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When learning to be an educator, one thing to be aware of is funds of knowledge According to researchers Luis Moll, Cathy Amanti, Deborah Neff, and Norma Gonzalez, the exact definition for this term is “the historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being” (Luis Moll, Cathy Amanti, Deborah Neff, p.133). Broken down, this means that, as educators, we need to be aware of the many diverse cultural backgrounds our students come from, and the knowledge and skills given to students from certain cultures.
A teacher needs to be able to know when it is necessary to teach the students, and when it is necessary to learn from the students about their individual backgrounds. When an educator takes on this role, it allows them to better understand a student’s views, and it allows them to have a more culturally relevant approach to teaching. Also, connecting student’s cultures and backgrounds to lessons in the classroom allows the students to personally connect with their peers and with the different topics discussed in the classroom.
For example, Lisa Espinosa, a seventh grade science and language arts teacher, used different cultures in her teachings to her students and allowed them to personally connect with the information she was presenting to them. She also had many activities, like discussions and essays, to allow the students to discuss their own thought and experiences with certain topics, and got the students to see themselves in different cultures from their own.
However, the real question in funds of knowledge, is how can the teacher discover their students’ cultural backgrounds, and what funds of knowledge are taught in those communities and households?
A simple answer to this question, given by Janet Kier Lopez in her article, is “teachers must be willing to go into the homes and communities of their students to observe and learn not simply about, but also from and with their students and the families of their students”. And, perhaps, this is the best way to learn about their student’s cultures and funds of knowledge. Lopez even mentions a study where teachers physically went to the homes of their students and were given the opportunity to ask questions about their family’s culture and background. One teacher even created an entire lesson on Mexican candies after learning about different candies from one student’s family. The teacher even had the mother of the student attend school to teach the students the process of making one Mexican treat. The students had to use their mathematic skills during this lesson, so it allowed them to practice one of their core subjects, and learn about a different culture. But, why is culturally responsive teaching important?
Culturally responsive teaching is important for many reasons, but what exactly is culturally responsive teaching? Culturally responsive teaching, according to the University of Florida, is when “Teachers who utilize CRT practices value students’ cultural and linguistic resources and view this knowledge as capital to build upon rather than as a barrier to learning” (Culturally responsive teaching, p. 6). Culturally responsive teaching is something all teachers in this day and age should incorporate into their teachings. Not only does it allow students to personally connect and see themselves in what is being taught, but also it helps keep the students interested, engaged, and eager to learn the material presented by their teachers. One example of culturally responsive teaching that stood out to me, was the excerpt written by David Stovall, which discussed connecting hip-hop to topics discussed in the classroom. He mentions, “As we began to discuss the sometimes overt consumerism, sexism, and misogyny in some of the lyrics, we were required to process how these themes exist in our daily lives” (Stovall, p. 589). In this quote from his writing, he shows that through hip hop, he was able to get students to connect some themes in the lyrics of hip-hop songs to their daily lives, and the themes presented in the music. Another example of connecting hip-hop to classroom topics is from something not created or taught by a teacher.
Hamilton, the Broadway show created by Lin-Manuel Miranda, connects the story of the founding father Alexander Hamilton to the culture of hip-hop and rap. This play is what has gotten many people from younger generations to connect to history that took place almost 240 years ago. This kind of approach is something teachers need to use in the classroom, to get students excited and eager to learn about core subjects and have it connect to their personal cultures.
