Cultural Appropriation: What It Is, And How to Avoid It

There is a video currently being shared on social media of a white teacher wearing a headdress, dancing around her classroom, and chopping her arms in the air. She is chanting “SohCahToa” as she does so, a mnemonic device used in math for recalling trigonometric functions. It is not my practice to shame teachers, and I don’t want to dwell on this specific incident, but it is definitely an example of cultural appropriation.

For those of us who are white and want to be sensitive to and embrace diversity, we may find ourselves second-guessing our actions. As I wrote yesterday’s post about Dia de Los Muertos, I thought carefully about how I would approach this holiday in my own classroom, and whether or not the way I would have done it ten or fifteen years ago would be different than the way I would do it now. Like doctors, teachers have an obligation to “first, do no harm.” But there is always the chance that we may act on what we believe to be good intentions which are actually quite harmful. I won’t pretend to know the intentions of the teacher in the headdress, but here is how she and the rest of us can recognize the difference between appreciation and appropriation: “Appreciating a culture involves sharing knowledge with permission and crediting people who belong to that culture, while appropriating a culture entails exploiting a culture in any way, whether that be reinforcing stereotypes or taking credit from original creators.” This quote was taken from “Teaching About Cultural Appropriation” by Educators 4 Social Change. There are several recommended links in the article, but one that found especially helpful is from The Ed Advocate. It tell us that we can ask three questions to determine if we are guilty of cultural appropriation: Am I denigrating another culture? Am I exploiting it for material gain? Am I embarrassing that culture?

To find out why cultural appropriation is so detrimental in our society, I recommend this article from Everyday Feminism. This isn’t a matter of hurt feelings, but a deeper, more systemic problem of dominance benefiting from lies and stereotypes. Does this mean that white people must avoid anything that may have originated with another culture? No, the author states, “But I am encouraging you to be thoughtful about using things from other cultures, to consider the context, and learn about the best practices to show respect.”

In the classroom, if you are coming from a position of respect and a desire to learn, then you will create an environment where the students will feel free to share their cultural traditions and everyone can gain a deeper understanding. But taking on the guise of a group of people different from yourself to gain a laugh or pretend you are including them will only harm your students and perpetuate racism.

For more Anti-Racist posts, click here.

red leaf trees near the road

October 2021

I’m a bit behind in blog posts, but the good news is that a little prep work from last year will pay off for this year! You can find all kinds of links for October activities, including Powers of 10 Day (October 10th) and Halloween, in this Wakelet I started last October. I’ve added a few new links that I got from MakerEd, TCEA, and Ditch That Textbook, and will continue to add more throughout this month. I also recommend that you check out the “Holiday Ideas” page on Big Ideas 4 Little Scholars, as Donna Lasher has a nice monthly list of activities that she keeps. If you find any broken links or want to recommend a resource I’ve missed on my Wakelet, please comment below!

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Tug of War Thinking Routine

Tug of War

I want to start today’s post by thanking the NEISD GT teachers who attended yesterday’s after-school training. Many of them came even though they then needed to go back to other campuses to attend PTA meetings. Despite the extra long work day, their enthusiasm and cooperation were amazing. Yesterday’s session was, “Frameworks for Facilitating Deeper Discussions and Learning,” which you can read about on my Professional Development page.

One of the Visible Thinking Routines we practiced yesterday was “Tug of War.” We used an example from the original Making Thinking Visible book by Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morrison. In the “Picture of Practice” for this routine, Clair Taglauer, an 8th grade teacher from Traverse City, Michigan, describes how she used “Tug of War” with her students when they began reading The Giver. This is a book used with 5th graders by many of the GT teachers in my former district. The Giver, by Lois Lowry, describes a dystopian society where as much as possible is “the same” to avoid conflict. Taglauer asked her students to think about the concept of an ideal society from the two opposing sides represented in the book: sameness and diversity. With this routine, students generate arguments that support each side, and then post them along a rope. A key part of the second step is placement of the ideas along the rope. Instead of just hanging them on each side, groups also determine the strength of each argument and rank them so that what they believe to be the strongest supporting statements for each side are at the opposite ends of the rope, growing increasingly weaker toward the middle.

