It is found that instructional environments often comprise diverse learners from many cultures and backgrounds. That is why it is very important for the developers of instructions to be sensitive to possible cultural issues in the learning environment. The instructional setting and audience that will be discussed in this paper include a group of the 5-th grade gifted math students who struggle with understanding and manipulating fractions. According to the requirements of the new Common Core Standards for Math of 2010, the 5-th grade students should develop fluency with addition and subtraction of fractions, and multiplication and division of fractions. In order to achieve this goal the 5-th grade students should understand and identify improper fractions, understand and identify mixed numbers, develop an understanding of common denominators and renaming and comparing fractions by finding a denominator, identify and rename equivalent fractions and order fractions of all types including improper fractions and mixed numbers (Common Core Fifth-Grade Math Standards, 5.NF, 2010).Ā In this unit, students will use manipulative and fraction models to apply their understanding of fractions. This will help them in developing fluency with fraction concepts.
It is known that creation of the appropriate culture in the classroom can help to support effective learning. Barbara Allen discusses this issue in the book Mathematics Education: Exploring the Culture of Learning. She states that it is very important to recognize that the values of the teacher influence the learning environment. In accordance with Barbara Allen, “if a classroom has a culture that values learners creating their own mathematics becoming authors of mathematics, than the learners are more likely to become positioned as successful learners of math”¯ (7). It means that math learners should work together collaboratively and creatively at the lesson. The discipline of Math which is made up of numbers, algebra, geometry, etc. should be “humanizes”¯ for both utilitarian and social reasons (Allen 7). As a rule, the majority of cultural conflicts connected with math study are focused on the lack of mutual understanding between the students of different cultural backgrounds, on the lack of discipline or the lack of interest in the subject.
The following examples prove the fact that cultural issues can have an enormous impact on the learning environment.
Huatong is one of the 5-th grade gifted students. He is Chinese. He has good results in learning math as his grades are always the highest in the class. It means that he has developed fluency with addition and subtraction of fractions, and has understanding of multiplication and division of fractions. Daniel, a Jewish boy, is his classmate, but he is not good at math. He often makes mistakes with subtraction of fractions. Daniel often makes fun of Huatong because Huatong is always ready with his home tasks and in his assignments, there are no mistakes. Huatong is an obedient boy who does not miss classes and always shows respect for his teacher.
Ted is African -American. He is a good sportsman, but he fails to develop fluency with addition and subtraction of fractions. He spends much time in the sport club playing football. Patrick often criticizes his lack of discipline. Patrick is a white American boy. He argues that such boys as Ted do not have a success in learning math. Patrick wants to become an economist that is why he pays special attention to his math classes. He often says that those boys who like to play football will never have good results in math.
Chan, a Chinese boy, is one of the 5-th grade gifted students. He does not want to make calculation in mind, because he is sure that all math students should use calculators for this purpose. Chan is good at math and practically all his home assignments have no mistakes. It means that Chan has developed fluency with addition and subtraction of fractions, and multiplication and division of fractions, but he insists on the use of calculators. Boris, a Russian immigrant, is one of the students who do not support Chan. Boris and Chan often quarrel on this issue.
The above mentioned examples prove the fact that such cultural conflicts between students often lead to the negative learning environment which hinders the students in their learning process. The lack of discipline during the lesson and the lack of mutual understanding between the students of different cultural backgrounds are the major factors that break the established learning environment.
It is necessary to identify the appropriate guidelines that can be used to adapt the instruction to be sensitive to the cultural differences described in the examples in part B. Both teacher and learners should “create a supportive and collaborative classroom environment”¯ in order to avoid cultural conflicts in the learning environment (Allen 8). The teacher should provide control of the learning process. In accordance with Eugene Sadler-Smith and Carol Evans, “learning preferences and styles are inextricably related to cultural background”¯ (124). That is why culturally sensitive instruction should be created by the teachers who are aware of the socio-cultural background and learning styles of the students. Cultural sensitivity can be viewed as the teacher’s awareness of local and national customs and their importance in effective interpersonal relationships and learning environment. In addition, cultural sensitivity is focused on the instructor’s adaptation to meet the requirements of students from another culture.
In order to adapt the instruction to be sensitive to the cultural differences described in the examples, I followed the next guidelines:
- I know that it is very important to show respect for other cultures and to shape the learning environment in such a way that it can include different cultures, religions, racial and ethnic backgrounds, learning styles, and students’ abilities in learning math.
In the classroom, I discussed some common stereotypes and prejudices about the second language speakers.
- I shared my own positive cross-cultural experiences in the class.
- I familiarized the students with some interesting aspects of different cultures and tried to develop cross-cultural awareness paying special attention to cross-cultural similarities.
- I organized after-school class trips to the neighborhoods of different cultures.
- I organized meetings with representatives of different cultures.
- I encouraged my students to share some interesting facts about their cultures and traditions in the form of presentations.
- I tried not to offend my 5-th grade students with the way I corrected their mistakes.
To sum up, cultural sensitivity plays a significant role in the learning environment and has an enormous impact on the students’ success in this or that subject.