Understanding our differences through an
examination of the Karen Tribes People.
University of Alberta
EDPY 413
Cheryl Law, Sephora Sookram
& Meagan Fleming
A few volunteers will stand in a line at the
front of the class to tell a story.
The first person will begin the story by
stating one sentence.
The next person will continue the same story
with another sentence.
The story will continue in this manner.
A fun twist:
◦ No one can use any words with the letters i, s or n.
(Arias, 2008)
“A way of being that allows individuals and
organizations to interact effectively with people
who differ from them” (Robins, Lindsey, Lindsey
& Terrell, 2006, p. 2)
Cultural proficiency model “is proactive, provides
tools that can be used in any setting”
Has a behavioural focus
Can be used for both organizations and
individuals (Robins et al., 2006).
It is the policies and practices and values and
behaviours of organizations and individuals that
allow for effective interactions.
The culture promotes inclusiveness and
institutionalizes processes for learning about
differences and for responding appropriately to
Educators need to welcome and create
opportunities to better understand who they are
as individuals.
It is important to learn how to interact positively
with people who differ from yourself.
Remember that becoming culturally proficient
takes time: time to think, reflect, decide and
Begin by reflecting on your school and your own
individual understandings and values.
4 Components
Essential Elements
Guiding Principles
Cultural destructiveness
See the difference, stomp it out.
Cultural incapacity
See the difference, make it wrong
Cultural blindness
See the difference, act like you don’t
Cultural pre-competence
See the difference, respond inadequately
Cultural competence
See the difference, understand the difference that difference makes
Cultural proficiency
See the difference and respond effectively in a variety of environments
(Robins et al., 2006)
Addressing the Differences
Assess the culture and name the differences
Value diversity by claiming the differences
Manage the dynamics of difference
Adapt to diversity and train about differences
Institutionalize cultural knowledge and allow
change for the differences
Culture is a prevalent force.
People are served in varying degrees by the
dominant culture.
People have group identities that they want
to have acknowledged.
There is diversity between cultures and
within cultures.
Respect the unique needs of every culture.
The presumption of entitlement
◦ All that you have you deserve by virtue of your
merit alone
Systems of oppression
◦ Examples include: racism, sexism, ageism
◦ Perpetuates domination and victimization
Unawareness of the need to adapt
◦ Believing that others need to change but you do not
Can you define culture?
In small groups, brainstorm ideas and agree
upon a definition of culture.
“the set of common beliefs and practices that
a person shares with a group” (Robins et al.,
All about Groupness
Cultural identity is how people recognize
where they belong
You vs. Your Students
Think about how your culture differs from the
cultures of your students.
Culture determines how you interact with
your students and react to things that happen
in the classroom.
It is important to reflect upon and be aware
of your cultural biases and differences.
We often think that people in non-dominant
cultures should change and learn the ways of
the dominant culture.
We must acknowledge differences and expect
to learn from other cultures and expect that
these cultures will learn from us.
We need to try to adapt and adjust to
differences between cultures.
It’s all about compromise!
What is Diversity?
Think about the different cultures and
sources of diversity in your classrooms.
What kinds of diversity do you encounter in
your classroom?
Three sources of diversity
1. demographic characteristic
culture, ethnicity, language, age, gender, social class,
personal characteristics
age, gender, communication style, economic background,
abilities and skills
social and technical
(Johnson & Johnson, 2009, pp.443-444)
On the petal, write something that is unique about yourself. In
the interior, work with your group to write about similarities
between the group members.
Refugee Students in Edmonton’s
(Picture of Karen working in a rice field, Microsoft Corporation, 2005).
The Karen Tribe people are an ethnic minority in Burma, that
now consist of one of Thailand’s largest refugee groups.
(Burma Map, Google Maps
Canada, 2008).
Burma, also known as Myanmar is a land of about 35 million people
in Southeast Asia (Background Note: Burma, 2008).
The population of Burma has a diversity of cultures and ethnicities.
The largest group is of course the Burmans, but it is also home for
the Kachins, Chins, Mons, Karenni, Shans, Arakanese, and Karen
(Background Note: Burma, 2008).
Burma has had one of the longest-running civil wars
in world history (Bowles, 1998).
Decades of military conflict and genocide in Burma has
transformed the Karen people, as well as other
cultures into refugees (Binkley, D. & M., 2007).
The Karen Tribe, a usually peaceful people, fight for
their own state, own political rule and their own ethnic
identity (Buadaeng, 2007).
