Thursday, February 22, 2018

Culturing culturally responsive pedagogy

Honouring New Zealand's bicultural partnership is important, but how do you find a way to include it authentically in the senior science classroom? I am sure that many science teachers would agree that it can be difficult to do this, and make their way through all the content and assessments. I know that I have certainly struggled! Many of us make small efforts, we might include a few token te reo words in our lessons like "e tū" and "tumeke". If you're lucky, you might see the Māori names for tripod or bunsen burners up around the room. But usually we get straight back to talking about old white men, Darwin, Newton, Rutherford, Mendel and Mendeleev.

Of course for many of us, our classrooms have become increasingly diverse too. In just one of my classes this year, I have students from China, Korea, Japan, Samoa, Phillipines, Indonesia, Samoa and Australia. There are also students born in New Zealand however many of their parents were born in other countries, so they bring cultural mixes like Italian, English, German and Turkish to the mix too. So while I am trying to honour New Zealand's bicultural partnership, I am also trying to accommodate a huge variety of cultural diversity in the classroom. And then, we haven't even talked about diversity and learning needs yet!

The challenge is of course not easily solved. While many schools have International days with cultural performances and students in their national costumes, this is not enough to help our young people feel that their cultures are valued at school. We have to shift from accommodating and tolerating cultural diversity (if we even do that...), to making this a critical resource for success in academic contexts. How else can you show that cultural knowledge matters?

Now, I am no expert where culturally responsive pedagogy is concerned. But, I have been thinking really hard about how I can design academic courses that create the space for students to leverage their cultural knowledge to improve their academic success. I have also thought carefully about "demonstrating a commitment to tangata whenuatanga and Te Tiriti o Waitangi partnership in the learning environment" (from the new Practicing Teacher Criteria). I have thought about this carefully not because I am obliged to as a professional, but because I believe it is necessary if I truly wish to see success for all my students.

So after all this thinking, what have I actually come up with? Well... A fermented food shared lunch. Let me explain...

I am teaching a microbiology course this semester. We kicked off the year by asking each student to write a report on a fermented food from a cultural heritage they identify with (task sheet). In a fortnight's time, they would then have to bring the food to our class fermented foods shared lunch.
Many students were really unsure about the cultural aspect on day one, so I encouraged them to talk to their families. A number of students called their grandparents to talk about their cultural heritages, while others called an aunt, uncle or parent. And incase you are wondering, yes I did let them make phone calls in class. Some students even arranged to go and visit grandparents so that they can learn how to make their fermented food. 

Rewena bread -  traditional Māori sourdough potato bread (and absolutely DELICIOUS).

On the day of the shared lunch, each student had to make a name tag to accompany their food. This included details about country of origin, microbes used to produce the food, and allergy information (see template). They also had a task sheet to fill in as they tried the wild assortment of food we had.

We really had quite the selection!

The task sheet required them to try at least five foods, and to describe each one (see task sheet here). Finally, the students had to pair up with someone who focussed on a different microbe than the one their food was made from, and then had to complete a compare and contrast thinking map (see the template on the second part of the task sheet).

I asked a student what she thought about my rather crazy fermented foods party idea after our lunch. Her response: "I understood more about my culture and it made me understand more about my class". Others commented that they had "connected" with their culture.

As for me... I was really excited to see students using their cultural knowledge to access the science knowledge and vica versa. I was excited that students were not just learning from me, but that the knowledge from their families had a place in our classroom too. Of course, I am a huge foodie so I was excited about all the new foods I got to try too, but more importantly, we all got to share a little bit of our cultures with each other too.

While today may have been full of warm fuzzies as we talked about our families and food, there is an important question now circling in head. What next? Because a few thoughtfully designed lessons at the start of year is not enough to be culturally responsive.