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?


<p>Culture is a very important component in the classroom. It may empower the students as well as to create an unconfortable environment in class, depending on the teacher's skills to deal with the subject. Many times we are not prepared to face some missunderstood cultural behavior because our way of seeing things differently.&nbsp;</p><p>I liked the way how the three <span style="font-size: 10pt;">Central America</span><span style="line-height: 1.3em; font-size: 10pt;">om &nbsp;</span><span style="font-size: 10pt;">students</span><span style="font-size: 10pt;">&nbsp;we</span><span style="line-height: 1.3em; font-size: 10pt;">re&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.3em; font-size: 10pt;">able to bring their strenghs to abroad other students' perception of their background. Their strenghs were recognized by the teacher and became part of her activities to integrate these students to the new world inte United States.&nbsp;</span><span style="line-height: 1.3em; font-size: 10pt;">I also was impressed with the dialogue between Anna and Mario. It is amazing to see how a negative strong percepotion can be changed just by DIE. It suggested first to investigating a bit more about a particular issue to then continue with the procedure. &nbsp;These events show us that is it too innocent to grasp our first impression based on most visible behavior rather than going deeper to find reasons for certain typical behaviors. With respect and tolerance we are able to understand each others because not only new inmigrants assimilate the dominant culturre, but also the mayoritized group adapts new ways to be able to understand new cultures.&nbsp;</span></p><p><span style="line-height: 1.3em; font-size: 10pt;">In conclusion, we exhibit practices and routines according to our original place of development, we make assume wrong facts abnout others, but continue improving our founding of knowledge to become more accesible as well to integrate different cultures.&nbsp;</span></p>

This course has helped me to review many things I knew during my years of teaching in Hungary.  Not only was I a non-native there, but also an ESL teacher.  Thus, I was bringing my culture to their culture while trying to assimilate into their culture.  

I am encouraged and motivated to incorporate more culturally integrating activities into my classroom here in the US with my adult students.  

Hi Arden, It's interesting that this ELLU course reminded you of your days teaching in Hungary and how important aspects of culture were for you at that time. It's good to hear you feel encouraged and motivated to address culture more explicitly in your classroom after taking this online course.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, AELL CoP


I found the information about the Moslem practice of celebration at the end of Ramadan interesting. I had not realized the celebration aspect of Ramadan, and was interested in the wearing of new clothes, etc. It reminded me of the Christian practice of celebration of Easter after Lent, and the Obon festival which the Japanese celebrate at the end of the time when they believe the souls of the dead visit, and they send them back. Having celebrated Easter each year since birth, and the Obon festival while teaching in Japan, I was wishing I knew about the festival at the end of Ramadan when I was tutoring a woman from Somalia. I would now ask her if she and her family celebrated the end of Ramadan, and in future teaching ESL, will ask about forms of celebration in the cultures of the people I teach.


As an immigrant teacher who has taught in schools outside of the US, I have had students from many cultures in my classes. As a result, I know a little bit of many cultures. After reading on DIE, I have realized that one cannot act effectively on limited knowledge. As teachers we must always be on a learning mode and be open minded to others. I have Moslem friends and know they pray during Ramadan but I didn't know that the prayers were all different and had different names. This helps me understand when my students need to go and pray at break time and why they can't wait until later as Christians likely would. For me DIE will extend  beyond the classroom and to my neighbors and people that I get to interact with. 

I do really believe that we must include the culture in our classrooms certainly very often. I am an International Teacher who came from Spain and I do really believe that the culture plays a very important role in our daily practice as teachers.

Based on my practice, I realized that we must include culture as an ongoing activity which should be always present in many ways in our classes, students enjoy watching different places, customs, ways of living, people, and they get easily engaged on tasks that show different cultures than their own. You can: reflect on them, compare both, look for differences, talk about what you like and dislike, describe landscapes, people, etc. 

Approaching instruction to different cultures helps students to open their minds, to think critically (think out of the box), to have a better and global image of themselves as a part of the whole world and definitely, help us with the goal, of getting a differentiated and individual instruction. 

When the topic of the instruction is close to their lives, they get focused and engaged because they find themselves as a part of the educational process, and moreover, they assume the contents and procedures because they are real and useful for their own lives.


