Baha Sadr, International Institute of Rhode Island and the Genesis Center
Having arrived to The United States as a teenager I couldn't tell whether I was experiencing cultural shock or discrimination due to all the negative advertisement against my country, Iran. I was afraid and embarrassed to tell people where I was from never mind sharing my culture, which happens to be very old and enriched with verity of traditions.
Cultures are like music, a universal language that plays underneath our daily living, it is a certain color or taste that distinguishes us and attracts us to one another at the same time it is our pride and the ability to share it is heartwarming.
When I had the opportunity to revisit and study my own culture, I found myself at peace and empowered, I discovered a sense of pride and have been using it in all my teaching career.
I chose this project mainly because the nature of the class I had, there were over 20 students with more than 12 different nationalities and educational backgrounds. A few students could speak fluent English but werenıt able to write simple words, a few students had college degrees but couldn't speak very well, some were traumatized due to War or Domestic Violence , and some lacked enthusiasm to learn for various reasons. We had an extremely diverse class, and formation of groups began to develop, which is a sign and indication that the class is separating and breaking up, soon native languages was spoken and eventually attitudes and prejudices found their way into the classroom and irrational behaviors in the classroom was the end result .
The challenge was how to make the students sensitive towards each otherıs needs without lecturing them. Ideally they needed to help and teach one another.
I immediately tried to use workshops that forced the students to mix and share their knowledge.
(For example; the person standing would call "People who speak Spanish" and every one that fell in that category had to get up, walk around and sit on the next available empty chair. This went on as long as almost every one had a chance to speak.)
The impact of this exercise was:
First of all laughter, then discovering similarities between the class members, students felt safe in that environment. Also it was a way to practice the English language and most important they had to part with their chairs rapidly, territory wasn't an issue and they were learning.
Later on we tried the traditional "Musical Chairs" with music from all the countries the class members were representing , that was also important because they could hear each otherıs cultures and be entertained and respect it in a fun way.
The hand shake, eye contact, smile, length of time spent, we discuss all of that, then once the students were aware of all those other elements we tried the same greeting model in different settings like at bus stop, inside the bus, at a funeral, wedding, etc.
Once the students seemed to have adapted to one another, they were ready to take the next step, which was to talk about their cultures and compare them.
Given the fact that this was a Literacy/ESL1 class, I spent a whole session just explaining what " different" and "similar" means. (Using picture, student drawings, objects, foods, etc. )
As soon as that was understood and established I began comparing American National and religious Holidays, It's amazing that at first the students tend to say every thing is the same in their countries, fortunately we had several high school students volunteering and they would write the details of a certain holiday in America and the students would use those sentences as models and state how they celebrated the similar holidays in their countries.
what does it look like?
| puppet show
|| Lao weddings - text and photos
|| note: more photos will be added, once permission to reproduce them is obtained
Many great surprises came out of this approach, students showed great respect and interest towards each other and asked many questions, and tried to have a better understanding of other cultures.
The South East Asians were proud to share stories from their culture, such as all the details in their weddings. I felt that this was a major step for one of the students considering the difficulty she had in communicating , and once her work was presented and admired by the class she was empowered with a sense of identity in a challenging setting and was able to share more of her culture.
With the help of the volunteers she was able to write it in Microsoft WORD Program and display her writing with the pictures in the class.
Puppet making workshops were used to share crafts and stories from all around the world, as well as manipulating the puppets in front of an audience.
Regretfully, I had to leave this class in the middle of the year, but I shared many traditions from my culture and learned a great deal from others, and I was very thankful to see that the students stayed in the same class, and extended the classroom dynamics outside of the school into their social life.
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