Teaching Our Students About Religion

During our panel discussion in class this week, the question of a teacher’s responsibilities regarding the inclusion of religion education as a part of the curriculum, in the sense that it is an important topic to promote global citizenship. A subject of controversy, the idea of promoting either teaching values or teaching about religions in school brings up the “separation of church and state” argument. Although I am in support of this concept as a general rule, I think that the lengths we have gone to in order to keep religion out of our public schools are extreme. That’s not to say that one religion, even if it is the most predominant in our society, should be espoused, but neither should one belief. As put by McConnell (1995), “it is no more neutral to favor the secular over the religious than it is to favor the religious over the secular.” As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, the necessity for encouraging and teaching acceptance of all grows stronger. Pretending that religion isn’t a part of our world does no favors to those who will one day have to take their own place, and only encourages ignorance and a lack of acceptance that is needed. Knowing this, my belief is that a teacher’s responsibility is not to ensure that all thought or act of religion be removed from schools, but rather to ensure that students understand why it is that some people may act the way they do. On a smaller scale, helping students understand each other can reduce bullying and increase awareness of others’ feelings. On a larger scale, it helps students to see what is going on in the world, and what they can do to help. As an example, I was in 6th grade when the twin towers were hit by terrorists. Growing up in a predominantly white, Lutheran community, I’d never really heard of (or never paid attention to) this strange religion called Islam. All I knew was that Muslims hated Americans, and they thought we were bad people because we didn’t believe what they did. It was a narrow, uneducated belief, shared by many of my friends and peers, and one that could have been avoided had we been taught that Christianity wasn’t the only belief people had (this was something I knew vaguely, but did not quite grasp). The US was swept by Islamophobia after 9/11, and still is, causing mistrust, systemic racism, and acts of violence that are completely misplaced. This is why teachers need to be advocates for well-balanced, neutral education that lets students know that while there are different religions and cultures, and these can motivate us to certain behaviors, it doesn’t mean they are wrong. It is their responsibility to ensure that their own beliefs aren’t being force-fed to students, and that other religions and cultures are represented in their classroom as normal, routine examples. When I taught preschool, we had a “diversity” unit for helping students put words to the different cultures they saw, but diversity was something we taught year-round. Our art was inspired by different cultures, we held discussions about how (or what!) other people might eat during mealtimes, and our materials depicted people from all around the world. I think the same thing should be happening in elementary and secondary schools. In math, students learn that much of it came from Greece, but the Greeks were only a part of the history of mathematics. Medieval Europeans believed that math could explain the created order of nature, and that God had ordered all things by weight, measure, and number. Other cultures and religion helped shape what we know today, and our students should understand this in order to help them find their place in the world as responsible, global citizens.

McConnell, M. (1995). Testimony of Michael W. McConnell. Evans, D. (2005). Taking sides: Clashing views on controversial issues in teaching and educational practice. Dubuque, IA: McGraw-Hill/Dushkind.

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Preparing Democratic Students

H5 – Honor student potential for roles in the greater society.
Teacher candidates prepare students to be responsible citizens for an environmentally sustainable, globally interconnected, and diverse society.

To me, this means that teachers are providing opportunities for students to become democratic, creative, accepting individuals who are prepared to use their skills in contribution to society, despite what that society may look like in 10 or 15 years. Students don’t just learn to be democratic on their own. If we teach all students in a box, then release them after fourteen years of schooling into the public, can we expect these students to have the skills they need for cooperating with society, either  locally or nationally (or internationally)? The answer is probably not, though of course it may widely vary depending on the student in question. Instead, what schools should be aiming for is developing “ideal citizens who could live in and enhance their society, who could fulfill themselves in and through it, and who would even e able to help create and revise it” (Joyce, Weil, Calhoun, 2015). In this, we need democratic problem-solvers, or people who can work together to come up with a solution to any given problem, regardless of its type or complexity.

In Classroom Instruction that Works, Dean, et al. (2012) discusses how “the best companies are the best collaborators.” In the real world, those who succeed are those who can work with others to come to the best solution. This is what we want to lead our students to. One possible method to achieving this is by using cooperative learning in the classroom. By grouping students together to use their individual talents to accomplish a learning task, not only are we giving each student a chance to shine, but we are also fostering a sense of responsibility and accountability to other members of the group while also encouraging students to work together in a productive and meaningful way. It provides ways for students to “interact in ways that enhance and deepen their learning” (Dean, et al., 2012), and that will push them toward using principles of democracy in their problem-solving. Cooperative learning also allows students to be more engaged with one another, and lets them experience the information they are gathering more. In the example of Mr. Washington’s social studies unit, instead of having students read a chapter and discuss it, he assigned a role to each member of a group of three: one student would read aloud, one student would take notes, and one student would ask a list of questions at the end. During this process, students could ask questions and work through things they don’t understand together (Dean, et al., 2012). This exercise led to a more in-depth discussion and gave students a toolkit that they will use for the rest of their lives.

