One of the things I am most excited about this year is the diversity among my students. For those of you who do not know, the majority of my students are English Learners or bilingual. Students in my classroom speak 6 languages and come from about 10 different countries and/or other regions of the United States. By the statistics alone, we are a diverse group of learners. My students LOVE to share their cultures with each other. I am pretty sure I hear the words, "In my country..." at least 15 times a day. 3rd grade is a really great age to share about cultural diversity because many of my students are old enough to remember moving to the US and/ or remembering trips they have taken to their home country, and can share their experiences with each other. Most of them also speak/ understand enough English to discuss and ask questions to each other. They are also not old enough to have developed some of the strain between ethnic groups that seems to come in during the middle school years. (Although, hopefully our diversity discussions will help prevent some of these later strains).
Right now we are writing cultural narratives. My students have been drafting short paragraphs (4-6 sentences) on the different aspects of their culture: language, clothing, holidays/ traditions, and food. They many choose to write about the country that they came from exclusively or write about how their family has blended their native culture with American culture. Right now we are in the revising stage, but hopefully in the next two weeks, we will be able to type and publish our writing. Then it is all about the sharing. I am in love with this project! I have been learning so much about my students. There are so many little things that I have learned that have helped me to better understand my students. For example, I realized that a few of my students take part in fasting during Ramadan.
This past weekend I was invited over for lunch by one of my students. His mother works in our school cafeteria and treated two other teachers and me to a traditional Kurdish meal. It was delicious! It was also quite the cultural experience. Their family traditionally eats together on the floor. Our hosts were extremely concerned that this would bother us and kept saying that we could go eat at the table (FYI..the table was their coffee table). After lunch we were treated to Kurdish black tea (with a TON of sugar!) and pastries. There were also figs and a few other fruity/ nutty looking things that I was not brave enough to try. We did have one slight cultural mishap when we used ashtrays/ nut casing collectors as dessert plates. We also learned a little bit about how the family came to the US and about their families that were still in Iraq. Our host was also telling us that adult children, women in particular, typically stay a part of a household until marriage. It made the three of us, who are all single, under 25 and living on our own, chuckle when she told us about her friend who is so frustrated because she has children between 22 and 25 at home who just cannot find the "one." Lunch was definitely an interesting experience. I really enjoyed it, but I have to admit that I was much more comfortable being alongside two of my colleagues. There were a lot of gaps in conversation and periods of uncertainty that were made much easier with other English-speakers!
The Tennessean also had an interesting opinion piece on the diversity/ history of immigration to our region. I really enjoy learning about the history and benefits of our diverse community. Here is the article: http://www.tennessean.com/article/20120907/OPINION03/309070052/Local-diversity-model-all