Support Materials

6. The Classroom Mosaic - Culture and Learning


Carlson's Mom: She was a part of the Little Rock Nine…and the Little Rock Nine was…She helped those students, there was a few of them, but the Little Rock Nine was nine black students entering or integrating an all-white school. And during that time that was not heard of, so this really was history.

William from EPAHS: We, ah had to step back and look at our curriculum in terms of how we designed it, and was it working for these kids in terms of how they learned?

Linda Darling-Hammond: Culture is part of who we are and everything we do - where we grew up, the social groups we are part of, the way we talk, or dance, and think. If our experience shapes our learning, and culture shapes our experience, then cultural connections are bound to be extremely important in the classroom.

As a teacher, how do you take advantage of students' experiences and build bridges among the many cultures that are represented in your classroom…including the culture of the school itself?

I'm Linda Darling-Hammond, and these are our challenges for this session of The Learning Classroom.

The starting point for building on students' experiences is to understand who they are in the context of where they came from -- to see their homes or families as a resource for the classroom and your own understanding as a teacher.

Luis Moll, Ph.D., University of Arizona: All households accumulate a tremendous amount of knowledge based on their, on the productive activities of the household members, on their schooling experiences, and on other life experiences.

So when one thinks of the home, one thinks of the resources that may be potentially available in that home, especially the knowledge that may be available there that we can then take advantage of for teaching and learning within the classroom. So the concept of funds of knowledge refers to the accumulated bodies of knowledge that reside within any household. And our task in documenting of this knowledge is to create the relationships with, with parents and with children so that they tell us about the knowledge that they have. And then the work of the teachers is to reflect upon this knowledge and to figure out how to use it pedagogically, how to use, how to take advantage of it for purposes of, of instruction.

Linda Darling-Hammond: Kathleen Hayes-Parvin's 6th grade classroom taps students' family histories as the subject matter for learning about research, writing, and social studies.

A project on memoirs connects learning in and outside the classroom by literally bringing families and their experiences into the school.

Let's watch how the students learn about social history while Kathleen learns more about them - knowledge that will allow her to draw connections to their lives throughout the school year.

(classroom scene)
Kathleen Hayes-Parvin: One more word I've got for ya. And this is a great one. It's called ethnographer. An ethnographer. Now you've done a fabulous job of becoming readers and writers. And I know you're still in the process of becoming, but we're going to become ethnographers. And it's like becoming a certain type of researcher.

Kathleen: Actually we begin to think about memoir very early in the year, because every kid in the class keeps a writer's notebook which is sort of a journal format. But we talk about what kinds of things do writers do in their notebook. What kind of things do they record for posterity?  And they know right away to start putting in memories and they start to treat it as a scrapbook with photographs and family moments.

We try to, we try to make this an experience where every kid can access this opportunity. And, the family history project doesn't have to go back five or six, or even ten generations. It can be about your family history right now today and, that helps children who come from a foster situation or who have stepparents in the picture. So we shape it and we're loose enough with it, flexible enough so that every kid can find an, an access point, a way in, to think about their history.

You might ask a student to tap into the grandma's expertise. We've got one young lady who interviewed her parents on videocassette.

