Community Engagement: Incorporating Culturally Relevant Pedagogies into the Online Classroom

This post was written by NCTE member Erin Berry-McCrea. 
 
COVID-19 has caused many of us to pause, to reroute our lives in a variety of ways. With this has come the challenge of reconfiguring how we should best approach our work and our research. The balancing act has been difficult, pushing many of us to our limits.
As I have thought about my research, my work in the higher education classroom, and my work with local teachers and communities in digital literacy education, I’ve considered ways by which I could still safely pursue community engagement efforts in light of the pandemic.
Community engagement is defined differently for different groups of people, and it’s important to evaluate and reevaluate the narrative that comes with it as we consider ourr projects. For the purposes of this post, I’m referring to Community Engagement from the perspective of collaborative and reciprocal progress toward a common goal.
The community that I’ve been working with recently has been middle and high school teachers of all different experience levels who are interested in addressing best practices for incorporating culturally responsive pedagogies into their online classrooms.
Here are some tips and lessons that have been helpful for me in navigating this new landscape and providing guidance to teachers:

Review Your Curriculum and Course Materials.
In order to ensure that you are making the right decisions for your students and their learning experience, take the time to look intentionally at your curriculum, lesson plans, and resources. Before you can make changes, you need to identify what is present as well as what is absent.
Use Backwards Design to Outline Your Plan.
Once you’ve determined what needs to be removed or added, you need to make a plan for how to do it and when to do it. Regardless of the project, think of what you want the end result to be, and work from there. If you outline your steps, one step at a time, you’ll be able to recognize what’s needed to get each task done to meet your final goal.
Be Strategic in your Revisions.
In some cases, a complete overhaul of content and resources is necessary, and when this is the case, you should partner with other educators, administrators, and members of your district to ensure that you can have productive dialogue and can receive support in using best practices to accomplish your goal. Even if a complete overhaul of your content and resources is not needed, it’s important to be immediately intentional about what you need to change and the best ways to accomplish this goal.
Provide Opportunities for Reflection.
In my own work as an ethnographer and qualitative researcher, I know the true value of consistent practices of reflexivity. Because of this, I encourage teachers, regardless of academic discipline or grade level, to journal about what they experience and feel and about the action steps and resources needed to meet their goals. 
Collaborate.     
Collaboration is at the heart of teamwork and team building. We don’t exist in silos—even during a pandemic—so our thoughts and ideas should be shared with each other in an ongoing process of learning. I am most grateful for the collaborative dialogue that I’ve hard with other educators and students because it’s helped me to view the world from a variety of perspectives that I may not have been able to experience.
In addition, here are links to some digital resources to help you with collaborating and teaching in more relevant and culturally sustaining ways:

Distance learning has forced us to cultivate new ways to partner and collaborate with other educators.
Claude Steele, author of “Whistling Vivaldi” shares insights on the importance of understanding the idea of “stereotype threat” and “social identities” when working with students and other educators.
Here are six questions to ask about your classroom and the impact that your learning environment has on your students.
There is clear value in being a culturally responsive educator in the face-to-face classroom as well as online.
Here is a list of 40+ books that can support you on your journey to becoming more culturally responsive.

Erin Berry-McCrea is a 2018 NCTE Early Career Educator of Color Leadership Award recipient for her community engagement work in Black millennial digital literacy, sociolinguistics, ethnography, and culturally responsive pedagogies. Dr. Berry-McCrea is currently a curriculum coordinator for NCVirtual public school in Raleigh, North Carolina. She is also an adjunct professor in the department of mass communication at North Carolina Central University. Follow her on Twitter @ProfELB and email her at [email protected]

It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.

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Build Your Stack: A Glimpse into the Literature of Iran

This post was written by NCTE member Michelle Bianco and is part of Build Your Stack,® an NCTE initiative focused exclusively on helping teachers build their book knowledge and their classroom libraries. Build Your Stack® provides a forum for contributors to share books from their classroom experience; inclusion in a blog post does not imply endorsement or promotion of specific books by NCTE.

English courses are always richer when they include works of literature from a variety of cultures; however, students generally have little exposure to modern authors from Iran.

The following works allowed me to present students a glimpse into the lives of Iranians in a more intimate way. They share stories of individuals, stimulate curiosity, and provide an introduction to a culture that US students may not be familiar with, beyond brief mentions in the media.

