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Culture and the Classroom

Updated on August 6, 2012

Honoring Cultures in a Classroom

We Are All Uniquely Beautiful
We Are All Uniquely Beautiful

The Backpacks We Each Carry

Though the color of our skins may differ, we may speak another language, follow another religious belief, or just be uniquely different, we all share in our humanness. And, the genesis of our being comes from the place we call family.

There are so many different kinds of families in this world and from these family units, beautiful children are spawned and sent into institutional settings we call the schoolhouse.

The children come to the classroom with their backpacks, cultural and material based. They come to learn about different disciplines and to be socialized into a civilized society. How we as educators go about this process is as individual as we are ourselves.

How do we create a cohesive environment that embraces acceptance and invites all learners to the table? How do we break down the barriers that divide us as human beings? This at times is a conundrum.

However, in my experience, the best way to impact the lives of children and bring them together as a unified group is to funnel them into strong teams, empowering them to support one another and to use children's literature as a means to parallel their own life experiences.

That said, I'd like to offer up some lessons that will bring about cohesion and acceptance in your classroom while teaching many important disciplines (content areas) as well.

No Matter where We Come From, We All Have Traditions

Sharing Our Traditions

Essential Questions:

1.What is a tradition? Examples....

2. Who can start a tradition?

3.Where do they take place?

We brainstorm around the room and discover that holding a family game night can be a tradition, having a town hall meeting in class can be viewed as a tradition, family trips are a time honored tradition as well as Christmas dinners, Passover Seders, being in a landscaping family business, and so much more. The idea is to get them to understand the word, "tradition."

Next, I always love storytelling through captivating literature. It is a great way to show children that others share in their heritage and experiences. So, let's continue:

The Village Basket Weaver, By Jonathan London

A great literacy strategy here can be a "picture walk." Page through, displaying the colorful illustrations to the class (preferably seated on a rug or designated literary area). Have them preview and forecast (predict) what might happen in the story or pick out familiar context.

Then, begin reading and along the way implement " Question the Author." Why do you think the author said, yada yada....? Why did the author choose this setting? Why did the author describe the character, that way? You get the picture, right?

Okay, moving on, you've finished the brainstorming on "traditions," having the students share their own family experiences and you've read the book implementing a couple of literacy strategies, ensuring that comprehension was achieved.

Now, team them and have them create anew a team tradition or class idea for a daily or weekly tradition that they will vote on and share in during the tenure of the year. Have them create a "plan."

Let's look at this from a disciplinary angle:

ELA: Children's Literature on topic

S.S.: Cultural Traditions, Geography, World Cultures, Voting Process/Democracy

Career and Development: Traditional Vocations

Languages Other than English: World Languages

You have: Problem-Solving, High Order Thinking, Project-Based Learning

We are not a Melting Pot, Rather, We are Unique Threads

"We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” Maya Angelou
"We all should know that diversity makes for a rich tapestry, and we must understand that all the threads of the tapestry are equal in value no matter what their color.” Maya Angelou

Quilts and Culture

Another way to honor culture is to incorporate the tradition of quilting into the classroom setting.

Quilting is a fertile topic and a great one to implement a literacy strategy that shares its name, "Quilts."

First, pick a few books to review on topic. Then the teams can either read one or two books each or if you have the time, have teams of 8 run "literature circles," a model by Harvey Daniels. If you are not familiar with this wonderful model, I will digress and underscore the model for you here:

Teacher as Facilitator

Student Centered Approach to Learning

Have students select jobs for the group and place chart paper up on the wall next to each group as a discussion board. The jobs are as follows:

The Connector, who finds connections between the book and the readers and the wider world

The Questioner, who writes down questions that the group has about the book or part of the book (places on discussion board)

The Literary Luminary, whose job is to locate a few special sections or quotations for the group to ponder

The Illustrator, who is the picture person, pictures are worth a thousand words and the visual imagery will expand the understanding of the text

The Summarizer, who prepares a brief summary of today's reading--highlights

The Researcher, whose job is to research background info on any topic related to the book

The Word Wizard, who defines the beautiful language found in the book, words with special meaning

The Scene Setter, who lets us know about where things take place

1. Students choose their reading materials (they select the book)

2.Small temporary groups

3.Different groups read different books

4.Groups meet at regular times

5.Written notes or drawn notes to guide reading and discussion

6.Group meetings

7. Teacher facilitates and observes, can sit in with the groups

After the teams have completed their work with the literature circles, they can create a "Quilt" highlighting the important details of the many stories they read. They can use theme as a means to dress the quilt; they may opt to create important words, use symbolism or character analysis or any other goal you might have as the instructor.

The quilts can first be created in paper using colored construction sheets that attach using yarn. Then, you can call in what I call a "master teaching artist," a person who is an expert in the craft (a quilter) and have that person lead the class in the creation of group quilts (crayon and fabric) or a class mural quilt.

Should anyone need a referral of a quilter, please contact me via the Hubpages and I will pass that information along.

Threading it Across Discipline

Social Studies
Languages Other Than English
Career and Development
Children's Literature
Culture, Traditions
Fabric Dyes
Tools for Quilters
Global Languages
Historical Music
Literacy Strategies
Global Communities
Calculator Apps
iPhone Quilt Block Tool
History of the Underground RR
The finer Threads of Learning

Books You'll Need for this Rich Lesson

Other Quilt Literature Across History and Culture

The Tortilla Quilt By Jane Tenorio-Coscarelli

The Talking Cloth By Rhonda Mitchell

Grandfather's Story Cloth: Yawg Daim Paj, Ntaub Dab Neeg By Linda Gerdner and Sarah Langford

Reuben and the Quilt By Merle Good

Cassie's Word Quilt By Faith Ringgold

Shota and the Star Quilt By Margaret Bateson-Hill

Under the Quilt of Night By Deborah Hopkinson

Quilting Now and Then By Karen Bates Willing and Julie DockPapa and the Pioneer Quilt By Jean Van Leeuwen

The Quilting Bee By Gail Gibbons

Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt By Lisa Campbell Ernst

Stitchin' and Pullin: a Gee's Bend Quilt By Patricia McKissack

Exemplars of Construction Paper Quilts

 Teacher Candidates with Their Exemplar
Teacher Candidates with Their Exemplar
Teacher Candidates with Their Exemplar
Teacher Candidates with Their Exemplar


Submit a Comment

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    6 years ago from New York

    joanveronica thank you for reading this and thinking enough of it for a vote and commentary.

  • joanveronica profile image

    Joan Veronica Robertson 

    6 years ago from Concepcion, Chile

    Hey, great article, very creative, this is really what curriculum is all about! Voted up, awesome, beautiful and interesting. I can really relate to this content! God bless and have a good day!

  • RobinGrosswirth23 profile imageAUTHOR

    Robin Grosswirth 

    6 years ago from New York

    I love to experience culture through food as well, a yummy experience.

  • GoForTheJuggler profile image

    Joshua Patrick 

    6 years ago from Texas

    Great hub, Robin - voted up! To digress for a moment, my favorite way to experience culture is through... FOOD! =P


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