Understand and Respect Cultural Differences

Zeichner (1995) emphasizes that teachers must respect the cultural backgrounds of their students:

"In order for teachers to implement the principle of cultural congruence, they must have knowledge of and respect for the various cultural traditions and languages of students in their classrooms. Anything less ensures that many ethnic and language minority students will continue to fall short of meeting high academic standards. Teachers need general sociocultural knowledge about child and adolescent development; about second language acquisition (Leighton, et al., 1994); about the ways that socioeconomic circumstances, language and culture shape school performance (Cazden & Mehan, 1990; Comer, 1988; Hodge, 1990). Finally, according to some (Banks, 1991; Hollins, 1990), teachers need a clear sense of their own ethnic and cultural identities in order to be able to understand and appreciate those of their students. They also need to become more aware of how their own cultural biases may influence their judgments about student performance and obstruct their students' ability to learn (Bowers & Flinders, 1990).

The literature discusses at length the importance of giving teachers information about the values, practices, and learning styles of particular cultural groups (Coballes-Vega, 1992). However, there is a danger in this strategy. The concern is that general knowledge about cultural group characteristics may strengthen the stereotypes that teachers already hold (McDiarmid & Price, 1990). One way to circumvent this is to teach teachers how to learn about and then incorporate into instruction information about their own students, their families, and communities (Cazden & Mehan, 1990; Trueba, 1989). Teachers can use any number of strategies to acquire information about the various cultures in their classrooms, including 'making home visits, conferring with community members, talking with parents, consulting with minority teachers, and observing children in and out of school' (Villegas, 1993, p. 7).

Teachers, who essentially become researchers of their students and their students' communities (Health, 1983; Moll, 1992), then adjust their classroom practices to make the local cultural community the baseline for curriculum and instruction. Garcia (1993) identifies three ways in which successful teachers of culturally and linguistically diverse students do this: (1) by using cultural referents in both verbal and nonverbal forms to communicate instructional and institutional demands; (2) by organizing instruction to build on rules of discourse from the home and community cultures; and (3) by showing equal respect to the values and norms of the home and community cultures and those of the school culture." (pp. 41-42)


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