Understanding Cultural Literacy in the Classroom

It has always been very important to me that students feel like they are understood and accepted in the classroom. They should feel like the teacher not only cares about them, but understands where they come from. It has recently become apparent to me that not many teachers take the time to discover the backgrounds of their students. They don’t know their culture or what their home life entails, and I think it’s really important to know such things, especially as en educator.

Literacy is viewed in many different ways across not only the world, but our own country as well. A student might be writing a story for their English class that goes on and on and on, and the teacher will most likely just reprimand them for it. They will say that it’s a run-on story and that it has no concrete beginning, middle, or end. However, what the teacher might not know, is that the student is Native American. And even if the teacher is aware of this, they might not necessarily understand the Native American culture. Storytelling is a very important part of the Native American culture. In some Native American cultures, they are taught from a young age that stories are supposed to last 7 nights and that they can be told in an almost non-sequential way. If the teacher had known this, things might have played out differently.

This also goes for different dialects as well. African American Vernacular English is very common and should be treated as a recognized language and part of a culture, not as improper. It’s very often that children use this language when they are at home and around their friends, so they would be apt to use it in the classroom and in their writing as well. Once again, it’s very important for teachers to recognize this and understand cultural differences in life and in literacy.

It’s important for us as teachers to acknowledge these differences, but not in a way that puts down the student or their culture. They shouldn’t be afraid to express themselves or their culture. The students should be able to understand that their language and culture is as valid as Standard English.

However, we should also help them to recognize that there is a certain time and place that their own cultural literacy should be used, as well as when Standard English should be used. Once again, we do not want this to be derogatory or have any negative connotations. We simply want to educate our students in the ways of Standard English, just as any other language, but not put down their own culture while we are doing it. We should teach them the advantages of using each type of language and the times when they can benefit them the most.

This is why it’s so essential to get to know our students. Not only will we be bridging the gap between educator and pupil, but we will be forming a special kind of relationship that will help us to better understand and help one another. It’s important for our role as a teacher to make as many connections with our students as possible, and I think that this is a great way to do that. If you’re looking for any extra resources or information on this topic, the book “Other People’s Children” by Lisa Delpit is exceptionally helpful with this area of education.


One thought on “Understanding Cultural Literacy in the Classroom

  1. Anna Doyle December 14, 2016 / 5:17 am

    I like that you have acknowledged that while students are likely to need to know “Standard English” for professional purposes, it is still important that they are able to continue to use the dialects that come from their culture without being made to feel like those dialects are somehow inferior. I think that this can be a tricky thing to do within the classroom, but it is an important thing, particularly since students need to feel like they (and, since it is part of what makes them who they are, their culture) are respected and valued within their school environment/culture in order to promote their motivation and engagement with whatever lessons are being taught. Honoring home language and culture can be the first step to showing a student who doesn’t feel comfortable in school that they truly are respected and welcome to become part of the culture of the school.


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