“Tug of War” helps students to not only look at more than one side of a dilemma, but also to note the varying layers of complexities and justify their arguments. It’s a good routine to use whenever it seems like students are jumping to conclusions, and you can have multiple ropes coming together at one point if there are several sides to consider.

You can see one example of the “Tug of War” the GT teachers did yesterday below. (Note for those of you not from Texas: HEB is our beloved grocery store!) You can learn more about this Visible Thinking Routine by reading the book I mentioned above, visiting the Project Zero website, or clicking here for some videos and a downloadable template. I’m working on a Wakelet collection of resources for Thinking Routines, but in the meantime you can click here to see some other posts that I’ve done about them.

Tug of War Visible Thinking Routine
“Tug of War” Visible Thinking Routine using The Giver
photo of planner and writing materials

Stories for All Diversity and Inclusion Calendar

The Stories for All project is based on the premise that it is “crucial for all children to have access to books that serve as both windows and mirrors.” On the page that features books in many categories that serve this purpose, you can also find some free downloads. One of them is the Diversity and Inclusion Calendar, which is a wonderful way to keep track of celebrations across multiple cultures and remind us of what we can do to include those who are too often marginalized. It denotes special months, such as National Bullying Prevention Month in October and Jewish American Heritage Month, as well as days that have been set aside to honor groups, people, and events like Ada Lovelace Day or Marcus Garvey Day. This calendar would make an excellent planner for teachers to remind them of ways to make time and space for all of the diversity in their students.

I will be adding this my Wakelet of Anti-Racism resources as I reflect with sadness on the anniversary of Emmet Till’s horrific murder on August 28th. We can and must do better in this country, and education and celebration of our differences are two of the many ways we can make sure such tragedies do not happen again.

inspirational quotes on a planner
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Assessing with Multiple Choices Instead of Multiple Choice

My newest post for NEO is all about empowering students with choices to “show what they know.” In the article, I make the case against multiple choice assessments, which: often make it easy for students to cheat, rarely allow students to demonstrate deeper knowledge, and aren’t authentic windows into student ability. I give some suggestions for other ways to learn whether your students have mastered a skill — and you may be surprised at the time you will save on reteaching and retesting in your classroom if you adopt some of these methods.

All of my NEO articles can be found here, and you can see a list of my published articles, including some that I’ve appeared in as “an expert,” here. I also continue to add to my public collection of free resources on Wakelet, which you can follow here.

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Example of coding in Scratch by Maya German

Getting Unstuck

The Creative Computing Lab at Harvard’s Graduate School of Education has released a new (July, 2021) curriculum to use with Scratch. The curriculum is free, as is access to Scratch, the online coding platform from M.I.T. “The curriculum reimagines the classroom as a design studio: a culture of learning in which students explore, create, share, and reflect.” It is targeted toward upper elementary grades as an intermediate step after students have learned Scratch basics using their Creative Computing Curriculum. In “Getting Unstuck” there are 10 modules, each of which focuses on a particular coding concept for which students will design their own projects. All of the modules include four components: Explore, Create, Share, and Reflect. Downloadable slides are provided for each module, and suggested time spans are recommended in each “Activities Overview.” The Orientation slides will help you prepare to get started and include suggestions for differentiation as well as for use in different learning environments (online synchronous, asynchronous, physically distanced).

Coding teaches students so many important skills, most of which can translate to any field. It can be weaved into any of your core subjects while giving students the opportunities for creativity, collaboration, and problem-solving. I know that I sound like a broken record about it on this blog, but you do not have to be an expert to bring coding into your classroom. In fact, you may ultimately be more helpful to your students if you are learning along with them. It takes away the temptation to help them “too much” and allows you to model how to handle challenges. Advanced learners in your class would probably be more than happy to take this curriculum and run with it, though all learners would certainly benefit.

I’ll be adding this post to my new public Wakelet, “Coding Resources for Teachers.” You can see all of my public Wakelets, offering hundreds of free resources to teachers, here.