In her book, Culturally Responsive Teaching: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students, Zaretta Hammond suggests that individualistic-oriented schools that do not and cannot adapt to collectivist-oriented students are culturally unresponsive. She characterizes individualism vs. collectivism in the following way:
|Focused on independence and individual achievement||Focused on interdependence and group success|
|Emphasizes self-reliance and the belief that one is supposed to take care of himself to get ahead||Emphasizes reliance on the collective wisdom or resources of the group and the belief that group members take care of each other to get ahead|
|Learning happens through individual studying and reading||Learning happens through interaction and dialogue|
|Individual contributions and status are important.||Group dynamics and harmony are important|
Hammond orders nations from most individualistic to most collective using the Cultural Dimensions Index 100-point scale. Every country above 60 is in Western Europe or North America. Most nations below 60 are in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Here’s a snapshot: United States (91), India (48), Iraq (38), Mexico (30), Ethiopia (27), China (20).
Such a framework–which Hammond concedes has some limitations–has important and useful implications for teachers and schools. I want to focus on one: discussion.
I believe speaking and listening provide an opportunity to create a classroom that balances individual and collective learning, and thus can be richly culturally responsive, leading to deep learning for all. I want to develop this belief with an example and a strategy.
I recently sat in on a beautifully facilitated lesson by Chief Sealth High School’s Paul Fischburg. In his diverse 12th-grade IB class, his students compared and contrasted the American Civil Rights movement to Anti-Apartheid Movement in South Africa.
Paul did something I’ve never seen before but will certainly steal. He set up a table in the middle of the room. Then he broke the class into carefully constructed groups of three that broke off into outer tables. Each group discussed the same question. For the first round it was, “What was and wasn’t working until the Sharpeville massacre?” Paul informed one person in each group they would be an expert and would participate in the fishbowl in the middle table. The groups discussed and prepared dynamically, doing all they could to make sure their one colleague had facts and ideas ready to share. After five minutes, Paul had the expert from each group come to the center table where they had a group discussion about that question and others listened in.
The discussion’s dynamic was intellectual and rigorous. As the group talked, Paul often paused the discussion and had students at the outside tables write down what they heard or talk through what they were learning. After the question was thoroughly explored, each expert returned to his group where they discussed a new question and identified a new expert for the next round.
The purpose of the different discussions wasn’t a “gotcha.” It also wasn’t to “out-evidence” a peer or to put someone on blast, though Paul also expected experts to have ideas and facts to share given all the scaffolds. Paul certainly organized the work with the Common Core speaking outcomes in mind: students probed one another’s reasoning; they verbally synthesized and summarized what they heard; they strove to express their ideas clearly. The most powerful part of this work was this: the students constructed understanding together. By having each student have an integral role in the inquiry (by the class’s end, they would all be experts), Paul laid out a clear principal: the purpose of this work isn’t to show-off how much you know; it’s to take what you know and make it deeper and richer via discussion.
As the class debriefed the experience, several students commented on the calm and rigorous tenor of the discussions.
The idea of calm rigor lives in Accountable Talk, as well. Using the Accountable Talk technique, I have my classes discuss a text in three to four rounds going from comprehension to interpretation to extended thinking, with ample time to annotate, discuss in pairs, and discuss as a whole-group in between each round. (I’m happy to share examples of what these rounds look like). When I do it well–when the discussion is productive, accurate, and rigorous–the parameters are set that this discussion isn’t to show what you know as a final answer, but to test ideas, wonder aloud, and engage with your peers in your effort to form your own thinking about a text.
When debriefing, I strive to develop a collectivist environment through strategic questioning:
Who helped you understand something more accurately today?
Who made you see something differently today?
Who said something that really made you think today?
What was your role in today’s success and/or struggle?
What did you notice about group dynamics today?
Creating a more collectivist class through discussion not only ups the rigor and harmony. It pragmatically puts into practice the burgeoning and needed notion that we are indeed stronger together.
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