Culturally-Relevant Texts and Student Motivation

Abstract

Student motivation is one of the main challenges faced in the classroom, and the lack of motivation can be detrimental to the achievement of core learning goals, especially for reluctant learners. Designing curriculum around culturally-relevant texts can increase the personal and situational interest of learners, as predicted by a constructivist theory of education that takes into account the socio-cultural, personal, and historical context of cognition and learning. The existing literature contains examples showing an improved desire to learn that leads to increased motivation, achievement and skill acquisition for a variety of demographic groups, with support for student self-efficacy and agency helping to drive gains.

Keywords: motivation, culturally-relevant

Student motivation is one of the prime challenges in secondary English classrooms, and the need to create student interest and build intrinsic motivation is even more pressing for some students.  Reluctant learners must be “both challenged and supported if they are to develop the self-efficacy they need to take risks and succeed” (DiCintio, 1999). It can be difficult to create the necessary environment of challenge and support if students are not interested in the curriculum, which could present a challenge for teachers using a traditional set of secondary English classroom texts. In traditional curriculum models, there is very little student exposure to texts written by diverse authors.  

A comprehensive study conducted by Arthur Applebee examined curriculum and instruction in literature studies across the United States and found that educators are somewhat isolated from criticism and pedagogy that deal with texts not classically taught in schools. Indeed, the majority of texts read in classrooms are written by American or British authors (Applebee, 1993).  By incorporating immersive texts from different countries through a comparative literature lens, a greater range of students would encounter texts they find culturally relevant, both from a content perspective and from a stylistic and linguistic standpoint. For example, students are better able to connect with a text featuring characters that reflect their own race, especially if the students are given the lead in verbal discussion of the text (Carlson, 2016).  Of course, a text which is culturally relevant for some students may be somewhat foreign for other students; however, this does not necessarily imply a negative impact on student interest, as authentic immersion into a foreign culture can also be engaging (Lee, 2015).

Although teachers overwhelmingly cite a need for increased usage of multicultural literature and learning, many schools are hesitant to adopt this approach because of concerns regarding time constraints for covering state standards and adherence to strict pacing guides (Sanders, 2009).  However, if culturally responsive texts offer a path to improved learning efficiency, then the necessary standards could still be covered or incorporated into lesson plans relating to a culturally responsive text. Schunk (2016) notes that “interest in learning relates positively to cognitive processing and achievement” (p. 378), which implies that any increase in student engagement that results from a successful implementation of culturally responsive texts could in turn result in higher student achievement.  A three-week study of second-graders who had experienced repeated literacy failures replaced a traditional basic skills intervention with an intervention based on culturally-responsive instruction, and produced increased student motivation and engagement, as well as stronger reading comprehension (Williams, 2015). Culturally-responsive material also has beneficial effects on parental involvement and engagement with the education process, and the discussion of the material provides an opportunity for teachers to bond with families (Hammer & Sawyer, 2016a, Hammer & Sawyer, 2016b).

For younger children, at least, culturally-relevant texts seem to have a positive effect on student, and even parent engagement. When designing a culturally relevant curriculum, the existing theoretical and applied literature is in agreement on the primacy of fomenting student self-efficacy and engagement by granting a high degree of agency to students. That is, students should make decisions about what topics would be culturally relevant, although this is not to discount the importance of teacher enthusiasm and the classroom structure supporting a successful implementation of culturally-relevant literature.

The effect of culturally responsive texts on student engagement is best explained by a constructivist framework, which “contend[s] that individuals form, or construct, much of what they learn or understand” (Schunk, 2016, p. 296).  Culturally relevant texts are a student-centered approach in that they focus on students’ construction of their identities and understanding of the world. When students use culturally relevant texts, they are able to more effectively utilize their experience and culture in their learning, which contributes to student engagement by making the learning process more relatable and efficient for the student. Social constructivist models also describe learning as occurring through the cultural transmission of language and other tools, increasing the importance of this cultural transmission being relevant to students. The constructivist framework and existing literature suggests that the cultural relevance of curriculum could be an important factor in student learning, and my research is especially focused on its importance for student motivation, leading to the question: How do teachers who utilize culturally-relevant texts in a high school classroom describe the level of student engagement?

Learning Theory Association

Constructivism is not a theory so much as an epistemology, or philosophical viewpoint, that explains learning from a student-centered perspective and is influenced by Piaget and Vygotsky’s research in human development.  Learners construct a cognitive understanding of the world. Constructivism describes learning as a more complex process than the mere stimulus-response process of behaviorism, and constructivism differs from classic information processing theories in that it focuses not on skill acquisition and transferral to memory, but on the learner’s construction of knowledge from physical and social context. There are three important differences between constructivism and classic information processing theories that make constructivism the best theory of learning for explaining the importance of culturally- relevant texts (Schunk, 2016).

First, classic information processing theories hold that cognition occurs in the mind, while constructivism contends that thinking occurs as an interaction with other people and situations; that is, the process of individuals constructing their thoughts and learning is highly influenced by the context of their experiences and current situation.  Culturally-relevant texts link the new subject matter and skills to be acquired to students’ lived experiences and culture, thus allowing the students to better comprehend the material, which motivates them to engage in the discussion and analysis of the texts that drives higher-level thinking processes and promotes the practice of target skills. Social constructivism goes even further and emphasizes the importance of social interaction in learning,  raising the stakes for motivating reluctant learners to participate in the verbal class discussions which Carlson (2016) found to be an important vehicle for increased student motivation.

Second, constructivism questions the assumption that cognitive processes are relatively uniform across people and situations, instead recognizing that some situations and interactions can better support higher-level thought processes.  Today’s classrooms are increasingly diverse, with educators being called to differentiate instruction to meet a variety of learner needs. Modern information processing theories suggest that connecting information to a student’s prior knowledge increases understanding, as the transfer of information and skills occurs when these new schema are linked to content already existing in long-term memory (Bruning et al., 2011).  However, learners must believe that these new schema are useful, and it is difficult for many students to engage with texts that they do not find relevant to their lives, or characters that do not reflect their own personal identities. Culturally-relevant texts ensure that learners encounter these opportunities and motivate them to engage in student-centered activities that allow deep thinking and understanding.

Third, classic information processing theory describes thinking as using skills and knowledge gained in formal instructional settings, while constructivism emphasizes abilities generalized from experience and innate skill.  Since, in a constructivist framework, cognitive processes are forged by lived experiences, processes that require thinking, such as learning new information or skills needed to achieve standards of learning, will function most smoothly and efficiently when made relevant to the experiences that form the basis of each individual’s cognition. Social cognitive theory further suggests that student motivation would be enhanced by texts that are relevant to a student’s self-concept, which is formed by the same factors that create cognition in a constructivist framework (Schunk, p. 369).

