Before Multicultural Restructuring
Objective: Citizenship Education
Levels: K-6 and 6-8 (Elementary and Middle School)
Period: Entire School
Year on a Weekly Basis
Background and Implementation Information
The Word of the Week program became popular in the late 1970s as
schools across the nation attempted to design more powerful ways to
influence positively students’ behavior and social development.
As typically implemented, it is a schoolwide program, but in
nonadopting schools, individual teachers have implemented a modified
program in their own classroom.
In its simplest form, the principal or a committee of teachers
picks one word for each week of the school year; this word is
prominently displayed in each classroom and the school auditorium, and
is announced in the school assembly and the weekly newsletter.
For example, a word such as helpful may be selected.
On Monday of each week, as part of their ongoing language arts
program, teachers discuss the meaning of helpful to make certain
that each child understands. Each
child also understands that every week all teachers in the school will
select one or two children from their class to receive special
recognition as the student(s) whose behavior best exemplified the word
of the week. The recognition is usually given at a schoolwide event, such
as an assembly, on Friday mornings.
Although schools implement this program in various ways, most
have the teachers send in the names, or filled-in recognition
certificates, on Thursday afternoon;
have school aides or volunteers make calls to parents or
caretakers on Thursday afternoons or Friday mornings to give parents the
opportunity to be at the awards ceremony;
take group pictures of recognized students and display them
prominently near the principal’s office;
list recognized students in a weekly or bimonthly newsletter;
use words that are widely accepted as positive attributes (in
American culture) in the set of 25 to 30 words. Examples include helpful, friendly, cheerful, responsible,
reliable, polite, courteous, considerate, positive, generous,
independent, scholarly, hardworking, disciplined, punctual, tenacious,
competitive, and imaginative.
The structure of the typical Word of the Week program has many
commendable features, but it lacks parental involvement, rewards only
one or two students from each class per week, and does little to promote
cultural pluralism, intergroup harmony, or the ability to see and think
with a multicultural perspective. These
and other limitations will be addressed in the “after” treatment
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Levels: K-6 and 6-8
(Elementary and Middle School)
Period: Entire School
Year on a Weekly Basis
During some weeks, select individuals and groups for
recognition (or do this every week).
of the parent committee can work together with teacher and student
government representatives to help identify the 25 to 30 words that
will provide the focus for the year’s Word of the Week program.
This strategy ties in with multicultural education goal 2:
creating empowering relationships among teachers, parents,
and students on a class and schoolwide basis.
teacher can explain that the two students who receive recognition at
the award assembly will likely be representatives of a larger group
of students in the class whose behavior in and out of class merits
recognition in terms of the Word of the Week program.
For these students, the teacher can provide oral recognition
in class and provide written recognition (on a weekly or bimonthly
basis) by class certificates, letters sent home to parents, or
identification In a bimonthly newsletter.
These strategies tend to reduce competitiveness and thus
increase the potential for intergroup harmony (multicultural goal
promote greater equity in this program-that is, to allow a larger
number of deserving students to be recognized on a weekly or
bimonthly basis (multicultural goal 1-the manner in which the
program is carried out can be modified.
During the first week of the month, the first two words can
be announced, and during weeks one and two, each teacher can
nominate up to three students for each word.
Thus, from this recognition program alone up to six children
per week can receive certificates for all four words and distribute
from 6 to 12 awards per week. In
the school assembly the teacher can read the names of students
receiving certificates, and the students stand up as their names are
called to receive recognition from fellow students and the
promote cultural pluralism (multicultural goal 3), intergroup
harmony (multicultural goal 4), greater knowledge of selected ethnic
and cultural groups (multicultural goal 5), and the ability to think
with a multicultural perspective (multicultural goal 6), the
traditional list of “good” words used in the program should be
expanded to include some that more explicitly promote the values and
goals of multicultural education.
We have in mind words such as open-minded, tolerant,
bilingual, assertive, curious, pluralistic, bicultural, humorous,
athletic, musical, creative, cooperative, collaborative,
well-rounded, and problem solving.
When teachers explain what curious means, they can
highlight the many useful things students can be curious about:
knowledge about history, values, and contribution of specific
American (and international) ethnic and cultural groups would be
addition, because the teacher in weeks three and four can give
recognition for all of the month’s word, having a word like bilingual
in the collection allows teachers to recognize publicly students who
are striving to become bilingual, without penalizing those children
who are aiming to move through life as creative monolinguals.
Finally, some words, like pluralistic and tolerant, should be
presented as optional in week three of the month because some K-3
teachers might find them difficult to explain to their students.
Thus the school can have its set of schoolwide words for all
classes as well as a few optional words that individual classes can
help teachers explain and use each word to its fullest, the school
district can provide a packet of curriculum materials to accompany
each Word of the Week. These
packets can include brief biographical descriptions of Americans
from a variety of cultural and ethnic backgrounds.
The lives of these outstanding Americans should exemplify
several different words of the week and tend, therefore, to
reinforce efforts to promote educational equity and cultural
pluralism. In addition,
materials that illuminate where prejudice, bigotry, and racism have
stained American culture would help teachers explain what it means
to be tolerant.
promote positive collaborative relationships among parents,
teachers, and students (multicultural goal 2), a description of the
goals and procedures of the Word of the Week program should be sent
home by school newsletter in as many languages as necessary, and the
program should be reviewed on Back-to-School night.
This activity will help parents understand the goals of the
program and help to avoid situations like the following, which
occurred in Mesa Elementary School, one of the “newcomer”
schools in Lucia Mar Unified School District, in Arroyo Grande,
California. In 1991,
two brothers who were immigrants from Cambodia were attending the
same newcomer class, along with immigrants from Mexico and the
Philippines, to establish a certain level of English proficiency and
social skill before being reassigned to a neighborhood school.
One of the brothers received a special award at the monthly
awards assembly, and when he showed the award to his parents, he
received another reward from them. Unfortunately, the parents, who were unfamiliar with the
awards ceremony and objectives, also punished the son who did not
get an award. However,
teachers should not assume that sending notes home in the native
tongue will automatically solve the communication problem.
Some immigrant parents may not be print literate in their
native tongue. Tactful
questioning of older elementary students or bilingual or migrant
aides (when available) should help to identify the population for
whom bilingual written communications will not suffice.
Schoolwide efforts to explain key school programs
orally-perhaps by cassette tapes-will then be needed.
link this activity to the cooperative learning program in the class,
already formed cooperative groups to exhibit the qualities of the
words, early in the year, that overlap with the skills and
attitudes needed for effective small-group participation;
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