One Step at a Time
Teaching SuggestionsPrint this Page
- Subject(s): Cross-Cultural Understanding
- Region / Country: Africa / Togolese Republic
- Grade Level(s): 3–5, 6–8
Students will see that it is crucial to understand the perspectives of another culture if one is trying to work within that other culture to effect change.
- Students will know that understanding another culture involves being able to interpret behaviors, customs, actions, and practices from more than one point of view.
- Students will know that any behavior has to be interpreted in two ways: the meaning given to it by the person who does the action and the meaning given to it by the person who observes the action.
- Students will be able to explain how various people may interpret the same reality in different ways.
- Students will practice the skill of interpreting a situation from two different points of view.
- One Step at a Time by Fred Koehler
- Map of Togo (pdf–73 KB)
Day One: Establishing the concept of differing viewpoints about behavior
(Excerpted from Building Bridges: A Peace Corps Classroom Guide to Cross-Cultural Understanding.)
- Ask students whether they have ever had the experience of going to a movie or watching a video with a friend; then, at the end of the movie, each person thought different things in the movie were important, funny, sad, boring, or interesting. Ask students how that can be. How can two people watch the same movie and see different things?
- Now, on an overhead projector if possible, show the class a complex scene with many things happening—from a painting, advertisement, book illustration, or other source that none of the students has seen before. Ask the students to concentrate carefully, and expose them to the scene for exactly 10 seconds, and not longer. Then ask several students, in turn, to report what they saw. Ask them to be specific about details, and invite other students to offer their recollections or interpretations if they saw things differently. Students are likely to see and interpret different details—just as witnesses to crimes and accidents often differ as to the details of what they saw fleetingly.
- Follow these first two activities with a class discussion. Lead students to the awareness that no two people see the same thing in exactly the same way. All people bring to the situation their own values, beliefs, and life experiences—and powers of observation.
- Explain that each of us believes that we observe reality—things as they are. But what actually happens is that the mind interprets what the eyes see and gives it meaning. It is only at this point, when meaning is assigned, that we can truly say we have seen something. In other words, what we see is as much in the mind as it is in reality. If you consider that the mind of a person from one culture is going to be different in many ways from the mind of a person from another culture, then you have the explanation for that most fundamental of all cross-cultural issues: the fact that two people looking upon the same reality, the same example of behavior, may see things very differently.
- Make the point that any behavior observed by two people from different cultures can be interpreted in two ways:
- The meaning given to it by the person who does the action
- The meaning given to it by the person who observes the action
- Only when these two meanings are the same do we have successful communication—successful in the sense that the meaning that was intended by the doer is the one that was understood by the observer.
- Now have students participate in a lesson that will help clarify these concepts. Distribute copies of the worksheet on Understanding Cultural Viewpoints (Part 1), and have the students complete the worksheet.
- Ask students to discuss their answers to the questions in groups of three. Have them note similarities and differences in their responses to each question. After five minutes of small-group discussion, ask students whether all three students in each group shared exactly the same response. Were their viewpoints similar, was there some variation, or were they quite different? Explain that it is rare that three people will have exactly the same opinion on a subject. Opinions might be similar, but not identical—or, depending on the makeup of your class, they might be distinctly different.
- Reinforce the idea that if two people from the same culture often view a situation in different ways, it is even more likely that two people from different cultures will view a situation differently. Culture exerts a powerful influence on our point of view.
- Now have students complete the next worksheet, Understanding Cultural Viewpoints (Part 2). In their same groups of three, ask the students to compare their responses to the same questions, but now with the knowledge of the cultural context. Ask how their responses changed.
- Explain to students that if they were to go to another culture, they would need to be careful not to make judgments about a particular behavior or custom until they understood the cultural context—and the reasons that behavior was accepted as "normal."
- Tell students that they are going to read a story by a Peace Corps Volunteer in Togo. Koehler's first letter and his bio should be reviewed.
- Assign the story for homework. Ask students to list in a notebook or journal some of the challenges Koehler, a health worker, faces in his Togolese village. Have them bring in their observations for discussion the next day.
Day Two: Understanding differing viewpoints in Togo
- Explain that to paraphrase is to retell a story in your own words. Ask a student to paraphrase Koehler's story to review the main points.
- Ask students to identify three health issues Koehler and the people of this village have to deal with. On the chalkboard, or overhead, make a chart like the one below and have students copy the outline and headers of the chart into their notebooks. Fill in the first column as students give you answers from their homework. [Possible entries: High birthrate, reluctance to visit hospital, lack of clean water for drinking and washing]
Issue Koehler's viewpoint Togolese viewpoint Resources available Your suggestion
- Ask students to identify key words, phrases, and sentences that tell us how Koehler feels about these issues. Fill them in under "Koehler's viewpoint." Do the same for the second section of text, when Koehler speaks from the Togolese viewpoint. Why do these two men, one real and one imaginary, have such different points of view about the same reality? Try to elicit from students the idea of cultural context (the unwritten rules or norms that have evolved and become part of a group's expected behavior in various situations). How are the cultural contexts in which these men grew up different?
- Ask students to identify what resources are available to help the villagers. How could Koehler enhance these resources as a health worker?
- Put students into small groups. Ask them to propose solutions to each problem the villagers face. What additional resources would be needed? Would the villagers use them? Give the students about 15 minutes to work and then ask for reports.
- Is Koehler's presence as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Blitta-Gare important to the villagers? What does he have to learn in order to be useful?
- What method did Koehler employ in order to understand the culture in Togo? How would you have approached Koehler's challenge?
- Reread Koehler's statement, "To respond to the problems in my village I have to step into the shoes of those who have lived here their entire lives, which often means having no shoes at all." Have students brainstorm what it would be like to "step into the shoes" of someone else. What might a typical day be like for an elderly person living in their neighborhood in the United States? For someone from a different culture? For someone who is disabled? Students should consider the ways in which different people may interpret the same reality in different ways.
- Identify some beliefs that you have held growing up.Which of these beliefs might or might not be shared by people from other cultures?
- Have students do further research about health issues in developing countries. They might also compare their findings with research on critical health issues in the United States. A good starting place is the World Health Organization website, which is organized both by country and by issue.
Framework and Standards
- It's easy to misinterpret things people do in a cross-cultural setting.
- To keep from misunderstanding the behavior of individuals from another culture, you have to try to see the world from their point of view, in addition to your own.
- Why might it be possible for me to misunderstand individuals from another culture?
- How can I learn to see things from another culture's point of view? Why is it important to do so?