Dean, C., Hubbell, E., Pitler, H., Stone, B. (2012). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Denver, CO: McRel.

Joyce, B., Weil, M., Calhoun, E. (2015). Models of teaching. Boston, MA: Pearson.

The Importance of Action in Cultural Competence

As we discussed earlier in the quarter, cultural competence is a process, not a product (to tie us back in to my previous post). New challenges continue to find us, and as we work through these, we seek out other ways in which we can improve upon our current worldview. Just as with anything important, there is always room for improving, and in this case, increasing knowledge and views of the world.

While taking the self-analysis on cultural competence from Sue & Sue (2009), I noticed two important things about my own answers. First, that I didn’t mark “often” (or the equivalent) for a single question or topic. I marked myself generally around the middle. The second thing I noticed was that when it came to action, I marked “never” on almost every single one. While I am generally comfortable discussing class, race, and religion with others, I am not usually motivated to take action in order to make things more equal. This is partly from lack of opportunity, from lack of knowledge about what I can do, and also partly from an ingrained belief that there is nothing I can do. What can I, as a young female graduate student, do to help the millions of people who are treated unfairly? Changing this belief, I think, is one of my personal goals in my own journey of cultural competence. For myself, I think what is most important is first learning what I can about problems dealing with race, then follow it up with inquiring about steps I can take as an educator to help students in my own class. Once I am an educator, I will certainly have the power to make changes, even if they are just small ones. I think that it is important for me to start realizing this now, and work toward changing my own attitude toward race, especially with regards to education.

In order to promote some of the values from the self-assessment, I think the most important thing is to educate myself and others on what is happening in the country (and also the world) right now having to deal with race. For example, in Ferguson, Missouri, a young white cop shot a black youth, causing ripples of anger and hatred across the country. As teachers, this is something we need to be aware of, yet remain impartial to, in my opinion. Since all we know is what we hear from the media, and the opinions of those around us, it is hard to really know what happened that night. But children, especially young ones, form opinions based on what they hear from their parents. I’ve heard both sides of the coin on this matter; the officer was profiling the youth, who did nothing wrong, or the youth attacked the cop. Whichever is the case, students will be bringing these opinions to school, though they may not do so expressly. It is up to the teacher to take action within his or her classroom to ensure that these conflicting opinions do not bring about more inequality and anger.

Sue & Sue. (2009). What is cultural competence? Retrieved from https://bbweb-prod.spu.edu/bbcswebdav/pid-970649-dt-content-rid-1852070_1/courses/EDU6133_10069201451/EDU6133_20328201232_ImportedContent_20130101084145/Cultural%20Competence%20Self-Asssessment.pdf

Academic Language in the edTPA and Classroom

There is a clear emphasis in academic language in the edTPA (Teacher Performance Assessment), asking teacher candidates to share examples of students using academic language that were taught and written on their lesson plan. This means that their portfolio should include examples of student use of specialized vocabulary identified by the teacher candidate, language-related activities that are useful for classrooms (like expressing disagreement, discussing an issue, or asking for clarification), and for older students, field essays or lab reports (CWU, 2014). Rather than just students repeating definitions, these examples should show how the students understand the vocabulary and their ability to use key language function, which should be identified in the lesson plans (Stanford, 2014). In the video we watched and chapter we read this week, we learn about several strategies used in bilingual education, and why they are important in multicultural education. In the Coral Way Bilingual School, students are given many opportunities to improve their language ability in both English and Spanish. One of the teachers in the video claimed that “teaching ELL takes second language strategies that are just good teaching practice” (Checkley, 2004), and I agree. The teachers used visuals to help reinforce language aquisition, buddies to make their students more comfortable, lots of repetition (in the video, especially with regards to homophones and idioms, two concepts of the English language that can make it very difficult to learn as a second language), and used contextualized language to make the differences in the words more clear. For example, one teacher used a duster to dust her students’ heads as well as dusting powder to dust her students’ heads (Checkley, 2004). In this way, she acted out two different meanings for “dusting” (as exemplified in the Amelia Bedelia book they were reading) while also engaging her students in a humorous way. This would be useful to use as an example of teaching for the edTPA. It shows student understanding of the language, and also their ability to recognize the difference in the use of “dusting” based on context clues. Since the language we are familiar with and use “affects [our] perceptions of the world and of others” (Ovando and Gourd, 1996), it is especially important that students be able to effectively use and understand the language of both their community and the country. Teachers need to be able to show examples of student progress in this manner, and I think that many of the strategies shown in the video are helpful.

