As a middle school social studies teacher, one of the very first things I teach my students each year is a unit on culture. Sure, the concept of culture is first up on my curriculum guide, but the overarching concept of culture is something that is essential to setting the tone for a productive year.
We begin the unit as most would expect: we define culture, we identify our own cultural markers, and we examine the cultural makeup of key civilizations throughout history.
But then we take a turn. I shift the conversation from cultural identification to cultural activism; we look at how the problem of cultural extinction is rapidly changing the face of our world. The students engage with stories from the past and from the present about how real people are faced with the challenge of carrying on and preserving cultures that are fading away forever.
For my students, the culture unit is no longer about defining cultural elements, it becomes about cultivating and preserving cultures in the face of increased globalization.
This may seem like a heady ask for a room full of 12-year-olds (…and it is), but by infusing a sense of agency into the learning, students buy in. They aren’t learning because they have to, they engage because they have a felt need to learn. By learning about culture in this type of classroom environment, I am setting the table for a classroom culture that will empower my students to be active learners.
Empowered learning is engaged learning
This trend of trying to motivate students to learn from an intrinsic place can be truly challenging. I have spent time as a part of a Learner Active Technology Infused Classroom (LATIC) cohort over the past three years that has worked to try to bring about this fundamental shift in our respective classroom pedagogies. It’s a lot of work, but it’s important work.
The studies are out there, but any educator who has had the experience of watching a student or even an entire classroom of students chasing knowledge knows the impact of a learner-driven environment.
In order to do so, whether it is in a classroom or a small group tutoring environment, there are a litany of considerations that need to be made: