5. Cultural Awareness Activities
* * * * * * * * * * by Alice Li * * * * * * * * * *
AFTER receiving my university education in Canada, I volunteered at various adult English schools in the Kitchener-Waterloo region. Sigrid Anderson, the teacher with whom I worked closely, took me under her wing and enthralled me with the art of teaching EAL. I have taught in community-based organizations, adult learning centres, night schools and workplaces. I have also been the instructor and co-ordinator for the English Program for International Graduate Students from the Faculties of Science and Engineering at the University of Waterloo.
My interest in cultural awareness originated from my experiences as a Chinese-Canadian. For the past seven years, while adjusting to a new life-style, I have become more aware of my own culture. This has perhaps been one way to preserve and re-establish my identity in Canada. Since I started teaching, I have also observed this attitude among my learners who, once in a while, become nostalgic about their cultures and traditions. Their nostalgia is revealed in their eagerness to discuss facets of their cultures; exchanges of views have become an important part of my classes.
This wealth of cultural information that is readily available among learners could be used to create activities and lesson plans. Not only would the learners' experiences be acknowledged, but everyone would also have the opportunity to learn from each other. I have certainly learn a lot from my learners who brought with them unique experiences and cultural backgrounds. On the other hand, teachers also have to recognize that some learners are not very strongly interested in cultural issues.
I hope that this chapter, consisting of cross-cultural activities and lesson plans that explore feminist issues, will enable learners and teachers to examine some issues relevant to women from different cultural perspectives.
Many of the following lesson plans involve group work. Insightful discussions might ensue from learners grouped according to their gender, marital status, or cultural background. It is important that learners feel comfortable and safe in their group. Therefore, groupings may be made according to alternative considerations.
Group discussions involve roles of facilitating, note-taking, and reporting that are best assigned to each member at the beginning of the activity. If there are more learners in a group than tasks, learners should share tasks. Even though the teacher is not always there to oversee their discussion, learners should take the initiative in monitoring their own progress.
For group, pair or individual activities, a time limit should be given at the beginning and towards the end of the activity. Instructors should base the time limit on the learners' level, the amount of work required to complete the assigned task, as well as the extent and expected quality of the "product" (in most cases a report or presentation). From the outset, learners should understand clearly what they are asked to do.