An International Discourse on Culture in the Classroom: Teachers from Four Countries Share Their Perspectives

By Lovorn, Michael; Summers, Robert | International Journal of Education, April 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

An International Discourse on Culture in the Classroom: Teachers from Four Countries Share Their Perspectives


Lovorn, Michael, Summers, Robert, International Journal of Education


Abstract

Researchers explored perspectives of teachers from four countries about how they recognize and address their students' cultural backgrounds; how they incorporate students' culture into their teaching; and what impact their efforts have on the learning environment. Participants (n = 41) were engaged in an online discussion board and posted thoughts and responses to other participants. Researchers performed a content analysis to identify patterns in participants' observations and perspectives, which revealed that most participating teachers recognize and address students' cultural backgrounds in academic, affective, and social contexts. Teachers who attend to these needs enjoy effective academic connections with students, have a heightened sense of confidence in their ability to connect with students, are able to devote ample time to the content they are teaching, and deal with fewer behavioral issues.

Keywords: culture; international; classroom; discourse; teachers

The global community becomes more interdependent every day. The Information Age has ushered in an immeasurable degree of hyper-connectivity that transcends economics, culture, and education, and demands that we increase our awareness of one another. Teachers must keep pace by developing critical understandings of the cultural backgrounds of students in their ever diversifying classrooms, and work together to facilitate learning environments that are stimulating and sensitive to all stakeholders. Studies show critical understandings of students' academic, affective, and social needs can lead to better teaching, more impactful school leadership, and more effective classroom management (Bennett, 1993; hooks, 2003; Zeichner & Hoeff, 1996). The purpose of this study was to explore perspectives and discussion threads among K-12 teachers at schools in four countries (Brazil, Ireland, Mexico, and the United States) about: 1.) how they recognize and address their students' cultural backgrounds; 2.) how they incorporate students' culture into their teaching; and 3.) what impact their efforts have on the learning environment.

For purposes of this study, culture is defined as a person's conceptions of identity, gender, race, class, and other components of her/his background. Scholars generally agree that culture is indicated by how humans perceive themselves, their communities, and society as a whole. These self-perceptions are significant because research has revealed that such internal and reflective perceptions of culture commonly influence our ideas of citizenship (Sunal, Christensen, Shwery, Lovorn & Sunal, 2010), sense of belonging (Museus & Maramba, 2011), societal roles (Powell, 2009), communication (Horner, 2012; Speece, 2012), and education (Lee & Recchia, 2008; Quinn, 2011). Studies also suggest that K-12 teachers' understandings of their students' cultural backgrounds and means of cultural expression impact teaching, learning, and the classroom environment (Lovorn, Szymanski Sunal, Christensen, Shwery, & Sunal, 2012), and that most teachers claim to recognize the impacts of culture on learning dynamics, student morale, and performance (Lovorn & Summers, 2011).

With this knowledge, researchers sought to engage professional teachers in discourse on how they utilize their understandings to meet the needs of diverse student populations. The perspectives of teachers in this population were of particular interest and were targeted in this study because, in addition to being active inservice teachers, they were students of graduate courses taught by the researchers. Researchers agreed that although participants' perspectives are not likely generalizable, this study could reveal patterns of thought, experiential tendencies, and other information that could inform the graduate program. Researchers realized this unique connection to participants could present biases that might impact data collection and analysis. …

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