Cultural minority children's learning within culturally-sensitive classroom teaching
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Cultural minority children's learning withinculturally-sensitive classroom teachingMariane Hedegaard aa University of Copenhagen , DenmarkPublished online: 20 Dec 2006.
To cite this article: Mariane Hedegaard (2003) Cultural minority children's learning within culturally-sensitive classroomteaching, Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 11:1, 133-152, DOI: 10.1080/14681360300200164
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14681360300200164
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Pedagogy, Culture and Society, Volume 11, Number 1, 2003
Cultural Minority Childrens Learning within Culturally-sensitive Classroom Teaching
MARIANE HEDEGAARD University of Copenhagen, Denmark
ABSTRACT The personal aspect of knowledge the everyday concepts is located in the life setting of a person. These personal concepts are the foundation for the childs appropriation of subject matter concepts that qualify the childs personal concept so they can function as theoretical concepts. However, subject matter concepts are not universal, they are related to national curriculum traditions. The connection between personal and subject matter concepts is often much weaker for immigrants and refugees coming to a new country than for children with generations of ancestors in a society. One problem for teaching subject matter concepts to cultural minority children is: How can societal relevant knowledge be taught which is sensitive to both cultural and social differences and become functional in culturally different life contexts? This question has motivated two teaching experiments with history and social science subjects. The first was an after-school project with Puerto Rican children in New York City and the second was a school project with young Palestinian boys in Aarhus, Denmark. The aim of both projects was to create a form of teaching that was (1) meaningful for the children (2) contributed to their acquisition of skills and knowledge, and (3) created a positive identity and acceptance of their cultural background, as well as the society in which they were living.
This article will illustrate and discuss the problem of combining knowledge of the subject matter of history with childrens everyday knowledge arising from community and family life.
The illustrations are taken from two teaching experiments with cultural minority children conducted in New York and Denmark. One was a one-year after-school project with Puerto Rican children in New York City carried out in collaboration with Seth Chaiklin and Pedro Pedraza D
connected to the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Hunter College, New York City University (Hedegaard et al, 2001). The other project was a 2-year project initiated and funded by the Council of Aarhus as a school project for young Palestinian boys who the ordinary Danish public schools in Aarhus could not handle.
The aim of both projects was to create teaching strategies that were meaningful for the children, contributed to their acquisition of skill and knowledge, and fostered a positive identity and an acceptance of their cultural background. We aimed to achieve this by drawing on childrens cultural background and knowledge of the society in which they lived to teach social history.
Before I enter into a description of the actual teaching experiment I will outline my theoretical inspiration from Vygotsky, Berger & Luckmann, Ogbu, Elkonin and Leontiev by conceptualising the relationship between:
everyday knowledge and scientific concepts; identity and ideals; meaning and sense as phenomena that connect personal motives with
the social world.
Everyday Knowledge and Scientific Concepts
Vygotsky (1982) has pointed out that there is a difference between the kind of knowledge children acquire at home and that which they encounter in school. Vygotsky characterised the knowledge children encounter in these two contexts as everyday and scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge can be characterised by domain specific concepts where the domains are the different science/school subjects. Everyday knowledge can be characterised as concepts that are connected to the domain of daily family and community life.
Today we find the same kind of differentiation between everyday and school knowledge being used by many socio-cultural researchers. Scribner (1993) like Tobach et al (1997), Lave (1992, 1996) Mehan (1992, 1993) and Hatano & Ignaki (1992), all point to the importance of context for the kind of concepts that children acquire and that are characteristic of their learning. Each of these researchers points out that scientific and abstract concepts are not context-free, but are situated within the school context and within the specific domains of school knowledge.
Different fields of life school, home, and work entail different forms of practice that provide the conditions for childrens concept formation and thinking to develop in terms of form and content. Scribner (cited in Martin et al, 1998; Scribner & Stevens, 1989) and Lave (1988, 1992) through their respective research findings have pointed to the different ways mathematics is learned in school as opposed to the D
CULTURAL MINORITY CHILDRENS LEARNING
workplace or in everyday life. One of the difficulties faced by teachers is the need to connect subject concepts to childrens everyday concepts in ways that widen and develop childrens abilities. Another problem is how to motivate children to do this. Ogbu (1987, 1993) and Ogbu & Simons (1998) in their research with minority children point out that problems of attendance and school achievement for children from minority groups have to be viewed in light of who the children identify with and whether or not the school values this identification. Vygotsky describes the relationship between scientific and everyday knowledge as two forms of knowledge development that interact to deepen and enrich each other. Everyday knowledge provides the foundation from which children start to learn scientific knowledge. However, the development of everyday knowledge does not cease to be important. On the contrary, everyday knowledge is the knowledge that is functionally useful for a person. Scientific knowledge can be transformed into everyday knowledge through a persons use of acquired scientific concepts in his/her practice in everyday life.