A core premise of constructivism is situated cognition, the idea that cognitive processes, including thinking and learning, are “situated in physical and social contexts,” which is to say that these processes “do not reside solely in one’s mind” (Schunk, p. 300).  Similarly to learning, motivation is not produced by entirely internal processes, nor is it solely dependent on environmental factors, as predicted by classical views and reinforcement theories, respectively. Instead, motivation “depends on cognitive activity in interaction with socio-cultural and instructional factors” (Schunk, p. 301), a process that is best approached via the more complex epistemology of constructivism.

Although constructivism is not as precisely defined as some classical theories, there is no shortage of concrete suggestions for best practices in the existing literature around culturally relevant curriculum.  For designing a secondary English classroom around culturally-responsive literature, there are several requirements for a successfully implemented curriculum: educators must fully believe in the curriculum and wholly integrate it into the class design; the texts would need to be utilized to teach students critical thinking skills; students should read a variety of fiction and nonfiction texts; and teachers should be aware of issues potentially raised by discussing multicultural topics (Sanders, 2009).  The full integration of culturally-relevant texts into curriculum, not as a secondary subject but as the chief focus, is supported by the idea of situated cognition, as a full integration of culturally-relevant material would use the materials for a wide range of classroom activities. This would create connections for students with the knowledge that they need to learn, thus improving student motivation for engaging in higher-level thought processes and acquiring any new skills needed to approach the culturally- relevant material.

Although culturally-relevant material seems to offer clear theoretical benefits, this leaves open the question of what exactly qualifies as a culturally-relevant text.  An example of extremely well-selected texts can be found in Rodriguez (2014). A group of pre-service bilingual and ESL teachers purposefully selected 22 students they knew in order to ensure that books selected were indeed culturally relevant, utilizing a Cultural Relevance Rubric that considered each student’s ethnicity, age, and gender in order to find books with matching character traits, settings, and themes.  Unsurprisingly, this bespoke process resulted in the students reporting strong connections with the material in the books and increased enthusiasm for reading. Baker (2015) also observed increased student engagement when the teacher strategically identified a diverse classroom’s culture and then critically analyzed and selected material that reflected this culture.

Of course, it would be very difficult for teachers to tailor a perfectly individualized culturally-relevant curriculum for each individual student, especially for class-wide discussion activities.  This suggests that the most successful strategies will involve a high level of student agency, a common theme in the existing literature on culturally relevant texts and student motivation. Cole et al (2016) followed two students in a majority-minority school and found that the students’ decisions on whether to engage in classroom activities apparently depended on the cultural-relevancy of the conversations and classroom learning, underscoring the need for culturally-relevant materials. Further, these two students’ cultural identities seemed to shift from class to class, which shows the importance of granting students the agency that allows them to construct an individualized, culturally-relevant curriculum themselves.

A high level of student agency is common among recommendations for best practices in both the applied and theoretical existing literature.  Baker (2015) noted that student engagement was supported by a critical analyzation of the content that encouraged students to be agents of social change. Carlson (2016) echoes the need for students to be given the opportunity to take a lead in discussion of the text and that students must be given the space to become agents for social writing; if students make connections but are not able to verbally engage, the classroom does not see the rewards of student motivation.  In addition to agency in classroom tasks, culturally relevant texts can also promote general student self-efficacy. Orosco & Abdulrahim (2017) observed student achievement gains for a teacher who explained that an approach based on culturally-relevant texts allowed for identity affirmation “because [these students] often experienced the devaluation of their cultural, linguistic, and racial identity in American schooling” (p. 35).  In a constructivist framework, this kind of identity affirmation would have a positive effect on student learning and motivation.

According to Vygotsky’s highly influential  theory of education, the interaction of social, cultural-historical and individual factors drive human development (Schunk, 2016, p. 312).  Learning does not occur in isolation from its cultural-historical context, and curriculum and the classroom environment are parts of this context (Schunk, 2016, p. 318).  Thus, using culturally relevant texts can foment the learning process by improving student motivation and self-efficacy, as well as offering more links between a student’s existing personal, cultural-historical knowledge base and the new skills and information to be acquired.

Key Terms

For the purposes of this research, student engagement shall be defined as the attention, curiosity, interest, optimism and passion demonstrated by students when learning or being taught, which extends to the level of motivation they have to learn and progress in their education.  Student engagement is a reflection of motivation. This mirrors Newmann’s (1993) definition of academic engagement, or “the student’s psychological investment in and effort directed toward learning, understanding, or mastering the knowledge, skills, or crafts that academic work is intended to promote.”

Culturally-relevant texts shall be defined as books or other materials that allow students to relate to curriculum within their own cultural context.  This can include ethnicity of characters, setting, issues addressed, or the language and dialect used in the story, as outlined by Ebe (2010).

Gaps in the Research

Although the existing literature shows a clear connection has been made with culturally-relevant texts and increases in student engagement and motivation, the issue calls for further study.  Most findings explore the introduction of texts at the primary level. This is a time when learners are developing their classroom habits, and cultural connections are perhaps most relevant to their daily experiences.  It is worth exploring whether a similar study would yield the same results at the secondary level, and the interaction between cultural identity and self-identity could also differ in the teenage years compared to elementary students.

Further, some of the research with the strongest results was conducted using small sample sizes for which the educators used an intimate and idiosyncratic understanding of each participant’s culture to select culturally relevant texts (Rodriguez, 2014).  It is not realistic for a secondary teacher, who might teach close to 150 students each year, to fully understand the nuances of each student’s home life, so further study is needed on how less individualized culturally-responsive texts might affect motivation.  Researchers have suggested that it could be detrimental even to assume all Hispanic students have the same lived-experiences, and thus would engage with the same text based purely on ethnic relation. Alternatively, many suggestions regarding best practices have focused on granting students and families agency in selecting culturally-relevant texts, which potentially offers a solution to the impractically individualized texts of some case studies but needs further study regarding its effects on motivation.

Just as some implementations included great care in selecting appropriate texts, other studies finding strong effects for culturally-responsive texts have purposefully focused on the classrooms of teachers who have already demonstrated an ability to produce gains in student achievement (Orosco & Abdulrahim, 2017).  More study is needed on more generalized implementations in order to ensure that the positive effects on motivation ascribed to culturally- relevant texts are not simply a reflection of idiosyncratically high quality teaching.

Finally, many researchers have suggested guidelines for best practices in implementations of culturally relevant texts, including Bomer (2017), Carlson (2016), Cioè-Peña & Snell (2015), Garland & Bryan (2017), Lee (2015), Piazza et al (2015), Price & Steed (2016), Sanders (2009), and Wanless & Crawford ( 2016). Although many of these viewpoints are in broad agreement in their emphasis of fomenting student agency and encouraging classroom discussion, most of the papers listed above were published very recently.  In addition, many of the applied research studies in the existing literature focus on small groups of students. Thus, there is room in the literature for further applied work, especially on a larger, higher-powered quantitative scale that would help transform some of the suggested best practices into evidence-based best practices. Such an advance in the literature could also allay concerns about the space for culturally-relevant texts in a curriculum that must cover certain standards of learning.