Let the child prepare for life by living

Ovide Decroly

I went to the CARECEN website. I saw pictures of Latino people with certificates, possibly their becoming citizens. I wonder why remittances are so important for people in the US based on Central American politics. I saw statistics that this organization helps people legally immigrate to the US. I saw that most of their cases were unique. I wonder why this website isn’t in Spanish?

From my perspective, it looks like this website is for people who have been in the US for a while and want to immigrate legally. This website might possibly be more for people who are lawyers and advocates. They may have more Spanish materials elsewhere in Washington.

At first, I was very confused because I don’t have a lot of background knowledge concerning legality issues for immigrants from Central America. I struggled with accepting stereotypes that I heard from the media that talks about illegal immigrants being horrible people. Part of me wonders why are these people helping them? However, I need to learn more about this organization because this is a very complicated situation.

I discovered my assumption is that these people are helping illegal immigrants, but probably many of these people have different types of work VISAS as well. It helped me because I tried to see the positive instead of instantly seeing the negative. Interpretation is a hard stage because obviously, I don’t have enough information to form a good judgment. It would be better if I spoke with people who have successfully come into the United States.

The DIE model can help create a classroom where people develop good cognitive skills and questioning strategies. It also helps humanize people rather than go with one-dimensional stereotypes. We can use this model to facilitate interconnectedness in my classroom but also understand “majority” American culture better.

Hi Nicole, As you suggest, the DIE process highlighted in the ELLU online course on the role of culture in ESL offers a safe means for people to question their own assumptions, including ourselves. Thanks for sharing your reflection. You are taking away a lot from this online course.

Cheers, Susan Finn Miller

Moderator, English Language Acquisition

Culture plays a critical role in teaching and learning. In order to create a more inclusive learning environment and facilitate cross cultural understanding among all members of of the class, I will integrate the following strategies:   (1,) resist framing students as being deficient; (2.) engage students in active learning to allow for dialogue and formative assessment; (3.) design cooperative learning activities that guarantee participation of all members of the group; (4.) deconstruct the curriculum to ensure that it connects with students' lives and goals; and model interest and respect for differences. 

The role of culture is an important element to teaching my students. Because of a former school systen that I worked in tried to assimilate students instead of allowing them to be acculturated, I deeloped a while program which was senstive to their needs. I face a lot of opposition, and needless to say I no longer work for this system. 

This course gave me a better understanding of how to give my Adult ESL students more opportunities to share their cultures and beliefs with our class. The you-tube videos were helpful especially the one about the young girls who shared how they are "hijabistas." After I watched this video, I asked the Muslim women about their hijabs and where they bought them and discussed the beautiful colors and textures. Some of the other female students who had ignored these students, who were seemingly so different from them in the way they dress, entered into the conversation about fashion. I talked about how the hijab shows the strength of Muslim women and their focus on the inner beauty of women as I had learned from the video. I plan to show the clip to my class so that they can have an opportunity to share their culture with us. I found that the hijab made some students uncomfortable, but after the discussion they saw them as women they could relate to.

The Adult Literacy teachers, who are the most culturally competent, are the ones who allow each student to have a voice. The teacher is the facilitator who provides an accepting, non-threatening environment where students feel free to share their unique culture with us. Each student should be encouraged to teach us about their distinct fascinating culture. One way I try to foster discussions about culture is to have students contribute to a board of events where they hang up flyers for festivals and educational events that we can attend. Our Adult ESL students have invited our class to events at the Hindu temple, the Mosque, Festivals, and the Botanical Gardens for cultural events. My students want to share more about themselves, but I find that they are just waiting to be asked.

Cultural investment on behalf of the student(s) is very rewarding. However, if you do not have the educational system on board, such as where I live, (a small rural area). This makes for a diffifcultt task to achieve when administrators are extremely narrowed minded. 

I've always found culture to be a fascinating topic.  Most people think of culture in terms of nationality, but culture is so much more.  We can look at cultural differences/similarities based upon nationality, religion, ethnicity, gender, age, and a multitude of other factors.  

Discussions about culture and values can lead to teaching moments.  Whether it is a simple matter of asking students to jot down a few impressions about a culture or involving learners in the exploration of one or more cultures, instructors can use culture as a point of departure for learning.

In my ESL classes, I normally tried to pair students with someone from a different background.  Can you imagine the long-haired, German biker guy paired with a demure Japanese woman?  Apparently it worked!  The two became friends despite her initial fear of the "man with the tattoos".  More importantly, they helped each other improve their listening and speaking skills.

