Bridging Cultures in the Schools In this city of bridges, ASHA Schools Conference participants from across the United States and around the world honored the diverse heritage of Pittsburgh’s founders and built their own inter-cultural bridges. From July 13–15, nearly 1,000 participants—clinicians, faculty, staff, and exhibitors—filled the 22 concurrent educational sessions to capacity. Participants forged ... ASHA News
ASHA News  |   September 01, 2007
Bridging Cultures in the Schools
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Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / School-Based Settings / ASHA News
ASHA News   |   September 01, 2007
Bridging Cultures in the Schools
The ASHA Leader, September 2007, Vol. 12, 1-21. doi:10.1044/leader.AN.12132007.1
The ASHA Leader, September 2007, Vol. 12, 1-21. doi:10.1044/leader.AN.12132007.1
In this city of bridges, ASHA Schools Conference participants from across the United States and around the world honored the diverse heritage of Pittsburgh’s founders and built their own inter-cultural bridges.
From July 13–15, nearly 1,000 participants—clinicians, faculty, staff, and exhibitors—filled the 22 concurrent educational sessions to capacity. Participants forged closer professional bonds as they explored the theme of “Honoring Cultures,” recognizing and respecting cultural differences among themselves and their students as they discovered ways to reflect cultural competence in their practices and their lives.
Participants explored current challenges in the schools: service delivery in urban environments, neurotoxicants that contribute to learning and developmental disabilities, unmotivated adolescents, and the increase in students with autism spectrum disorders. They also perused 47 poster sessions that addressed a wide range of topics that included recruitment and retention strategies, journal writing for teens, advocating for an interpreter/translator, and sound field systems. An exhibit hall featured 49 exhibitors who provided information about the latest treatment materials, products, services, and employment opportunities.
Minorities and Special Education
In his keynote address, “From Margins to Mainstream: Ensuring Quality in Special Education,” urban sociologist Pedro Noguera opened the conference by examining one of the most challenging, systemic problems in education today—the disproportionate placement of minority students in special education classes. Noguera is a professor in the Steinhardt School of Education at New York University, the executive director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education, and co-director of the Institute for the Study of Globalization and Education in Metropolitan Settings. His research focuses on the ways in which schools are influenced by social and economic conditions in the urban environment.
According to Noguera—whose talk was often punctuated by applause—poor and minority children are often misdiagnosed and denied educational opportunities when they are placed in under-funded special education programs that may lack quality control.
“The disparate placement of minority students in special education is symptomatic of larger systemic problems—obstacles to learning, ineffective teaching, racial bias, and a lack of advocacy for minority students,” he said. “Special education becomes the way to deal with students we don’t know what else to do with. We must examine the way failure becomes normalized in many schools.
“Public school has always promised that education can improve your life,” he added. “But how good are we at fulfilling that promise for children of single parents, non-English speaking children, and children whose parents are struggling? Education is supposed to be the great equalizer of opportunity, but that promise is at risk today.”
Although initiatives such as the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act have forced the issue of whether schools are meeting the educational needs of all students, they have failed the most vulnerable, he said. “When you are poor, everything that is not on the test is taken away—art, recess, sciences. We don’t treat affluent middle-class kids this way. NCLB doesn’t mean test kids as often as possible—if we focus only on assessment and not how to treat learning needs, then we have completely missed the point.”
According to Noguera, the failure to see the child as a whole often leads to false diagnoses. “A kindergartener labeled ‘gifted’ may just have a mom with lots of time to spend with him,” Noguera said. Conversely, a child labeled “slow” may have health or nutritional needs. “If we’re interested in meeting the academic needs of a child, you can’t ignore the child’s other needs.”
Society can do many things to improve the achievement of minority students without ever touching the schools, Noguera said, such as providing eye glasses, removing lead paint from buildings, and providing universal access to health care and preschool.
Within the schools, he said, educational strategies need revision. “We need to diagnose and respond to individual learning needs.”
“You are on the front lines. You make a difference,” Noguera told his audience, who gave him a standing ovation. “You can ensure that children have the opportunity to learn. You can inspire, stimulate, and provide opportunities and possibilities. The future of our country will be determined by the quality of our schools.”
Deaf Culture, Oral Culture, and Cochlear Implants
In a concurrent session, Michael Stinson took participants on a journey into cultures not often considered in addressing cultural diversity in students: Deaf culture, oral culture, and the use of cochlear implants within both cultures. Stinson is a professor in the Department of Research and Teacher Education at the National Technical Institute of the Deaf (NTID) at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and a leader in the creation of the C-Print speech-to-text system. He recounted his experiences growing up with a progressive hearing loss and then receiving a cochlear implant in 2001, and drew on his experiences to offer suggestions for SLPs.
With the cochlear implant, Stinson said that he can “hear people further away, which helps with understanding people talking in small groups.” But he also pointed out the variation in ability to hear in different situations, noting that background noise and group communication still present challenges for many cochlear implant users.
For this reason, SLPs must assess students’ ability to communicate in situations beyond a quiet room—in the classroom, hallway, and lunchroom. Clinicians also need to discuss students’ difficulty with group conversation and role play interactions with peers and teachers. They must also provide students with communication strategies, encouraging them to be assertive about communication needs.
As students explore their social identification with Deaf and hearing communities, Stinson encouraged SLPs to be willing to discuss identity issues and to encourage students’ awareness of Deaf culture.
On the Road to Reading Fluency
In the concurrent session “Reading Fluency: Building a Bridge to Comprehension,” Shari Roberson, a professor of speech-language pathology at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, took participants on a journey toward promoting reading fluency.
Reading fluency—which Robertson defined as the ability to read text accurately, smoothly, and rapidly—is an important skill in building a student’s ability to comprehend the meaning of text. Robertson highlighted fluency as one of the National Reading Panel’s five key components of reading instruction (in addition to phonemic awareness, phonics, vocabulary, and comprehension). She offered several reading fluency strategies:
  • Choose books that are appropriate for the child’s reading level—not age level—and be sure the content is appropriate.