Conclusion

Culturally-relevant texts present a possible avenue to resolving one of the prime challenges in secondary English classrooms, the need to build and support student motivation.  The existing literature contains examples of successful implementations of culturally-relevant texts, finding positive effects on student motivation or achievement. Most suggestions and conclusions regarding best practices focus on the primacy of fostering student agency, as the gains from culturally-relevant texts seem to rely upon students engaging in higher-order cognitive processes.  Thus, culturally relevant texts can improve learning for students who must be “both challenged and supported if they are to develop the self-efficacy they need to take risks and succeed” (DiCintio, 1999).

To gain a robust understanding of the correlation between the use of culturally-relevant texts and student motivation in a secondary classroom, it may eventually be necessary to conduct a multi-classroom study, in contrast to the single-classroom or small cohort nature of the existing literature, that examines an implementation that fully integrates the use of these texts into the curriculum framework.  This integration includes using the texts as an anchor for foundational skill development and learning standards, as these core concepts are often an area in which student engagement is most lacking. Even in modern classrooms that aspire to constructivist approaches, the instructional pedagogy used for core concepts can easily fall back into traditional techniques that are more aligned with an information processing approach.  The use and full integration of culturally-relevant texts in curriculum can improve student engagement and also encourage teachers to incorporate foundational skills into a culturally-relevant framework. This, in turn, allows students to construct understandings of the material that will prepare, motivate, and enable them to go on to the exploration of more advanced concepts and thought processes.

References

Applebee, A.N. (1993).  Literature in the Secondary School: Studies of Curriculum and Instruction in the United States.  National Council of Teachers of English.

Baker, E. S. (2015). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Teaching Like Our Students Lives Matter. Innovation and Leadership in English Language Teaching, 1-58.

Bomer, R. (2017). What would it mean for english language arts to become more culturally responsive and sustaining? Voices from the Middle, 24(3), 11-15.

Bruning, R.H., Schraw, G.J., & Norby, M.M. (2011).  Cognitive psychology and instruction (5th ed.).  Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

Carlson, Kaylan Louise (2016). How does culturally responsive curriculum impact African American student’s literacy development in the primary grades? Hamline University School of Education Student Capstone Theses and Dissertations, 41-87.

Cioè-Peña, M., & Snell, T. (2015). Translanguaging for Social Justice. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://traue.commons.gc.cuny.edu/volume-iv-issue-1-fall-2015/translanguaging-for-social-justice/

Cole, M. W., David, S. S., & Jiménez, R.,T. (2016). Collaborative translation: Negotiating student investment in culturally responsive pedagogy. Language Arts, 93(6), 430-443.

DiCintio, M. J. and Gee, S. “Control Is the Key: Unlocking the Motivation of At-risk Students.” Psychology in the Schools (July 1999), 231-237.

Ebe, A. E. (2010). Culturally Relevant Texts and Reading Assessment for English Language Learners. Reading Horizons, 50 (3).

Garland, K., & Bryan, K. (2017). Partnering with families and communities: Culturally responsive pedagogy at its best. Voices from the Middle, 24(3), 52-55.

Hammer, C. S., & Sawyer, B. (2016). Development of a Culturally Responsive Book Reading Intervention for Latina Mothers and their Head Start Children. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://journals.uncc.edu/dialog/article/view/555

Hammer, C. S., & Sawyer, B. (2016). Effects of a Culturally Responsive Interactive Book-Reading Intervention on the Language Abilities of Preschool Dual Language Learners: A Pilot Study. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://journals.uncc.edu/dialog/article/view/421

Irvine, J. J. (1992).  Making teacher education culturally responsive.  In M. E. Dilworth (Ed.),

Diversity in teacher education: New expectations (pp. 79-82). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Lee, S. Y. (2015). Appropriating Foreignization for Culturally Responsive Readers. Trans-Humanities Journal, 8(1), 73-87.

Moore-Hart, M., Diamond, B., & Knapp, J. (2003).  The implementation of a multicultural literacy program in fourth-and fifth-grade classrooms.  In A. I. Willis, G. E. Garcia, R. Barrera, & V. J. Harris (eds.), Multicultural issues in literacy research and practice (pp. 223-262).  Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Newmann, F. M. (1993). Student engagement and achievement in American secondary schools. Choice Reviews Online, 30(07).

Orosco, Michael J.; Abdulrahim, Naheed A.. Culturally Responsive Evidence-based Practices with English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities: A Qualitative Case Study. Educational Borderlands: A Bilingual Journal, [S.l.], v. 1, p. 27-45, May 2017.

Piazza, S. V., Rao, S., & Protacio, S. (2015). Converging Recommendations for Culturally Responsive Literacy Practices: Students with Learning Disabilities, English Language Learners, and Socioculturally Diverse Learners. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 17(3), 1-20.

Price, C. L., & Steed, E. A. (2016). Culturally responsive strategies to support young children with challenging behavior. YC Young Children, 71(5), 36-43.

Rodriguez, A. D. (2014). Culturally Relevant Books: Culturally Responsive Teaching in Bilingual Classrooms. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from https://www2.nau.edu/nabej-p/ojs/index.php/njrp/article/view/30

Sanders, M. (2009).  Multicultural Literature: Enhancing Students’ Understanding of Themselves, Their Communities, and the World.  Retrieved September 9, 2017, from http://departments.fmarion.edu/education/NCATE/Exhibits/Standard5/MulticultLitEnhancStudUnderst-1.pdf

Schunk, D. H. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective – With access (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

 

Wanless, S. B., & Crawford, P. A. (2016). Reading your way to a culturally responsive classroom. YC Young Children, 71(2), 8-15.

Williams, I. J. (2015). Will it change their reflection? A culturally responsive reaction to literacy failures.  ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Constructionists Learning Environment

Information processing theory and constructivism differ fundamentally on their stance towards the nature of knowledge and the goals of education.  In information processing theory, the goal of education is to transfer information, skills, and frameworks to students. In contrast, constructivism focuses more on giving students the tools to interpret and create knowledge, as constructivism does not hold knowledge to be as static as information processing theory.  Constructivism acknowledges that our understanding of the universe has evolved and will continue to evolve; thus, a constructivist teacher would focus on giving students the ability to acquire general knowledge and skills rather than using a class to transfer a specific set of knowledge and skills (Schunk, 2016).  Unsurprisingly, this classrooms would look very different.

