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Accepting Cultural Differences for a Global Mindset

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A guest post by Deborah Cochran ESOL Teacher for grades K-5 at Craig Elementary School, Parkway School District in St. Louis, MO Imagine Learning occasionally publishes guest posts to stimulate conversations about K–12 education across the country. Opinions expressed herein are those of the individual author and may not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Imagine Learning. *The following article is an updated version of a prior post by the author.   Multiculturalism is a hot topic in education today; just ask any teacher. As more multicultural students enter the classroom, educators have to continually challenge old ways of thinking about culture. But where to start? Like it or not, most assumptions about other cultures arise from cultural stereotypes or complete myths. And debunking those myths is an important first step when entering the pathway to a global mindset.
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A guest post by Deborah Cochran, ESOL K–5 Teacher, Craig Elementary School, Parkway School District, St. Louis, MO

Imagine Learning occasionally publishes guest posts to stimulate conversations about K–12 education across the country. Opinions expressed herein are those of the individual author and may not necessarily reflect the official opinion of Imagine Learning. The following article is an updated version of a prior post by the author.

Multiculturalism: a hot topic in education today

Multicultural celebration, Cochran, Imagine This, global

As more multicultural students enter the classroom, educators have to continually challenge old ways of thinking about culture. But where to start?

Many assumptions about other cultures arise from cultural stereotypes or complete myths. And debunking those myths is an important first step when entering the pathway to a global mindset.

Myth 1

America is a melting pot.

Truth: While one might expect immigrants to melt into the fondue pot of American culture and language, the truth doesn't always fit within a tidy metaphor.

Historically, Americans haven't melted into a homogenous blend of flavors. Instead, we keep our own perspectives and traditions and expect newcomers to blend in.

Perhaps a better analogy is to view America as a mixed salad. Newcomers arrive and keep their own unique culture and language while learning more of the American culture and language around them.

In this way, multiculturalism can exhibit different but equally appealing ingredients—like a mixed salad.

Myth 2

Culturally diverse families don't want to be actively involved in their children's American education.

Truth: Some cultures may employ a hands-off approach when it comes to children's educational experiences in America but others would like to be engaged with their children's learning.

Some families are unsure of how to be involved or perhaps worry about being able to communicate clearly with their children's teachers. They may also:

  • Hold a different view on the topic of knowledge
  • Subscribe to a unique cultural view on teaching in general
  • See literacy defined differently than an American educator

It may be tempting to assign an American view onto new student and parent behavior, but it is always better to gain accurate insights straight from the source: your student and their family.

If guided by genuine concern and a desire for nuanced instruction, your inquiry will likely be received in a positive way. Remember, most families just want their children to succeed—just as teachers do.

Myth 3

All multilingual students need English language remediation from literacy experts.

Truth: Given the growing English learner (EL) population in today's classrooms, teachers' roles continually evolve allowing even more collaborative and co-teaching opportunities.

As every students is an academic language learner, every teacher becomes an academic language teacher—regardless of their subject of expertise.

Therefore, every teacher can implement effective language support strategies for each of their students—whether they are a native English learners or a newcomer.

Ultimately, every teacher can help multilingual students learn and achieve.

Myth 4

All multilingual students need general remediation.

Truth: Teachers should view each multilingual student in the class as an asset, not a liability. Each student has a unique world view that can greatly enhance a classroom community, particularly when teachers apply the proper scaffolding.

Educators with a global mindset will be open to the following advice from the Center for Applied Linguistics:

  • Learn about, value, and build on the languages, experiences, knowledge, and interests of each student to affirm each student's identity and to bridge new learning.
  • Value multilingual students' funds of knowledge and treat them as resources in the classroom.
  • Research shows that taking students' cultural backgrounds and experiences into account in order to make instruction more appropriate and effective is a critical component of culturally responsive instruction.
  • Incorporate your English learners' native languages in lessons.

By following these suggestions, American educators can make the educational experience a better one for kids of all cultural backgrounds. 

For more culture-based resources, visit the author's prior post on growing a global mindset and scroll to the bottom of the page.

About the Author

Deborah Cochran, guest author, Imagine This, blog, global mindset

Deborah Cochran currently teaches English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL) in grades K–5 at Craig Elementary School in the Parkway School District, St. Louis, Missouri.

Her past experiences include teaching English language learners for sixteen years, both in Missouri and northern New Jersey where she worked in pull-out, sheltered, and bilingual instructional models in grades K–12.

In 2010 Deborah began blogging during coursework for her Educational Administration degree from William Woods University. She uses The ESOL Link as a resource for the teachers she supports in Missouri.

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