This past week has been a dynamic and engaging way to really think about Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT), though I have to admit I was a little disappointed that we showed up to the Goldbelt Culture Camp during clean-up time. We were given a chance to speak with students, and I might have bombarded my student with questions on the lessons and how they were delivered since I had been hoping to see some of those in action. My student did mention the varying levels of confidence they had when they were at camp – based on previous knowledge and experience and the fear of making a mistake in front of elders or while the elders were teaching them. It was interesting that their peers’ perceptions were a non-factor in their confidence levels, there was more concern for disappointing the elders or ruining the subsistence process they were working on for the community. They knew the value of what they were doing and took it very seriously, so I presume they had elders had come in and started the lesson with background information on the application of what they were going to do before getting students engaged or excited about the lesson. From my brief interviews it did seem that the students really wanted non-stop hands on experience and to produce something from start to finish – so the desire and excitement to learn is there (though there was mention of being forced to do things, and the value of just watching as well). These all touched on the characteristics of CRT – teaching and learning within the culture, setting high expectations, student-centered instruction, and culturally mediated instruction.
An elders panel is always a great way to learn and get members of the community a chance to speak directly with our students. The lessons they taught us have resonated with myself and with peers and it was a great way for us to see and feel the value of our role in the community as educators and to open our doors to utilizing our culture in the classroom curriculum.
Participating in the lessons on Friday allowed me to experience CRT from the student’s perspective. I found all three lessons to be very engaging; I personally loved the idea of a lesson’s end product getting out to the community and will definitely focus on that when creating CRT lessons in the future. For the math trail it was interesting to experience a few of the culturally relevant questions (totem pole measurement and carving shapes) – I naturally pulled from a Tlingit way of thinking in my initial approach to the question but then doubted whether or not that was what the question was asking, if I was making the question too easy, or if I was allowed to give that answer. I’m still wrapping my head around those particular experiences but I’m sure it probably has to do with years of being invisible in the classroom setting.
I personally think that it’s pretty easy to integrate CRT strategies into lesson plans for social studies, but I think it takes a lot of extra time to get it right – which some teachers may not be open to. It is vital to focus on teaching students through the culture, it’s histories and values, instead of focusing on teaching the students the surface parts of their culture. Studying the values and traditions of local cultures and then moving from there to make connections within the community is a way to get started with CRT. Elder panels, guest speakers, field work/research, photographs, documents, and stories are all very effective – as long as it is a means to validate cultural knowledge. It take a lot of time to get to the status of Tina, Paula, and Angie – as they are all well-known throughout the community – but it gets easier over time and the ideas just start flowing naturally as your respect and knowledge of the local culture increases. It truly is a gift when you start to feel and understand the Tlingit way of thinking and knowing and let it guide you in your classroom.
If I were to add anything to this lesson, it would be how much I appreciated the opportunity to be in the presence of all the speakers that were invited in. I don’t think I could take enough notes on Alberta’s presentation, because it was something so near and dear to my heart and something I rarely hear people explain… her slides were so honest and direct I had to take photos to remember them.
Unfortunately I didn’t think of this until after some of the greatest pieces of information had come by:
“Elders don’t preserve culture… they live it”
“Elders tell stories like a round crocheted potholder, they go around and around a subject until they get to the lesson. Let them share and teach in their way.“
If there was one take away that I could really emphasize it would be to validate their knowledge by staying in the room… and staying off your computer. I can’t tell you how many times I hear of instances like this – you are giving off the perception that your copies and email are more important than the knowledge they are sharing. It’s subtle yes, but more noticeable than you think.
I loved Michelle’s lesson and her dedication to creating her own relevant curriculum – I appreciate how deeply she really looked at what she was teaching and how to teach it, always putting her student’s learning first. I enjoyed hearing about Scott’s large interdisciplinary project that touched on the relevancy of their lives in so many different ways – it’s hard not to be moved and inspired by something so truly thoughtful. Again, lots of work, but worth it for the students. And then the legendary Kathy Nielsen, who’s CRT ideas I touched on the in LIT post, but worth mentioning again. I would love to see what she could do in secondary classrooms, though I’m sure she’ll never come out of retirement, she definitely convinced a majority of us to look at picture books in a new light. Finally it was the jaw-dropping readings of Ernestine Hayes – I think I’m still speechless about the opportunity we had to hear a few of her pieces. I personally loved the ‘introduction’ she gave and would love to take that with me everywhere I went. Her voice was empowering, insightful, honest, direct, and beautiful… now how do I get her into my classroom? =)