Thursday, April 11, 2013

Week 12: Culture

Our very first activity this week was to define the term culture in our Google Groups.  Naturally, we all wrote different definitions-- some of us turning to the 3 Ps and other ideas from our CALICO reading, and others turning to the criteria we use to define our own culture.  Wrestling with a definition can be a good place to start.  Everyone knows what culture is, yet we need to address the fact that people's thoughts may run in different directions when they hear this word.  Our students, as well, are likely to have different notions of what culture entails.

In one sense, we should embrace the differing notions of culture and the different levels of the definition, but in another sense, a definition is practical in order to move onto other things.  For example, when creating activities to teach culture (see previous post), one comment in class was that we cannot define a cultural activity without a clear definition of culture.  Similarly, we cannot assess students' learning outcomes regarding culture without defining what they should be learning (and therefore defining culture).  Even after defining the term and the construct of cultural knowledge, we still need to consider in what contexts and situations learners will need this knowledge, and after this, we'll need to make sure our assessments (formal or informal) of cultural knowledge do not support essentialist views.

Recognizing the challenge of defining culture and using caution before putting forth its definition points to the reality that culture is an umbrella term that often means different things to different people.  However, I think it must be defined contextually, for the purposes of a language program, so that other terms and objectives may be articulated.  Culture is contextual in the sense that people's knowledge of it is often due to experience (even when we are part of the culture), and culture itself is shaped by experience.  Therefore, I think our definitions of and discussions about culture in the classroom should be as contextualized as possible.

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