Learning in a cultural context

by Niina Halvorsen
Green City

This past week we have been thinking about learning in a cultural context. Oslo International Hub and the Academy of Entrepreneurship have reviewed the comments from the partners, and terms such as culturally competent and culturally responsive have got our attention.

We agree that everyone should grow their own cultural awareness and become conscious of their own culturally shaped values, beliefs, perceptions, and biases. We should learn to observe our own reactions to people whose cultures differ from our own and reflect upon those responses. Becoming culturally competent means that we are learning about different cultures, interacting with diverse groups of people, and attending diversity-focused seminars and conferences.

Cultural responsiveness in a learning environment is more of a process than a strategy. It begins when a teacher recognises the cultural capital and tools that diverse students bring to the classroom. They are then able to respond to students’ use of these cultural learning tools positively by noticing, naming and affirming them when students use them in learning. The most common cultural tools for processing information utilise the brain’s memory systems — music, repetition, metaphor, recitation, physical manipulation of content, and ritual. The teacher is “responsive” when they are able to mirror these ways of learning in their instructions using similar strategies to scaffold learning.

Cultural values and learning practices transmitted from our parents and community guide how the brain wires itself to process information and handle relationships. Neural pathways are over-developed around one’s cultural ways of learning. Culturally responsive teachers know this and piggyback on these well-developed neural pathways with similar types of instruction. Tapping into these neural pathways can help students accelerate their own learning.