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Cultural Competence Manual

Cultural Competence Manual

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Published by: talbotbruce2122 on May 03, 2011
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12/11/2014

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Pang and Barba (1995) addressed the importance
of incorporating patterns of interaction with
which children are familiar. Children’s first
learning occurs in the home where they are
exposed to certain cultural elements. When stu-
dents from culturally different backgrounds enter
school, their culture of origin may not be syn-
chronized with mainstream American culture.
Consequently, many students experience school
as an alien environment. The people, expecta-
tions, organizational structures and rules, and
cultural cues, all may lack a certain familiarity
that fosters a sense of belonging and comfort for
children. Knowledge of some of the cultural
patterns and interactional styles often provides
important clues for reaching children in cultur-
ally appropriate ways.

Delpit (1995) reported the findings of research-
ers who have identified differences in communi-
cation styles between working and middle-class
families. These differences have important impli-
cations in schools where communication fre-
quently conforms to a White, middle-class norm.
As it pertains to discipline, many working-class
families issue directives in order for their chil-
dren to comply with their demands. On the other
hand, middle-class parents are often more prone
to ask questions in an indirect manner. For
instance, a working-class parent might issue a
command using the following language, “Clean
up your room right now.” In contrast, a middle-
class parent may make the same request using
language that is less directive. For example, this
parent may observe, “You didn’t clean your
room today.” In both situations, the intended
messages are similar. Each parent recognized
and wanted the child to clean up her/his room.
The child from a working-class family may view
the request made by the middle-class parent as
implying an option. If this same incident were to
occur in a school context and the teacher placed

Section IV

63

63

a demand on a child using a middle-class orien-
tation, the teacher might interpret the child’s
failure to comply as disruptive behavior. A more
culturally appropriate strategy would require the
teacher to use familiar interactional patterns with
which the child can readily relate.

Much has been written about the communication
styles of American-Indian children. Considera-
tion of cultural values suggests that many tradi-
tionally oriented American Indians prefer to
engage in unhurried reflection before theypar-
ticipate in dialogue, based on the belief that once
words are uttered in Indian societies, they cannot
be retracted. For that reason, people must care-
fully consider their words.

Mainstream American society encourages stu-
dents to be actively involved in class discussions.
Indeed, students are often prompted to speak.
This instructional strategy may be uncomfortable
and unfamiliar to many American-Indian stu-
dents and may contribute to an emotional and
psychological disengagement in the learning
process. If we use what we know about
American-Indian culture to better structure
learning environments, we would draw on
strategies that are used in the home. For instance,
we might extend waiting periods. Teachers can
reframe their constructions of reticence in chil-
dren as their attempt to organize their thoughts
and structure appropriate responses, as opposed
to assuming students are disinterested and disen-
gaged.

Storytelling is an integral part of oral communi-
cation in many American-Indian societies.
Using stories as an instructional strategy has
academic merit. In addition, smaller groups
where students can communicate more infor-
mally may enhance the level of participation and
further develop language proficiency, particu-
larly among students who speak their native
languages. Also, learning in many traditional
American-Indian settings takes place through
observation. For instance, instead of listening
while a teacher catalogues a plethora of detailed
instructions, many Indian children learn by care-
fully observing their elders and reproducing what
they noticed.

Educators cannot assume that lack of active
dialogue is equivalent to language deficiency.
Although participation functions as a normative
feature in many mainstream American settings,
more reticent approaches to communication

cannot be automatically equated with an inability
to learn or lack of motivation.

What may be occurring is a different pattern of
interaction, which can be recognized and
accommodated in many classroom settings.
Teachers can capitalize on the cultural skills that
children bring to the classroom rather than
assuming pathology, student disinterest, or even
student incapacity to learn.

Other strategies that may work with more
reticent students build on cultural patterns used
in the community. For instance, in many
Hawaiian homes an individual usually does not
command the attention of the entire group, as
social relationships tend to be more collaborative
in nature. In keeping with this cultural tradition,
many Hawaiians engage in talk story (Au &
Kawakami, 1985). Talk storyinvolves several
people telling a story together. Similarly,
teachers can use parallel strategies in their
classrooms to facilitate dialogue and student
participation. When teachers are unaware of
students’ cultural attributes, the possibility of
cultural schisms in the classroom expands
exponentially.

Many African-American students communicate
using styles referred to as Black English, or
Ebonics. Ebonics has been dismissed as a
language form in mainstream educational
settings (Foster, 1992). Instead of viewing
students who enlist nonstandard forms of English
as incapable, educators must recognize and
capitalize on their specific strengths. Language is
one area where this can occur. When learners are
chided for the way they speak, or for other
cultural patterns they maintain, they internalize
many negative self-perceptions regarding their
worth.

Language is an artifact of culture. Students must
get the message that they are capable. Teachers
have the resources in time and often expertise to
bolster confidence and efficacy levels. When
students speak in the vernacular, culturally
competent teachers accept their language
patterns but let students know in a sensitive way
that certain language patterns are appropriate for
home, while others are appropriate for school
(Foster, 1992). Teachers can convey messages
about appropriateness of language for certain
settings without effacing the students’ culture of
origin. To solely attribute students’ difficulties to

Section IV

64

64

race, ethnicity, culture, or class is not caring or
ethical.

Pang and Barba (1995) reminded us that we
“need to allow children to work in classrooms
that enable and encourage them to use their
language, personalities, metaphors, and preferred
learning styles as tools for learning new
information” (p. 342).

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