The Shahnameh, The Persian Book of Kings by Abolqasem Ferdowsi could easily be turned into the next Oscar-award-winning trilogy. It was written between 977 and 1010 CE and it follows a mythical creation of the world up until the Arab conquest of the 7th century.
The modern translation by Dick Davis makes the poem format easy to break up into smaller stories of certain characters that illustrate the moral code. The tales contain warriors, battle scenes, fantasy creatures, and complex plot twists. For example, the Simurgh, a peacock with the head of a dog and the claws of a lion, is said to have seen the destruction of the world three times over (Davis).
Some characters and storylines can be compared to famous Greek characters, and students might find it interesting to question which came first—the Persian or the Greek.
A thoughtful view of the complex changes that Iran underwent after the 1979 Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Shah can be discovered in the works of Azar Nafisi. Reading Lolita in Tehran is a fascinating personal memoir of a teacher exploring forbidden literature with a small group of students.
Nafisi is a crafted storyteller who helps the reader to understand the cultural shift and repressive laws that became modern Iran, with details of public executions and what she calls political abominations. There are free study guides created by various educators available on the internet with chapter-by-chapter analysis and historical relevance. This Reading Lolita in Tehran guide was written by Filiz Turhan, an assistant English professor at Suffolk County Community College, New York. My favorite activity is the “Pick One” challenge, in which students select a book by either Azadeh Maoveni or Firoozeh Dumas, then participate in classroom discussion following the reading. These authors create a fun and complex female perspective.
Maoveni’s Lipstick Jihad is a compelling memoir of youth and life in Tehran. As one study guide states, “Azadeh is in many ways a typical teenager, trying desperately to fit in with her peers. She is embarrassed by her Iranianness, especially in the wake of the hostage crisis.”
Firoozeh Dumas’s light-hearted memoir Funny in Farsi is a highly comedic look at cultural difference. Dumas moved to America as a child in 1972. She chronicles hysterical stories of game shows, fast food, and cultural differences. Interviews, Youtube videos, and study guides for both of these authors can easily be found to share with students.
Modern Persian poetry is beautiful and rich in meaning. Forough Farrokhzad is an acclaimed poet with a tragic life story of divorce, love affairs, and death. The New York Times describes the author this way: “Farrokhzad was one of Iran’s pre-eminent mid-20th-century writers, both reviled and revered for her poems, which often dealt with female desire. Throughout her life she struggled with how her gender affected the reception of her work in a culture where women were often confined to traditional roles, but where there are few higher callings than the life of a poet” (2019).
I use the following quote in an essay prompt to encourage reflection and meaning:

In a Silenced land, rebellion is the voice of voiceless people, Its holler reverberates through the ups and downs of this silent land, only to enlighten the heart with the sound of love (Farrokhzad).

It is worth noting that author Tamin Ansary’s West of Kabul East of New York An Afghan American Story was an overwhelming success in the classroom. His memoir of immigration and cultural changes at the height of the Islamic Revolution in Iran is fascinating. He takes a harrowing journey through the Islamic Middle East to reunite with his Afghan family only to discover himself and his changed perspective. The story begins with the 9/11 attack and an emotional email he sent that would be shared with millions.
Someone once said it is the English teacher’s role to allay ignorance and open minds. Current events can and will drive interest in topics and cultures with which students are unfamiliar. Over the past ten years, I have used Iranian literature in my courses and have always asked students to donate their books, but these books were so well received that no one ever donated them! For more information on day-to-day lesson plans, feel free to contact me. (See details in bio below.) 

Works Cited 
Ansary, M. T. (2002). West of Kabul, east of New York: An Afghan American story. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Dumas, F. (2008). Funny in Farsi: A memoir of growing up Iranian in America. New York: Random House Trade Paperbacks.
Ferdowsi, A. & Davis, D. (2016). Shahnameh: The Persian book of kings. New York: Penguin Classics
Moaveni, A. (2009). Honeymoon in Tehran: Two years of love and danger in Iran. New York: Random House.
Moaveni, A. (2006). Lipstick Jihad: A memoir of growing up Iranian in American and American in Iran. New York: PublicAffairs.
Nafisi, A. (2003). Reading Lolita in Tehran: A memoir in books. New York: Random House.
Nafisi, A. (2008). Things I’ve been silent about: Memories. New York: Random House.

Michelle Bianco is full-time faculty for the Composition Department at Purdue University Global. She teaches undergraduate courses in composition and participates in outreach programs and curriculum discussions. Bianco taught for 12 years before going into administration as a director of curriculum and instruction; she has expertise in Course Management Portals, A-G Requirements, and Articulation Agreements. Reach her at [email protected]

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It is the policy of NCTE in all publications, including the Literacy & NCTE blog, to provide a forum for the open discussion of ideas concerning the content and the teaching of English and the language arts. Publicity accorded to any particular point of view does not imply endorsement by the Executive Committee, the Board of Directors, the staff, or the membership at large, except in announcements of policy, where such endorsement is clearly specified.