Teachers need an understanding of Karen Tribal
 Traditions, Beliefs and Religion
 Education
The difficult adaptation to life in Canada
Karen Groups and Sub Groups
The Karen are a Burmese hill-tribe
people (McGill, 2007).
There are four divisions of culture
in the Karen Tribe.
The two main tribal cultures are
Sgaw and Pwo Karen.
Sgaw Karen are the largest group
of the four.
The two smaller groups (only 1% of
Thai Karen population) are the Pa
O and Kavgah
(Lewis, E. & P, 1984).
(Karen Tribe, Classroom Clipart, 2007)
Buddha, Cardinal Photo, 2008
The Karen people are:
◦ very spiritual and believe in many myths.
◦ superstitious and believe that everything is
connected to a spirit (Sudhamongkol, n.d.).
The Karen people believe:
◦ things they say or do have consequences and they
are fearfully aware of their actions (Sudhamongkol,
◦ babies do not have souls until they invite a spirit to
present the soul to the child, where they then
secure the soul by tying string around the babies’
wrists (Lewis, E. & P, 1984).
Traditional Gods:
◦ “Lord of Land and Water” who owned the entire
contents of the earth
◦ “Crop Grandmother” who watches over their fields
The Karen tribe will offer meat and pray at
shrines for the blessing of rice in their fields
(Lewis, E. & P, 1984).
Karen core religions:
1. Buddhism (believe in Karma)
2. Animism (where they believe that animals and
plants also have spirits)
3. Christianity (Increasing, about 30%)
(Lewis, E. & P, 1984).
The Karen Tribe is very
Karen that live in their
own homes, mainly live
with a nuclear family
Marriage is stable, divorce
is low
Polygamy is prohibited
Members often use
nicknames when referring
to one another.
(Anderson, 1993).
In the Karen language
there are no first or last
(Allott et al., 2007).
(Elder and Young Karen, Mekong, 2008).
In Myanmar:
◦ “35% of secondary schoolaged children are enrolled in
◦ “69% of children enrolled in
the first grade at school go on
to reach grade five”
(Mortimer, 2004).
In refugee camps:
◦ 2/3 of Karen have some type
of education, at least
◦ 1/3 had no education at all
◦ There is a high drop out rate
in refugee schools due to:
 overcrowding,
 lack of materials and
 lack of job opportunities
(Allott et al., 2007).
(Children in Classroom at Burmese Refugee Camp in
Thailand, Kindersley & Robertson, n.d.).
Students are facing problems because the
Thai government only allows minimum
refugee assistance from the United Nations.
Special needs are essentially ignored
◦ Teachers have no special needs training
Educational influence from Thai and western
Transition to Canadian schools can be
(Some Camp Houses Images, Binkley, 2005).
Characteristics of Karen refugees sent to
◦ Many are single-parent women
◦ Women who may have been sexually or violently
◦ Those not accepted in society
◦ Those who have family problems
◦ Refugees that were on opposing political sides
◦ Those in need of medical or psychological
◦ Ethnic minorities abused in camps
◦ Those who have family in Canada
◦ In 2006, Canada began selecting Karen refugees.
(Backgrounder, Group Resettlement to Canada, 2006).
(Karen Refugee Family Citizenship and Immigration Canada, 2007).
Karen refugees have difficulty adjusting to life
in Canada after living in refugee camps
Thailand did not let refugees find
◦ Many will begin their very first jobs when entering
Karen refugees need to learn about banks,
climate, food and technology.
(Binkley, D. & M., 2007).
Organizations offer orientations to life in
“ Avoid walking in front of others. Go behind those who are
seated, or ask first and apologize.”
“If you accidentally pick up something belonging to another
person, apologize”
“When Karen invite you to eat with them, refuse first. If they
ask you repeatedly, accept, but do so gently”
(Allott et al., 2007)
As teachers,we must also realize that cultures use words with
different meanings. For example, unlike other Asian groups
who rarely say “no,” the Karen often say “no” as a way of
being modest.
They will also never show anger or any negative emotion
because it is believed to be disgraceful.
(Dailey et al., 2007)
“The Karen are a reticent, even shy people, and many will be
surprised and perhaps worried by directness of speech, voice
levels, and body language.”
“With the Karen, a quiet, low-key style of communication works
best, peppered with lots of reassuring and friendly smiles.”
“It is generally not good to approach issues too directly or
straight forwardly, and it is good to re-ask a question to which
no answer has yet been received, perhaps in different ways.”