(classroom scene)
Everyone this is Thomas's mom, and it seems that ever since they got a computer Mrs. Kemenou's just been writing story after story after story… I think you're a real writer in your heart.
Mrs. K: Yeah. I love it since I was a child.
You've loved to write?
Mrs. K:
Yeah, even when I work when I have free time I write. "My Life Story." I was born and raised in a small village north of Iraq. When I was 11 years, my family moved to the capital, Baghdad…I finished the University.. baccalaureate with business accounting. I worked for a big company, export and import things… When the revolution started in Iraq, my family decided to move to USA. My father passed away three years ago on Fourth of July. But his work and memory remain with me forever…I hope my children understand my point, which is the best for him.. <applause>
The North, like the President of Iraq didn't like the North of Iraq because they wanted their own government or something?  Was that true?
  There is a big minority in Iraq, which is one fourth of the people there of the population. And they are trying to get their own rights of independence, and he won't let them.
Actually, the kids oftentimes translate if they're bi-lingual. We have a very wonderful ESL department here in the building. In fact my para-pro, Mr. Hendi, we work together. He speaks six different languages.
Why couldn't they just vote on him to be off the ballots?
There is no democracy, that's what the dictatorship is. There is no democracy. People they don't vote their mind.
Thomas: When I got my computer my mom was like, how do you use this thing. And my dad came over and he was like, you wanna learn how to use the computer, and he was like yeah and then he just started typing. And then I was like, you wanna play solitaire?  He was like I don't know how to play that. Then we started playing this Arabic game and I learned how to play.
Thomas: Kenny, this is a game called Dama and it's an Arabic game and this is how you play, see?
How, how do all these pieces move?  Like which direction?
Like they could move like this and they could move like this.

Kathleen: I knew someone who was in Iraq at the time, during the Persian Gulf War.

And we had a project at that time where kids were able to talk to him on a teleconference call and ask questions.

They may have relatives in Iraq and this can get very personal and very painful as they worry about relatives and as their parents worry about who's been left there, left behind. So it's important for us to hear from each other and to tell our stories so that the kids have accurate information, good knowledge so that other students aren't being scape-goated in any way or made to feel that they were a part of something that they were not a part of.

(classroom scene)
Thomas: Like what happened on September 11 and, it's I'm American, I'm not Chaldean. There's, they won't talk about me and I could just be my own self and go anywhere I want. Without nobody saying, "Look, Look.. he's Chaldean!"

Kathleen: I've been very surprised at the candor, um, both the students and the parents. We have a little boy in the class whose father was shot and killed a couple years ago. He's writing about it quite a lot when, and I think it was a topic that wasn't part of his discussion. We create an opportunity for kids to write and express themselves where they're not made fun of. If there are stories that are too personal and too painful, we just ask people to focus on a different aspect of their history.

Elikem: Some of the research I did about my family, I, I found out things like, let's see, Bennie Moten he was, he's related to me , and he was a jazz musician in Kansas city, and he had a band. And Count Basie was in his band, I think. I looked up Bennie Moten and I found this out. Got a lot of songs on him, and it says that he was one of the most successful jazz bands in the Midwest. I was shocked that, when I saw that, when I found that out, because I didn't think…I knew he had an orchestra, but I didn't think there would be that many people who knew about him, and wrote about him.

Here is one of the songs I really like and it's called "Goofy Dust."
<music plays>

Kathleen: One of the things I would recommend to teachers who really don't have that diversity in their classrooms, uh, one of the ways we've found that has enriched our study is to welcome parents into the mix. These kinds of stories, when they begin to be told, you'll find some pretty amazing discoveries, uh, that may bring in some unexpected surprises.

Kenny: I was in the living room at my grandma's condo, and we had just bought a book about all of the presidents. And I was like, looking through it, and my Mom told me that I was related to James Buchanan, and she told me, like, where it was in the book, and thenshe pointed it to me. It felt cool.

Kathleen: Once the kids start to hear and see other parents writing and get that feel they're often very motivating in terms of getting their parents to write for them. And get them to come in and read their stories and model that literacy that is so important to our class.

Carlson's Mom:  It's the Gatson family and cousin family tree. And I show the importance of this, of my son and tell him you're listed. You are listed in here.

This is a picture of Nillie, she was from Turkey and was brought over to this country at the age of seven. She married, and his name is Luke. He was, he was just recently freed from slavery, and he married her…

Carlson: My mom once told me that, uh, that, uh, my, I think it was great-great-uncle or cousin, he's, he was the first black person to go to school with white kids, or something.

Carlson's Mom:  She was a part of the Little Rock Nine…and the Little Rock Nine was. She helped those students, there was a few of them, but the Little Rock Nine was nine black students entering or integrating an all-white school. And during that time that was not heard of, so this really was history.

