Linda Egnatzis a Nationally Board Certified Spanish teacher at Lincoln-Way West High School in Frankfort, IL. She has been teaching high school for about 16 years and serves as an adjunct professor at DePaul University where she teaches “World Language Education History, Policy and Curriculum Design”. A frequent keynote speaker and presenter at language conferences, she welcomes the opportunity to coach teachers on moving their students toward language proficiency. Egnatz is a 2013 Golden Apple Teacher Fellow and was named the 2014 ACTFL National Language Teacher of the Year.
Q: How would you define culturally responsive teaching?
My view is that culturally responsive teaching means using the diversity of my classroom, as well as the diversity of those that speak the language that I teach, as a motivator to both recognize those cultural differences and affirm them.
Q: How can a teacher be culturally responsive while being culturally sensitive and careful not to make assumptions about their students’ cultural background?
A good teacher knows their students, so the first thing we need to do is find out who our students are, what’s important to them, what they’ve already learned about themselves, and how well they learn. I do a lot of that through team activities, questionnaires, and student surveys.
In a language classroom, we have a unique advantage over other subject areas, especially if we’re teaching beginners, in the sense that we are asking them to “Describe your family, describe your house, talk about your hobbies, tell me how your day went.” We’re teaching sequencing but we’re learning a lot about our students’ lives in a way that other teachers of other curricular areas don’t do. When we begin to think about establishing inclusion, we’re creating a learning atmosphere where everyone can be respected but also connected to each other.
I think as a language teacher, we realize very quickly that if you teach a lot of culture in your classroom of the target language, it really builds motivation. High school students are very curious about what’s different about other places but it’s also really important to them to understand what we have in common. In other words, when students are engaged in learning about culture, if you see them start to ask questions or even react by saying “That’s strange,” or “That’s weird,” or “That’s wrong,” remind them that it’s not any of those things, it is a cultural practice that is different.
Q: What are some tangible things teachers can do to create a culturally responsive classroom?
First, embrace the cultural diversity of both your classroom and where your target language is spoken. Whether it's through images or other kinds of things, ask yourself how you can demonstrate more diversity in ways that your students will notice. Maybe it's through video or images, socialization of teams and group activities that build trust, especially in marginalized students, or using the gaming culture with high school students. Can you put your lesson into a story that’s going to be more engaging? For me, it’s important that my students see that the language I teach is not spoken in only one place.
Q: What are the short and long term impacts of culturally responsive teaching?
I think in the short term your students have more buy-in so they’re going to do better and they’re going to perform at a higher level because they become more engaged in their learning process.
In the long term, I think students will develop a fondness for a collaborative approach, working together as a team, whether it’s the diverse community in their classroom, in college, or multi-nationally in the workforce, those skills then become transferable. When students realize that they can communicate with others in spite of cultural differences then that becomes a skill that’s transferred into experiences, making them more willing and less intimidated to make other cultural connections outside of the classroom.