Cultural Consideration

What are some considerations in materials and assessment design?

Language used for documents, writing prompts, and other materials should be examined for inclusivity and representation and to do so may require asking hard questions about assumptions, value systems, and perspectives. Some markers we can use related to validity are applicable to documents such as:

  • Reviewing documents for specific wording to favor one particular group or validating dominant groups over minority groups.
  • Consideration of all populations utilizing the document and that the uses of the completed document/application is equitable for all students.
  • Unclear directions and ambiguity contributing to misinterpretations and confusion – will this ultimately favor one population over another? Are we evaluating/assessing/judging/measuring what we say we are? Or is there more to what is being assessed such as cultural background and language ability?
  • Are the examples, questions, and advice culturally based? How much cultural background does someone need to understand?
  • Is the application/document/assessment being used for the purpose it was designed for? Or does it seem like it might be used for an unintended purpose?

Other questions that may help with design includes:

  • Try to achieve documents and classrooms to be of a culturally sustaining pedagogy as defined by Paris (2012) and helping young people in sustaining their cultural and linguistic competence while supporting their learning and language development here on campus. “Culturally sustaining pedagogy seeks to perpetuate and foster – to sustain – linguistic, literate, and cultural pluralism as part of the democratic project of schooling (p. 95).”
  • When we work with multilingual students are we able to adopt an asset perspective or do we see deficits? Do we value what multilingual students bring? Asset thinking over deficit thinking can have radical changes for how we work with any student, not just multilingual students.
  • Assessments/documents/applications may have content that is more familiar to a dominant culture and thus unfairly assess students who are minorities and second language learners (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 2013)

In addition, the CCCC recommends the following:

When designing assignments [or documents], instructors [and staff] should avoid topics that require substantial background knowledge that is related to a specific culture or history that is not being covered by the course [or not clearly specified by the department]. Instructors [and staff] should also be aware that sensitive topics, such as sexuality, criticism of authority, political beliefs, personal experiences, and religious beliefs, are subject to differing levels of comfort among students of different cultural and educational backgrounds. We encourage instructors [and staff] to provide students with multiple options for successfully completing an assignment [or application], such as by providing multiple prompts or varying examples. 

Writing prompts for placement exams and [documents] should avoid cultural references that are not readily understood by people who come from various cultural backgrounds.

Multilingual students carry an identity through their language, as we all do. If you are not sure what this means, watch Talhouk’s Ted Talk about identity in language: It is in Arabic with English subtitles. Sometimes asking a multilingual student to “just use proper English”, “not use British spellings”, “write a cover letter”, or “ list all your accomplishments” –  are inherently cultural statements and may actually be asking a student to put their identity aside or to engage in unknown cultural practices and so it may be a fuller request than it first appears.  For example, I have some students whose culture teaches them to be humble and so they will not let me share even excellent work because they do not want to be ashamed for bragging. In addition, World Englishes (Indian English, Kenyan English, for example) ARE accepted forms of English – language is ever changing and dynamic.