By: Yana Khrushch
If an outsider were to look at the population of English Learners at Roberto Clemente Community Academy, an IB World School, they might think the group of students is highly homogeneous. Most students are Spanish-speaking and Latino. Many of the students have migrated to the United States or have families who have migrated to the United States. However, each student has a unique story that when shared, teaches valuable lessons about cultural competence.
In my ESL classroom, I have students with many different backgrounds. I have students who were born in the United States but have spent portions of their lives in other countries. I have students who had never been to the United States before moving to Chicago recently, and I have students who are born and raised in Chicago. Many students share similar narratives – stories of hard work, sacrifice, and struggle. All students share the need to acquire a new language, English. However, even with a similar background or culture, students can have such different lived experiences.
In order to teach cultural competence and tolerance, I asked students to dig deep into their identities and examine all the factors that have shaped who they are. Students spent time researching their family lineage, asking questions at home, and gathering artifacts. After the research process, students began creating a presentation that expressed their cultural identity. They were able to use whatever mode of technology they preferred – Google Slides, Piktochart, Padlet, and Prezi. After teacher-student conferencing and revising, students were finally ready to present. Each student’s goal was to not only demonstrate their communication skills (IB Language Acquisition – Criterion C), but also make the class more knowledgeable of his/her cultural background. While it was a challenging task, the students really delivered.
During the presentations, students learned so many valuable things about their classmates’ backgrounds. While several students are from Mexico, some grew up in large cities and others in small towns; some by the ocean and some in the desert. Students realized that the geographic location of an upbringing can greatly influence culture and personal identity. This rang true for my students from Guatemala, Puerto Rico, and Ukraine as well. Students discovered that for one classmate, Spanish isn’t even his first language – he grew up speaking a dialect, Spanish is his second language, and English is his third. Students also discovered that one of our students from Ukraine has lived through a developing war, which is why she came to the United States. Another student has lived in California and Mexico and has never experienced cold or snow. At the age of 17, she is experiencing a climate she has only ever seen in TV or read about in books.
After each presentation, students were able to ask each other questions and engage in a dialogue about their cultural backgrounds. It was very rewarding to observe the connections they made to one another and the culture differences they became aware of. Most importantly, though, it was rewarding to see the understanding, tolerance, and respect students showed to each others’ unique cultural identities.