The idea of big C and little c culture is intriguing.  It's pretty easy to figure out that the White House, the Constitution, the Civil War, and other aspects of American life with a history are part of the big C.  (By the way, for some people, the term "Big C" means cancer!)  some of the little c items are clearly things that will go away after time.  The problem of deciding is something modern is Big C or little c lies with its ability to last and influence others.  I would probably consider Elvis to be a Big C.  I'm not sure if Bare Naked Ladies will become Big C.  When we get into a discussion of these areas, we  have to consider whether something will be enduring or whether it will merely fade away.  





I can see how the DIE Model would be very useful for any ESL instructor, but especially for new ones.  Many instructors lack experience with cultural diversity aside from one or two dominant cultures in their area.  By employing the DIE Model, instructors can describe, interpret, and evaluate cultural behaviors and then use the knowledge gained from the model to more effectively connect to their students.

I have used the DIE and Funds of Knowledge models most recently in working with members of the Boruca tribe in southern Costa Rica.  My husband, a native of Costa Rica, had never thought about either of these two models.  In our visit to the Boruca, he was more surprised with aspects of the indigenous culture than I was.  Oddly enough, he seemed to see the Boruca as being other than Costa Rican, whereas I saw them as part of the large, diverse peoples who make up that nation.  Since our initial visit, one of the Boruca has taught me to spin cotton, weave, and even carve and paint tribal masks.  In making a connection to the Funds of Knowledge of the Boruca, I see great opportunities to help further their knowledge of English, which is important for tourism.


Funds of Knowledge seems to work well to research children's background and/or small group of students. I am interested to find out how to implement this process within a large group of adult ESL students of different nationalities. Any comment will be welcomed.


This was interesting as we have been doing lots with funds of knowledge - just didn't know what it was called. We just knew if we started with things folks already knew it was much easier to move forward and branch learning off of the original knowledge the students had. They were more engaged and offered more of themselves to the whole class.

The DIE model is great for broadening acceptance of other cultures - in an inquiry and thought provoking manner. It is a great conversation to have, to get to know the real feelings, etc. of the individuals in a culture. The contrast among the different indigenous groups In Guatemala.. It is amazing to see the descriptions - how varied rpthey are and to discover how different the individuals feel about certain events and "habits"  of their fellow Guatemalans. This is eye opening to them as feel as the teachers.



Living overseas in another culture has helped prepare me and made me a better teacher. I have used the different cultures to bring about teaching moments in my classroom. I have used different aspects of culture to teach my class.

Hi, Billy and others,

I agree that living overseas (as opposed to just traveling there) can help make someone a better teacher. You say that you have "used different cultures to bring about teaching moments in your classroom." Could you give us an example of one of these teaching moments?

Here’s my example: I remember many years ago when I was teaching international students at the University of Minnesota. I had just returned from two years living and teaching in Barcelona. I was doing a dictation with the students about a package I had just received from Spain. I had sent it to myself 6 months before. It had arrived in tatters – the box that is – but the books inside were fine. I was doing the kind of dictation where you read it first at a natural speed and then you read it again more slowly. Then you read it again at a natural speed. The object is for the students to comprehend and recreate it.

Anyway, I noticed that one young man was sighing as he was doing the task. Another was looking sort of overwhelmed. Maybe it was because the topic of the dictation reminded me of how I had felt at times overseas, but I stopped mid sentence and observed that I thought it was really hard at times to live, study, or work in another culture. The energy returned to the room as if I had  turned on some sort of of electrical device. The students and I had a brief but, I think, important conversation about living overseas; then we returned to the dictation. This time, I didn't notice any sighing and saw a lot more attention and energy going to the task. My just acknowledging the students' situation had made it easier for them to continue to do their classwork.

Anyway, that’s my example. Be great to hear some of yours, fellow community members!



Thank you for your comment. Yes, I agree that it helps to be culturally sensitive if you have lived abroad. My husband and I lived in Nicaragua for twenty years and have traveled throughout Central America. We have also traveled to other parts of the world.

When the students are aware that I have been to their country, the door to teaching them seems to open quicker. I also can talk about their food and clothing when it is appropriate.

