How does culture influence classroom behavior?
This activity can be done with a class near the beginning of the semester as a way to raise awareness of how we communicate and of how our culture informs our expectations and habits. It will also help cultivate a respectful and empathetic classroom community, which leads to better student engagement and learning outcomes.
The activity follows a flipped classroom model, where the students read about the theories at home and then work with the concepts in class. The first step is reading at home and watching a TED talk. The next class period, students review the concepts and go through a series of small group activities. Here are the details:
Students read about Geert Hofstede’s cultural dimensions. They also view this video on the influences of culture on communication.
At the beginning of the next class, students do an activity to review and get them thinking about the cultural dimensions they read about for homework.
1. Clear some space in the middle of the room and have students stand in a group in the center. As you give prompts, students will have to go to one side of the room or the other depending on whether they agree or disagree with the statement. Students must choose a side for each item. First go through the activity with students crossing to one side of the room or the other. Then, once all the situations have been read, discuss their reactions drawing connections to Hofstede’s descriptions of cultural dimensions. It might be helpful to project the list of prompts at the front of the room during the discussion.
2. Lead a class discussion on the TED talk with Pellegrino Riccardi following the discussion questions below or with discussion questions of your own.
Prompts for warm up activity:
The following prompts are designed to target the cultural dimensions that Hofstede described. Feel free to modify them as necessary.
- I feel comfortable in a class where the teacher is the ultimate authority. Knowledge comes from the teacher and the students listen and learn.
- It is wrong for teachers to say ‘I don’t know’ about something related to their subject.
- I’m more comfortable calling my university professors by their first names.
- The most important role of a university education is to get a good job.
- The class is discussing a reading. One student makes a statement about the reading that you feel is completely wrong; clearly the student misunderstood the reading. You raise your hand and point this out.
- Good teachers spend time helping students who are struggling.
- It is good for teachers to praise students who finish quickly or otherwise excel.
- I like classes that discuss difficult or controversial topics because there is usually not a right answer.
- If I work hard I can be successful in my university studies.
- Any student who works hard can be successful in university studies.
- Your class is using class time to work on an activity. The instructor has given you permission to work together, asking each other questions or helping each other out. You notice that as students finish and turn in their work, the teacher makes comments like “Wow, good job! You finished this quickly- well done!” You complete the assignment, but notice your neighbors are having difficulty. You wait to turn in your assignment and spend time helping your peers.
Discussion questions for the TED video
Debrief the video with a short discussion. You can use these discussion questions or add your own. One important concept to highlight is that to be aware of what behaviors are ‘accepted and familiar’. Another important point to bring up is asking what the underlying values are when we see a behavior. How can we apply this to a classroom environment?
After showing the different examples of people standing in lines, Riccardi says “we’re all doing the same thing in slightly different ways”. How can we apply this to the classroom? How does one culture approach building critical thinking skills? How does another culture approach mastering concepts?
At the end, Riccardi talks about extending borders rather than crossing borders. What does he mean by this? Is there a way that you relate to this personally? What are your experiences with multiple cultures?
Here is a different way to work with the ideas from the readings.
1. Students form small groups. The teacher hands out small ‘situation cards’ (targeted at situations that reveal our place on the ‘dimensions’. These brief situation discussions are meant to place the concepts from the readings into a classroom context). The students either role play or discuss the situations on the cards.
2. Groups are given five minutes to role play each situation, then the whole class debriefs.
3. Finally, there is a whole-class discussion about the implications. Students should discuss how these cultural dimensions might affect class participation. Also, do they feel that the cultural dimensions are applicable to them and to their experience of their culture? Are there problems with talking about culture this way? Are there problems with the ‘expectations’ of classroom participation in the US?