“When a Karen folds his arms in front of him while talking to you,
it is a sign of respect, not aggression or defensiveness.”
“In general, the Karen like to be very self-reliant and to pursue
an independent lifestyle within their own culturally close-knit
(Allot et al., 2007)
“ If a Karen is offered something, he or she may
be reluctant to take it, even if the item is
“Persevere gently. Karen do not like to boast or
put themselves forward. They also do not like to
“In Karen families, males are generally the heads
of household.”
“It is good to be aware of the age and gender
conventions when dealing with families,
especially if it is easier—but not necessarily more
tactful—to communicate with younger family
members who may have more English.”
(Allott et al., 2007).
Consider CULTURE and LANGUAGE together…
and separately!
What do teachers need to know to help these
learners feel comfortable in the classroom?
What do teachers need to know to help these
learners learn English?
Expect overlap!
Interculturalism entails:
◦ Living cultural experiences
◦ Taking responsibility for more than “acceptance”
Allows us to better examine our own
individual and collective identities
Physical Appearance
◦ Seat the student next to another student who
speaks the L1
 Note: Karen languages differ from Tibeto-Burman
languages but use Thai or Burmese scripts
 Many words are borrowed from the Thai, Burmese, Mon, &
Shan cultures
 2 main languages: Sgaw and Pwo  not mutually
◦ Recognition of students’ names
 Name Quilt or Name Snake
 Practice pronouncing names
Creating a Culturally Sensitive
Physical Appearance cont.
◦ Display a map of the world and have students plot
where they are from (natively or ancestrally)
◦ Translate signs and labels into L1
◦ Literacy Play Centres (Handout)
Creating a Culturally Sensitive
Rules and Procedures
◦ Ideal: translate list of rules and announcements
◦ Non-verbal classroom management
 Ex: Planned ignoring, proximity interference, signal
◦ Establish a cue
 Ex: Hand raised, squeaky hammer, clapping sequence
◦ Demonstrate procedures
◦ Assign partners rotating classroom responsibilities
 Ex: Clean the fish tank, tidy the bookshelves
Creating a Culturally Sensitive
Community of Learners
◦ Karen desire for harmony
◦ Positive attitude towards cultural and linguistic
 Ex: Introduce student as “a speaker of x who is learning
English,” encourage use of L1 orally and in print
◦ Bilingual partners & Peer tutors
 Give specific responsibilities and recognition to partners
and tutors
 May involve peer note-taking
◦ Suggest ways other students can help
 Ex: School tour, learning some L1 expressions
Creating a Culturally Sensitive
Structure of Learning Activities
◦ Respect students may wish to work alone
◦ Cooperative learning activities
Group brainstorming
Learning Teams
◦ Dr. Marcia Tate’s Brain-based Strategies (Handout)
 Music!
◦ Increase wait and activity time
Creating a Culturally Sensitive
Teaching Global Understanding
◦ Real life stories by students
◦ Guest speakers: family members and elders
 May also bring in cultural artifacts  “Culture Table”
◦ Show & Tell of cultural artifacts
◦ Calendar of cultural celebrations
 Ex: Mark and celebrate the Karen New Year (Nee Saw Ko)
and Karen National Day (February 11)
Creating a Culturally Sensitive
Multilingual reading materials?
Children’s Literature
◦ Canada
 O Canada by Ted Harrison
 (I Like the Seasons!) What Happens in Winter? by Sara L. Latta
◦ Family Diversity
 The Family Book by Todd Parr
◦ Social & Cultural Issues
Karenni by Anne Johnson
The Cat from Kosovo by Mary-Jane Hampton
The Sandwich by Ian Wallace
If the World were a Village: A Book About the World’s People by David
J. Smith
◦ Folktales
 The Rice Fairy: Karen Stories from Southeast Asia by Edward Norman
 The Flying Canoe by Roch Carrier
We have already explored two of the L2
learning principles:
◦ “A supportive environment is key to learning a
second language.”
◦ “In and of itself, language can be a source of
satisfaction and delight.”
What are the others? We will use the
principles as a framework (ESL K-9 Guide)
“Language and concepts are developed
Implication: Teachers embed English
language learning within a meaningful
Yay!! This is what content-area teachers do
Think social studies, science, mathematics,
art, etc.