I have found that having the experience of being in other countries makes me so much more culturally sensitive in my teaching.


Hi, Miriam,

Great story!  

I think calling on our knowledge of living abroad and/or simply taking time to acknowledge the struggle, work, energy, frustration of the process is really helpful, as you point out.  I know it's true for me when I am learning something new, especially a language, and I have seen it have effects on students as you have described.

Right on for more transparency, human connection, sharing, and encouragement.

Thanks again,


Miriam-- this reminiscence about the dictation in your classroom reminded me so much of a similar incident I had when teaching some years ago.  I had a roomful of folks from the Caribbean in a very low-level English class.  We were practicing the names of items in the classroom and I wanted to do a brief dictation for them to learn the answer form more clearly.  I asked them to get out paper and pencils, which they did, but when I started dictating -- material we had gone over many times, so as far I could tell it was not "new"-- very few wrote anything.  I tried again....nothing... I stopped and thought for a few minutes and then asked them, " You are not writing because you are afraid that you will make a mistake and I will be angry with you, is that right?"  They ALL nodded vigorously!!   They had only experienced extreme authoritarian classrooms where the teacher had a FIT if students made any errors-- sometimes they were hit or slapped.  So needless to say, dictation called up terror!   As you did, I had a conversation with them about how we essentially do not do that in US classrooms and I was not looking at spelling errors, only wanting them to try to write the answers to remember them better.   I PROMISED I would not check or mark anything!!!    Then we started over and all readily wrote things down.    It was a huge learning moment for us all!    

Robin Lovrien 

Consultant in Adult ESL/Education 



During the introduction to the course I ask the students to tell us something about their favorite holiday in their country of origin, their favorite food cooked by their mother, and something abut their home life. I also relate the same information concerning my life. When a pertinent topic arises I segue to relating it to their personal life.

The students are more comfortable when they and their classmates find a commonality and develop an understanding of each other, as well as being given a chance to expound upon something the enjoy and can share with others.

By developing an understanding of other cultures I can understand my students perspective of of my culture. By having my students relate to the class their favorite foods, describing their family relationships, their interest, the work they performed in their homeland and their work here, how they celebrate their favorite holiday, or a family member's birthday an understanding and hopefully an appreciation for that individual develops between them and their classmates, and the students become comfortable in their classroom community.

The cultural knowledge I acquire during this process helps me create a lesson guide that allows me to create lessons relevant to the class.

The DIE process of Describing what I learn from a culture, Interpreting this information (of a culturally significant activity.) and then Evaluating this new knowledge broadens my perspective on the cultural sifnificants of the activity to the student and makes it more relevant to its incorporation into the lesson plan. It also gives rise to explaining the reason for contra-cultural practices (as viewed by other cultures.) that are part of everyday life in America. to make the students feel more at ease in the classroom and in America. For example, in some Asian countires handing something (possibly a worksheet, or lesson) with one hand is considered disrespectful. using two hands and a hint of a bow is showing respect for the receiver of the item.

I was interested in the comment from Robertgd407 about how handing an item to someone with one hand is considered dispresepectful in some Asian cultures. 

The aspect of culture I find tremendously important for teachers in the US to know and think about is the learners' ideas of how education should be conducted.  When learners' ideas about how a "good" classroom should be managed and how a "good" teacher and "good" student behave and interact conflict with or do not coincide with what the teacher him or herself is expecting, things can fall apart.  In my extensive work looking at reasons why adult English language learners fail to thrive or, in some cases, fail period, I learned that culture can often play a huge part in that failure.   Students who come from highly authoritarian educational systems can be unprepared for efforts by their teachers in American classrooms to get them to offer opinions, set learning goals and take responsibility for knowing what to study and how.   These students can feel their teachers do not know what they are doing, and can be very frustrated that the class is not going the way they want it to.  One example of this was related to me by a teacher in a GED program in Texas.  She said a student from Africa had finally "exploded" in frustration one day, railing against her GED teachers because they appeared not to know what they were teaching and what the students should study.  She noted that in her country, the teacher assigned a specific passage to "study" (i.e. memorize) and then the students knew EXACTLY what they would be tested on.  This student was frustrated at not knowing what her teacher meant when she assigned a reading to be "studied" and was unable to adapt to this more unstructured approach.      

