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?

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