Culturally Responsive Teaching: Creating Opportunities

Speech language pathologist have dozens (if not hundreds) of tricks up their sleeves to elicit a variety of targets. Maybe we pull out our super duper fun deck, the magnetalk board, or a trusty Dr. Seuss book. But how can we create culturally responsive learning opportunities?

Culturally responsive teaching is not about tying content to a specific culture or mentioning a specific country. In my post about exploring your own cultural system, I talked about time, family, spiritual beliefs, and communication norms. For a long time, I assumed that because I was part of the dominant white culture in America, I wasn't really "cultural." Even if you have a classroom full of students of the same color skin, you will find a vast difference in their views and values. So, how do you create a classroom full of opportunities for all students? Here are a few tips that I have found successful within my classroom.

Make It Social
Make things social not just for social skills groups but for language, fluency, articulation, and yes, even voice. Have your students work together to solve a problem, plan an activity, or play a game. Not only are you probably making kids say an articulation target before they take their turn, you are also helping students learn how to interact with one another.

To make a lesson culturally relevant to a child, you first need to know the child. Observe how the student interacts with peers and adults. Are they reserved or more outspoken. Think of how you can use what you learn about them to play to their strengths and support them in future learning opportunities. Point out those strengths to the student, even in front of group members. Use those, "I like how so-and-so did this," statements to encourage those healthy interactions.

Challenge the Status Quo
Oooo this can be scary. Have you ever had a student say to another child, "That's weird," or "Why are you doing it that way?" Use these as learning opportunities. Ask the child why they accomplished a task or did something in a way that the other student did not expect. Then ask the student who made the observation what they learned about their group-mate. Not only will you make learning meaningful to the student who is doing things in an unexpected manner, you can also encourage the student who made the not so pleasant comment to think about why they think a certain way. My favorite question is, "Why did you think that way? How did you come up with your answer?" When students know you are genuinely interested in their thought process, you may end up learning a thing or two that will challenge your own way of thinking.

Has a student ever helped you think in a different way?

Wrapping It Up
Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my cultural and equity journey. I know that I still have much more to learn and areas for growth in my cultural competence. Keep in mind that your students and classroom will be different from mine. Use that difference as learning opportunities. As you reflect on your culturally responsive teaching journey ask yourself these questions:

What are your own cultural expectations and biases?
How can you grow your cultural diversity knowledge base?
How are you creating an environment for students to engage in cultural conversations?
What culturally responsive learning opportunities are you creating for your students?

Culturally Responsive Teaching: Cultural Conversations

Have you seen posts on blogs or pinterest on how to create the best classroom for your students? Every summer I browse photos and posts for new ideas to create a better learning environment for the children with whom I work. As a speech language pathologist, I work to balance visual aids with organization and limit visual stimuli. There are some amazing speech therapy rooms out there!

But how can we as speech therapists create a classroom that encourages students to engage in conversations related to culture?

The answer is not simply "buy these materials" or "use this bulletin board." No, we need to work to create an environment that engages students not just in looks but also in building relationships. I have to frequently ask myself, how am I encouraging students of all backgrounds to learn within my classroom? I have learned that it's not just the layout of my room or the book I choose, but also creating a classroom community that is welcoming and warm to all students. While I do not have the perfect classroom, here are a few things I've learned to encourage cultural conversations.

Ask Questions
Not just WH-questions about a story. Ask about your students' home life. What are they celebrating this month? Who do they live with? Family dynamics vary so much and while I may start by wanting to learn about a student's culture, I end up leaving a conversation about their home life with a much better idea of who they are and how I can adjust my teaching.

Don't just ask students questions, also ask the family questions. I have learned that some cultures separate home and school while others rely on relationships. Figure out what the families you work with prefer and build a relationship on that. If you can relate to them and show interest in their family, I've found that it is more likely they will get on board with a plan.

Make Connections to Background Knowledge
I will be honest. This has been a struggle for me. I look at my daily schedule and notice that I see students for 10, 20 or 30 minutes a couple times a week. Then I look at their IEP goals. To qualify for a speech/language disorder in Minnesota, students have to be in the 2nd percentile  or lower. That is a standard score of 70. Because I work with students at this level, they often have significant language delays and a lot of IEP goals. Many days I fall into the trap of grabbing a worksheet or bingo game to address goals.

This year I have tried to focus more on checking in with students before delving into the lesson to see what background knowledge they possess. Some of the most meaningful sessions for my students have been when I actually start the conversation broadly and find out what a topic means to them. For example, when talking about stories, I asked one of my 4th grade English language learners about her favorite story. I didn't quite understand the whole story (we're working on sequencing), but I was able to get the gist of it - and it was a story I had never heard, but one that I later found out was a Nepali folk tale! My student was able to relate to the concept of characters from telling me this story because he could identify who was in his story. We had been working on answering "who" questions about stories for a very long time and still are, but this connection has definitely improved his ability to identify characters within stories.

Making a connection by asking questions and using background knowledge are two simple ways I have worked to improve my small corner of a classroom to be more culturally responsive.

How do you make your classroom culturally responsive?

Cultural Responsive Teaching: Grow Your Knowledge Base

As an educator, I understand the importance for continuing education. Some workshops provided by the district are not directly related to my professional practice as a speech language pathologist. I do my best to draw what I can from these workshops and adapt it for my own practice. But, how can SLPs grow their cultural knowledge base even without a workshop? Here are some ways:

Check Your Community Calendar
Look around your community for events. I live in a largely diverse and populated area which allows me the opportunities to experience events within the community. Take a look and try something outside of your comfort zone. Visit an art exhibit, film festival, or local market and try some things. It doesn't need to be professionally related, just choose something to expand your own experience.

Discover New Holidays
This summer I became slightly peeved with some neighbors who where generally very quiet, because they suddenly started setting off fireworks in their driveway every night. Honestly, the noise didn't bother me much, but it scared my cat. Then I discovered that it was the Indian celebration of Diwali. Diwali is the festival of lights. Once I realized this, I no longer had negative thoughts about my neighbors. This experience helped me reflect on aspects in my own culture that might annoy my neighbors.

Chat with a Teacher
I have learned so much from my colleagues in the school system. When I assess a student, if they speak another language I will research in depth the aspects that might affect their assessment. But, remember that culture is not only related to language, ethnicity, or race. Some of the most enlightening conversations have surrounded students who have experienced a different home life that I didn't know about. Chatting with their teacher revealed that their family is struggling or that their older sibling is gifted and talented and their parents expect them to achieve the same. Have you ever gone to an IEP meeting and the parents are not at all what you expect? I have avoided many awkward encounters because I talked with the teacher prior to the meeting.

There are many more ways to expand your knowledge base through cultural experience. I have been surprised on how I have learned to be more culturally responsive with my students. How have you grown your cultural knowledge base?