Category Archives: Cultural Exploration

Language Learning Promotes Acceptance of Social and Physical Diversity

I wrote a previous post on how a change in the words that a student uses can change a students mindset.  Essentially, a mindset that is more focused on growth and overcoming challenges will lead to higher confidence and a clearer understanding, whereas a fixed mindset causes students to limit their confidence and potential (Carol Dweck, Mindset).  I recently came across the results of a study done at Concordia University in Montréal, Québec that looked at how this concept of a growth or fixed mindset can be influenced by the process that a young learner goes through as he learns a foreign language.

Language Learning Promotes Acceptance of Social and Physical Diversity (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comThis was an interesting study in its methodology.  The children they worked with were 5-6 years old.  Some children were monolingual and others were children who had learned a second language in some capacity.   The researchers told the children stories about babies born to English parents but adopted by Italians, and about ducks raised by dogs. They then asked if “the children would speak English or Italian when they grew up, and whether the babies born to duck parents would quack or bark”  They also questioned “whether the baby born to duck parents would be feathered or furred.”  The children who had learned a second language knew that a baby raised by Italians would speak Italian, whereas the monolingual children were not as certain. The children with experience learning a second language were also more likely to believe that an animal’s physical traits and vocalizations are learned through experience or that “a duck raised by dogs would bark and run rather than quack and fly.”

The results of the study show that learning a second language (not two languages together from birth) not only promotes a growth mindset, but it can “alter children’s beliefs about a wide range of domains, reducing children’s essentialist biases,”  which leads to less stereotyping and prejudiced attitudes. In addition, the study posits that “early second language education could be used to promote the acceptance of human social and physical diversity.”

Engaging with Culture in the Foreign Language Classroom: Cultural Value Dimensions

In a previous post I wrote about Cultural Intelligence (CQ), which is based on  David Livermore’s research and posits that CQ begins with an interest that motivates us to learn about a culture and we use that knowledge to effectively navigate and interact with the culture.

Engaging with Culture in the Foreign Language Classroom: Cultural Value Dimensions (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comBut how do we gain knowledge about a culture that gives us insights into perspectives that influence behavior, traditions and practices?  There are 10 dimensions of cultural value that researchers at the Cultural Intelligence Center (including Livermore) use to compare one culture with another.  It is important to point out the difference between a stereotype and archetype in this research. A stereotype is the belief that all members of a group act the same way while an archetype is a tendency of a group of people to behave in a certain way.  These cultural value dimensions are based on archetypes.

Engaging with Culture in the Foreign Language Classroom: Cultural Value DimensionsI use these cultural values to engage conversations about culture that come up in classroom.  Rather than viewing our own culture as the norm, we reference these cultural values to gain an understanding of the perspectives of our culture and that of another country or community.  This framework helps to move beyond statements such as “Culture A is always late and Culture B is always on time.”  With an understanding of the “Time–Punctuality versus Relationship” cultural value dimension there is a better understanding of how to engage with a culture that is different than one’s own in regards to this  particular dimension.

I don’t reference all of the dimensions with students because it can get a bit overwhelming.  Instead, I focus on a few and they learn to words to reference them in the target language. These are the Cultural Value Dimensions that tend to be more approachable for students, though more are possible with additional time and dedication.

Engaging with Culture in the Foreign Language Classroom: Cultural Value Dimensions

Teaching Students How to Engage with Culture : Cultural Intelligence (CQ)

The common way of approaching the teaching of culture in the foreign language classroom is focused on what is known of as a “functional” view of culture.  This essentially means that learning about culture means knowing about elements such as what people eat, where they live, what holidays they celebrate and the structure of the government.  This knowledge of the culture is a helpful starting point, but we need to take this a step further with our students and teach them how to use this knowledge to engage with the culture.  There is more involved in understanding the perspectives that contribute to the behavior of any given cultural group, and you can read more about that in my earlier post, How to “Teach” Culture in a Foreign Language Class.

Knowledge is the first step in engaging with a culture.  The ultimate goal is to develop a strong Cultural Intelligence (CQ), which allows us to appropriately and effectively engage with a culture that is different from your own.

Screen Shot 2014-11-28 at 11.37.20 AMCQ has 4 Factors:

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To put this all together in simple and cohesive statement, our CQ begins with an interest that motivates us to learn about a culture and we use that knowledge to effectively navigate and interact.

These ideas are based on the work of David Livermore at the Cultural Intelligence Center.

How to define Culture?

There are many definitions of culture and these definitions tend to vary based on the perspective and approach of the person or organization defining the term.  In an attempt to find an understandable and accurate definition that is appropriate for students, I searched the internet for various definitions from well known researches and authors in the field of cultural studies.  I found 10 viable definitions.  I took these 10 (often verbose) definitions and put them all together in a word cloud.  The clouds give greater prominence to words that appear more frequently in the source text.   I wanted to see what the most common words were that came up in all of the definitions.  The word cloud produced a clear, concrete and easily understood definition.  Based on the word cloud, this is the definition that stands out.

Culture: Shared patterns of learned behavior.

How to define Culture? (French, Spanish)

I’ve received a few requests for a download of this graphic.  You can download a pdf here.

Foreign Language Speaking or Writing Activity that Begins with Two Words

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To begin this activity, show students two pictures that are different in some way.  Ask them to take a close look and interpret how they are different.  Then, they write one word for each picture that best describes it. Limiting it to one word causes students to focus on one aspect.  Once they do this, the teacher can have them talk in small groups about why they chose these words or they can write about it.  The activity and also be combined and students and speak in groups after writing about it.  This activity lends itself to the ACTFL standards fairly well as students can be guided to speak or write in the text type of the various levels (individual words, phrases, sentences, strings of sentences, connected sentences or paragraphs). A great starting point or hook for conversations.  This particular picture inspired such great conversation that I decided to make a bulletin board out of it with different languages.

