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* Cultural Inquiry Process Guidebook *

by Evelyn Jacob

Ms. Gregory was puzzled by Colby's behavior and attitudes during his transition from kindergarten to her first grade classroom.

Mr. Seifried was puzzled by the differences in behavior and performance of his two middle school choir classes.

Ms. Schiavo was puzzled by the attitudes and behaviors of high school junior and senior girls when choosing higher-level mathematics courses.

Ms. Yeow was puzzled by Jose, who did not turn in his required homework.

Mr. Zink was puzzled by the academic, linguistic, and behavioral performance of Mahmoud in 3rd grade.

Although the content of the educators' puzzlements differed in their specifics, each educator had the experience of being puzzled by the performance (i.e., behavior or attitudes) of one or more students. Puzzlements like these are common in today's schools. Chances are that you have been puzzled by the behavior or attitudes of some of your students.

Educators' puzzlements are often related to differences in culture. When teachers and students do not share cultures, they may have trouble understanding each other's actions and attitudes, which can lead to puzzlements.

I developed the Cultural Inquiry Process (CIP) to aid you and other educators as you work to provide the best education for your students. The CIP combines a reflective action research process with information about cultural influences on education (primarily from educational anthropology, but also from multicultural education, sociology, and linguistics). The CIP provides seven steps to help you understand your puzzlements and develop culturally-sensitive interventions in today's diverse educational environments.

Why culture?

Your preservice and inservice education has probably tended to stress teaching methods, classroom management, and ways of understanding individual students' learning processes--all of which focus on and address psychological influences on education. While psychological influences are clearly important, they are not the whole story.

The CIP helps you understand and use information about cultural influences to improve students' educational experiences. Culture refers to knowledge, attitudes, values and related behavior patterns shared to some degree with others. Culture is not something one has by being born into a particular group; it is something that one develops over time as one participates (in varying degrees) in different local "communities of practice." Communities of practice develop in, around, and outside schools, other educational institutions, and all aspects of life. (For more detailed discussions of culture see the Glossary and The concept of "culture" section in the Step 3 page.)

Because you, your colleagues, and your students participate in many communities of practice, which have different cultures, you live in complex, interwoven "webs" of cultural influences. Strands within these webs may relate to communities of practice that form around gender, social class, jobs, religion, peer groups, sports groups and teams, clubs, hobbies, ethnicity and race, school and classroom cultures, the media, and popular culture. To maximize all students' learning, you need to understand how culture influences your students and yourself. Moreover, this understanding will help you develop interventions to improve students' educational experiences.

Culture is central to human life--from the species level to the individual level. "All humans have a great deal in common due to the biological and cultural heritage that we share as a species....The defining features of the human species--such as using language and passing on inventions and adaptations to subsequent generations--are our cultural heritage" (Rogoff, 2003, p. 64).

At the group level, "[c]ultural differences are generally variations on themes of universal import, with differing emphasis or value placed on particular practices. For example, children's ways of learning vary across communities, such as in formal schooling, apprenticeships, or helping on the farm. At the same time, however, all children learn from observation and participation in some kind of community activities" (Rogoff, 2003, p. 64).

Culture is central at the individual level, too, because "each of us lives out our species nature only in a specific local manifestation...our cultural and historical peculiarity is an essential part of that nature" (Shore, 1988, p. 19, as quoted in Rogoff, 2003, p. 63).

Why the Cultural Inquiry Process?

Workshops and literature about cultural influences on education often present general information about cultural influences or about characteristics of various groups such as ethnic or religious groups. Although general information about cultural influences can be useful as background knowledge, general information about groups is insufficient to understand or address a particular local community, a particular group of students, or an individual student (Jacob, 1995; for a related discussion of "personalizing culture" see Henze and Hauser, 1999; for empirical support see Reese, 2002). Moreover, focusing on general information about cultural groups carries the potential of producing or reinforcing stereotypes, especially when only superficial information such as trait lists is presented. Therefore, before acting on any general information about cultural influences or groups, it is important to get further data to see if the general information applies to a local group or individuals.

For example, although research indicates that girls may have beliefs and attitudes labeled "mathematics phobia," you do not automatically know if this applies to all the girls in your classroom or how it might be influencing girls' learning in your classroom. You would need to gather data locally to see if any girls have "mathematics phobia" and how these beliefs and attitudes are influencing their performance in your classroom.

The CIP seeks to address this problem by helping you "personalize" information about cultural influences. To do this it combines an action research process with a structured guide to information about cultural influences on education. To see how Ms. Gregory and the other educators mentioned at the beginning of this page used the CIP, click on their names above.

The CIP Guidebook

The CIP Guidebook outlines the steps of the CIP, provides information about cultural influences, offers examples from educators who have used the CIP, and summarizes success stories from the research literature. Links to the major sections of the CIP Guidebook follow.

New users should see Site Tips and then go to the CIP Steps pages.

CIP Steps
Provides basic guidelines for the seven steps of the Cultural Inquiry Process, information about cultural influences on education, guidelines for collecting and analyzing information about your puzzlement, and suggestions for interventions.
CIP Studies
Includes examples of reports written by educators who have used the CIP in their own practice.
Cultural Success Stories
Summarizes research studies that report on studies in which interventions that addressed cultural influences improved the education of students.
Defines some important terms used in this Web site.
Presents full references for all citations included in this Web site, and provides links to publications about the Cultural Inquiry Process.


CIP Web site © 1999-2004 Evelyn Jacob. All rights reserved.