Training Highlights from “Teaching with Cultural Differences in Mind: A Women’s Health Curriculum for Adult Learners”

Dr. Heide Castaneda

Dr. Heide Castañeda is an assistant professor at the University of South Florida, and many tutors, program managers, and health professionals were lucky to attend her virtual training: “Teaching with Cultural Differences in Mind: A Women’s Health Curriculum for Adult Learners.”

Below are some of the key points from the virtual training from Dr. Castañeda:

Health literacy is the degree to which individuals have the capacity to obtain, process, and understand basic health information needed to make appropriate health decisions. Low health literacy skills, however, are not limited to those with cultural differences. Almost nine out of ten adults in the US may lack the skills needed to manage their health and prevent disease!

My virtual training stressed the importance of cultural sensitivity in adult literacy classrooms. Cultural self-assessment is a vital component and by understanding your own cultural biases you can gauge the degree to which you effectively address the needs and preferences of culturally diverse groups—without this process, you may risk offending and/or confusing your adult learners.

Below are a few questions to ask yourself in order to heighten the awareness and sensitivity to the importance of cultural diversity.

Using this kind of “checklist” can improve your instruction in diverse classrooms:

  • I avoid imposing values that may conflict or be inconsistent with those of cultures or ethnic groups other than my own.
  • I understand that the perception of health, wellness, and preventative health services have different meanings to different cultural groups.
  • I screen books, movies, and other resources for negative cultural, ethnic, or racial stereotypes before using them.
  • I understand and accept that family is defined differently by different cultures (e.g. extended family, fictive kin, godparents).
  • I understand that age and life cycle factors must be considered in interaction with individuals and families.

Using the Women’s Health: A Special Addition to Staying Healthy curriculum, we then explored cultural differences in various health topics. Pregnancy and childbirth, for instance, are events of major significance that are heavily influenced by culture and tradition. For example, in the United States, birth is a highly medicalized process and many women value the use of technologies such as ultrasound and genetic testing, although this may not be the case for other cultures. In some cultures, women will even avoid even talking about the baby to avoid eliciting envy or bad luck.

Cultural differences extend into postpartum care, and in some traditions women are expected to stay secluded or confined to the home for a month after birth, avoid cold foods and washing their hair.  Cultural factors impact other dimensions of women’s lives, such as the intensity of menopausal symptoms, which has been shown to vary cross-culturally and between ethnic groups.

Cultural self-assessment should be an on-going process, going beyond the discussion of sensitive issues like pregnancy or menopause. We, as instructors, must be interested, open-minded, and respectful of all cultures and ask intellectually curious questions. We must not assume that members of a cultural group share the same beliefs, and we must be cognizant of our own cultural traditions in order to avoid passing judgment or suggesting that practices are harmful.

Did you miss the virtual training, and want to know more? Catch it in its entirety here.

Interested in ordering the Women’s Health curriculum? Check out the Florida Literacy website.


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