Carlson: I like the idea that I'm in school with everybody and all different kinda races and everything and I feel good that, um, my, one of my relatives was one of the first people to go to school with white people. And, and it's just nice to just be all together.

Carlson's Mom:  We are carpenters, doctors, lawyers, painters, educators, plumbers, scientists, journalists, ministers and adventurers. Wherever we go we will always remember and honor our ancestry.

Kathleen: And I think it's important for them to hang on to a lot of important aspects of their culture, especially on the home front, as they gain a new awareness as to what it means to be an American and our culture today.

Carlson: Well, being American to me is, well, you get a lot of rights to yourself. You have religions to yourself.…We're just, uh, just together and everything and we can….a big, free family that way.

Luis Moll: When you see a group of kids, you see the kids of course, they're individual kids. But they all belong to particular social networks - family social networks, kin, friends. And all those social networks are ways of connecting to knowledge, either again, to knowledge from work or knowledge from schooling, or knowledge from life. So they all represent potential social networks that one can utilize to gain access to knowledge for use within classroom practice.

Linda Darling-Hammond: When teachers tap into those cultural networks it is an example of what we call culturally relevant teaching. Gloria Ladson-Billings describes its main features.

Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D. University of Wisconsin-Madison: The first is academic achievement, that by and large, no matter what else it is that schools are set to do, they are charged with the responsibility of help, helping kids to achieve academically, to learn something. The second part of it is what I'd call cultural consciousness. And what I mean by this is that kids have a firm and clear understanding of their own cultural background, its worth it, its positives and negatives, but it makes sense to them in ways that help them link up with their academic achievement. And then the third component is what I'd call a social-political consciousness. It's not enough to "know something" and be smart, or to know about yourself. You also have to understand how knowing about yourself, knowing things about others, and knowing information, relate to the larger social and political picture, so the kids can begin to, to really answer for themselves that question - why do I have to know this?

Linda Darling-Hammond: Culturally relevant classrooms validate students' experiences and use them as a springboard for the curriculum.

This helps students to feel more connected to the classroom and to each other - and it helps teachers to learn more about their students so that they are more successful in their teaching.

Gloria Ladson-Billings: Every teacher I've encountered has wanted to be a successful teacher. I just cannot believe that people get up in the morning and say, "I wanna be unsuccessful." But what does that, what does success mean?  How do they define that?  And a big part of culturally relevant teaching is about having this vision of success that is an inclusion vision. It's saying all of the kids, no matter where they're from, no matter what their circumstances are, have the potential to be successful in this classroom. And it's really my job to help them attain that success. 

Linda Darling-Hammond: At East Palo Alto High School, teachers create inclusion and success by using students' experiences and their funds of knowledge to make connections to the curriculum.

In this ninth grade humanities course, which is taught in side-by-side classrooms by William Dean and Jeff Gilbert, students are exploring literature and history simultaneously.

Students work in teams on projects that prompt them to compare their cultural experiences with those in the text that they are studying.

(classroom scene)
Jeff Gilbert:
Put those desks together, we need just a square. We're gonna talk for ten minutes, and then your gonna start on the assignment.

William Dean: Culturally responsive teaching is looking at it from a perspective of a teacher knowing his or her students, and knowing his students or her students of the teacher, as a way of the cultural, the ethnic background and what that entails in terms of many things that ah encourage the student to learn, and bringing in various activities that relates to the students' culture that will enable the student to feel included.

(classroom scene)
Jeff:  What we're going to do today is talk a little bit about some of the things that have come up. We've studied Latin American, and we've read a story, read most of a story called, "The Boy from Next to Heaven." So what we're going to do is finish that story. What I would like everybody to do is to take that story out and their notebook out. Have it in front of you, we're just going to finish reading the last section.

Jeff: At the beginning of the year we talked about how we wanted to teach the class, and so we wanted them to have certain language, a body of language dealing with sociology and psychology, so that they could then analyze themselves and their culture, and then other cultures.

