How I bring culture into my classroom

Sarah Bedwell
Sarah Bedwell is, amongst many things, a teacher and unashamed geek when it comes to learning and technology. She is dedicated to improving professional learning and has run many events in order to allow other educators to do the same. She recently relocated back to Australia and is looking forward to a new career direction.

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Once upon a time teachers had to rely on taking students to culture, rather than bringing culture to them. These days, with more classroom technology than ever before, teachers can bring the whole world to their students without them ever leaving their desks. I certainly grew in the generation who were excited by this:

As a teacher of English and cross-curricular project-based learning with Year 7, I have a lot of freedom to bring culture into my lessons on a regular basis. I regularly use film, music, comics, memes - whatever makes learning more relevant to the world my students exist in.

At the start of the year we did some work on literacy skills for all of our students, but in particular our boys, as they are routinely underperforming - and we have some very boy-heavy cohorts in our school. I know that a lot of my boys are really loving the array of superhero films, television shows and merchandise at the moment, so I created a range of ‘Avengers’-themed posters using Comic Life to put on my wall.

These have drawn the attention of my boys (and girls), and it’s easy for me to direct them to have a look at the display when I’m asking them to check their work and they can’t remember what to look for. They are also a more visual reminder of the literacy marking posters I created using Phoster, which show our marking symbols - these are handy both for self / peer assessment but also for going back over teacher-marked work.

There are a lot of apps and websites that you can use to have students create their own comic books, from Comic Life and bookPress on the iPad to Marvel’s own comic book creator. Sometimes the idea of creating a comic book rather than writing a story is more appealing to students, in particular reluctant writers. They don’t seem to see creating a comic book as ‘work’, even though it requires specific structures and sometimes vocabulary.

“Sometimes the idea of creating a comic book rather than writing a story is more appealing to students - they don’t seem to see creating a comic book as ‘work’."

Another way to bring culture into my classroom is through using music. From spooky sounds during Halloween-themed writing, to things like the songs from the trenches during World War 1, music helps to create an atmosphere conducive to creative writing and also helps give a little historical and social context as needed. There are plenty of websites to get free music for specific themes, such as this one, which has a good range of WW1 music available to download.

I also use music as an upbeat way to start a lesson. Sometimes I choose a song that is related to whatever we’re learning (e.g. Men At Work’s Land Down Under when we have the Australia Day Curriculum Olympics with Year 7), and other times it’s what I’m in the mood for or what’s popular. I have a slide up on my screen reminding students that they have until the end of the song to be reading for learning - books and pens out, bags on the floor, sitting in silence. It’s a much more positive way to start the lesson than the sometimes chaotic start of a stream of students wandering in and taking their time to get ready whilst I sort out who needs a pen or who lost their book that week.

Film is an obvious and easy way to bring culture into the classroom. Of course, we can’t all sit back watching movies lesson after lesson, but snippets of film and various clips can help students to gain a better understanding of the task at hand rather than simply reading from a text. Using film to teach about other cultures is simple, such as showing them a clip like this to show how overcrowded some countries really are when teaching poetry from other cultures. It, enables students to have a much clearer understanding of concepts they have no experience with.

Being an Aussie has allowed me to bring culture into my classroom in the UK in ways I hadn’t thought of when I first moved here in 2007. One of those ways is when we do Christmas around the world with Year 7, and our now-annual Skype chat with my parents. Only once in the past five years have we missed it (due to them being on their way here to spend Christmas with me), and it’s something looked forward to by lots of our staff, who - rather strangely - enjoy talking to my mum and dad! We prep the students by having them think up a couple of questions first, and then they get to have a chat. My mother usually picks out the students who’ve asked the best questions and I award them some Aussie prizes (which my mum randomly sends me throughout the year).

We’ve also Skyped with my dad when doing a Media, Travel and Tourism unit, as he works in tourism and was our expert guest speaker. Using Skype is something that I’m hoping to utilise a lot more in the future.

One last way I like to bring culture into my classroom, if you can call it that, is through the use of memes. I’ve been doing an independent learning project with my Year 9 English class using Google Classroom, and in amongst the resources and assignments are a variety of memes to remind them of whatever I was trying to tell them at the time, such as these:

They give us a bit of a laugh, but it’s just fun way to remind students of little things and show them that you’re human and can have a joke with them. There are lots of free meme generators so that you can create your own.

How do you bring culture into the classroom? Share your experiences below.

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