Another example comes to mind from a study by Hubenthal, who was looking at, among other things, the barriers to progress in learning English among older Russian immigrants ( Hubenthal, W. (2004).  Older Russian immigrants’ experiences in learning English: motivation, methods and barriers.  Adult Basic Education, 14(2), 104-126.)   The author found that because the immigrants expected that they would be severely scolded and corrected when any mistakes were made, they did not respect their American teacher, who, of course, did not do that.  (When I found this study, I laughed at the idea that any American teacher would chastise an older female student in front of the class for a mispronunciation or small grammar error, so different is our idea of how certain students should be treated!!).

Other times it was cultural/religious differences which impacted the class, as when a married Muslim woman in one of my university ESL classes was hard pressed to find a seat away from unmarried men or the simple greetings routines one teaches in a beginning class had to be modified to assure that this student did not have to interact with the unmarried men.  

 I want to comment on culture and writing, too-- will do so in a separate post.

Robin Lovrien Schwarz  



With the new focus on some states on beginning to incorporate the common core standards into ESL instruction, and/or the focus on the career and readiness standards and incorporating those into adult ESL, ways of incorporating more writing into ESL instruction has been a topic of great interest among teachers, programs and state adult ed. administrators.  Recently I was asked to address this topic at a regional staff development day in NY state.   As I noted in the previous post,  culture plays a huge role in the way many students engage in an ESL classroom, and writing is affected by the student's culture in many ways. 

Just last evening I was visiting with an Ecuadoran man who is studying to be a veterinarian.  He is beginning to think about preparing for the GRE, and noted that he needed to become more familiar with American academic writing since in his country, he said, students do very little writing and he was unfamiliar with the concept of essays and papers.  This aspect of culture and its impact on a student's writing was part of my remarks to the participants at that staff development day.  Adult students we see in ESL who are literate and educated are obviously completely shaped by their culture's ideas of and experience with writing.  The African student I cited in the example about the GED class had never written anything that was not previously memorized.   My extremely bright and educated college students were amused when I asked them how they expressed their ideas in their country.  They said the teacher knew all there was to know on the topic they were studying. Why would they express any ideas?  This explained why their writing teachers in our program (we had separate writing, reading, grammar and listening speaking classes)  kept claiming these students had "no ideas and could not think!!"   Here we see what a deep impact culture and cultural views of how education should happen have on a student's performance in our classrooms.  These examples were part of what moved me to look more closely at what was REALLY going on with students who did not engage in classes or outright failed to make progress. 

Even seemingly simple things like using capitals in writing is different in different cultures and writing systems.  I feel that for them to be effective-and yes, sensitive--, it is tremendously important for teachers to move beyond "the three "Fs"-- food, fashion and fun (music)-- in thinking about culture in the ESL classroom and learn about how students' attitudes and ideas toward learning, interacting, being students and "good" teachers are shaping their receptivity to class lessons and engagement in learning.   

An excellent resource-- and fascinating reading --is Helen Fox's book , Listening to the world: Cultural issues in academic writing. Urbana, IL: National Council of Teachers of English ( 1994). (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 373 331).  Though this is about higher level non-native speakers of English, I found that much of what Fox addresses can be seen in lower levels of education and ESL as well.

Robin Lovrien Schwarz





I believe that cross-cultural understanding in the ESL classroom (or any other setting) should always be a two way process, therefore, ESL students should share their beautiful culture, but at the same time, (teachers) should emphasize the importance of being sensitive and understanding with the mainstream culture.  In my opinion, respect and understanding (from each side) are essential if we want to create a more bi-cultural sensitive ESL learning environment.


Hi, all. This conversation keeps getting better!

I agree with the need for the students to respect one another's cultures and the mainstream culture. They issue with the mainstream culture, also, of course, is more crucial as in order to be successful here students need to understand the "rules" and so on of the mainstream culture.

What sort of adctivities do you do to build this two (or even multi) way respect?




I agree how important is integrate culture activities in the lesson to understand and respect the differents cultures from the world. In my experience as a Teacher I always add a Cultural presentation project in my class and during the class time I let the students to interview students from other country for the last 10 minutes and interview them, asking questions about their culture, holidays, food, school, art, celebrations/festivals and by the end of the course they will put all the information together and present a Country and the people that they interview. If they need more information they have to research it. My students love this activity because they research the Country's information and at the same time they meet real people from that Country and have the opportunity to learn about that country in real life time and develop respect for the different cultures. 

