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Chapter Five: Differentiating Context

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

We are beginning to realize that a lot of these things which are supposed to be universal are actually culturally specific and without pathological consequences if they deviate from contemporary American norms.

—Robert A. LeVine

In this chapter, we explore strategies for creating culturally responsive classrooms for students of color and students living in poverty. Culturally responsive classrooms have two critical attributes: 1) the inclusion of students’ languages, cultures, and daily experiences into the academic and social context of school; and 2) explicit teaching of the dominant culture’s expectations, so that all children can fully participate (Zeichner, 2003). In some urban schools, alternative certification is being offered to permit community members to become teachers. To be culturally responsive, we have to build bridges between the culture of the school and the cultures of the home and community.

We also explore the characteristics of effective teachers in multicultural classrooms and look at research-based instructional strategies they can use that have a powerful impact on diverse learners. In addition, we provide examples for African American and Hispanic students, the two major minority groups in the United States.

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Chapter One: Culture and Poverty

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

We define culture as the systems of values, beliefs, and ways of knowing that guide communities of people in their daily lives.

—Elise Trumbull

As educators join forces with sociologists, behaviorists, and researchers, the question has become, “Is it culture or poverty that creates the discrepancies in achievement among groups that we find in the classroom today?” Studies indicate that it is not culture or poverty, but culture and poverty. A preponderance of evidence from these studies indicates that we need to look at culture first and then at the circumstances of children living in poverty. Why culture first? If we truly want to raise the learning levels of our students, we must first know the culture from which they come. We must know how that culture learns, the value it places on education, and how, within that culture, motivation is triggered. This does not mean teachers have to study every culture in North America; it means that as teachers we have to know the culture of the students in our schools and of the neighborhoods that surround them. We also need to stop focusing on the deficits and look at the gifts—the life experiences—that our students bring with them. When we know this, we can make more informed decisions about how to teach them.

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Chapter Seven: Differentiating Process

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

Brain research confirms what experienced teachers have always known:

No two children are alike.

No two children learn in the identical way.

An enriched environment for one student is not necessarily enriched for another.

In the classroom we should teach children to think for themselves.

—Marian Diamond

Poverty has been studied and analyzed for years. The results are in: poverty changes brains.

—Eric Jensen

One of the most significant ways in which teachers can differentiate instruction for children of poverty is by modifying the processes of learning—the ways they provide students with experiences and opportunities for processing information so that they can make their own meaning out of the content. By differentiating process, we can integrate what we know about the needs of these students.

To better understand how to differentiate process, we find it helpful to understand how the brain processes the learning tasks that we, as teachers, put before our students. There are many models of how the brain takes in, stores, and retrieves information. However, the one we find the most useful is Marzano’s Systems of Thinking (1998). Its purpose is to find “categories specific and functional enough to provide guidance for classroom instruction” (p. 10). As shown in Figure 7-1, the systems of thinking consist of three categories, which are engaged in a specific order by the brain: the self system, the metacognitive system, and the cognitive system.

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1 Understanding the Importance of RTI

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

As educators and researchers have learned more about how students learn and the instructional practices that have the greatest positive effect on learning, laws have been modified to reflect those perceived best practices. The quest for higher achievement and fewer gaps among groups of students has led legislatures to look for alternatives to the procedures used in the past for identifying children with learning disabilities. Let’s examine some of the legislation affecting response to intervention and the policy shifts that have led to the creation of RTI models.

The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA, Public Law 89-10) was enacted in 1965, and the Education for All Handicapped Children Act (EAHCA, Public Law 94-142) was passed in 1975. As the introduction noted, prior to that time, students with disabilities were often turned away from enrolling in public schools under the excuse that schools were not prepared to teach them. These laws gave all children the opportunity to a free and appropriate education and put the burden of providing appropriate modifications on the schools. Over the years, the intent of these laws has been clarified through reauthorization and new legislation, in particular the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004).

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Chapter Three: Building Teacher Background Knowledge

Donna Walker-Tileston Solution Tree Press ePub

Being student-centered also means connecting learning to students’ lives, using the student’s own culture, strengths (intelligences), interests, goals, and dreams as the beginning point for learning.

—Bonnie Benard

To begin the shift in beliefs and instructional practices necessary to differentiate instruction, we need to examine our own background knowledge and experience. This is especially true for the majority of us who are part of the dominant culture. The first step in our model is to build teachers’ background knowledge in order to expand the perspective provided by that culture. This is critical if we are to understand the needs of students from poverty and diverse cultures. As a way of examining our background knowledge as teachers, let’s look first at two competing value systems.

Well-documented studies have verified that two ways of thinking, or value systems—individualist and collectivist—have an impact on what teachers reward and punish in schools (Williams, 2003; Greenfield, 1994; Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Our value system—collectivist or individualist—is grounded in our culture and determines how we view achievement and value social knowledge. These factors affect our relationships with parents and the community, our approach to classroom management and organization, and our approach to curriculum, instruction, and assessment—the key processes in education that define our work.

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