Measuring Culture

Reading an article on cultural differences from BBC recently, I was thinking about the importance of culture with respect to personal learning profiles (PLP). In particular, the ways that student’s actual culture matters to learning more than our perceptions or assumptions about what the student’s culture might be. Culture affects learning and behavior in a variety of ways. We can either make instructional shifts to make intentional use of culture, or culture can dictate learning and behavior in ways we might not intend.

How might we measure students’ culture to build some of the information that we need in a PLP? The folks behind STEM Teaching Tools have shared resources to help teachers in all content areas gain the information needed to build an understanding of students’ culture – a necessary step toward a PLP.

Tool 31 – How to launch STEM investigations that build on student and community interests and expertise – describes a powerful use of self-documentation that encourages students to connect topics they are studying in school to their outside experiences and to share those connections with teachers and classmates. Self-documentation could be used in any content area to help students connect ideas and to provide teachers with actionable information about student interests and experiences.

The group also provides a link to a research synthesis on formative assessment, which includes this quote:

We see the most promise in sociocognitive and sociocultural assessment interventions, because these types of interventions rely on theories of learning that attend carefully to differences in how student proficiency develops across different disciplines. We acknowledge that in today’s educational systems, however, there are many challenges to implementing these types of interventions. Most standards-based accountability systems prize mastery of discrete facts over understanding and that provide little room for students to select learning goals. Educational leaders and teachers will need to work collaboratively with students, parents, and external stakeholders to rethink and redesign these systems, before sociocognitive and sociocultural interventions can be widely implemented.

The focus on collaboration with students, parents, and external stakeholders links the work to making greater instructional use of community and cultural resources. It highlights the need to assess culture not just for the direct impacts on learning but also to make better use of the available resources in the community. After all, it’s a challenge to make use of resources that you don’t know about.

As we move forward with creating personalized learning experiences, we’ll need a variety of tools to build both PLPs and cultural awareness. If you come across other interesting ideas or have tried things in your classroom, please let us know in the comments!



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