I am an ESL instructor originally from South America.  Most of my students (%90) are of Mexican origin; obviously, the main thing in common is that we share the same first language, Spanish.   Before working with this population I did not realize that the Spanish language had many differences. For example, in expressions, verb use, lexicon, syntax, and intonation among Latin countries.  After working for several years with this population (Mexican origin students) I became a more culturally competent and sensitive teacher.   In other words, I avoid assuming that just because people speak the same first language (or come from the same country, they many not necessarily speak, think, or behave the same… 

Here at The Times in Plain English we use osmosis. To apply learned material and reading techniques to the reading and parsing of content relevant to the lives of readers, we publish varied stories of interest and accessibility to English Language Learners. (That sentence was not an example.) 

Readers choosing what they want to read leads to readers gaining a broader understanding of the world around them. No big C or little c. Self-selection is one way to gauge the interest of the reader.

Arthur Schiff

In order to apply the DIE Inquiry Strategy I observed the Cambodia Town website.

Description: The video shows a group of seniors originally from Cambodia working together as a community. They use the gardening skills they brought from their home country to grow vegetables and exotic plants in the USA.

Interpretation: I think most Cambodian immigrants to the U.S. are community and family-oriented people. They come from rural-farming societies. Evaluation:

This observation provided me a good frame of reference about the background knowledge of the Cambodian people (gardening and farming knowledge). Instructors can use this Background knowledge to create of more meaningful ESL learning setting.

I could use the DIE inquire strategy to create a more meaningful and cultural sensitive pedagogy for my adult ESL students.

                                                        Course Reflection

This course presented interesting points to better understand diversity and avoid stereotyping.  I plan to use the DIE inquire strategy to facilitate a more inclusive learning environment.  A place where students feel secure, appreciate, and their culture is validated in an inclusive cross-cultural learning setting.

My name is Lea. I'm a new member and I'm enrolled in the Role of Culture in the Education of ELL. I am originally from Brazil, but I'm also a British citizen and have lived in the UK for many years. The course is very interesting to me as I also had to learn English as a second language once. I find the role of culture in learning a second language extremelly important. I lived in different countries and speak several languages. It is curious as how different are the nuances of cultures in each langauge I learned.

Culture is a very important part of my teaching. As a non-native speaker, I had to adjust, and still adjusting to the 'little c' culture in the USA, as I had to do in other countries I lived (even in Britain, where they speak English, culturally, another English). I try to make my students understand that and by so doing, I hope they feel included in an environment where they can feel comfortable expressing their own culture and assimilate the native one as well as possible, always keeping their own identity, something I find very important. 

DIE Inquiry Strategy helped me to inform my knowledge about Islam and Muslims.

Description: As I looked at the website of Eid Around the World, I notice that there were very few pictures portraying women, and many portraying men only, praying at mosques. Despite my knowldge of the islamic rules of segregation, I decided to find out more about why women are segregated.

Interpretation: Perhaps, the segregation is due to the complementarianism roles and reponsability specified in the islamic law and practice, which recognizes gender disparity.

Evaluation: I struggle with the segregation of women idea and their assigned role in the community. I learned that there is a differentiation between 'secular islamic' and 'religious islamic' terms. I discovered that I need to learn even more about this topic in order to be a 'culturally competent teacher'.

Hanna used the DIE Model in helping her friend to understand her feelings about the Moroccan restaurant.

Description: Hanna probed her into describing her experience there, after acknowledging that she and her sister had gone.  When Marlo described it as weird, Hanna asked her to explain what was weird.  What Marla described was an experience foreign to her. Sitting and eating on the dirty floor. 

Interpretation: On further examination, Marlo realized the floor was not dirty, but her perception was that a floor was for walking on and she could smell the dirty feet. On remembering her surroundings, Marlo recalled the women wearing headgear that she was not familiar with.  Hanna called the name of the headwraps hijabs, a term, Marlo was unfamiliar with. Marla and her sister had on baseball caps.

