Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Thinking critically about 'culture'

When we analyse the 'What are we going to teach?' (The Written Curriculum) at our schools, we always try to encompass issues that can make the students think - not just think, but think critically. The usual notion is that units that have a heavy science and/or social studies component are the ones that can help us achieve this purpose. Maybe we need to think differently.. 

The current unit for Grade 5 is on traditions and rituals and the central idea is "Traditionals, rtiuals and artefacts of different cultures are expressions of their beliefs and values". When you read the central idea, it probably seems rather simple. One might assume that the students might just research about the different cultures around the world, their rituals and traditions and the reasons behind them. Certainly, this is inclusive during inquiry lessons. However, interestingly, the unit involves a lot of critical thinking as well. The reason being that students (as well as many adults!!) have numerous misconceptions about 'culture'.

The first line of inquiry is 'What constitutes a culture'. To enable students inquire into this, we thought of a few provocations:

  • Is 'culture' same as 'religion'?
  • Does Culture change over time?
  • How is our daily routine connected to our culture?
  • Is one's culture influenced by other factors? (weather/climate, interaction with other cultures, migration/globalization)
  • Should we always believe in whatever our parents believe?
Many such statements were given to the students of Grade 5 during the early stages of the unit. They were asked to arrange these statements on a continuum that range from 'More True than False' to 'More False than True'. 

Honestly, this learning engagement turned out to be more effective than I had imagined. The students began to have highly insightful conversations. Every student placed the statements differently. Since their knowledge and understanding of the term 'culture' was quite sketchy, their assumptions and misconceptions were clearly evident. For example, many students thought that culture is the same is religion. 'How can culture change?' was also a common question. They also wondered how their daily routine was connected to their culture.

Followed by this, the students put up questions on the 'inquiry wall'. At the moment, students are doing a variety of learning engagements (Culture ice-berg, watching movies/videos, conducting research by reading fiction and non-fiction books, interviewing people and referring some good websites) to find answers to their questions.

Once they have a nuanced understanding of the term, students will be asked to go back to their continuum and re-arrange the statements based on their inquiry. Additionally, they will use the thinking routine 'I used to think.. Now I think..' to reflect on the entire process. This will be a formative assessment.

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