Integrating Culture – Step 1: Essential Questions

globeAs the World Language teachers in my district continue to work on revising our curriculum, one of our most important goals is to be more purposeful in teaching our students the products, practices and perspectives of the cultures who speak the languages we teach.  In Ohio, where I teach, the role of culture in communication is made clear by the inclusion of an interculturality component in both the performance and proficiency rubrics.  As a result of this week’s lively discussion on #langchat, I have realized that my local colleagues and I are not alone in our desire to more fully integrate culture in spite of the challenges inherent in doing so.

While it is clear that cultural knowledge plays an important role in communication, we face certain difficulties as we strive to develop culturally rich lessons for our students.  Designing units that address the breadth of our target cultures, are accessible to learners across proficiency levels, and are respectful of our students’ own varied cultural backgrounds is not an easy undertaking.  While designing our lessons around authentic resources helps us to infuse our lessons with relevant cultural information, it is often challenging to find appropriate materials that reflect Francophone cultures outside of Europe and North America. As a result, we must sometimes choose between the authenticity of the texts we select as sources of linguistic input and the diversity of the cultural information we present to our students. Furthermore, novice students, whose communicative proficiency may be limited to expressing their own basic needs,  may not be able to adequately represent their knowledge of the target culture in the target language. Lastly, the lack of a common culture among our diverse students sometimes makes cultural comparisons nearly impossible.

In spite of these challenges, there is no doubt that it is our responsibility to develop our students’ cultural competence.  As a first step to improving my own practices in this area, I looked over this year’s course outlines for my French 1, 2, and 3 classes and listed some cultural essential questions that are addressed by the instructional activities I’ve planned for each one.  (I’ve slightly modified the topics since my initial reflection in this post.)  For each unit, I identified a general essential question for the topic, as well as some more specific questions that will be answered in the authentic resources I’ve chosen for the unit. While most of the resources I’ve used in the past reflected mostly French culture, my first goal will be to incorporate more materials from other Francophone cultures in order to more fully address these essential questions.

French 1

  1. Why is it important to learn French?
  • Who speaks French?
  • How do French people greet each other?
  1. What is school like in a Francophone country?
  • What school supplies do students need?
  • How and where do students get their school supplies?
  • What classes do kids take in Francophone countries?
  1. How do people in Francophone cultures spend their free time?
  • How much leisure time to people have?
  • What sports, games and hobbies are popular?
  • What role does technology play in leisure activities?
  1. What are families like in Francophone cultures?
  • What members of a family live together?
  • How common are divorce and blended families?
  • What are the roles of each member of the family?
  • What role do pets play in the family?
  1. What is a year like in different Francophone cultures?
  • What is the weather like at different times of the year?
  • How does the weather affect people’s activities?
  • What major holidays are celebrated throughout the year and how are they celebrated?
  1. What are mealtimes like in Francophone countries?
  • When do people eat each meal?
  • What do people eat at each meal?
  • Where do people eat each meal?
  1. Where do people in the Francophone culture live?
  • What are their homes like?
  • What are their neighborhoods like?
  • Where do they go for various activities?
  • Where might a visitor to their area go and why?

French 2

  1. What is a typical day like for teenagers in different Francophone countries?
  • When do they wake up, how, and why?
  • What do they do after school and why?
  • When do they go to bed and how do they fall asleep?
  1. What do Francophone teens do with their friends?
  • What do they do when they get together at someone’s house?
  • What do they do when they go out together?
  1. How do people in Francophone cultures buy their food?
  • Where do they go to buy food?
  • What ecological and nutritional values are reflected in their shopping habits?
  • What dishes are commonly prepared at home?
  1. How do people in Francophone cultures stay healthy?
  • Where do people go for health care?
  • What role does exercise play in their daily lives?
  • What diseases cause the most concern?
  1. What are schools like in Francophone cultures?
  • What are relationships between students and teachers like?
  • What role do parents play in the education of their children?
  • What are the relationships among the students like?
  1. What was it like to live in a castle?
  • How were castles built?
  • Who lived in castles?
  • How did a boy become a knight?
  • How did castles evolve?
  • What did people do for fun during medieval times?
  1. What are some things you can do for fun in Quebec?
  • What is there to do in Montreal?
  • What do you need if you want to go camping in a provincial park?
  • What role did the French play in Canadian history?

French 3

  1. What role does travel play in Francophone culture?
  • Where do people go on vacation?
  • With whom do they travel?
  • What vacation activities are popular?
  1. How have educational reforms affected Francophone schools?
  • How are students graded?
  • What high stakes tests do students take?
  • When do students go to school?
  1. How do people form romantic relationships in Francophone cultures?
  • What role does dating play in forming a relationship?
  • What role does marriage play in the culture?
  • Who has the right to marry?
  • What is a marriage ceremony like?
  1. What role do sports play in Francophone culture?
  • What sports are popular in various countries?
  • What teams are popular?
  • What Francophone athletes play in the U.S.?
  • What athletic competitions are important?
  1. What is Impressionism?
  • How did Impressionism develop?
  • Who are the major artists associated with the movement?
  • How did Impressionists influence later artists?
  1. What are the ecological challenges in some Francophone countries?
  • What do people do to conserve resources?
  • How do economic factors influence conservation efforts in various countries?
  • What animals are endangered?
  1. What was France like during prehistoric times?
  • How did early humans live?
  • What prehistoric sites can people visit?
  • How are characters from ancient cultures portrayed in literature?

I have a long way to go before I will be satisfied with the degree to which I’ve integrated the diversity of Francophone culture in my instructional practices, but this list of essential questions will give me someplace to start.  I’d love to know more about how you integrate culture into your classroom, as well as authentic resources you’ve used to adress any of these topics as they related to French speakers outside of France and Canada.

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