The lesson asked them to look at a theme, to look at a theme in history and then to relate it to their own lives. It's not looking, the point is not necessarily to look at their own community in depth, but to use their community to illuminate the curriculum that we're studying. And so we wanna balance back and forth from the curriculum to their culture so they can see the connections and the relevance.  

(classroom scene)
Jeff: His loss, tell me about what you think he feels. Mad?
Girl: Incomplete.
Jeff: Incomplete. Good word.
Student: Surprised, confused.

William: The teacher's always aware of, of the diversity in the classroom. And uh allowing for each ah culture to have a ah, a part of the curriculum.

(classroom scene)
Can you ask Rosa that is it important that she, um continues to speak Spanish?
Eduardo: Este dice que es importante de tu comprarando hablar Español? Hace con ser estas habiendo hablar la Español?
<Answers back in Spanish.>
Jeff: Can you translate?
Eduardo: Well, she says that it would change her because like that's like her culture and her traditions.

William: We learned how our students learned, and that is a discovery for us because most of us come from a traditional comprehensive high school and we had to step back and look at our curriculum in terms of how we designed it, and was it working for these kids in terms of how they learned.

(classroom scene)
Girl: So then, if we were to compare this to our neighborhood, then Estaban's neighborhood would be like, be able to say Palo Alto, I guess. And Pedro's neighborhood, would be, I guess, East Palo Alto?
Girl 2:
But do you know what he means like, it's like having like, what do you imagine when they say his neighborhood is like, is like, do you imagine like lots of big houses with like hecka rooms?
Girl 2:
Like a peaceful neighborhood, I guess.
So then, would there be a specific part of East Palo Alto like V-town, G-town, B-town that you would consider to be like?
Girl 2:
No? <laughter> So let's do number one, OK. Number one, OK…what does it say?  In this story the author refers to the community as peace with the millionaires and Estaban's hill side home as next to heaven. You listening?

Girl 2: Yeah.
Alright, "Describe opposite places in your community where one area is like the Beast and the other is like Heaven. Explain reasons for selection of places as to how they represent cultural or historical communities."
OK. Did you understand that, 'cause I didn't.

Jeff: This is my twelfth year of teaching and you, kinda at this point, I think I know this is gonna work, this is great, this'll…. And then you teach, and you're like, well, that didn't work very well. And then you usually just struggle, and you think, um, well, I'll try it again, it's gotta work, it's always worked. And it doesn't work.

And so you, you do it and then you have to be willing to say, all right, that doesn't work in this classroom at this time. I have to find another way.

(classroom scene)
Girl:  I mean we really don't understand this. We understand it but…
William:  Ok, here it is. Ah, remember in the story when Esteban says…when he first moves to the thing, and he looks, he comes out in the town, and he looks down at Lima, you know he's looking out on the hill. Unfortunately, he's not a rich person up on that hill, even though he's living up there. But he looks down, and his, his mother says, "Be careful of the cars and the people," remember that?
Girl:  Yeah.
William:  Before he starts, 'cause she gives him permission to go down into the city.
Girl 1:  Ok, East Palo Alto can be like the Beast because…hahaha. It's a lot of ah…
Girl 2:  Trash on the ground.
Girl 1:  But that's only parts of East Palo Alto. There are parts of East Palo Alto where there ain't no drugs, violence, or trash.

Jeff: In our community, it's a Latino, Pacific Islander in an African-American culture and not, they bring that culture into our classroom, and we can understand who they are as people. And they all, that culture effects how they learn – the schools they've gone to, the experiences they've had. And so we have tried explicitly to address those issues.

Sometimes their culture they live in may be at odds with the culture you're trying to create in the classroom.

What are stereotypes? What are norms? What are expected behaviors? What do they look like in our classroom? What do they look like in the community? Why are those things maybe different, and how do you learn how to, uh, succeed in one culture - the school culture. And then, and then also not to, not to denigrate the culture they live in, because the fact that they can speak a certain language or act a certain way allows them to succeed in the culture they live in. And we, we don't wanna have them feel somehow that that's not important, 'cause they need those skills. But we also need to know, need them to know that when they go to college or they need to be successful here, they need to learn a different culture.

