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Culturally Relevant Critical Thinking

By Mariam Higgins

“Asalaam alaikum (peace be with you),” whispered politely the seventh grader in the beaded headscarf.  She had sidled up to me after her social studies teacher and I had wrapped up an arts integration lesson on Hinduism for their world religions unit using observational thinking strategy.  She shyly asked where I was from, I shared that my mom’s family was from Pakistan as I replied, “Wa alaikumsalaam (and peace be with you).” Quiet during class she was suddenly chatty, telling me she was from Ethiopia. 

As the Arts Integration Specialist modeling an arts integration strategy by co-teaching in a middle school, after lunch no less, I was delighted to see how highly interactive the lesson was turning out. The young teens listened to one another, taking healthy risks by sharing their conjectures, opinions, and wonderings while citing the facts and elements of art that they based their thinking on. Their teacher swelled with justified pride as I recognized their Socratic dialogue and secondary inferences, such as Ramon’s, “Building on Ariana’s observation, I think the faded golden figure with the quiver, in the mid-ground, could be another aspect or reincarnation of the warrior.” The process of deeply observing, sharing multiple perspectives, using specific vocabulary, constructing shared knowledge, then having the opportunity to create, invent, and design – applying what was learned promotes critical thinking for every learner. Arts integration is an authentic, relevant, equitable venue for kids to relate their identities through their culture, art, and music – building community and a welcome connection.

And, as promised, Ibrahim seated in the last row, stayed after class to show me his sketchbook. I noticed him shading an anime character before class started, and asked if I could see his drawings later. I admired his rendering, and suggested he try ‘sketch noting’ as a way to study for his next test.  He seemed eager to try.  As I said my goodbyes to the class, Ibrahim murmured, “A salaam alaikum” to me as another thirteen year old boy kindly hurried to hold the door open for me.  

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