Other strategies the teachers used at Coral Way Bilingual School were to incorporate music into the classroom. One teacher started her day with a positive “we can” rap, with the lyrics printed out so the children could read and sing along. She also recorded her own voice reading Amelia Bedelia so that she could walk around and help students with her hands and eyes free. I liked this idea, and I think that it can be really beneficial to have the sound of their teacher’s voice reading them the story, but also have her able to move around and help as needed. It is something I think I would like to implement in my own classroom. I also think that anxiety reduction is important, especially in a classroom of all English-speakers with one or two ELL students. It can be really difficult for students to be singled out as different, so I want to reduce that as much as possible. In a different class, a girl told a story about her teacher who works with ELL students. She works with a class of them, so the application is a little different, but what she told them at the beginning of the class was that they do not have to speak until they are ready. This helped eliminate some of the discomfort and stress of being in an unfamiliar environment with an unfamiliar language, and by the time the class was half over, they were all talking. Maybe not well, but they were at least trying, and were more comfortable with it. In a classroom of mostly English-speakers, I think this could be useful, giving the student time to orient themselves and maybe gather their courage. In my own experience, I’ve found that it is also useful to learn a couple words in the child’s own language. I’ve had several students who spoke languages I knew nothing about (such as Tamil, Russian, Arabic, and Swiss-German), and in every case, the student responded more positively toward my class and to me when I knew at least how to say “hello” or “good morning”. Even better if I knew some silly words to make them feel more at ease.

Checkley, J. (Executive Producer), & Steinhorn, P. & Creed, B. (Producers). (2004). A visit to classrooms of English language learners [Motion picture]. United States. Retrieved from: http://www.schooltube.com/video/acaca0e86f20635ba97e/A%20Visit%20to%20Classrooms%20of%20English%20Language%20Learners

Ovando, C. J., and Gourd, K. (1996). Knowledge construction, language maintenance, revitalization, and empowerment. Banks, J., Multicultural education: Transformative knowledge & action (297-322). New York and London: Teachers College, Columbia University.

Turkish Delight: A Conversation on Culture

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This week, I chose to have dinner at a Turkish restaurant with a few friends of mine for my visit and conversation. We each enjoyed a delicious Turkish meal, complemented by the spices that were our centerpiece, featured in Ottoman style dinnerware. After dinner, I had the chance to talk with the restaurant owner Gencer Gökeri, a native Turk who moved to Seattle in the 70’s, and who was very enthusiastic about Turkish culture and history. I learned much about the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, and he had more legends and religious stories than I could write down. My favorites were about the cats near Lake Van who have two different colored eyes, one brown, and one blue (and they’re real!). Another was that Cleopatra used the Pumakkale thermal pools as a bath, to keep her skin clear and beautiful. I also loved the Islamic story of Abraham, who was to be burned by Nimrod in the city of Ur (Sanliurfa, or Urfa). But when he was placed over the wood, God turned the wood into fish, and the fire into water, which then became the Halil-Ur Rahman Lake.

Most interesting, however, was Turkish history. The Ottoman Empire ruled over 110 different peoples, and was the center of the world. After its fall, “out of the ashes, 38 countries rose,” (Gökeri, G. Personal communication, November 15, 2014) none of which spoke Turkish or were Islamic. Within Turkey, the culture is very diverse. It was the “bridge” between countries, before we had air travel. Both the spice road and the silk road ran through Turkey, and along the way there are caravan souks (palaces) every 20 or 30 miles. These palaces housed 400-500 people at a time (and their camels!), were several stories, and were free for the travelers, so long as they were paying Turkish taxes and brought trade to Turkey. Early Christians, hiding from Roman oppressors, dug the caves of Cappadocia, creating miles of cave systems that were later controlled by the Ottoman empire. These caves have lasted centuries, and are still used today as hotels and homes, and tourist sites. Turkey (and the Ottoman Empire) also has a history of tolerance for other cultures. Gökeri mentioned that in his own hometown, there were four Christian churches, one synagogue, and one mosque, despite Turkey being an Islamic country. During WWII, Jews fleeing Europe used Turkey as an escape route (Turkey serving again as a “bridge”), and many wound up living there permanently.

