Assessment

Lately it’s been all things assessment: graduate course on assessment (Popham, Kubiszyn and Borich), College Board conference, and pushing for performance tasks through professional development (1, 2).

Focusing on the College Board conference, some reoccurring questions that came up include the following:

  1. What is culture?
  2. How is culture applied in the classroom?
  3. How to assess cultural competency?

In defining culture, it’s not surprising that definitions abound. High/low culture, culture with a big and little c, and culture pertaining to food, fairs, beliefs, etc. were all covered. I also saw conferences pertaining to how culture was applied to English literature, graphics design, general English classes, and speaking competencies as part of professional development among teachers. Although many spoke of portfolios (i.e., videos), rubrics, checklists, essays, tests, quizzes, etc. as means of assessing cultural competency, the assessment and instructional process still seemed to be a bit allusive from a practice sense.

As one speaker mentioned, incorporating culture within a classroom takes time, knowledge, and being selective as to the particular aspects of the different cultures available. In Guatemala this is certainly relevant given the mix of cultures that exist:

Mestizo (mixed Amerindian-Spanish – in local Spanish called Ladino) and European 59.4%, K’iche 9.1%, Kaqchikel 8.4%, Mam 7.9%, Q’eqchi 6.3%, other Mayan 8.6%, indigenous non-Mayan 0.2%, other 0.1% (2001 census)

In the central part of Mexico, classes tend to be more homogeneous but teaching culture is equally important. Critical pedagogy certainly plays a role in how teachers approach culture whether taken from a book, from a personal experience from the teacher, and/or from the experiences of the learners.

My short answer to how to implement culture within the classroom is to collaborate with others to see examples of classroom practices. Know the learners well enough to be able to negotiate with them on what aspects of culture they seem more interested in and what aspects they seem to need the most. And finally, use a variety of assessments (i.e., formative and summative) that make it clear on how they are to be evaluated, giving them a level of choice in the process.