses that particular localeís cultures. One of the purposes is to give each participant an opportunity to tap into his/her personal knowledge and share so that the collective knowledge of the participants will be increased. The parents and community also may serve as additional sources of materials, both written and oral that will help in the development of a culturally consonance learning environment.
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