Online Course: The Role of Culture in the Education of Adult English Language Learners

Use this discussion thread to post your response to the question below from the ELL-U online course, The Role of Culture in the Education of Adult English Language Learners. Please share your comments to any of the questions below, or post general comments or your feedback on the course.

  1. What strategies, activities, or methods have you used as a culturally competent teacher? What have you observed in other teachers?
  2. What did you discover about your own assumptions? How has going through the DIE stages helped you see new perspectives? What challenges did you experience and how did you overcome them? Were any of the stages more difficult than others? How can you use the DIE inquiry strategy to address cultural assumptions and cultural dilemmas that arise in classrooms with adult ELLs?
  3. Share your thoughts around which items shown below would be designated “big C” and “little c”. Which items might be debatable as to their designation? Why?
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Star Wars by George Lucas
  • a McDonald’s® menu
  • Jeremy Lin
  • a Groupon voucher
  • Madonna
  • Betsy Ross’ flag
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • iPods®
  • baseball
  • The Great Depression
  • a bus ticket
  • a Coke® can
  • The White House
  • Facebook
  1. Culture plays a critical role in teaching and learning. How has the content in this course helped you better understand your own cultural investments, perspectives, and values? What are some strategies you will use to facilitate a culturally inclusive learning environment and facilitating (cross) cultural understanding among all members of the class?

Comments

1. I have had students working in group/pairs and assist each other with tasks to complete activities. I make a class day to visit the level one class and from what I see is that the level 1 students observe the lower level students more but jump in to help when Intro level students seem to have a pause in answering.

2. I have seen that most of them have good patience and enjoy helping others.  The groups are mixed with different cultures and that seems to work well. 

3. My Big C thoughts would be those listed below. I would say this because they are all monumental marks in American History and movies that provide illustration of issues and concerns that evolved into some of today's societal issues.

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison
  • Star Wars by George Lucas
  • Madonna
  • Betsy Ross’ flag
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Great Depression
  • The White House

 My little c's would be all others because they are what our new generation of children see as social and popular cultures.  

  • a McDonald’s® menu
  • Jeremy Lin
  • a Groupon voucher
  • iPods®
  • baseball
  • a bus ticket
  • a Coke® can
  • Facebook

Some debatable items would be a few of the movies above.  Only because they may not have importance to some as they would others.

I reviewed the Little Haiti Cultural Center

What did you discover about your own assumptions? My own thought would be that it would be a nice website seeking the attention of those who wanted to donate monies to their country.

How has going through the DIE stages helped you see new perspectives? In new perspective it has help me look at the site in its entirety and see that it was beautifully made, has lovely pictures and many different types of attractions, things to do and places to go. My interpretations were as expected so to me the site was just right. Evaluating what I saw, it did give me a slight chill.  Because I know of the many issues that Haiti has went through, it amazed me to see continuous support from entertainers and general supporters. I am happy to see that despite any other issues, people are willing to help those in need of improvement and building.

What challenges did you experience and how did you overcome them? Were any of the stages more difficult than others? I didn't experience and changes after reviewing the site. I thought that the site was going to be pretty generic. But I was in for a surprise!

How can you use the DIE inquiry strategy to address cultural assumptions and cultural dilemmas that arise in classrooms with adult ELLs? I can use them to inform and engage others. I believe that having an open mind can help to ease doubt and curiosities. If students from foreign countries are able to forgive and open up to english/america living, it should be no harm for us to do the same.

Upon seeing the word “Haiti”, I was expecting to see Haitian group somewhere in the Caribbean, but was greeted with a complex that is somewhere in the United States.   As a result, I was drawn more to the section of the site that says venue. And yes, I realized that Little Haitian complex is in Miami.  Most of the information about the exhibitions seemed to lean more to a Miami culture.  I was still not satisfied because I wanted to know why a Caribbean group has such a center in Miami rather than being promoted in their home town.  After exploring the site more, I realized that the name could have been given due to the fact that this complex was aimed at preserving the history of Caribbean culture through dialogue and collaboration.

Going through this stage with the DIE has made me realized that there is more than meets the eye.  It can become pretty interesting if we take the time to learn about our learners.  At first, I was just wondering why I needed to learn about Haiti.  But the exploring the site, I learnt much more and it had very little to do with focusing on Haiti.  The same way I went through the stages and learnt so much information, is the same way I would be able to gain information about learners. 

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us, Nicole. It's clear you are taking away a lot from the ELLU course on the Role of Culture. The DIE process featured in the course offered insights that you can apply in your own practice. Culture is such a critical topic for teachers who work with English learners.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

To me, the most important strategy I use as a teacher is to be open minded and listen to students thought and opinions without downplaying or making one feel silly for their way of thinking.  I have a lot to learn as a teacher and a human in general so I am here to learn and use others ways, strategies and techniques to become better. 