In an ideal constructivist classroom, the instruction is student-centered, with the teacher serving as a facilitator or guide.  The instructor’s goal is to facilitate students’ engagement; they connect previous informal knowledge to new material.  Students are arranged in flexible groupings to maximize the peer-based learning and collaboration that allow multiple perspectives to offer students individualized pathways and frameworks for understanding.  Although students are assessed on their learning, it is for the purpose of allowing both student and teacher to assess progress, and often takes the form of projects, creative pieces, or portfolios.  Teachers engage in discussion and dialogue to guide student learning and assess understanding.  There is a cyclical process of exploration and questioning (Schunk, 2016).  Learning itself is provocative and engaging.

Alternately, in an information processing classroom, the instruction is more teacher-centered.  For example, a teacher might demonstrate how to solve a problem on the board, which the students would at first mimic, then apply to other problems, and then extend into more complex problems or practice recognizing and recalling the technique.  Students are summatively assessed for content knowledge.  The teacher plays an active role in keeping the classroom environment quiet and circulates to ensure that students are on-task and continuing to proceed in the activities designed to transfer knowledge.  Communication often consists of the teacher asking questions, followed by student response.  Recess is a break from learning.

I tend to follow a constructivist framework in my classroom.  Students learn more and are more engaged in the active activities of constructivism compared to some of the passive learning that occurs in a teacher-led classroom.  Students learn not just information, but how to think about, understand, and apply this information and knowledge to real-world situations.  The approach that each individual student takes will inevitably vary based on their background and personal experiences.

Schunk, D. H. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective – With access (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Culturally-Responsive Texts (Annotated Bibliography)

Abstract

The following resources seek to provide insight into the qualitative research question of how teachers who utilize culturally-responsive texts in the classroom view student engagement.  Some of these resources directly examine increases in student motivation and performance, albeit at the primary and elementary grades.  Others discuss the systemic need to incorporate culturally-responsive texts within the curriculum to meet behavioral and disengagement problems.  Several sources directly explore strategies and approaches that can be implemented in conjunction with the culturally-responsive texts, which could form the basis for further research.

Baker, E. S. (2015). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Teaching Like Our Students Lives Matter. Innovation and Leadership in English Language Teaching, 1-58.

           Baker (2015)  examined both strategies and barriers encountered when implementing culturally-relevant texts within Ontario’s history curriculum to increase student engagement.  The study looked at teacher delivery of materials within the classroom, as well as how teachers critically analyzed what they teach to meet the needs of a diverse classroom.  This included strategies utilized to identify culture within the classroom.  Thus, aside from selection of materials so that students could “see themselves” within the classroom, the study explores how teachers encouraged engagement through critical analyzation of content and encouraging students to be agents of social change.

            Although the study looks at student engagement, the measurement was captured from the perspective of the teacher.  There was no student input, either anecdotal or data-based.  It would be beneficial to isolate each of the teacher strategies that were explored and seek to measure direct student engagement to support the impact of cultural-relevance.

Bomer, R. (2017). What would it mean for English language arts to become more culturally responsive and sustaining? Voices from the Middle, 24(3), 11-15.

            Bomer (2017) takes an interesting position that literacy education is by its very nature dually culturally-responsive: that is, all teaching and learning is shaped by culture, and literature tells those stories.  However, he agrees that the way current curriculum is politically conceptualized, it does not account for holistic cultural needs.  In order for this to happen, several culturally sustaining shifts need to be made.  First, whole class texts need to be purposeful about advancing disadvantaged groups.  Second, during independent reading, students need explicit encouragement to seek out texts that represent students’ own groups and language practices, as well as those of different groups.  Third, students must study literary strategies that advocate for and uplift communities.  Fourth, students should focus on community and audience as the source of writing agendas, and use the most effective forms of language for that audience.  Fifth, students should analyze language as an instance of power, and classrooms should value heritage language and flexibility in language practices.

            Thus, although Bomer does not discuss the impact on student motivation in using culturally responsive texts, he does provide a variety of approaches and strategic curriculum strategies to address the need for such materials.  It would be beneficial for further research to examine direct gains resulting from each shift.

Carlson, Kaylan Louise (2016). How does culturally responsive curriculum impact African American student’s literacy development in the primary grades? Hamline University School of Education Student Capstone Theses and Dissertations, 41-87.

            Carlson (2016) explore classroom practice, culturally-responsive teaching, and its impact on literacy curriculum in primary grades.  She cites systemic racism and the academic achievement gap as primary evidence for the need of culturally-responsive texts.  Although culture might be relegated to “isolated lesson plans” it does not pervade the curriculum.  Black students must be represented within texts for students to feel connected to their learning.  Further, Carlson contends that family involvement can make the educational experience culturally relevant.

            This study adheres to the observations of many others in that it is not enough for students to be given access to culturally-relevant texts; they must also be given the opportunity to take a lead in discussion of the text.  If students make connections but are not able to verbally engage, the classroom does not see the rewards of student motivation.  Students must be given the space to become agents for social change, and it is through culturally-responsive texts that those conversations begin to take place within the classroom.  It is interesting to note the importance of these conversations not at the secondary level, but in the primary grades.

Cioè-Peña, M., & Snell, T. (2015). Translanguaging for Social Justice. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://traue.commons.gc.cuny.edu/volume-iv-issue-1-fall-2015/translanguaging-for-social-justice/

            Cioè-Peña & Snell (2015) suggest that cultural responsiveness goes beyond selection of texts in an English classroom, and instead is best approached through translanguaging, which is a constructivist approach to linguistics.  This steers teaching away from a deficit model (a focus on skills students do not have), and towards one which empowers students and allow them to reflect on their own life experiences within the context of the classroom.

            As such, the implementation of translanguaging pairs the use of cultural texts with other practices such as small-group collaborations and performance-based assessments.  Further, culturally-responsive texts may take the form of resources that look different than those found in traditional textbook-modeled classrooms.  Students might engage with songs, websites, films, YouTube videos, or newspaper articles.  Assessment then becomes authentic because students are invested in their work and link their understanding to their personal experiences.  This study is interesting because it focuses on motivation and engagement through culturally-responsive texts, but the teacher’s expertise is reflected by the design of the classroom environment more so than the teacher’s capability to select the perfect work of literature.  Students naturally engage with the content using self-selected language features.

Cole, M. W., David, S. S., & Jiménez, R.,T. (2016). Collaborative translation: Negotiating student investment in culturally responsive pedagogy. Language Arts, 93(6), 430-443.

            Cole et al (2016) discuss the demographic imperative, or need for educators to address the diversity of minority-majority school systems.  Students are linguistically and culturally-diverse, but many classrooms are not prepared to meet those specialized needs.  The researchers followed two students and markedly noticed that the students chose when and if to engage based upon cultural identity relevancy of conversations and classroom learning.

