Ruth Van Reken is an activist and writer whose mission it is to train teachers and counselors to recognize students’ cross-cultural experiences. Ruth discusses some techniques that educators can use to inspire students to share their individual histories.
Discover the Student’s Story
Parents can provide a vital first point of contact in getting to know more about students, as long as educators know the right questions to ask. Here are some methods for talking to parents:
- Distribute a questionnaire asking parents about places they’ve lived, the language they use at home, and their customs.
- Practice active listening during parent/teacher meetings, making special note of the cultural differences between places they have lived and any significant experiences the student has had.
When talking directly to students, keep in mind that they are more likely to share their stories if they feel connected to the rest of the classroom.
- Ask each student to bring something from another place they have visited or lived.
- Have each student write a description, create a piece of visual artwork, or give a presentation on another culture they have experienced.
Understand the Stories
While many cross-cultural students are happy to share their experiences when prompted, it is also important to listen closely for subtle references and carefully process each story. Consider these questions:
- What are the cultural communities of this student’s world? Are any “invisible” to me—that is, are they outside the realm of my experience or imagination?
- How different is the student’s home culture from the school culture?
- Could any behavior I see possibly be because the student is not comfortable culturally?
Apply the Stories
Make it a point to acknowledge each student’s cultural diversity by displaying their work and encouraging them to share their experiences with other students. When you invite these activities in your classroom, you will help each student affirm their story, while enriching the overall learning experience. And you’ll have fun in the process!
Did You Know?
- In Japan, it is impolite to look the teacher in the eye when talking to him or her. (Yet in the United States, looking down while talking to someone is seen as having something to hide.)
- In Britain, a check mark means the math problem is correct and a plus sign means it is wrong.
- Cross-cultural: dealing with or offering comparison between two or more cultures or cultural areas.
- Third-culture kids: students who grow up or spend a significant part of their childhood growing up outside their parents’ home culture. TCKs include children of international business people, diplomatic corps, military families, and missionaries.
Karen Allen is the editor for ProPointers, an e-publication produced quarterly by Kappa Delta Pi for its practitioners and administrators. Submit questions, comments, content suggestions, or articles to firstname.lastname@example.org.