There are quite a few approaches to culturally responsive teaching, the most effective coming from Brown University’s, Culturally Responsive Teaching. One practice involves a lot of teacher-student interaction. The practice requires teachers to “[call] on students frequently, giving ample feedback, and praising” (Culturally Responsive Teaching, p. 6). One example of this is shown through Lisa Espinosa’s teaching methods. She often called on different students to add their feedback and thoughts to class discussions, and gave individual feedback to each student frequently. She also chose topics that students would be able to culturally identify with, such as the past oppression and unfair treatment of different races and peoples. This connection made between the information presented and the student’s personal lives helped the students gain a better understanding of the information and concepts taught to them. Espinosa’s teaching also demonstrated another approach mentioned in the Culturally Responsive Teaching article, which involves “teachers [developing] learning activities that are relevant to their students’ cultural experiences. At the same time, students are encouraged to stretch beyond the familiar” (p. 8). Her students were given a project to go out into their communities and take pictures of what represented their cultures. They also wrote essays describing the story they were attempting to tell through the photographs they took. This certainly encouraged the students to stretch beyond their familiar surroundings, and it was relevant to their cultural experiences because they were literally telling about their personal culture.
Personally going into early childhood education, I would have to teach quite a few subjects, such as mathematics and science, which would be very difficult to incorporate cultural responsiveness. One example of incorporating other cultures in with one of these subjects, which I mentioned earlier, was one teacher incorporating learning about Mexican candies in his or her lessons. They had the parent who told them about these candies come to class to teach the students how to back one of the Mexican treats they learned about. Through this baking lesson, the teacher was able to have the students work on mathematic concepts. This was a very clever way to include a different culture in teaching mathematics, and I hope I will be able to find similar ways when I become a teacher. Fortunately, because math and science are not the only subjects I will be teaching, there are numerous other ways I can be a culturally responsive educator through different subjects.
Mr. Mitchell, a fifth grade teacher, is also a teacher who has methods of incorporating cultural responsiveness into his teachings. He did so by using rap to get students to participate in classroom literacy and challenge the constraints of classroom literacy. Rap is seen by Quintero and Cooks as a form of poetry, and they think it is necessary to include it in schools. Mitchell went above and beyond for his students, creating a non-skill based writing workshop to incorporate alternative writing approaches as apposed to the state and national writing tests. He also incorporated rap poetry in his classroom, which made an impact on students who personally connected with rap music and made them eager to learn and connect with the information. One way of incorporating rap into his classroom activities was a project where students created rap-poetry and presented it on open house night to the other classmates and to their parents. This hybrid form of learning allowed the regulated standards to be met through poetry like Emily Dickinson’s, and allowed Mitchell to help the students stay engaged and want to participate in class through rap, which he considered to be very similar to poetry. One issue with Mitchell’s approach, however, is some instances of selectiveness and contradictions within his own decisions.
While Mr. Mitchell did allow students to use rap, he also seemed to be very selective in the pieces of rap he allowed. One example of this selective behavior is when he has the students complete an activity, which involved the writing technique, stylistic imitation. The activity had students write their own poem, and “Using their own theme or topic, the students were to imitate the style of their favorite poet” (Urban Education, p. 1152). He also made sure to exclude the use of rappers, saying “they have nothing new to offer” (Urban Education, P. 1152). However, he did have two students ask to use the rappers Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg as the authors for them to imitate. He denied their request, saying because they already knew about the rappers; they would not be learning anything new, and the learning of new information is why they were in school. Mitchell also denied their request because of the rappers’ statuses as convicted gang members, which in his eyes, was inappropriate in the school environment. Then, another student asked to use the artist Bob Dylan for the activity, which he very much approved of. This selective behavior is very dangerous to have when teaching cultural responsiveness, and could be harmful to the learning behaviors of the students.
Culturally responsive teaching is extremely important, especially in very diverse classrooms. As teachers, we have to be able to help students personally connect to the information we are presenting in order to keep them engaged and be able to see what we are teaching in every day life. We can effectively do this by applying students’ funds of knowledge in the class environment. Although, in order to gain an understanding of a student’s funds of knowledge, we have to be able to discover a student’s background and the community and culture they are coming from. One way of doing this is to have a discussion with a student’s family and ask questions that allow us to understand their culture. In conclusion, as educators, we have to include culturally responsive teaching methods in our classrooms because the benefits to the students are extremely important to their learning habits.
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