            Further, student language identities shifted throughout the school day.  In some classrooms, students preferred an assimilationist perspective, but in others sought to justify their ethnic identity.  Educators must be prepared to meet these fluid demands, which suggests a challenge in implementing culturally-responsive texts.  A student who one day engages with a social issue presented in a piece of literature might reject or take a passive role the next.  Thus, student agency requires teacher risk-taking and acknowledgement of fluid identities.  The more a teacher seeks to understand each student, and not merely their culture, the more prepared the educator will be to seek gains in the classroom.  Culture is heterogeneous in the same way a diverse classroom is not one-size-fits-all.  Teachers should utilize small-group, collaborative instruction for literacy practices, which will develop student language identities and communal engagement with learning.

Garland, K., & Bryan, K. (2017). Partnering with families and communities: Culturally responsive pedagogy at its best. Voices from the Middle, 24(3), 52-55.

            Garland & Bryan (2017) reference educational research that asserts the need for classroom practices to acknowledge student norms of behavior and communication in order to promote student engagement.  This includes embracing cultural diversity in what is taught and in the teaching approach.  However, the researchers note that this is a daunting task unless families work with teachers in establishing a classroom community that reflects cultural norms and select materials that highlight student home-life, and then reinforce the important messages from school at home to provide cohesion between academic and personal experience.

            The researchers explain that in order for educators to take ownership of a culturally-responsive classroom, they must seek texts outside of traditionally available textbooks, which reveal bias.  A two-step approach would be to seek diversity in authorship (that is, use multicultural texts, or those written by non-white storytellers) and include young adult literature with overarching social themes.  This allows student to find their own voice and become motivated to connect with their communities in meaningful ways, thus enhancing personal engagement and channeling positive behaviors.

Goodman, K. L. (2015, November 30). Encouraging Family Involvement through Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1113841

            Goodman & Hooks (2015) describe the experiences of pre-service teachers utilizing culturally-responsive texts, as well as five instructional strategies that support instructional approaches for bilingual students.  In addition to culture-based classroom materials, the researchers found that relationships forged directly with families provided the most meaningful contexts for learning.  Further, pairing culturally-responsive texts with research-based practices allowed pre-service teachers to gain new perspectives on responsible approaches to teaching in the classroom.

            This study cited a variety of successful text-based approaches, including the use of dual language documents, heritage texts, translation tools, student-authored texts, talk, contrastive analysis, code-switching, read alouds and family book clubs, teachers’ language learning, and teacher study groups.  Several of these focus explicitly on behavior support and ways to elicit intrinsic motivation in students.  The research supports that students learn more effectively when their cultures are honored and when  knowledge is socially constructed.  Further, students are more empowered to participate if their parents are given a voice in the curriculum process.

Hammer, C. S., & Sawyer, B. (2016). Development of a Culturally Responsive Book Reading Intervention for Latina Mothers and their Head Start Children. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://journals.uncc.edu/dialog/article/view/555

             Hammer & Sawyer (2016) examine the effects of at-home reading programs, using both a control group and a group of Latina mothers who were given culturally-responsive texts to use.  The results suggest an increase in children’s language abilities if their mothers were utilizing the culturally relevant texts.  This includes the ability to form more complex verbal responses, as well as the use of more vocabulary words.  The participating mothers provided anecdotal evidence that the direct ability to share their culture with their children during reading strengthened their own ability to utilize interactive book reading strategies.

            The implication for educators goes beyond the mere use of culturally responsive texts.  It suggests merit in involving parents actively in the material gathering efforts of the classroom.  This could ensure a more personalized approach to learning for teachers who are attempting to meet the needs of individual students, and supplemental materials from home can help make connections to prior knowledge and understanding.  Parents could even become involved in the classroom as part of enrichment activities to cement and extend the learning experience.

Hammer, C. S., & Sawyer, B. (2016). Effects of a Culturally Responsive Interactive Book-Reading Intervention on the Language Abilities of Preschool Dual Language Learners: A Pilot Study. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://journals.uncc.edu/dialog/article/view/421

            Hammer & Sawyer (2016) observe that, although interactive book-reading is an evidence-based best practice at the PreK-level, very few related interventions exist for Latino Dual-Language Learners.  This study used a 72-dyad participant pool (split between an intervention and control group) to explore whether culturally-responsive texts had an observable effect on children’s language abilities.  Through measurements such as standardized testing and language samples, the findings suggest that students in the intervention group had more robust vocabulary acquisition and more extensive verbal responses.  The mothers in the study cited an enhanced feeling of cultural validity.  However, there did not appear to be a difference in standardized test results.

            The study suggests a potential correlation to effective student achievement and motivation from the use of culturally-responsive texts, but there were many limitations to this particular study.  Participants were given the option to participate in their chosen language, so not all language gains correlate to English language gains.  This could explain the lack of progress associated with the standardized test measures.  Further, the mothers provided evidence to home visitors with which they were well-acquainted, but the researchers suggest that this may have impacted their candor when discussing personal cultural connections.  Some mothers also admitted to not reading particular books or following certain outlined strategies, further skewing the data.  There needs to be a more consistent application to enhance the validity of the observations.

Lee, S. Y. (2015). Appropriating Foreignization for Culturally Responsive Readers. Trans-Humanities Journal, 8(1), 73-87.

            Lee (2015) explores whether translations of stories should be utilized in the classroom because of the domestication that often occurs when changing foreign texts, i.e. story elements are changed to fit the target culture’s language.  In response to this, Lawrence Venuti suggests that by keeping foreign textual elements intact during translation, it actually enhances conversation surrounding cultural differences, especially when teaching children of marginalized cultures.  In this examination, Lee focuses on a children’s book called Mongsil, which discusses the Korean War from a teenaged girl’s perspective.  Although overburdened by political and cultural terminology unique to Korea, the findings suggest that allowing these elements to remain in the subsequent translations are vital to understand overarching emotions, such as sorrow and confusion, and thus fully connect to the protagonist.

            These findings are interesting in relation to using culturally-responsive texts in the classroom.  They suggest that it is not enough, or perhaps even damaging to student culture, to reference protagonists of different ethnic backgrounds without incorporating other supporting cultural elements.  A robust use of culturally-responsive texts would include deeper elements of culture.  However, in doing so, educators must also consider the need to scaffold and build prior knowledge in order to address the foreign nature of some stories, especially when told in translation.

Piazza, S. V., Rao, S., & Protacio, S. (2015). Converging Recommendations for Culturally Responsive Literacy Practices: Students with Learning Disabilities, English Language Learners, and Socioculturally Diverse Learners. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 17(3), 1-20.

            Piazza et al (2015) examine culturally-responsive texts across three fields, and systematically review recommendations across five key areas: dialogue, collaboration, visual representation, explicit instruction, and inquiry.  Their recommendation is that educators adopt a critically responsive stance because literacy is a social practice that leads to equitable learning.  Further, they observe that to address the literacy needs of diverse learners, educators must first increase their own knowledge of cultural responsiveness to guide classroom implementation.  This is because, although approaches and learning strategies utilized with culturally-responsive texts mirror standard literacy practices, teachers must be able to modify approaches across student populations.