Gencer also spoke about the Turkish community in Seattle. I learned that there are around 7 or 8,000 Turks in Seattle today. Many moved to Seattle in the 70’s and 80’s for Boeing and Microsoft jobs, along with many other cultures. There are several organizations supporting the Turkish community. The ACACIA foundation was formed by Turkish-Americans in Washington in 2002, with the idea to introduce Turkish culture into American society. The Turkish American Cultural Association of Washington (TACAWA) is responsible for many Turkish cultural events, such as the Seattle Turkish Film Festival (November 20-23rd!) and the Ahiska Turks Friendship Festival. According to Gökeri (2014), the Ahiska (or Meskhetian) Turks were oppressed for many years in the Ahiska region of Georgia, and were deported to central Asia. In 2005, about 65 or 66 thousand were brought to the United States as refugees, and about 2 or 3 thousand were brought to Seattle (bringing the total Seattle population up quite a bit!). Many of these Ahiska Turks were then given the opportunity for jobs and an educations, and several of them were actually employed at the restaurant we visited. According to Gökeri, they were more Turkish than he was, although they had never been to Turkey in their lives.

As a future educator, I felt that the biggest impact for me was the idea that even though Turkey is one country, there is actually a hugely diverse population there. Even more important, even within the Turkish community in Seattle, the people are widely different. Gökeri frequently talked about the continued tolerance of the Ottoman Empire and Turkey, allowing many types of people to settle within its borders even when others would not. Teachers should be aware of these differences within cultures. Just because two people are from the same country (or the same community within our state), does not mean that they have the same beliefs and backgrounds. I think this only further emphasizes the need for educators to learn about their students as individuals, and not groups. Even within the US, our cultures are vastly different. My boyfriend and I come from two very different cultures (East Coast, West Coast), although we are both American. This idea can ring true for all groups, from all walks of life.

I really enjoyed talking with Gencer about Turkey. He was very excited and knew so much about history and Turkey that I couldn’t write down enough. He even had a wonderful map that he pulled out to share with me, and allowed me to take a photo to include (below). Also, here are some interesting facts about Turkey that he told me:

  • Turkey is the only peninsula to run east to west in the world
  • Istanbul is the only city in the world to sit on two continents (Asia and Europe)
  • About 88% of Turkey is in Asia, and 22% is in Europe (a rough estimate he gave me)
  • One of the more important souks is called Ishak Pasha Palace
  • Turkish poet Rumi was a prophet of Sufism, the mystical, inner dimension of Islam

If you are interested in some delicious Turkish food, head up to Fremont to Cafe Turko! There are all kinds of cool trinkets you can buy, and you can even purchase many of the spices and desserts to have later.

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Cultural Competence in Families and Teachers

Pick two or three of the areas of application below. If possible, make the applications specific to your subject area and grade level. What does culturally competent teaching look like when it pertains to: parents and families; expectations; context of culture; student-centered instruction; multiple perspectives; curriculum; teacher?

Since my discussion post this week was about the responsibilities of parents and teachers (and administrators) to provide resources for bilingual/bicultural children to succeed, I thought I would connect my blog post to that idea and discuss cultural competence as it pertains to teachers, parents, and families. As teachers-in-training (and probably often as teachers too), we hear a lot about cultural competence, what it means (also what it doesn’t mean), and how we can effectively incorporate it not just into our classrooms, but also our way of thinking. However, I think that both teachers and parents (or families) have a responsibility to “ask questions about their practice” in order to successfully educate, empower, and encourage their students (OSPI, 2014).

For a teacher, being culturally competent means many things. According to OSPI, being culturally competent is not just learning a list of facts about cultures and using them in teaching; it’s knowing the school’s community, teaching curricula in a way that is respectful to all, being aware of how culture affects how people act and react (including yourself), and examining how certain practices have an impact on the students (OSPI, 2014). In the fourth grade classroom I tutor, there is a student from Somalia who speaks Arabic as her first language and whose religion is Islamic. She dresses differently from the other kids (always skirts and a hijab), and sometimes has a difficult time understanding or making herself understood. She does not often ask for help or call attention to herself, but I noticed that if she is struggling, her teacher is aware and does what he can to help her. I think this is a good example of modeling cultural competence, since he doesn’t ever force her to call out answers if she seems to be unwilling, and doesn’t make her feel bad for needing help. Instead, he patiently encourages her to ask if she needs it, and also tries to warn her if he’s going to call on her (which he does for most of the students who are a little shy as well). I think that, most importantly, he is aware of this student and how her cultural background might be a little different from most of the other kids, and that her way of understanding something might be different because of the language barrier. But a teacher shouldn’t just be giving special attention to the one student from Somalia in his or her class. He should “acknowledge, honor, and respond to all cultures and types in a classroom,” (Sink, 2014), whether that be a Somalian student, a student from New York, a student from Seattle but with parents from Japan, or a student whose family roots are buried in Western Washington. This means being attuned to the different minds that come into your classroom.

