Incorporating diverse learners’ cultural knowledge in the classroom

Culture is far deeper than the externally obvious components of celebrations and festivals, food, clothing and language. Culture is how we see, understand and interpret the world around us. Our background knowledge is based on our cultural worldview. Learners often bring knowledge to the classroom that is very different from that represented in the textbook.

For example, you are teaching a unit on modes of transportation in a metropolitan area of North America. Your class is made up of 40% immigrants and 60% locally born students of various ethnicities including mother tongue speakers of English. In preparing the unit on modes of transportation you want to build on the background knowledge of all the learners in the classroom rather than limiting the lesson to the textbook representation of bicycles, motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, trains, boats, ships and airplanes. Your predominantly Asian learners are also aware of other modes of transportation such as jeepneys, bullock carts, calesas (horse drawn carts), rickshaws, kuligligs (rototiller–turned-tractor with trailer used for transporting people, animals and produce), tantalaks (homemade gravity propelled carts), bangkas (a boat larger than a canoe with outriggers) etc. as well as various animals used for transportation.

To learn more about this scenario, including the author’s own response, please attend the Intersections of Diverse Teachers and Diverse Learners at CSSE 2013, or stay tuned to the DiT website because we will be posting those details in the near future.

Until then, please leave a comment so that we can read your responses to this scenario. Here is a question to consider interacting with each other and the author (Diane Dekker, from the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, at the University of Toronto) about:

  1. How could you activate the learners’ prior knowledge, build on background knowledge, and support identity development in this particular unit?



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