1. How can teachers promote positive cross-cultural attitudes and behaviors among students?

Teachers can promote positive cross-cultural attitudes by making sure that students have positive experiences with one another and interact successfully, especially in the partner language. When teachers explore student understandings of events and experiences, they ensure that learners are accurately interpreting what is going on around them. Over time, they help deepen students’ appreciation of the other culture and its speakers, and expand their understanding. Teachers should concentrate as much, if not more, on values, norms, and perspectives of the partner language culture (as well as those of other cultures, particularly if they are represented in the classroom) as they do on visible cultural practices, such as  holidays, foods, music, and dance.

Teachers can also inform second language learners of the expected behaviors and norms to follow in given environments so that they behave in culturally expected ways and receive positive feedback during those experiences. Becoming bicultural is as important as becoming bilingual, and it has to be actively fostered; it doesn’t happen on its own. By having cross-cultural objectives in each lesson and unit, teachers ensure that they are paying adequate attention to this important goal of the program.

Children’s literature is another avenue for exploring cultural meanings and perspectives.  Teachers help students understand each others’ lives when they choose materials that represent diverse perspectives and experiences and encourage students to discuss differences, looking at not just the story’s surface features—its events, setting, and characters—but also its deeper values. For example, a teacher in School District 54 in Schaumburg, IL, recounted an episode in her class that occurred while students were reading a short story. One student questioned why the father in the story needed his son to make calls for him. She couldn’t understand why an adult would ask a child to do this. The teacher then asked other students in the class to raise their hands if they had ever made calls for their parents and to explain why. Many students shared accounts of translating calls for their family members. Using this kind of literature validates the experiences of some students while it opens the eyes of other students to the lives of their classmates.

Other suggestions for promoting positive cross-cultural attitudes and behaviors follow:

  • Be a good role model. Show appreciation and respect for people of differing cultural backgrounds.
  • Celebrate linguistic diversity. Celebrate it within as well as across languages: Point out regional variations in vocabulary and other language features such as pronunciation.
  • Invite cultural informants to come to the classroom so that students can see firsthand how members of a cultural group view certain events and experiences.
  • Promote cross-cultural understanding among school staff by having open discussions about cultural issues at faculty meetings.
  • Collaborate with the PTA in planning a multicultural evening where parents can exchange ideas, opinions, and food.