I feel like all the big names and events would fall under the category of the Big "C".  It seems as if society has already stereotyped the major events or names because everyone has heard of that particular event and or name.  a coke can could be debatable because its a can/ an object and really has no discriminatory references.  

Hi Kristi, You said that being "open minded and listening to students thought and opinions" is important to you. I really appreciate how you put that. I agree that listening is such an important key. It's through listening that we discover what is important to the learners we work with. Having this valuable information helps to guide our curricular choices.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

To better understand my students, I feel that one critical role in teaching and learning is to understand, research, and ask students' about the differences between American cultures, traditions, language, etc., from their own various cultures because without knowing what theirs is about, how can you proceed in the classroom.  When I inquire about this very thing with my students, it first gives me an idea where they are, but it also lets them know that I am interested in learning more about them. 

This was an informative and interesting class because it made me learn something about my own assumptions; don't assume or underestimate others location, culture, language, etc.  By using the DIE model, I discovered just that; I learned to either inquire with students or investigate this on my own for a better understanding.  It can change your perspective.

Hi Nancy, I agree with your comments. It's important for our students to share with us and we with them, it helps us to understand about their culture and allows us the opportunity to understand theirs.  Thanks for sharing.

I teach a multi-level ESL class and my students are all Latinos; mainly from Mexico and Guatemala.  They understand the different dialects between their native language and converse in Spanish, very well.  Yet, I thought about introducing them to some of the other cultures that surround their neighborhood since this class is open to all.  Otherwise, without some type of exposure, how will they know about what exists outside of their own culture.  As I introduced this concept, they were very much on board about learning more about the different cultures that exist.     

Wow, I had no idea about Karen culture; the refugees in Minnesota, their food, religion, practices, etc. So enlightening and interesting, especially how they smoke tobacco at such an early age, use alcohol and other drugs, and suffer from mental issues.  

This class was very helpful to me and understanding how to facilitate my teaching.  I feel it is necessary to not only understand my own cultures, but to inform other students in my class that we are surrounded by other cultures and to be open to learning more about them.  To do a group activity with my students by researching a culture that interests them or know little about is a good start. 

Hi Nancy, It's good to hear how valuable the ELLU Course on The Role of Culture was for you. I love the idea of engaging learners in researching different cultures. Good luck with this project!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

 1 - I ask students to share things about their home countries or the city they live in currently; what's their favorite part, least favorite part and other things (food, holidays in certain months of enrollment, elections and government).  I also pull up google earth and zoom in on their hometowns.  If there's a holiday happening during enrollment we talk about that (Ground Hog's Day, Valentine's Day, President's Day).

2 - haven't done those modules yet.

3 - Bid C = Toni Morrison, Star Wars, Betsy Ross flag, Great Gatsby, baseball, Great Depression, Coke, the White House, Facebook(?)

     Little C = Facebook(?), bus ticket, iPods, Madonna, Groupon, McDonald's menu, Jeremy Lin

A lot of these could be debatable because of personal exposure to the item.  And some can be debatable because of how long the 'influence' of them is.  Madonna used to be very influential in music but seems to lose her importance every year now, same with iPods.  Facebook is still important but may waver in the coming years. 

4 - I think it's important to differentiate Big C and Little C and the role they play in how we view other cultures.  In many cultures the idea of how Americans dress is like western cowboys because that's out 'traditional' wear, but I have never worn clothes like that.  It's the same with other cultures - not every person in Japan wears a kimono every day.  I also think economics change the way some people experience their own culture and the US culture now; different social groups can have vastly different experiences in the same culture, city or town.  Facilitating a cross cultural understanding among all members of a class means that the students and teachers need to get to know each other beyond a surface level.

I also think about my experience teaching abroad when I teach my adult English language learners. I went abroad thinking very highly of my own US culture. That was very unfair and demeaning. Very quickly I learned that was very naive. What I was also able to share was a more realistic idea of my culture. Not all US people live in mansions and have a pool in their back yard.

That experience of living and teaching abroad made me much more aware of  small nuances that make a difference and may need to not be part of our interactions: touching the students on the back or shoulder to indicate job well done--this was very hard for me; singing happy birthday to students as part of community building--not acceptable for some people from Somalia; how far to stand from a person in a conversation. Changes that we need to make in our daily lessons just for starters.

I'm hoping to learn more ways to be a culturally competent teacher.