            It seems that the biggest gains resulting from incorporation of culturally-responsive texts are those relating to learner difference.  Dialogue and collaboration in connection to culturally responsive texts highlights literacy as a social practice, and allows mentorships that naturally enhance foundational skills such as reading comprehension, vocabulary, and critical thinking.  Explicit instruction should be paired with inquiry-based learning.  These findings are relevant because they connect to other studies that suggest culturally-responsive texts in isolation to not cause learning gains, but instead are vehicles through which change in instructional practice leads to engagement and subsequent achievement.

Price, C. L., & Steed, E. A. (2016). Culturally responsive strategies to support young children with challenging behavior. YC Young Children, 71(5), 36-43.

            Price & Steed (2016) explore culturally responsive core strategies, including the use of culturally-responsive texts and materials, to address challenging behavior in young children.  They note that social and emotional adjustment-foundational competencies are linked to later academic success and school readiness.  Creating empathy in the classroom and encouraging active participation and student motivation starts as early as picture books, which traditionally picture white characters but need to encompass the full ethnic spectrum of the classroom.  Further, approaches to reading should be culturally relevant, such as Afrocentric-teaching (combining rhythm and music with the reading of a book).

            This study is interesting in that it explores culturally-relevant texts as a means to shape student behavior, but does not extend beyond that to other forms of academic motivation, nor does it assess improvement in student learning from the use of these materials.  There seems to be a strong historical correlation, however, with a student’s ability to connect and regulate their behavior and their future academic success.

Robinson-Ervin, P., Cartledge, G., Musti-Rao, S., Gibson, L., & Keyes, S. E. (2016). Social Skills Instruction for Urban Learners with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: A Culturally Responsive and Computer-Based Intervention. Behavioral Disorders, 41(4), 209-225.

            Robinson-Ervin et al (2016) examine the effect of culturally-relevant instruction on six urban, African American sixth graders with emotional and behavioral disorders.  Although generalization results were modest for the majority of participants, the study suggests that social skills can be taught through culturally relevant materials.  It is stressed that the culturally-relevant materials a teacher uses should not only address the academic, but also the social and emotional needs of the students, especially those who are least likely to thrive within a traditional academic environment.  This includes taking a student-centered approach to learning and breaking down barriers to learning by connecting with a student’s authentic experience.

            This study is directly relevant to examining the impact of culturally-responsive texts on student motivation and engagement, but there were some limitations in the methodology.  The research lacked a functional behavioral study, which would have allowed educators to tailor the social instruction throughout the study.  Further, student absences impacted the study and likely impacted classroom learning gains.  Coupled with the researcher’s failure to isolate components of the study (culturally-relevant texts, video instruction, a token economy), more research would need to be conducted to ensure that the chosen materials made a direct impact on behavior modification.

Wanless, S. B., & Crawford, P. A. (2016). Reading your way to a culturally responsive classroom. YC Young Children, 71(2), 8-15. 

            Wanless et al (2016) explain that early childhood educators often avoid conversations on race or race-related experiences, which can be harmful and send negative messages to students about their identity.  Children’s literature can spark engagement and conversations around these issues.  A social justice approach to reading not only motivates students to discuss their own experiences, but also allows them to become critical readers who can “read between the lines.”  The key is to base selection on quality, choose books that help children see themselves, choose books that help children expand their understanding of others in the multicultural world, look widely for texts, and use text sets.  Thus, even though this study does not directly examine increases in student motivation in the classroom, it suggests strategies that could be utilized in the process of measuring such engagement.

Williams, I. J. (2015). Will it change their reflection? A culturally responsive reaction to literacy failures.  ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

            Williams (2015) studied a second grade classroom to determine what would happen if students who had experienced repeated literacy failures received culturally-responsive instruction in place of basic skills interventions.  Because of the failures, students were exhibiting a negative view of themselves and lack of self-efficacy.  The culturally-responsive intervention was a combination of literature circles, read alouds, and multicultural literature.  Data analysis included student work samples and dialogue from student-centered discussions.  Results indicate that this instruction increased both student motivation and student engagement, as well as higher-level reading comprehension skills.  However, the study only lasted three weeks, so additional information would need to be collected to consider long-term impact of these strategies.  There are also logistical challenges with conducting literature circles at the elementary level without additional teacher support to guide cultural discussion.

References

Baker, E. S. (2015). Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: Teaching Like Our Students Lives Matter. Innovation and Leadership in English Language Teaching, 1-58.

Bomer, R. (2017). What would it mean for English language arts to become more culturally responsive and sustaining? Voices from the Middle, 24(3), 11-15.

Carlson, Kaylan Louise (2016). How does culturally responsive curriculum impact African American student’s literacy development in the primary grades? Hamline University School of Education Student Capstone Theses and Dissertations, 41-87.

Cioè-Peña, M., & Snell, T. (2015). Translanguaging for Social Justice. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://traue.commons.gc.cuny.edu/volume-iv-issue-1-fall-2015/translanguaging-for-social-justice/

Cole, M. W., David, S. S., & Jiménez, R.,T. (2016). Collaborative translation: Negotiating student investment in culturally responsive pedagogy. Language Arts, 93(6), 430-443.

Garland, K., & Bryan, K. (2017). Partnering with families and communities: Culturally responsive pedagogy at its best. Voices from the Middle, 24(3), 52-55.

Goodman, K. L. (2015, November 30). Encouraging Family Involvement through Culturally Relevant Pedagogy. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://eric.ed.gov/?id=EJ1113841

Hammer, C. S., & Sawyer, B. (2016). Development of a Culturally Responsive Book Reading Intervention for Latina Mothers and their Head Start Children. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://journals.uncc.edu/dialog/article/view/555

Hammer, C. S., & Sawyer, B. (2016). Effects of a Culturally Responsive Interactive Book-Reading Intervention on the Language Abilities of Preschool Dual Language Learners: A Pilot Study. Retrieved September 30, 2017, from https://journals.uncc.edu/dialog/article/view/421

Lee, S. Y. (2015). Appropriating Foreignization for Culturally Responsive Readers. Trans-Humanities Journal, 8(1), 73-87.

Piazza, S. V., Rao, S., & Protacio, S. (2015). Converging Recommendations for Culturally Responsive Literacy Practices: Students with Learning Disabilities, English Language Learners, and Socioculturally Diverse Learners. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 17(3), 1-20.

Price, C. L., & Steed, E. A. (2016). Culturally responsive strategies to support young children with challenging behavior. YC Young Children, 71(5), 36-43.

Robinson-Ervin, P., Cartledge, G., Musti-Rao, S., Gibson, L., & Keyes, S. E. (2016). Social Skills Instruction for Urban Learners with Emotional and Behavioral Disorders: A Culturally Responsive and Computer-Based Intervention. Behavioral Disorders, 41(4), 209-225.