Vygotskys work cannot help us directly in understanding how this transformation takes place so I will outline how I conceptualise this transformation. First, I need to emphasise the importance of good school teaching, and the need for cooperation between the home and school. The home is important because it is where children are given the foundation of knowledge. The school has to recognise and build on this knowledge if instruction is to be successful. The family is important for a second reason; parents provide the motivation for children to attend school. However, it then becomes important that the school acknowledges the social identity, and the motivation developed in family and community life that the child brings to school.
The next section deals with the important question of how school-based knowledge relates to the development of social and cultural identity.
Identity and Ideals
I am interested in the potential contribution of schooling to the development of childrens personality as a whole including cognitive, social and emotional aspects. Development as a whole implies a capability to relate positively, both emotionally and socially, with people in and outside school settings, as well as having a positive acceptance of ones self. From research, as well as from my own experience, it is clear that children from cultural minorities encounter serious difficulties during their time in schools. According to Ogbu (1993; see also Ogbu & Simons, 1998) and Foley (1991) it does not appear likely that academic difficulties can be explained solely in terms of cultural differences that arise from everyday activities. What seems critical is a minority groups D
interpretation and understanding of their situation. Important questions appear to be: what do parents want their children to get from school and what kind of social support does the child receive from the immigrant society? The successes or difficulties experienced by children from minority groups in school are likely to be due to an interaction between several factors, in which the minority communitys values, and expectations relating to school attendance and achievement may play an important part.
In conducting culturally sensitive teaching that attempts to improve cultural minority childrens learning and development, the cultural perspective has to be made explicit. This means that development has to be considered from the perspective of the minority groups ideals about personality formation. The mediation of societal knowledge has to be viewed from the perspective of the minority groups cultural practice and events. An understanding of the relationship between learning and instruction has to reflect the communitys pedagogic goals of personality formation, as well as its goals for the acquisition of skills and knowledge relevant to its cultural practices and events.
Following Vygotsky, Elkonin thought that the ideal form, the archetype of adulthood, is a key category that posits the integrity of childhood. The archetype of adulthood, the archetype of an ideal adult is the only means and the only basis upon which children can imagine their future (Elkonin, 1993, p. 57).
Elkonin points to a second aspect central to development: an ideal model of adulthood has to be available to children and, this model needs to be realizable through real life events. The childs life and the adults model of life have to be eventful. Elkonin also emphasised the importance of adult role models, such as teachers who can mediate the relationship between the model of adulthood and the eventful life of the child. This role can be seen within the perspective that Vygotsky conceptualised as the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Within this perspective the task of the adult is to help the child to move from the level of actual events and capacities to the level of possible events and capacities.
I turn now to Berger & Luckmanns (1966) theory of socialisation in order to elaborate how adults in the roles of parents and teachers, mediate the adult ideals as part of the childs formation of his/her own identity and goals.
Socialisation and Acquisition of Identity
Berger & Luckmanns analysis of identity is grounded in a general model of the emergence, maintenance and transmission of the social world as a consequence of a dialectical interaction among three kinds of processes:
CULTURAL MINORITY CHILDRENS LEARNING
externalisation the creation of a social world in the form of institutions as products of human activity;
objectification our experience of these products as an objective reality;
internalisation the process by which we learn about these institutions (reflectively or unreflectively), as well as how to function in them (Berger & Luckmann, 1966, p. 79).
The dialectic that forms and maintains society is paralleled by a similar dialectic that forms and maintains individual identities. An individual is not born as a member of a society. Rather he or she is born with a so-called predisposition towards sociality, and becomes a member by entering into shared understandings of situations and motivations with others.
Primary and secondary socialisation are the two general processes that build and maintain social identity. Primary socialisation refers to a process of internalisation by which a person is inducted into a society. Significant others such as parents, siblings and extended family members mediate the social world for the child. This mediated world comprises selected or filtered versions of the objective social world depending on the significant others objective relation to and subjective interpretation of objective social structures. As that child identifies emotionally with significant others, he/she adopts their roles, attitudes and values for his/her own. Through this process of internalisation the child starts to recognise that he/she has a place in a specific social world.
Secondary socialisation is the process by which an already socialised individual is inducted into other objective sub-worlds. Role-specific knowledge of these sub-worlds and how to function within them are internalised to become part of the basic world view the child acquires through primary socialisation.
Differences between the s...