Innovative Voices in Education- Engaging Diverse Communities

A new book is on the horizon. Innovative Voices in Education- Engaging Diverse Communities, is described by  leading urban sociologist and Peter L. Agnew Professor of Education at New York University, Pedro Norguera as “clear and compelling… an invaluable resource.”  Given that Norguera’s scholarship and research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in the urban environment, his endoresment of this book is humbling and important.

I wrote the closing chapter for Innovative Voices… Multicultural to Intercultural: Developing Interdependent Learners. By design, the other sixteen chapters were written by a wonderfully diverse array of people from all over the place. All of this came together through the tireless efforts of Eileen Kugler, executive editor of the book. I am grateful to have contributed to such an interesting and thought-provoking process. Here is the summary of my chapter…

Kids from every corner of the globe attend Canadian schools; simply acknowledging this multiculturalism isn’t good enough anymore. This educator asserts the need to move beyond a reciprocal appreciation of our differences toward an intercultural perspective that maximizes the social, emotional and academic potential of every student. We do this by fostering and teaching intercultural competence… the ability to effectively communicate with and learn from people of other cultures. This author introduces the Hope Wheel; an action oriented learning tool designed to support the development of respect, understanding, relationships and responsibility as students become interdependent travellers on the journey toward socio-cultural and academic competence. To help prepare our children for the realities of their future, and to function more productively within the realities of the present, educators must embrace the diversity of our world and do everything they can to help kids connect with and learn from each other.

The stories that resonate throughout this book illuminate the imperative for schools to embrace the diversity that is omnipresent in society. They are a call-out to everyone who works in a school to leverage the diversity schools represent as perhaps the most critical asset the education system possesses moving forward into the challenges of the future. I am including the opening to the story of chapter seventeen hoping that you will be encouraged to pick up a copy to hear the rest of it…

When I started teaching seventeen years ago, little did I know that my first job would have so much influence on my perspective toward culture, and in particular the concept of cultural diversity. I took a position teaching first and second grade at Tall Cree, an Indian reservation in the far north of Alberta, Canada. The community I taught at was remote; three hours of gravel roads after the pavement ended. I lived in a teacherage beside the school in the community that had no services, just houses, a school, a church and a Band Administration Office. I and four other teachers were the only non-Aboriginal people living in the community of about two hundred residents.

In Canada we are proud of the multicultural mosaic of people that make up the population of our vast country. I grew up learning and understanding that multiculturalism was a good thing. I was used to living among people representing cultures from around the globe, so why was I so anxious about living and teaching on this Indian reservation in my home province? I chalked it up to nerves surrounding my first teaching job, but deep down I knew it was more than that. Despite growing up immersed in a multicultural society, and near many Aboriginal communities, I was crazy nervous about actually living and interacting with these people whom I really knew nothing about at all.

I was about to realize that multiculturalism was not the positive conduit I thought it to be toward an understanding and culturally interdependent society. I was about to realize that a peaceful, understanding and culturally interdependent society depends on our willingness to engage each other, learn from each other and do everything we can to understand each other’s perspective.

Innovative Voices is now available for preorder at AmazonChapters/Indigofrom the website and soon for purchase off the shelves at major bookstores everywhere.

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4 Responses to Innovative Voices in Education- Engaging Diverse Communities

  1. whatedsaid says:

    Hi Sean

    Thanks for sharing the book, which sounds really interesting! To be honest I don’t really feel your post is in keeping with the spirit of the blog, which is a community of learners engaged in discussion about inquiry learning. I am wondering how your post (or the book) relates to inquiry which is the theme of our blog. Can you clarify?

    Thanks
    Edna

  2. graingered says:

    Thank you for your comment Edna. With apology, I’m going to use the Wikipedia article on Inquiry Learning (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquiry-based_learning) as a reference point making it easier to explain why I believe that cultural diversity is a pivotal element in a truly inquiry-based learning environment. To displace cultural diversity form the inquiry mix in my mind would be to sabotage the process altogether.