Hello Rosemary, I can think of no more valuable experience for an ESL teacher than traveling abroad and being a language learner in a different country. There is no better way to expand one's understanding of cultural differences and enhance one's cultural competence. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

  • What did you discover about your own assumptions? I didn't really have assumptions about Eid; I knew it was a Muslim holiday but didn't know much about it.
  • How has going through the DIE stages helped you see new perspectives? I saw that Muslims around the world celebrate Eid in a variety of ways. 
  • What challenges did you experience and how did you overcome them? Were any of the stages more difficult than others? I think the 'evaluation' stage may be the most difficult to verbalize for me and other students.
  • How can you use the DIE inquiry strategy to address cultural assumptions and cultural dilemmas that arise in classrooms with adult ELLs? I think the first step - 'Description' could be the easiest way to curb a tense situation - not putting emotions in but just the observable 'facts.'  The Interpretation and Evaluation steps can bring up more of an emotional response but hopefully providing a comfortable learning environment where students are able to express their opinions without fear will allow for enlightening discussions.

Culture plays a critical role in teaching and learning. How has the content in this course helped you better understand your own cultural investments, perspectives, and values? What are some strategies you will use to facilitate a culturally inclusive learning environment and facilitating (cross) cultural understanding among all members of the class?​

Some strategies I will use include getting background information from the students, have students get to know each other through discussions, interviews and sharing of lives.  Being sure to ask students' opinions on topics (government, music, pop culture) and having students explain their feelings using the DIE model can help facilitate a culturally inclusive environment.

I think we could likely fit some items on the list in either category depending on how we view them. 

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

There were so many things that I learned. One was that there is a fifth skill to bring into the classroom and how that impacts learning. Another was activities that I have done in my classroom that really aren't best practices. Finally putting DIE into practice.

 

We have had many discussions about cultural differences in my classes. Many students are not used the the idea of cats or dogs as pets, for example, and find this strange.  Many students come from cultures where having many children is seen as a great advantage in life.  We often talk about holidays celebrated—or not—in different cultures.

At the community center where I teach, there is usually a party at the end of each session.  Students and teachers bring food to share, and there are many exchanges about ingredients and recipes. 

 

These are very useful ways to think about culture!  I love the example in the video of "here or to go"—something so easy yet so meaningful and potentially confusing to an ELL.  It seems to me that The Great Gatsby, Beloved, Betsy Ross's flag, and the White House are big C cultural items with Star Wars coming in close.  The rest are little c...for the moment.

Hi Kathleen, There are so many little expressions that we take for granted that can be confusing for someone who is learning English. "Here or to go?" and "Is that everything?" are both good examples of questions we hear often at the check out counter in stores and fast food restaurants. You stated that certain things fit into the Big C category "for now," and I think that's right. Over time what might be considered Big C or little c can change.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

 

The DIE stages have helped me rethink my initial reaction to the idea of fasting during Ramadan.  The notion of not eating or drinking—anything—from sunrise to sundown has seemed very harsh to me.  While I've never done it, as a person who snacks often I can well imagine feeling very hungry, even faint. Why do people put this on themselves?  My first emotion reaction is fear (I would be afraid of doing it). After reading "What It's Really Like to Fast during Ramadan" by Saba All I began to have a different view.  Her essay was very personal, so it was like visiting with her. She gave a frank description of the challenges of fasting, but her essay also described the closeness she felt with her friends and family at this time, the way it brought out the best in everyone, the spiritual challenge.

 

 

 

 

It is wonderful to see comments about Ramadan and what it means, how it feels to fast, etc.   It is a huge part of Muslim life!  I am currently working with a Muslim man from North Africa who is already eagerly anticipating the Eid at the end of Ramadan.   He has been inquiring about how he will find a lamb to butcher.  I have the fondest memories of the Ramadan feasts  that I experienced while living in Senegal, in W. Africa many years ago, so I am going to help him find a lamb. He is married to a local woman here, and says most of his wife's family do not like lamb and will not celebrate with him.  What a hard thing!  That celebration, as someone noted, is a big event and usually full of family.    

I'd like to suggest here that teachers begin to have conversations with their Muslim students about Ramadan, how they will manage the fasting, what they eat in the early hours of the morning before sunrise and how they break the fast, and especially if/how they will celebrate at the end.  Maybe they will express what my Muslim student has expressed--- worry about getting the necessary food, and frustration at getting his family here to participate.  Maybe other topics will come up related to practicing cultural rituals etc in a foreign country.  It all helps demystify a lot on both sides!  