On the discussion board this week, a few of my peers and I spoke of responsibility for providing learning resources. We all seemed to come to mostly the same conclusion; this responsibility, while ultimately falling to the parents, is a shared one between educators, families, and administrators alike. The National Center for Cultural Competence states that “cultural and linguistic competence requires shared power, reciprocal transfer of knowledge and skills, and respectful, trusting relationships with consumers, families, and communities,” (NCCC, 2014). I think it is vital for parents to be involved in their child’s learning. That might simply be asking questions and being interested in the student’s day at school, or as involved as becoming the PTA president. However, we also discussed that parents don’t always do this. Engaging families in a meaningful and culturally respective way is the job of the teachers and administrators who work with the students, promoting family-school partnerships that support their academic, social, emotional, cultural, and physical health (OSPI, 2014). For the teachers, I think it is most important for them to remain in constant communication with parents and families so that the families know what their child is learning. This might be a weekly newsletter or email, posters and signs in the classroom, or face-to-face communication. Through this communication, teachers can learn about the families and backgrounds of their students. Equally important, families can learn about the background and way of thinking of the teacher. Through a mutual understanding, the parents and teachers can work together to formulate a system that works best for each child. In this way it allows communities (and families) to determine their own needs, which is a guiding principle of cultural competence (NCCC, 2014).

I think that the best way for both families and educators to be culturally responsive, giving students the best possible education, is through communication. While it is important for teachers in particular to be aware of their students’ many different cultural backgrounds, it is also important for the parents to be aware of the classroom as well. By communicating to parents how they can help, a teacher is not only promoting cultural competence in herself, but also her students and their parents. She is promoting a better education for everyone.

Sink, C. (2014). Cultural competence, individual/collective cultures. [podcast]. Retrieved from http://www.screencast.com/t/isZzGVJlpJbO.

Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction. (2014). Eliminating the gaps: Cultural competence. Retrieved from http://www.k12.wa.us/CISL/EliminatingtheGaps/CulturalCompetence/default.aspx.

National Center for Cultural Competence. (2014). The compelling need for cultural and linguistic competence. Retrieved from http://nccc.georgetown.edu/foundations/need.html.

Walking in Someone Else’s Moccasins

In her teaching, Jane Elliott wanted to “put her students in another’s moccasins”, or another’s shoes (Frontline, 1985). Her reasoning was that you can’t truly understand another person’s pain until you experience what they are experiencing, and although they had been talking about racism in class, talking about and experiencing are two different ways of learning. Howard wrote about “responses that heal” in his essay on racism in America: facing reality was at the top of his list (Howard). I think that Elliott’s lesson was an excellent lesson in facing reality for these kids. They were told one day that they would be judged based on the color of their eyes, with each group having the chance to be the dominant group (Frontline, 1985). The kids all were able to experience how it felt to be on top, and how it felt to be on bottom. Each one, though they had heard about discrimination and had discussed it, had never truly experienced what it was. Now they had, and I think it really helped them with their perceptions later in life.

As educators, I think it is important for us to really drive home lessons in diversity with students. In my previous post, I discussed the importance of using real-life experiences and activities to make learning stick, to make it meaningful. The same idea applies for lessons on values, including how to treat others as human beings. I think watching the video of Elliott’s classroom was particularly inspiring, as we got to see how her lessons had a lasting effect on her students. Stepping into the shoes of someone on the “bottom” of their society truly had a major impact on the way they saw the world. There is an important lesson to be learned from this: a single lesson based within the perspective of others can help shape individuals into strong, compassionate people who are more understanding of the prejudices of the world.

Howard, G. (1996). Whites in multicultural education: Rethinking our role. Banks, J. A., Multicultural education, transformative knowledge, & action. New York and London: Teachers College, Columbia University

Peters, W. (1985). A class divided. Frontline. Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/video/flv/generic.html?s=frol02s42cq66&continuous=1