(classroom scene)
Teacher:  So we're gonna start with Eduardo and Rosa. And uh, you guys want to come up?  Tell us…
Teacher:  So tell us what it's going to be about, and then answer your question.
Eduardo:  The activity that we chose was to create poems, like about ourselves and a little bit about how Estaban would feel, felt, or how we thought he felt.
Rosa:  Hace, hace muchos años um, mi familia Terialis y Luciano se de navidad este pais y, y a su navidad mejor.
Eduardo:  What she said was that like, um, like, in the past years her family had, like, dreams to come here. And, like, her dad came here first and then he um, he sent, like, for her mom. Then, like, when she was 6 years old, they killed her dad. And, like, his dream was, like, for here, to, like, come and, like, make a better life for the rest of his family. And, like, she said that, like, once they killed him, like, her dreams, like, like went away.

William: For them to have come to the place to trust us and then to be able to produce all of this personal, you know, experiences that they have in terms of their family, in terms of loss and stuff, is really powerful, and that they are, feel that they are in a safe place that they can do that.

(classroom scene)
William: Ladies, Lefrare and Jennifer, you are going to explain your activity, what was your task?
Girl 2:
Ok, um, Menlo Park is Heaven and East Palo Alto is Beast because Menlo Park has less drugs and more stores and more youth involvement and…
Girl 1:
The question was, how does one make sure to keep hope alive in spite of the odds in life?
Girl 2:
We said, to set your goal and put your mind to it. You will need to do whatever it takes to achieve your goal including overcoming mile high ob..
Both Girls:
Cuando no mas importante que son ti su, que son ti su luciones <continues to speak in Spanish>…

  Her poem was mostly saying, like, um, how can you recover what you've lost? Like, she's talking about, like, you know it's impossible to recover like, what you lost. Just like when we were talking about your culture, like Ervana said, like, money is replaceable, but once you lose, um, your, like, agriculture and your past, it's like hard to get back.
  Any comments?
Girl:  Like, as a writer coming out to be a very open individual is very sometimes hard, because you don't know your audience. And I gotta give Rosa every prop that I can give her, because that was very, very, very, very brave of you to come out like that and give personal stuff like that, so…

Luis Moll: One of my favorite ways that teachers use the idea of funds of knowledge is that they relate it to the literature that children are reading. So that theme cycles are particularly powerful in that respect, where the kids get to elaborate and explore, do research on a particular theme, use the literature, analyze the text and then connect that text to the text of their lives and the text of their family experiences, in creating this connection between text and, and, and life's experiences in helping them think and analyze the literature. So for example, in the East Palo Alto school, they were doing a very nice job of relating the analysis of text and talking about text, learning how to talk about text while, while building on the students' experiences and their families' experiences as additional content to help them develop those strategies of talking about text.

Linda Darling-Hammond: In culturally relevant classrooms, teachers make connections to their students' lives and experiences and help them take ownership of their learning.

When students can create bridges from what they already know to what they are studying, the associations help them to understand and retain the new ideas and use them for their own purposes in the future.

And when students see themselves represented in the curriculum and in the classroom it reinforces their sense of belonging to the community of the school and it motivates them to transcend interpersonal and academic boundaries.

This is The Learning Classroom, thanks for watching.

Return to the Support Materials for Session 6

Contributors to this Session

Linda Darling-Hammond
Charles E. Ducommon Professor of Education, Stanford University

Luis Moll
Professor, Dept. of Language, Reading, and Culture, University of Arizona

Gloria Ladson-Billings
Professor of Curriculum and Instruction, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Kathleen Hayes-Parvin
sixth grade teacher, Birney Middle School, Southfield, Michigan

William Dean
ninth grade teacher, East Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, California

Jeff Gilbert
ninth grade teacher, East Palo Alto High School, Palo Alto, California