Wanless, S. B., & Crawford, P. A. (2016). Reading your way to a culturally responsive classroom. YC Young Children, 71(2), 8-15.

Williams, I. J. (2015). Will it change their reflection? A culturally responsive reaction to literacy failures.  ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global.

Information Processing Theory (IPT)

Three instructional applications of the information processing theory (IPT) are outlined by Schunk (2016): advance organizers, the conditions of learning, and cognitive load.  Advance organizers present general information at the beginning of a lesson in order to direct attention to important concepts and emphasize connections, both between the new concepts to be learned and the new concepts’ relationship to prior knowledge.  Advance organizers are driven by Ausubel’s theory of meaningful reception learning, which posits that learning is most meaningful, and therefore most effective, when it has a systematic relation to information in a learner’s long-term memory.  Advance organizers can either be expository, introducing new information needed for learning, or comparative, linking new material to information already in a student’s long-term memory (Schunk, 2016, p. 196).

 A practical classroom usage of advance organizers is the KWL chart, which is a graphic organizer that links what students know, what they want to know, and what they learn throughout the process.  Within my freshmen classes, we utilize this tool to enhance reading comprehension and cement specific literary concepts.  When students begin the lesson by considering information with which they are already familiar, it fosters a comfortable environment that leads to increased focus and interest.

 While advance organizers are focused on preparation for learning, applications based on Gagne’s conditions of learning principles also focus on the process of acquiring new information.  This theory involves the learning outcome goals, of which there are five types (intellectual skills, verbal information, cognitive strategies, motor skills, and attitudes), as well as the learning events or important factors in achieving the learning outcomes.  These learning events come in two forms: internal and external conditions.  Internal conditions represent a learner’s current capabilities, or the information already in their long-term memory.  All of the information processing applications focus on how new information is added to long-term memory.  The external conditions needed for a learning outcome might vary depending on the desired learning outcome and each learner’s internal conditions.  An application of internal conditions would be learning hierarchies, which are organized sets of the skills needed to acquire a target skill.  These hierarchies are devised by asking what prerequisites are needed for the target skill and then what prerequisites are needed for those prerequisites, all the way down to the learner’s current skills.  Thus, there is a scaffolded plan for building the learner’s skills up to the target skill.  External conditions are instruction which includes nine phases of learning grouped into three categories. First, preparation for learning primes the areas of long-term memory relevant to the topic being studied, similarly to advanced organizers.  Second, acquisition presents the new information and transfers it to the long-term memory.  Finally, transfer of learning phases train the learner to retrieve the newly acquired information and apply it to different domains (Schunk, 2016, pp. 197-201).

Cognitive load focuses on the limits placed on information processing by a learner’s working memory and takes these limitations into account for instruction design.  There are two types of cognitive load: intrinsic cognitive load, which stems from the difficulty of acquiring the new knowledge itself, and extrinsic cognitive load, which is caused by unnecessary distractions or other difficulties unrelated to the knowledge.  There are three types of cognitive processing demands: essential, extraneous, and generative.  Essential and extraneous processing are similar to intrinsic and extrinsic load, respectively, while generative processing is a higher-level functioning that organizers and contextualizes information relative to prior knowledge.  Clearly, it is desirable to minimize extraneous load, a task which could be furthered by the use of scaffolding techniques that build up to complex topics from simple ones and prior knowledge.  This is similar to the use of learning hierarchies suggested by the conditions of learning framework (Schunk, 2016, pp. 201-202).

Schunk, D. H. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective – With access (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Culturally-Relevant Texts: Qualitative Article Critique

Abstract

In “Culturally Responsive Evidence-Based Practices with English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities: A Qualitative Case Study” Michael J. Orosco and Naheed A. Abdulrahim investigate the observational impact of culturally-responsive teaching within a bilingual special education classroom.  Findings suggest that the use of culturally-relevant texts engaged students and also increased reading stamina and overall comprehension scores.

Keywords: bilingual, special education, culturally-responsive teaching

Background of the Study

Orosco & Abdulrahim’s study focused on the use of culturally responsive evidenced-based practices with English Language Learners (ELLs) with Learning Disabilities.  The qualitative research question was “How does one teacher’s knowledge of culturally responsive pedagogy and evidence-based practices impact special education instruction?” and, further, “What does culturally responsive literacy instruction look like for ELLs within special education?” (Orosco & Abdulrahim, 2017, p. 29). The authors noted that evidence-based reading practices have been studied in depth since the 1990s but that this prior research had not examined the integration of these skills (vocabulary, reading strategies) with culturally and linguistically responsive texts.  They suggest that this appears to be, in part, related to controversies over appropriate curricula for ELLs. The lack of study in this area is unfortunate, as many ELLs are often diagnosed as learning disabled and placed in special education environments due to weak reading skills (Orosco & Abdulrahim, 2017, p. 29). Importantly, the study found that the “success of special education with ELLs at the elementary education level may be dependent on how well the teacher integrates culturally responsive and evidence-based instruction with ELLs’ sociocultural needs” (Orosco & Abdulrahim, 2017, p. 28), with culturally responsive instruction being texts that are culturally relevant and comprehensible.

In this study, the researchers monitored and documented teaching within a social constructivist framework.  The observed instructional sessions took place in a partial inclusion program based on small-group instruction in 30-45 minute blocks.  Each of the student IEPs resulted from deficits in language and reading and were chosen based on significant reading comprehension challenges despite focused interventions.  The teacher was qualitatively observed 15 times in 1-hour intervals over a 1-year period by a two-member bilingual research team with post-graduate credentials in bilingual education.  These observations noted instructional engagement activities, the physical environment, and the influence of social factors.  They then conducted a 30 minute pre-and post-interview with the educator to ascertain her personal perspectives about culturally responsive literacy instruction for her students.  The observers noted that this dialogue served to confirm their own research findings.

The participating school was located in a large southwestern urban school district in which 93% of students were Hispanic, 66% of whom were ELLs.  Further, the school was considered a high-poverty school.  The observed educator was recommended by both the assistant superintendent of learning and the bilingual education coordinator as someone who had taught low SES Latino ELLs for 11 years and was previously evaluated as displaying strong teaching skills with evidence of annual increases in student reading achievement.

Further, the researchers reviewed lesson plans and classroom materials, along with student work.  This data was analyzed “applying Strauss and Corbin’s (1998) three-step (open, theoretical, and constant comparative) analysis process” (Orosco & Abdulrahim, 2017, p. 33).  They additionally triangulated the qualitative data through interactions with the participating educator to ensure complete agreement of the study’s findings.

