Tips for Engaging Learners with Culture

NOTE: These pages are currently under construction!

Key Principles:

Understanding Culture Shock (Although this is most prevalent when one interacts with people from the target community, especially during study abroad experiences, I believe it also applies, albeit to a much lesser degree, to the experiences of all students who are exploring another culture--even if that exploration occurs only in a classroom setting via multimedia. Be sure to read the definition and the information about the various stages involved.)

  • Activate Prior Knowledge & Experiences - Build on what students already know about their own culture to help them understand cultural ideas and practices that are new to them. Start locally and then build (i.e., self, families, communities, nations). Help them to discover that they have a culture (i.e., How would they respond to the idea of eating chicken soup on Thanksgiving?)

  • Avoid Stereotypes- Purposefully provide counterexamples to stereotypes and over-generalizations. Try to avoid absolutes (i.e. "All French people . . . ."), "othering" (objectifying the other culture or separating "US" from "THEM," often with the intent to criticize or pass value judgments), "exoticizing" (i.e., emphasizing only what grabs attention or will be perceived as strange or weird by students), "trivializing" (i.e., exposing students only what is quaint or silly) or "political bias." You can "type" without "stereotyping."

    • Amish Paradise - How are the stereotypes in this video used as a source of humor? How do these stereotypes misrepresent the culture being portrayed? How might a video like this be damaging to people from the culture being portrayed?
    • Test Yourself for Hidden Biases - Skim this information.

  • Compare, Don't Just Contrast - Engage students in exploring both similarities and differences between the target cultures and their own cultures (i.e., refrain from "othering" the target culture by emphasizing solely the differences).

  • Elicit & Challenge Incomplete or Mistaken Information- Uncover students' mental models about culture by giving them opportunities to talk about their own culture. Address their misconceptions respectfully. Offer students multiple examples/representations of the phenomena under study so they can see the diversity that exists within the target culture. Be sure to address both "big C and little c" culture.

  • Embed Culture in EVERY Activity

  • Focus on the Relationships Between Cultural Perspectives & Cultural Products & Practices

  • Frame the Culture Positively - Encourage students to avoid value judgments (i.e., "different," not "better," "worse," "stupid," or "weird"). Speak about the culture as though a native speaker were standing in the room--honestly, openly, but respectfully.

  • Highlight Connections & Relationships - Focus on the relationships between products, practices, and perspectives in the target culture rather than considering each one separately and in isolation.

  • "Make the Familiar Strange" - Encourage students to examine their own culture from the perspective of an "outsider."

  • "Normalize" the Target Culture - Use culturally authentic images and materials on a regular basis. Try not to "frame" or "teach" the culture as something that needs to be separated or "pulled out" each time (from Deanna Mihalyi)

  • Prioritize Perspectives- Encourage students to examine how the beliefs, values, historical events, and physical conditions of the culture influence the logic behind what and how people do things.

  • Teach Students to Become Good Learners of Culture (As Opposed to "Teaching" Them Culture)
    • Provide opportunities for them to encounter, observe, and explore culture
    • Encourage "noticing"
    • Ask students to describe what they noticed and narrate what they experienced
    • Encourage students to refrain from assuming, leaping to conclusions, and judging
    • Give students specific strategies and guided opportunities to practice respectfully analyzing, explaining, and interpreting culture
    • Explicitly teach students how to ask and frame questions in culturally appropriate ways in order to request cultural explanations and insights
    • Prepare students to explore, hypothesize, and seek evidence that dis/confirms their suppositions during their cultural encounters
    • Model for students how to abstract general principles of behavior from specific cultural encounters

  • Treat students in ways that practice what you preach!
    • Common Beliefs Survey - Take this survey and then discuss your answers with a small group of colleagues. Now read this summary of information about each question and discuss it with your group. What does your discussion teach you about your current progress toward practicing the principles you have learned on this page?

Evaluating Materials