Robin Lovrien

Consultant in Adult ESOL/Education 

Maine 

Thank you, Robin, for sharing these experiences with us. I'm reminded of the graciousness of the Muslim community where I live. They have often invited many of us to celebrate Eid with them. Getting to know our new neighbors is so important to maintaining a flourishing society. In reverse, our Muslim friends have extended the hand of welcome to those of us who have been here far longer. We have so much to learn.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

I was very inspired by this course to become more aware of cultural differences and likenesses in my ELL students.  I can certainly see that culture is the Fifth skill, and while it would be impossible to absorb the U.S. culture completely (for my adult students), any help I can give them is important.  Likewise, any new understanding and appreciation of where they are coming from and what skills and ideas they bring with them can only increase their self image and help me to teach them better. I plan to bring some Big C and Little C ideas to every class, starting with the dollar bill which displays George Washington.  I especially liked the "Practices, Products, and Perspectives"  framework and intend to use the Starbucks cup soon to promote discussion and understanding.  Another idea would be for students to describe the details of inviting people to dinner—how this is communicated, what is prepared, what are considered good and bad manners.

Kathleen, Thank you for sharing your take-aways from the ELLU culture course with us and some of the practices you plan to implement It is--indeed-- a life-long effort for us teachers to deepen our understanding of our own culture as well as the culture of the learners we serve.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

As a student-teacher, I have observed only one instance of an ELL so far n my studies. I was at a school that was hosting a shadow from an Asian country that didn't speak any English at all. In order to try and communicate succesfully, the teacher would use google translate, on her phone, to try and get main ideas acoss. I don't believe this was as successfull as the teacher thought it was, because more times than not the student just seemed more confused. Generalized hand motions seemed to work better than trying to translate the school termonology.

Big C:  

  • Betsy Ross’ flag
  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • The Great Depression
  • The White House
  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

little c: 

  • Star Wars by George Lucas
  • a McDonald’s® menu
  • Jeremy Lin (pop culture?)
  • a Groupon voucher
  • Madonna (pop culture?)
  • iPods®
  • baseball
  • a bus ticket
  • a Coke® can
  • Facebook

I tend to first think about what I recognize as familiar first. Like My first reaction to the picture I chose was that is was a religious setting, because of the garb, but that assumption was very subjective. Personally, the descriptive stage seems to be the hardest, because you are trying to disconnect your own interpretations and just describe what you see. It's so natural to add in descriptive words that don't necessarily relate objectively. I think the DIE model can be used as eaily as a KWL chart in the classroom. It would give the teachers and students an opportunity to collaboratively discuss cultures in both objective and subjective ways. The only hardship would be making sure the students didn't go off on tangent. This would be great to use in Social Studies, to incorporate a Humanities aspect to the classroom, even with the younger students.

Hello Ashton, Thanks for sharing your big C little c lists and your thoughts on the DIE model as well as how you see using the DIE framework in a classroom, including with social studies content. I agree that learning to describe without interpretation can be hard.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

 

Big C

  • Beloved by Toni Morrison

  • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

  • The Great Depression

  • The White House

  • baseball

Small c

  • Star Wars by George Lucas

  • a McDonald's® menu

  • Jeremy Lin

  • a Groupon voucher

  • Madonna

  • Betsy Ross' flag

  • a bus ticket

  • a Coke® can

  • Facebook

Applying DIE strategies to the topic of Family and Marriage practices among the Karen people of Burma.

 

Description:I read that the Karen people of Burma live in extended families. It is a matriarchal society where women are the head of the clan, men get married and move to the women’s family. Men and women are considered equal.

Interpretation:I was not surprised by the extended family living practice.  However learning that they were a matriarchal society surprised me and challenged my assumptions that most communities in developing countries and tribal populations were male dominated and did not recognize equality between the sexes.  

Evaluation: Learning about other cultures challenges baseless assumptions we may make.

 

Hello Elizabeth, Thank you for sharing your Big C and little c lists with us here on LINCS. As you point out, the ELLU course on the Role of Culture emphasizes how getting familiar with other cultures is valuable in our work since it can "challenge our baseless assumptions." It's also critical to gain a deeper understanding of our own culture and how it shapes our values, beliefs and behaviors.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator,  English Language Acquisition CoP

1. A strategy that I use to create a culturally relevant classroom is to allow my students to decorate the classroom with their own drawings and sentences. They spend the first day of the course drawing a map of their home countries, labeling, and describing. The classroom should look like the students within it! I also like to choose reading and listening passages that correlate with the goals and interests of my students. 