  • Point out pausing and intonational cues. Because some children may have trouble synthesizing the rules of reading fluency, you may need to explicitly teach punctuation and sentence stress by stressing different words in a sentence and asking the child to note differences in meaning.

  • Reduce cognitive load by tapping into a student’s comprehension base to free up cognitive resources for practicing reading fluency. Use stories based on familiar stories that the child already knows.

  • Use progressive stories in which the student reads the same passage over and over again, adding a new piece each time. This strategy is a powerful and fun way to build reading fluency and prosody, because intonation and expression are inherent in most progressive stories.

  • Read movie scripts. The lines have been modeled by the original actors and students can imitate the delivery when reading. Popular scripts can be found online.

As clinicians work on reading fluency, they can also develop students’ knowledge of sight words and morphology, which increase students’ word recognition and text comprehension. “Reading fluency is a powerful bridge to comprehension,” Robertson said. “SLPs can target numerous linguistic deficits while addressing fluency.”
Roundtables and More
In an “Extreme Makeover” session on augmentative and alternative communication (AAC), Gail van Tatenhove sought to transform the SLP’s role from that of device programmer in a referential model of instruction to builder of children’s language skills using a descriptive teaching model. She advocated for a language-based AAC curriculum that gives students access to a core vocabulary of 50–400 high-frequency re-usable words and word variations organized in AAC devices in a way that makes it easy for children to produce language. “We need to develop a personalized plan for students based on normal early language development and how it coordinates with AAC,” van Tatenhove said.
Sessions provided clinicians with current information that they could use immediately in working with students. At a session on workload, SLPs learned about flexible scheduling, which helps SLPs fit all their roles and responsibilities into a four-week block, with different schedules in each of the four weeks. Participants received and discussed a prototype four-week schedule.
The foundation of all education—discourse—was explored in a session on “Home Talk and School Talk,” which contrasted everyday social discourse with the school or literature-based discourse in the classroom. A child’s culture and socioeconomic status may affect the child’s conversation style and language skills, which are vital to classroom success, according to presenter Anne van Kleeck (see story, p. 23).
Clinicians then engaged in their own discourse during the ever-popular roundtable discussions. Two consecutive sessions gave participants the opportunity to join in two of the 69 discussion topics, which ranged from getting a PhD, to changes in the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, to professional practices in other countries.
A Cultural Benefit
After a full day of sessions, 164 conference participants set out on a short walk to an evening of art, history, and socializing with colleagues at the Senator John Heinz History Center, a benefit event sponsored by the American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation. They sampled hors d’oeuvres and toured the museum, which features an exhibition of 135 Pulitzer Prize-winning photographs—and the equally compelling stories behind the pictures—as well as a history of Pittsburgh including the H.J. Heinz Company, coal mining, and the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Participants also took the opportunity to tour “America’s most livable city,” featuring artist Andy Warhol’s infamous soup cans and architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece, “Fallingwater,” as well as colorful farmers’ markets and the popular theater district. The nearby Allegheny River was the site of Sunday’s Pittsburgh Triathlon, which began with a plunge into the 78-degree water.
Cultural Connections
Li-Rong Lilly Cheng closed the conference by reminding participants that cultural competence is an ongoing journey that involves looking inward—and learning from others. Cheng is a professor at San Diego State University, and director of the Asia Pacific Program of the Global Partnership Development in the California State University Office of the Chancellor.
In her closing plenary, “Connecting Through Cultures,” Cheng said that cultural competence—a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that enables individuals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations—is fluid. “When you think you have arrived [at full competence], you are just beginning your journey” along paradigm shifts, she said: from informing to inspiring, good to great, awareness to competence, access to excellence, transcribing to transforming, school to people, and culture competence to cultural humility.
“This conference,” Cheng said, “is not about schools. It’s about people. We can go from network to net worth. Let’s bow our heads and be humble. We don’t know that much about cultures.”
Cheng introduced the concept of Kaizen, translated into Japanese as “continuous improvement” and into Chinese as “taking action to benefit society.” It is a philosophy that assumes every aspect of one’s life deserves to be constantly improved.
Kaizen, Cheng said, “is the core of acquisition of cultural competence. The quest for cultural competence is an ongoing, continuous process.” She said that 30 years ago, when she received her CCCs, she felt complete. She took a job in rural Canada, “and then I felt so lacking in so many ways. Now I think that had I not had the courage to commit to Kaizan, I would have quit.”
Cultural competence comes from cognitive, physical, and emotional knowledge, Chen said. “You must understand who you are before you try to understand the child you work with,” she told the audience.
The goal should be mutually congruent interactional competence, she said, which is the ability to recognize a need for elaborating and clarifying unclear messages. “Respect for cultures is a big part of this competence,” she said. “When the interaction is not congruent, you must think about what you know and what the other person knows.”
Watch The ASHA Leader and the ASHA Web site for details on Schools 2008, which will be held at Walt Disney World in the Contemporary Resort in Orlando, Florida, on July 25–27, 2008.
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September 2007
Volume 12, Issue 13