    From Wikipedia to describe the core of inquiry as a concept…
    Characteristics of inquiry-learning
    -Inquiry learning emphasizes constructivist ideas of learning. Knowledge is built in a step-wise fashion.
    -Learning proceeds best in group situations.
    -The teacher does not begin with a statement, but with a question. Posing questions for students to solve is a more effective method of instruction in many areas. This allows the students to search for information and learn on their own with the teacher’s guidance.
    -The topic, problem to be studied, and methods used to answer this problem are determined by the student and not the teacher (this is an example of the 3rd level of the Herron Scale)

    My point of view weaving culture (the thing each of us has been constructing since the minute we were born) and inquiry acknowledges the above points.

    Culture is both a representation of us as individuals and as members of the groups we belong to that largely determine our biases and tendencies as learners; specifically how we “inquire” about anything we intend to learn, explore, experience… our learning (inquiry learning included) is undeniably influenced by our cultural bias and perspective… it sets us on the path of undetermined principles (what we will inquire about) as influenced by our predetermined principles- what we will know, understand and be able to do is affected by what we already believe we know, understand and can do from our own cultural perspective.

    The challenge (as it has often been contextualized) to address the inherent cultural diversity in schools (I would say the learning process in general as evidenced by the point above about perspective of the learner) can be re-framed as a brilliant opportunity to inquire from our own perspective, but perhaps more importantly from the perspective of others. We can effectually “inquire” about how others “inquire”; a complex, analytical function that would allow us a glimpse of what others see, believe, feel, do, learn etc. from their cultural learning perspective. For learning to proceed best in groups, we have to understand the groups we choose to belong to, or that we are placed within.

    Posing questions for students, but more importantly in my mind, asking them to formulate their own questions, to me is all about engagement. As I mentioned in the post, “… a peaceful, understanding and culturally interdependent society depends on our willingness to engage each other, learn from each other and do everything we can to understand each other’s perspective.” If we add the word “learning” before the word “perspective” at the end of the last sentence, I think contextualizing inquiry learning as prominently influenced by the diverse cultural nature of groups becomes clearer.

    At the end of the day I think “the topic, problem to be studied, and methods used to answer this problem are determined by the student and not the teacher…” no matter what the teacher thinks, is what always happens (I call this “inside learning.”) How teachers view each student’s inside learning (the process we all go through when we internalize and make personal meaning of what we want to learn or are being asked or forced to learn,) and how much it conforms to what they think we should be learning is what teachers call assessment, I think.

    If educators could understand that diverse perspectives toward the world (essentially culture,) are represented within every learner, and then embrace this reality as a learning asset every learner possesses, I think the effort to tap student’s inside learning would become second nature and the natural inquiry process that we are born with would then be omnipresent in the formal education system.

  3. “How teachers view each student’s inside learning (the process we all go through when we internalize and make personal meaning of what we want to learn” points to one way that we can use student writing and art to even greater advantage.

    If we spend the time to analyze what children have written to try to understand what the child sees, and as important what they don’t see, it can give important insights to guide our teaching for each child.

    In fact it is the same skill used in Humanities at college levels to “deconstruct” both fiction and non fiction. It can work similarly for art. As we can imagine what Starry Night might say about Van Gogh, we can look at children’s art with a similar lens to guess what a students art says about how they see the world.

  4. graingered says:

    “How a student sees the world…” is going to play a massive role in how well he/she “inquires.” How much we know about how students see the world will determine how effective we are at evaluating their inquiry skills; we need to have insight into their perspective (a cultural element) to get a glimpse of where their inquiry vantage point is coming from, and then how they choose to represent that.
    I could not agree more Michael re. student’s writing, and perhaps equally important to note, their art, their words, digital footprint etc… forms they choose to represent their perspective and relative strengths… we need to glare at these strengths and let kids choose how to use them in child-specific ways.

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