Friday, May 29, 2015

Cause for Celebration

May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month and as multiculturally-inclined as I am, I fully
embraced it and made it my theme for the month of May.  At the beginning of the school year as I was planning lessons for Hispanic Heritage Month, I wondered if there was a commemorative month for Asian Americans.  So I turned to Google and sure enough I discovered that May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.  While Hispanics make up the majority of my ELLs, I do have a handful of Asians and recognizing their ethnic group's culture as well as their contributions to our country is definitely cause for celebration.  Most of us think of celebrations as parties, foods, games, shows or assemblies. All that's great and there's place for it, but honoring a heritage is so much more than that.

As we seek to address the needs of the whole child, it's crucial to acknowledge and celebrate our students' culture and ethnicity, as for many of them it is at the heart of their identity.  We honor our students by being culturally aware as we go about planning units of study, crafting questions, selecting reading materials and planning projects.  While dropping a foreign sounding name in a math word problem or by reading about Rosa Parks during Black History Month is great, that's surely not enough. When using analogies to explain a concept, make sure it is something they have been exposed to. Better yet, provide examples of situations they can relate to and that honor them and their heritage. And this isn't solely done during one month of the year, this must happen year round. For example, when reading about the new year, read about traditions around the world and give everyone a chance to share.  Their input in invaluable and not only to them, but to all of us.  Furthermore, we must avoid stereotypes at all cost. Cultural, linguistic and religious differences exist not only among ethnic groups, but also among individuals of the same nationality.  So, never assume anything but instead take a back seat by asking questions and letting kids share. This not only engages our learners in constructive conversations, but it also celebrates and validates cultural differences.  Like a great salad, it's so much better when it's more than just lettuce and tomato.

So back to Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.  On Friday, May 1st, I announced the commemoration to my ESL classes and took them to the Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month's website.  Not a single one of my students knew about it.  While the celebration was purely academic in nature, I can still call it a celebration because it generated a great deal of engagement, positivity and validation in all students, not just those of Asian heritage.  Here's some of what we did in class this past month.
  • Famous Asian Americans.  Who doesn't like reading a success story.'s list of famous Asian Americans was a hit and created some interesting conversations.  Many of those listed are of mixed-race, such as Bruno Mars, who is both Hispanic and Asian.  Students partnered up with a peer and together they selected a person to read about.  What was most fascinating is that while my Asian students were thrilled to read about fellow Asian Americans, the non-Asians were just as engaged as they found numerous connections to folks who seemed so different from them.  As they read their selections, they gathered basic facts and answered questions about the individual including connections and surprises.  I like using the 3-2-1 method - three things they learned, two things that surprised them and one thing they don't understand or are confused about. Those responses were gathered on a Google form.
  •  After they completed the Google form, they created an Avatar of that person and recorded a message in their own voice. This took a little time as some students had never visited this website. They really enjoyed creating the graphic part, but most were really excited to using their cell phone to add voice to the avatar.  Using cell phone in class is not generally allowed unless it has an obvious academic purpose.  They later embedded the Voki on their blogs and blogged about that experience.  See sample here.
  • Japanese-American Internment.  We had a mini Social Studies unit on the Japanese Internment. Many of them were familiar with Jim Crow Laws, Jewish Holocaust and slavery, but had no idea about Asian concentration camps.  The idea of such a tragedy on American soil was a shocker, especially when the captives were American born.  Many of Hispanics voiced concerns about this ever happening to Mexican-Americans.  I think we've come a long way since World War II, but the connection was there and again, students were highly engaged in some interesting conversation.  
  • 10 Creepy Asian Urban Legends.  At the request of one of my Vietnamese students who loves to read scary stories, we read about some pretty creepy tales.  Even the most apathetic student was captivated by this topic (probably just scared half to death).  I usually save urban legends for the end of year as it does indeed capture their attention, and so this topic tied in nicely with the APAHM.  However, I must say that these tales where much more intriguing than some of the others we've read in the past like the Chupacabra and La Llorona
As May comes to a close and I reflect on this month, I think next year I need to add some food to the mix.  After all, a celebration is not complete without the eating component. However, my aim this time around was to simply acknowledge and validate the Asian ethnicity and the huge contributions they have made to this great country.  As I have stated many times, it is in learning about one another that we discover more about ourselves and we realize that we are so much more similar than we are different.  

We are less than two weeks away from the end of year and crazy at it seems, I'm already looking forward to next year. 

#FinishStrong #BestYearEver

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