2. This was a very helpful frame through which I can discuss cultural differences with students and community members. I believe students would struggle most with the emotion step because there is an unspoken rule of machismo in many ESL classrooms. Students and community members tend to shrink away from emotional conversations. This would be a hugely impactful exercise for mixed classrooms. For example, in one of my courses, I had a majority of Spanish-speaking students, with one Russian speaker. At first, everyone seemed to get along fine; however, as time elapsed, the student who spoke Russian began to feel isolated. At the time, we worked to teach one another bits of each language; however, it seems that this framework would be more effective. 

3. Big C: Beloved, Star Wars, McDonalds, Madonna, Flag, Great Gatsby, Baseball, The Great Depression, The White House 

Little c: Jeremy Lin, Groupon Voucher, iPods, a bus ticket 

Debatable: A coke can, Facebook. These are debatable because their lasting power will determine their designation.  

4. The content in this course will aid my practice as a teacher because I now have the means of facilitating meaningful conversation among students in order to better understand their motivations and investments, as well as their interactions among their peers. This will allow me to create a more caring classroom environment to facilitate optimal learning and understanding for all students. 

Hello Sydney, Creating a more "caring classroom environment" is a wonderful goal. I'm also struck by your stating that you gained information to share with others in the community. Advocating on behalf of adult learners with members of the community is valuable. Thanks for your important efforts!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

I looked at the celebration of Eid that signifies the end of Ramadan.  The DIE stages were very helpful for me to look at this celebration through a new perspective because of the language the stages provide.  For example, during the Describe stage I noticed that many men wore head coverings and it seemed that the genders were separated while praying.  I also noted during the readings that the celebrations were taking place all over the world—Italy, Kenya, Athens, China—and not just in Middle Eastern countries, like Pakistan and Iraq.  I did not find any of the stages to be more challenging than others.  I discovered about myself that we are always learning, especially when it comes to culture, and I can help guide my students to use this strategy to get to a better understanding of cultures.  This course was very encouraging to me because at this time I feel that the discourse in the United States of America about culture is very aggressive and exclusive, whereas I feel that I can give myself and my students permission to be cultural investigators and our discoveries will make us better classmates, community members, and citizens.  Some strategies I will use are explicitly giving my students the language to have a discussion, such as "I need to learn more about" or "When I try to put myself in ___'s shoes".  I also will let my students know that we have the freedom to say we don't know everything about a culture, but we are willing to learn together.

Hello Maureen, Yes! We are all lifelong learners. You indicated that you plan to think carefully about the language learners need to engage in important discussions about culture, e.g., "When I try to put myself in ___'s shoes ..." Inviting empathy into the classroom in this way while also providing a sentence frame for language learners is what we would hope to see in every ESL classroom. Good luck with your classes!

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition CoP

My cultural assumptions prior to taking this course were very limited due to my years as an educator teaching at pubic high schools in military towns. Also, I was the Director of a Public Library who promoted literacy to my community and with the influx of Spanish speakers, I ensured we provided materials for their needs. As an instructor, I have conscientiously tried to integrate the DIE method when ELL students transferred into my classes for the benefit of both the new and veteran students so we would become more familiar with each other.  
Big C Little C Beloved by Toni Morrison iPods Madonna a Groupon Voucher Star Wars by George Lucas baseball Jeremy Lin a bus ticket Betsy Ross' flag Facebook The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald a McDonald's menu The Great Depression a Coke can The White House      

I choose the Big C's because these books, people, place and history will not change their place the culture. 

I choose the Little C's because these things can change over time in how they work and look.  

I would like to think that I haven’t looked at my students as a single story. As the speaker pointed out, we tend to hold on to what we see and read in the media, which sadly is mostly negative and/or belittling information.

I know that not all Mexicans are in gangs or drug dealers but that is what is shown. I also know that not all Mexicans work in fields harvesting food but that is what is shown. I know that not all Africans live in dusty mud huts but that is what is shown. I say all of that to say, I try my best not to see my students through a single story because I know they are more than just that one thing.

 

Hi Ronita, The single story video included in this online course is so powerful. It really made me think about our human tendency to stereotype. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Langugae Acquisition

Without knowing anything about the DIE model, I believe I was approaching culture learning in a very similar way. I went through the 3 stages but I think I did them simultaneously. Going through the DIE stages has helped me to go through them not judgmental but with eyes of a learner who is seeking knowledge about the culture. I find that description is the most challenging for me. When I am in the descriptive stage my observations can be somewhat negative just like the first conversation shared. I was able to overcome this difficulty by changing the negative connotations in my description and describing my observations without judgment.

I think the way that the DIE inquiry strategy was used in section 3 is the best way to address cultural assumptions and dilemmas in the classroom. As the teacher, I can show a video and go through the stages of DIE demonstrating  the appropriate way to approach culture learning.