Cultural Language in the Classroom: Inclusion as a tool for academic language instruction

1.1 Demonstrating Knowledge of Content and Pedagogy: Teacher recognizes the value of understanding students’ interests and cultural heritage and displays this knowledge for groups of students. Valuing students’ diverse cultural heritages requires valuing students’ diverse language backgrounds. Effective teaching of academic language, in particular, necessitates understanding language backgrounds in a broad sense; it requires familiarity with and respect for diverse conversational or cultural languages. The following selection is from a discussion board post I wrote for Edu 6136, Content Methods, prompted by the question, How do students use academic language to develop their understanding of subject matter?

bportfolio evidence

In my response, I analyze academic language from two points of view: as an aid to building effective language skill, which is the subject matter of English Language Arts, and as an aid to incorporating diverse cultural languages as an asset in the classroom.

One way to include diverse cultural languages in the classroom is by accessing student’s personal definitions of content specific vocabulary. I will use the term “active listening” as an example. For many students, familiar active listening strategies include direct eye contact with the speaker, paraphrasing the speaker’s words, or asking clarifying questions. For a deaf student in a hearing class, however, active listening might require focusing on both speaker and interpreter, so as to observe the facial and body inflections of each. A student whose cultural background considers direct disagreement disrespectful might define active listening as more deferential, requiring gentle affirmation of understanding rather than questions. A culturally sensitive teacher can include these multiple understandings of active listening by asking students to draw or describe what it looks, feels, or sounds like when someone truly understands what they are trying to say. By building on students’ own experiences, the teacher will also create more wholistic understanding of what active listening means in academic language: those techniques that insure students are prepared to “participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively” (Common Cores State Standards Initiative, 2016).

One way in which I plan on incorporating my understanding of the connection between cultural and academic language in the classroom is by teaching a unit on The Art of Conversation. I am designing the unit now, with a focus on effective techniques for cross-cultural listening and speaking. The unit will incorporate texts from multiple genres, including a written article on communication in the age of the internet, radio broadcasts, Ted Talks, movies, and the students’ own conversations. The texts also represent multiple cultural languages, including academic prose, percussion music, American Sign Language, gossip in a South African village, and the language of leadership. Perhaps most importantly, students will reflect both on what each text claims is necessary for effective communication, and on how their own experiences as readers, viewers, and listeners shapes that understanding.


Common Core State Standards Initiative (2016). College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Speaking and Listening 1 (CCSS.ELA-Literacy.CCRA.SL.1). Retrieved from, March 16, 2016.

O’Neal, D. and Ringler, M. (2010). Broadening Our View of Linguistic Diversity. Kappan, V91N7, pp. 48-52


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