Evaluation:  Hanna allowed Marlo to reevaluate her visit to the Moroccan restaurant and better understand what she saw and felt.  The only area she did not unwrap was the smell and taste of the food!  That would have been the first and last details I would have inquired about.  What did you want to eat or have a taste for? What kind of food did they serve? If Marlo and her sister had on baseball caps, maybe they were coming from a baseball game and wanted a quick meal.  The Moroccan restaurant sounds like a place to attend when you are hungry for several courses and you have a lot of time to eat.  It is always a good idea to have an idea about customs, expectations, and people before visiting cultural restaurants.  This would make the visit that much more enjoyable.

Culture plays an important role in teaching and learning. At the begining of each term, when there are new students who join the class, I do an introductory session where every one, including myself, will say our names, where we are from and what we do as work. In the classroom, there is a large map of the world and I ask each student, as they introduce themselves, to physicaly pin their country of origin in the map.  As the term develops, I use all these information and subsequent information disclosed during the course, as material to my lessons. I use them as examples, to develop vocabulary and many more strategies. 

Through the course 'The role of Culture in the Education of Adult ELL, I discovered a new tool. DIE Inquiry Strategy, which I intend to use as appropriate during my lessons. Another interesting activity from the course, which I will implement in my lessons is the 'Practices, Perspective, and Product Framework'. 

As a tutor and case manager for AELL, the most important strategy I have used is to let the student teach me about his/her experiences because I am not the expert about anyone else's culture.  I readily admit that I don't know everything and that I don't want to make assumptions.  I use open-ended questions and listen carefully to answers that hold clues for further dialogue.  I also use supervision to benefit from the mentoring process.

I have observed classroom teachers use partializing skills with students who are flustered.  The teacher breaks down the big problem into small pieces, exploring educational, emotional, and cultural elements that may be the source of frustration.  Sadly, I have observed teachers who make assumptions about cultural knowledge, applying what they learned in the past to the current student without asking if the student's experience was the same or different.

I want to learn how to create better questions so I can explore misunderstandings and feelings of marginalization that may have occurred in the classroom setting.  Also, I want to learn how to communicate with students who are just beginning to learn English.

HI Lea,  I am writing in response to your interesting post on your background and your grappling with cultural issues.  I wonder if you would be willing to speak about how your cultural experience of education in Brazil colored or otherwise impacted your experience as a language learner. Did you learn English in Brazil?  Was it with Brazilian teachers, or was it with teachers of other cultures?  When you work with students now, how do your cultural values compare with and intersect with those of your students?  

I know it is very interesting to think about many aspects of a culture and cultural icons or people who seem to play a culturally important role (e.g.Madonna), but for me, it is always how culture impacts the learning and teaching in the ESOL classroom that interests me.   A student can literally live life 24 hours a day for years and not be impacted by Madonna in the least, right?  But if you expect your teacher to be firmly in charge of the classroom and then find yourself being asked to set your own learning goals, THAT could be uncomfortable.  Or worse, if you have some condition that makes learning challenging ( e.g. serious hearing loss), but you come from a culture where persons with disabilities are routinely excluded from education settings or where it is believed that if you make yourself a "problem" for the teacher by needing special accommodations the teacher will find a way to get revenge, then you are unlikely to communicate your situation to your teacher or teachers.   These are the aspects of culture that I feel we really need to be looking at as teachers of persons from other cultures.   How a person dresses or what he or she prefers to eat for breakfast is far less critical to that person's day-to-day functioning in the ESOL classroom, I find. 

These are aspects of the "hidden" or below-the-waterline culture that Phil Anderson was referring to, and that the metaphor about the iceberg of culture gets at--there is so much that governs our thinking and behavior that even we ourselves are not conscious of until we come face to face with a different way of thinking or doing something.   (This always makes me think of a student from the Arabian Gulf who was at the university where I taught for a long time.  He had gotten a letter that allowed him accommodations in the classroom for some issue, but he needed to set up the process at the student services office.  After two visits there, he refused to go back.  When questioned, he said that the person with whom he was supposed to meet never smiled at him.  Since in his culture a warm greeting of a stranger is very important, he assumed she did not like him and did not want him there.   His whole academic future was at stake without the accommodations he needed, but the differences in cultural values he encountered were almost insurmountable.) 