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Cultural Connections in the Foreign Language Classroom – from Novice to Advanced

The Peace Corps has been working internationally for more than 50 years in more than 139 countries. The Peace Corps has kept true to its mission over the years, “to promote world peace and friendship.”  The Peace Corps is more vital than ever, working in collaboration with partner organizations and using cutting-edge technologies and well-tested best practices to enhance impact.

Cultural Connections in the Foreign Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comWhat better way to have students learn about the world than to partner with a Peace Corps volunteer in a country where the language they study is spoken.  There is a division of the Peace Corps dedicated to providing these opportunities to teachers.  It is called Global Connections and teachers can search for lesson plans and also apply to get a Peace Corps Exchange Partner.  This program connects classrooms with a Peace Corps Volunteer serving abroad. Peace Corps Volunteers in the field exchange emails, letters, videos, photographs, and telephone calls with classrooms.

I have had a Peace Corps Exchange partner for several years and I have had novice and intermediate level exchanges between my students and students in a school in Senegal.  Culture can start at the novice level.  In fact, my 3rd grade class had an informative and interesting exchange.  They began by writing a few sentences about themselves on one side of a sheet of paper (in French) and drew and labeled their family and home on the back.  We sent these to Sam, our Peace Corps Volunteer, in Senegal along with blank copies of the paper that my students completed.  Sam did the same activity with her students and sent them back.  There were so many great conversations that happened simply by looking at way my students drew and labeled their families and homes and how that compared to the drawings of the Senegalese students.

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Take advantage of the many great opportunities out there to connect students to the culture of the language that they are studying.  No need to wait for intermediate or advanced levels, it can start at the novice level.

Building Community and Confidence in the Foreign Language Classroom

Teachers need to assist students in taking an active and involved role in their language learning.  A great first step is to create a classroom culture and climate that promotes communication, collaboration, respect and responsibility.  Once this is established students will be more comfortable taking risks in speaking the language and not be afraid of making mistakes.

Building Community and Confidence in the Foreign (World) Language Classroom (French, Spanish) wlteacher.wordpress.comMy students agree to try their best to keep to a “classroom contract” that is posted in the room and referred to as needed.  The major themes are:
-I communicate
-I think
-I respect
-I collaborate
-I take risks
-I take responsibility

Here is the English translation of the French contract in the photo:

I communicate..
-in French.
-with my teacher when I have questions and/or when I need help.

I think…
-about vocabulary that I know and I don’t use a translator.
-about tools that I have.

I respect..
-the cultures, ideas and opinions presented in class and I understand that my way is one possibility and not the only way.

I collaborate…
-with my classmates.
-with the goal of learning from my classmates and helping when I can.

I take risks…
-by participating in class (in French), even when I am not absolutely sure.

I take responsibility…
-by arriving to class with my materials (book, notebook, homework, a positive attitude).
-by arriving on time and ready to be a part of the classroom community.

Teaching Global Citizenship in the World Language Classroom

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 5.38.36 PMThe world we live in is becoming more and more interconnected every minute of every day.  No longer are people only citizens and residents of  the place they live, but rather we all inhabit the planet together.  For this reason we are responsible for the issues and dilemmas that face everyone.  This requires being a Global Citizen.  What better place to teach about being a Global Citizen than in the Foreign/World Language Classroom?

What does it mean to be a Global Citizen and how can we teach this to our students and learn more about it ourselves?  Global Citizens:

  • understand that we share the world with other people, and that events in one part of the world affect people in other parts of the world.
  • engage in active service learning to better understand and  meet the needs of  people in their community and abroad.
  • seek to deepen their own ability to make a difference.
  • learn about people from other cultures and show respect for diversity.
  • demonstrate compassion for people from around the world and seek to understand issues related to social justice, equality and interdependence.

This concept of Global Citizenship lends itself to Project Based Learning.  You can read my previous post on Project Based Learning in the Foreign/World Language Classroom HERE and see some tips for implementation in the classroom HERE.  These projects give students opportunities to engage in Global Citizenship while using the target language authentically.

You can find resources for engaging students in global issues on these websites:

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History of Haiti and the Haitian Revolution

A great resource for French teachers.  This video is a 12 minute introduction to Haiti and the Haitian Revolution.

Tips for Successful Foreign Language Class Project-Based Learning

Project-Based Learning can happen in many ways and the product and outcome may not be what is expected, but the process is where the learning is most powerful.

Tips for Successful Foreign Language Class Project-Based Learning (French, Spanish) www.wlclassroom.comHere are some helpful suggestions for planning, coaching and mentoring students through successful project-based learning.

  • Student Choice and Creativity that empowers and inspires the students to own their own learning and engage deeply in the project.
  • Tackles Relevant Issues and importance beyond the classroom.
  • Exemplary Models by other students, teachers, or professionals, to set criteria for high-quality work and set strategies to attain them.
  • Incorporates Hands-On Work, such as: art, technology, or processes- related to the discipline.
  • Lasting Learning of a deeper learning skill, idea, or way of thinking that is relevant to students’ lives, their futures, and transforms who they are as human beings.
  • Mirrors Real-World Work of professionals in craft, process, or skill (e.g. historians, writers, mathematicians, artists).
  • Moves Beyond Classroom in purpose, audience, or contribution to community.

You can read the full article by Bob Lenz on Edutopia HERE.