Now think about how to create a content
class that is language-sensitive…
Principles and their Implications
“Language must be adjusted so the student
can understand what is being
Implication: Teachers must modify instruction
and assignments in content areas  Goal is
Comprehensible Input and Output
Key visuals
Graphic Organizers
Clear directions
Keep brief, emphasize key words, speak slowly
Deliver in +1 modality
Accompanying handouts
Assignment models
Build vocabulary (still to come)
Note: Cooperative learning and meaningful
Lesson plan = Content objectives + language
◦ Consider reading, writing, listening, and speaking
demands of lesson
◦ Consult TESOL Standards to help develop language
◦ Many students will be at the Beginning English
Language Proficiency Level: Limited or no
understanding of English
Assignment modifications
= Illustrative example
Principles and their Implications
“Students learn more effectively when they
use language for a purpose. Language is
learned through social interaction.”
Implication: Teachers ensure their meaningful
context includes opportunities for interaction
◦ Note: Cooperative learning
◦ Conversational strategies
 Ex: How to seek clarification, express an opinion, indicate
disagreement (Handout)
Principles and their Implications
“Focus is on meaning versus form.”
Implication: Teachers explicitly teach key
vocabulary (in context)
◦ What words to choose? Words that are high-utility,
relevant to the lesson, and relevant to home life
 Ex: “was,” “eggs,” “grocery store”
 High-frequency word lists
Activities to develop vocabulary:
◦ Mini-lessons
◦ Word walls
◦ Portable word walls (Ring or file folder to practise
reading and use in writing)
◦ Picture dictionaries
◦ Word Study Activities
◦ Word Posters, Word maps, Dramatizing words, Word
◦ Shared reading
◦ Interactive read-alouds
◦ Buddy reading
Principles and their Implications
“Second language learning builds on previous
knowledge and experience.”
Implication: Teachers must support the
continual development of the L1
Encourage use of L1 in classroom
Make self and world connections
Picture dictionaries
Work with parents to retain L1 at home
Principles and their Implications
“Language skills develop gradually.”
Implication: Teachers must be patient and
avoid self-doubt
◦ BICS (Basic Interpersonal Communication Skills) may
take up to 2 years
◦ CALP (Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency)
may take 5-7 years… if literate in L1
◦ Set goals (adapted)
◦ Receptive vocabulary develops faster than
expressive vocabulary
◦ Know you are making a difference!
The Karen languages are very different from
There are few translators to help refugees
overcome the language barrier when
coming to Canada
◦ The Karen are not a large group of people
◦ Differences within the Karen languages
Listen to their language at:
Only 1 syllable and 6 tones  tones denote meaning
◦ Ex: maà – máa – mâa – ma’
Implication: Many English sounds do not exist
◦ Final consonants (hat)
◦ Final vowels (pie)
◦ No vowels (sky)
Different grammar
◦ verbs are not conjugated
◦ adjectives may not exist
BUT Sentence structure = Subject + Verb + Object
Use “classifiers”
◦ Ex: “Three leaves” = “Leaves three pieces”
So what does this mean for teachers?
Concepts about the alphabet  Letter
Phonemic awareness
Phonics skills
Burmese-English dictionaries
(Presentation: Literacy Instruction for Div. 1).
◦ Refugees from Burma: Their Backgrounds and
Refugee Experiences
◦ Karen Website http://www.karen.org/
Your Support Network
Educational Documents: ESL K-9 Guide to
Implementation, TESOL Standards
EDPY 413 Course Textbook: 50 Strategies for
Teaching English Language Learners (3rd ed.)
by Adrienne L. Herrell & Michael Jordan
Local Organizations: Edmonton Public, ELSSC
(English Language Support Services Centre),
Edmonton Catholic Schools ESL Centre, &
EMCN (Edmonton Mennonite Centre for
I have always liked M & M’s.
The most diverse multicultural integrated candy in the world.
You have your red ones, your yellow ones, your orange ones,
your brown ones, and your green ones, (and the newest blue ones).
All in one package, all co-existing Together
One color doesn’t think that it is superior to the other.
One color doesn’t discriminate against the other.
All colors are the same size, shape, and weight.
All colors look different on the outside,
but have the same ingredients on the inside.
M & M’s all have the same flavor,
and they all taste G-o-o-o-d.
Not all M & M’s are perfect though, some have Nuts!!!
In the real world we call them racists, and bigots.
Would it be nice if like M & M’s our prejudices,
melted into the abyss like chocolate melts in our mouth?
And all people were judged by what was inside,
rather than the color you see on the outside???
If candy can be prejudice free WHY CAN’T WE???
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What are the implications of their needs for teachers?