Robin Lovrien (Schwarz)

Dr. Robin,

I will be most than happy to share my experience here. However, I am not a typical Brazilian (if there is such a thing). Brazil, like the USA, is a melting pot of cultures brought by the many different immigrants that populate that country. These cultures had a very important role on the shaping of what we call " Brazilian culture". Brazil had waves of immigrants through times. First the Bravados Portuguese and the Jesuits, who were the first to arrive there and quickly mingled with the natives. Then the African slaves, the Portuguse Royal Court fleeying from Napoleon, Libanese, Italians, Swiss, Japanese, Germans, and I could go on till tomorrow. The social level of these immigrants varied enourmasly depending of each case. Some were political or religious refugees, sometimes with wealth and European culture, highly educated. Others were economic immigrants seeking a better life. The Afro-brazilians were very soon integrated into the Brazilian life, once slavery was abolished. There is a term in Brazil for the immigrants that first went there (1500s), the four hundred year inhabitants. These were (are) considered to be the ones with "Brazilian" culture, due to their early race mix, and therefore culture mix as well.

My family immigrated between the two World Wars from Hungary and I am first generation born in Brazil. Anybody that immigrated at the beginning of the 1900s were considered "different culturally", more Europeans. I grew up bilingual. I learn French at an early age and continue studying it until I left Brazil 35 years ago. I have lived in many countries and speak several languages. I do not rememberer if my English teacher was a native speaker (I use to hate Englisg!). I am not sure I can say I have a typical culture of anywhere. I had to learn how to adjust to different places, people and cultures. I try my best to understand my students and help them to do the same in their new country's culture. 

I hope I answered some of your questions. 




Star Wars, McDonald's, Madonna, the Betsy Ross flag, The Great Gatsby, iPods, baseball, a Coke can, the White House, and Facebook are all Big C items because their images are recognized and carry meaningful connotation for a wide variety of people of all ages.   

Jeremy Lin was a headline for a while, but other athletes will easily take his place.  The same thing is true about Groupon vouchers.  Perhaps for a short while Lin and Groupon would be Big C items, but they slipped into the little c category over time.

A bus ticket is something used in everyday life and is a generic item in the little c category.  Perhaps a Greyhound bus ticket might move into the Big C category because it is somewhat iconic, but it would be debateable. 



I found your comments very interesting regarding Big C little c. However, I have to disagree with you on a couple of Big Cs. I am not a Native American and new nothing about Betsy Ross flag. Therefore I would not include it in the Big C list. Baseball is a very American cultural symbol, and again I would not include it in the Big C list. The Great Gatsby could be both, big and little, depending of where the immigrant comes from. In certain countries of the Far East and Africa, not many people heard of the film, let alone the book. Same with the Greyhound bus tickets. Many of the items in the list would only be available through film, TV, media, and radio. Many immigrants come from places where those information medium are not there, or there is very low literacy level and the person is not able to read. I agree with you regarding the White House, the can of Coke, McDonalds, Facebook, and to a certain extent Madonna. On the other hand, I think a bus ticket,although an everyday life object, as you rightly point out, I would include amongst the Big C. In some places a bus is not something taken for granted. Considering that immigrants come from all levels of society, I would think some people would think of certain items as iconic and some others wouldn't.

Lets us find out what are the Big Cs and little Cs of our students' by asking them to make a list of their most relevant icons. I am sure it will be varied and very interesting. I will do this exercise in my classroom. 




McDonalds,Beloved, Star Wars,  Madonna, Betsy Ross, The Great Gatsby,  Coke can, White House, facebook baseball, are all Big  C items. I think these icons will be recognized, and passed on to many generations. Ipods, Jeremy Lin, a groupon voucher,  and bus ticket can be replaced, therefore, I place them in the litttle c category.


I observed that the Martyr's Day celebration involved men and women carrying flower arrangements.  The men wore red and blue while the women wore mostly white.  Those in the procession kept their eyes downcast.

I observed that they pronunciation of Karen has the emphasis on the second syllable, while I assumed the emphasis was on the first syllable. 

I also observed that there is a large population of Burmese refugees in the Twin Cities of Minnesota. 


Perhaps Martyr's Day is similar to Memorial Day or Veterans Day in the US.

It is possible that Burmese refugees stayed in Minnesota because airline flights from southern Asia often land in Minnesota or Michigan.


When I have the opportunity to talk with a Burmese refugee, I intend to ask about Martyr's Day so I can learn how it is the same or different as our holidays of Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

Where are other Burmese refugee populations in the US?  I would like to learn why these people chose to make permanent residence in their cities of choice.