A PRACTICAL TOOL TO LEVERAGE STUDENTS’ CULTURAL DIVERSITY TOWARDS MORE EFFECTIVE TEACHING AND LEARNING
by Peter Welch, Head of School, International School of Helsinki, Finland
Introduction by Dave Stanfield, Head of Research & Development, Council of International Schools (CIS)
Earlier this year at the CIS Symposium on Intercultural Learning, Peter Welch, Head of School at the International School of Helsinki, introduced a bespoke tool that identifies students’ cultural dispositions as a means to individualise learning. The simple but powerful survey garnered significant interest from the diverse audience of international educators for its potential to improve teaching and learning through a more comprehensive understanding of the cultural composition of a school and its unique applicability to an international school context.
In line with CIS’ strongly held belief in the value of research- and data-driven education and our commitment to promoting effective intercultural learning, we are partnering with ISH to make their research-based survey available to CIS member schools. I believe this instrument has the potential to fundamentally change the way international educators understand and utilize students’ cultural dispositions in relation to how they learn.
The Student Cultural Dispositions Survey will be available this fall to a limited number of CIS schools. Fill out this short form if you’d like additional information.
This year, a research group at the International School of Helsinki has been exploring how we can map cultural dispositions to learning and communication styles in our classrooms. Each new international student who enrolls arrives with distinct values, assumptions and approaches to learning. Yet generalizing teaching strategies to address culture based on points of origin is problematic. As we bridge from theory to the practical realities of our classrooms, we grapple with enormous complexity.
Our ambition at ISH is to develop practical tools that help teachers understand and leverage cultural diversity. This ambition is based on three insights shared by many educators in international schools:
- First, many of our schools remain fundamentally ‘western’ in outlook, in our curriculum and the perspective of most of our educators. This paradigm needs to evolve in a constructive, practical manner.
- Second, our schools are characterized by tremendous cultural diversity, yet rarely do we mine this richness of perspectives on what life is all about.
- Third, if we are truly serving this generation of students, we must be intentional about nurturing cultural intelligence. Our global citizens will live and work across borders in our evermore-connected world. To thrive they will need the soft skills that help get the best out of people with very different cultural norms.
The research group started with a definitional challenge. In most cultural theory nationality is habitually used as shorthand to describe culture. This convention proves inadequate as we move from theory to practice, as national stereotypes do not fit the nuances of our experience. For many of the global nomads we teach nationality is a confusing concept. They are used to a very wide set of cultural norms which can never be covered by any national label. We defined culture as the core values and assumptions we acquire through our socialization. One’s culture is formed by the interaction of norms that exist in our family, community, schools and social environment. It can be altered in response to life experience.
Next, we wanted to find a way of measuring different cultural values and assumptions and how they manifest at ISH. We developed different dimensions that are relevant to learning and communication styles:
Choose groups to clone to: