Wednesday, October 8, 2014

How Might I Assess If Students Understand "Culture"?

     In various grades, students examine culture. It might be...the culture of an individual or family...the culture of a state, region or nation...the culture of indigenous peoples. When students examine culture, they look at the pieces that make up the whole.

Over time, students begin to understand that unity and diversity across cultures can be identified when looking at different elements of culture, such as:
  • Social Aspects of Culture (major beliefs and values, holidays and celebrations, religion, art, language, education, food, games/sports)
  • Economic Aspects of Culture (economic organization, interdependence and specialization)
  • Political Aspects of Culture (governmental organization, laws and policies, mechanisms to foster cooperation and to deal with conflict)
For social studies teachers, assessing a student's understanding of culture is very difficult. Yet, demonstrating understanding of culture provides a number of pathways to empower students and incorporate student creativity. When I asked fellow social studies teachers about the different ways they assess culture, these were some of their ideas:
  1. Students create a museum exhibit with artifacts. When you visit a museum, artifacts are used to represent the culture. With any artifact, there's an explanation about the artifact and why it's important to a culture. Students could select artifacts that represent different elements of culture. Students can explain the artifact's connection the culture while also identifying why the artifact is a strong example within a particular element of culture. Museum exhibits can be created by small groups of students and placed on display. Students can also use different digital tools to gather a digital museum exhibit and create a video with voice-over to be docents of the exhibit.
  2. How about a survival guide? When we must "step-in" to new and different cultures, we must figure out ways of assimilating so we can fit-in and survive. What are the cultural norms that are necessary to blend in, assimilate, and acculturate? 
  3. Create a video report complete with photos, artifacts, music, etc. It provides a creative opportunity for students to share their understanding. 
  4. Create alternate lines of culture.  We might study a particular culture and then ask, "What if our culture included this aspect of another culture? How would this impact us? What if this event would have happened in our culture, how would that have impacted our culture of today?"
  5. Within a culture, life is seen differently by its members. Culture is different for a young boy or young girl.  Culture is seen differently by a rich or poor person, man or woman, leader or citizen.  Students might create diary entries or design short skits that elevate the perspective of different members within a culture. Students can be required to identify the different elements of culture that are being addressed within the diary entry or skit. This might also be accomplished by students creating documentaries that involve someone interviewing different members of a culture.
  6. Add any of your ideas in the comments section.

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