Before my studies in the Masters in Teacher Leadership Program, I had heard mention of Action Research but did not know what it entailed. EDU 6979 – Action Research in School Settings and EDU 6528 – Accomplished Teaching helped guide me through valuable learning experiences regarding the Research Action process itself, and also more specifically regarding my area of focus for my project. I now feel capable and confident enacting an Action Research Project on my own using 3-legs of data and presenting my research professionally to colleagues.
For my first RAP Data Collection, I had two main goals:
GOAL 1: Increase student appreciation for the complexity of Spanish-speaking cultures
GOAL 2: Give students the tools to compare their own culture with that of Spanish-speaking peoples, and to do so in a respectful, sensitive way.
These goals came from:
- Feeling like I’m teaching content and skills, but what I really want to do is teach deeper, more meaningful themes of inclusion, tolerance, kindness, acceptance and understanding, social justice.
- A very interesting line of conversation about culture and misconceptions about what it meant to be “hispanic” vs. “Spanish” that arose in a Spanish 1 class. My mind was spinning after the class about where I should go with this theme from here. The students were clearly engaged. One student asked me on her way out the door if we could continue a similar conversation the next day.
- As Spanish 2 students finished up their cultural presentations this week, I noticed they have a fairly superficial knowledge of Spanish-speaking cultures and I’m thinking I will use them as my classes for my RAP.
- I observed this week that I still have a lot of work to do with my students, as I had a student complain of comments made by another student in class that were generalizing all latinos in derogatory ways and making said student feel uncomfortable. I started direct and explicit lessons that will helped them first understand the many components that shape each of our own personal culture and make us so complex. I took some ideas from our Multicultural Education class.
- I had a couple different conversations with one of our school counsellors and the ELL teacher about my RAP and got their input on strategies for raising awareness of cultural diversity in our community and deepening their cultural sensitivity. We started small group conversations with ELL students who are native Spanish speakers. As Clark and Minami (2015, p. 189) discuss, it is important that students “also engage in weekly interactions with native speakers” in order to deepen cultural understanding while negotiating language.
Specific interventions employed during the length of this project were:
- Explicit teaching of cultural factors that affect our lives. As was recognized by Charles and Stevens, “programs need to recognize the current, existing reality of the students, particularly with respect to diversity.” (Charles & Stevens, 2005, p.20)
- Integrating cultural and linguistic lessons: In order to analyze stereotypes and cultural generalizations, cultural media and text should be used to address the topics from a logical analysis perspective and not a personal analysis perspective. In this way,“students are less likely to perceive and therefore resent the unit as yet another accusation that they and their generation are bigots.” (Wilson, 2015, p. 56)
- Exposing students to native speakers by utilizing: Skype in the Classroom, El Café discussion hour, student generated questions for Señor Vasquez and native Spanish-speakers. To improve cultural sensitivity in conjunction with language acquisition, it is important for students to “engage in weekly interactions with native speakers” (Clark & Minami, 2015, p.189).
- Question Box cultural questions and topics: Gutiérrez suggests various strategies I applied to try to increase cultural knowledge and sensitivity and meet students where they are, including: creating a cultural questions box, using student research and presentations to “hear what students have to say,” (Gutiérrez, 2015, p. 274) exposing them to the spoken word, raps, and culturally responsive music, and creating journals or learning logs.
Data collection included:
- 2 open-ended questions regarding general cultural factors
- A personal letter in which students explained their understanding of their personal culture
- Teacher observation and tally of culturally insensitive comments or generalizing questions
I gave an assessment regarding students knowledge of personal culture and it opened up some interesting conversations around what is culture. I asked students to write questions they had about diverse cultures, Spanish-speaking cultures, questions for my husband who’s from Bolivia, or for our TA who’s from Honduras. They could also write a topic they want to learn more about. I was blown away by all the questions and topics they came up with! I have basically an entire Semester’s worth of topics and curriculum now!
As I went over Period 5’s baseline assessments (a letter they wrote to me explaining their personal culture) I learned a lot about my students on multiple levels, including:
- Writing ability in English
- Got a really good feel for the depth or superficial nature of their understanding of culture
- Realized A LOT of students have a very superficial understanding of what factors make up/influence our culture.
- Students wrote questions they have about culture/topics for investigation. REALLY good ideas-I got a whole semester’s worth of curriculum from here.
See full Action Research Paper here: Raising Cultural Competence and Sensitivity.
I’ve decided to teach more explicitly now and then I will work to weave themes of multicultural education into my lessons for the rest of the year. However, I struggled to figure out how to balance staying in Spanish and engaging ALL students in meaningful conversation about deep-rooted cultural concepts that go below the superficial surface of food, festivals and clothing. I really like being able to discuss cultural concepts, stereotypes, etc., but I hate switching into English to do so. In a Spanish 3 or 4 class we could discuss deep concepts and discuss/debate them, but with Spanish 2 it is challenging at times.
However, to truly make a real impact and get meaningful results, I need to extend the interventions over a longer period of time. My greatest takeaways from this course are that I can intertwine meaningful and interesting cultural lessons with Spanish instruction, and that I must be intentional and explicit about teaching cultural themes, but culture and language teaching need to be taught in a delicately intertwined way, not taught in isolation as so often is the case. They are not mutually exclusive. Also, cultural sensitivity comes through explicitly teaching students first to recognize and understand their own culture in a deeper way, and then through learning about explicit and implicit practices of other diverse cultures. Strategies I have been using that I will continue to extend even after this course has ended are:
-give students space to generate cultural questions/topics they are interested in and organize projects/presentations where they have to investigate and find their own answers
-teach students explicitly about their own culture first
-role-play with scenarios: explicitly practice what cultural sensitivity sounds and looks like
-implement student dialogue journals (in Spanish)
-expose students to authentic resources that teach cultural themes and use the Spanish language to engage students in conversations about these topics
-expose students to as many native speakers as possible, through Skype-chats, guest speakers, and conversation hours with ELL students
I have also reflected upon the idea that my PLC could significantly benefit from implementing some of the structure and research that is built into the RAP. As of now, PLC meetings are loosely defined and fairly unproductive. There is usually a general goal that defines our topic of discussion, but data is never discussed nor shared. We have yet to implement common assessments across courses to compare results and best practices. Frustrations are shared but rarely are concrete techniques or strategies discussed. I would love to bring my learning from this course to my PLC and suggest we follow some of the steps to conduct an informal Research Action Project and compare results among students to explore best practices across many classrooms and teaching styles. It would also benefit us to establish clear student outcome goals and specific data collection strategies.
Sources/ Literature Referenced
Charles, J., Stevens, R. (2005). Preparing teachers to teach tolerance. Multicultural Perspectives , 7(1), 17-25.
Clark, A., Minami, N. (2015). Communication skills, cultural sensitivity, and collaboration in an experiential language village simulation. Foreign Language Annals, 48(2), 184-202.
Gutiérrez, R. (2015). HOLA: Hunt for Opportunities-Learn-Act. The Mathematics Teacher, 109(4), 270-277.
Howard, G. (2006). As diversity grows, so must we. Educational Leadership, March 2007, 16- 22.
Wilson, N. E. (2015). Cross-Examining Bigotry: Using Toulmin’s Argument Model and Huckin’s CDA to Interrogate Overt and Covert Racist Arguments. The CEA Forum, Winter/Spring. Retrieved from http://www.cea-web.org