Through this approach, the researchers concluded that culturally responsive instruction promoted Latino ELLs’ reading achievement, which was confirmed by standardized scores in language and literacy across three grade levels.  The core component of the observed instruction was “a culturally relevant literature component” (Orosco & Abdulrahim, 2017, p.34).  The participating educator explained that this approach allowed for identity affirmation “because [these students] often experienced the devaluation of their cultural, linguistic, and racial identity in American schooling” (Orosco & Abdulrahim, 2017, p. 35).  The texts that were used presented familiar characters that related to identity development and, in turn, supported reading stamina, deepened understanding of story elements, and improved overall reading comprehension.

Critique of the Study

This study was well-designed in many ways.  The simultaneous involvement of two researchers enhanced credibility of classroom observations, and the discussions with the educator ensured a solid understanding of the purpose and intent behind specific reading and text-based incorporation.  However, it warrants a further investigation that includes a control demographic;  would these students have performed as well on annual benchmarks if their educator had not already been highly-qualified and shown historically to elicit such results?  That is, could an equally-skilled teacher work in the same manner with students with traditional texts and see similar gains?  There is strong reason to assert that the student motivation did indeed stem from interest in the ‘identity-validating’ texts, but this motivation could potentially also be driven by texts related to personal interest.

It is also interesting to consider the social constructivist approach of the study, which “places more emphasis on the social environment as a facilitator of development and learning” (Schunk, 2016, p. 311).  This study was conducted with a group of Latino students, who might have felt more comfortable discussing literature related to their identity within a homogenous setting.  It is not clear that  culturally-responsive texts would be similarly impactful in engaging students in a heterogeneous setting, especially since this technique might require a variety of different texts in a single classroom.

This study could potentially be generalized to other students who were not the participants of the study.  The process and findings could easily be replicated in a similar setting.  In fact, the findings themselves call for this approach to be utilized in various classroom situations for the purpose of meaningful change and increased achievement among marginalized groups.  The article aptly explains the technical approach and related terminology, and provides easily understandable justifications for the methodology used.

The findings within Orosco & Abdulrahim’s study are impactful in that they suggest a way in which policy might need to be changed to reflect the necessary use of culturally-responsive texts in the classroom.  Student-relevant texts and multicultural perspectives are certainly being encouraged within 21st century classrooms, but the traditional models and literature choices remain prevalent.  These curriculum issues often take a back-seat compared to standardized testing debates; however, a strong correlation between practice and achievement could warrant increased attention to specific teaching practices stemming from such materials.

My own qualitative research question focuses on how teachers who utilized culturally-responsive texts in the classroom would describe student engagement.  The educator participant in this study answered, “Using culturally relevant materials that covered topics and events that Latino ELLs had experienced or had an interest in helped to support their specific learning needs.  Moreover, they became motivated to participate in challenging discussion, and activities contributed to their higher literacy achievement” (Orosco & Abdulrahim, 2017, p. 37).  Thus, student engagement and motivation manifested as increased dialogue and oral contributions to the class.  It is worthwhile to consider whether this motivation carried over into other coursework, which is to say whether the individual achievement that resulted from more active participation existed beyond tasks which were culturally-aligned.  If success in an English class turned out to spur greater participation in a math class, this topic would be in even greater need of further research. The social constructivist framework of Orosco & Abdulrahim highlights the need to consider the social environment of a classroom in relation to any culturally responsive teaching techniques.

References

Orosco, Michael J.; Abdulrahim, Naheed A.. Culturally Responsive Evidence-based Practices with English Language Learners with Learning Disabilities: A Qualitative Case Study. Educational Borderlands: A Bilingual Journal, [S.1.], v. 1, p. 27-45, May 2017.

Schunk, D. H. (2016).  Learning theories: An educational perspective – With access (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Culturally-Relevant Texts: Quantitative Article Critique

Abstract

In “Culturally Relevant Books: Culturally Responsive Teaching in Bilingual Classrooms”, Alma D. Rodriguez from the University of Texas at Brownsville quantitatively studied Latino children’s perceptions of cultural relevancy and rated responses to culturally relevant texts.  Participants completed 8-item Likert-type questionnaires, and then Rodriguez analyzed the rubric against a cultural-relevancy scale.  Notably, not only were the majority of students able to identify culturally relevant texts, the great majority identified personally with experiences or characters, and 95% expressed motivation to read more books that were culturally relevant.

Keywords: culturally relevant books, culturally responsive teaching

Background of the Study

In this study, Rodriguez posited that Latino children who engaged with culturally responsive texts would see a “positive influence [on] their academic achievement” (Rodriguez, 2014, p. 3).  She notes that the importance of engaging Latino youth, the largest minority population within the United States, in schools has been well-documented.  This population has higher drop-out rates than any other ethnic group within the United States, and Rodriguez notes that prior researchers have linked this with the traditional nature of schooling that causes a “loss of cultural identity” (Rodriguez, 2014, p. 3).  Further, Latinos encompass the largest group of English language learners (ELLs) in the United States, and Freeman and Freeman (2007) suggest that the best approach is to “provide meaningful literacy instruction while tapping on students’ first languages and cultures.”  When students are self-motivated to read, it positively impacts language acquisition, improving “reading, writing, grammar, and vocabulary in both the first and second languages” (Rodriguez, 2014, p. 4).  Rodriguez developed a research framework to answer the question of how Latino children perceive and respond to culturally relevant books.

A group of pre-service bilingual and ESL teachers purposefully selected students they knew for this study in order to ensure that books selected were indeed culturally relevant.  The teachers utilized a Cultural Relevance Rubric that considered each student’s ethnicity, age, and gender in order to find books with matching character traits, settings, and themes.  This group comprised 22 children ages 4-11, 15 female and 7 males, all of whom lived in south Texas along the Mexican border.

The pre-service teachers read a book to a participating student, and then the student completed an 8-item Likert-type questionnaire developed by A. Ebe and answered 4 open-ended questions.  The rubric allowed the students to rate the cultural relevancy of setting, theme, plot, language, events, and characters in the book, as well as note how frequently they felt they read culturally relevant books.  For the open-ended questions, the students were asked what they liked best about the book, to discuss a similar experience they had had to the character, to describe how the characters were like them, and if or why they would like to read more books similar to the one they had read with the pre-service teacher.

The pre-service teachers’ professor analyzed the data by constructing an overall score that summed seven of the eight questions.  The question regarding the frequency with which the children read cultural texts was omitted, as it did not relate to the books being utilized for the study.  Rubric scores ranged from 4 (most relevant) to 1 (not relevant), with 28 being the highest possible score.  A score of 20 or higher was considered to indicate that a text was culturally relevant.  Each individual aspect of the book was considered culturally relevant if it scored 3 or 4.  Once individual rubrics were analyzed, the professor calculated the percentage of participants who scored each item as culturally relevant.  The open-ended questions were systematically analyzed through a process in which they were read three times: for completeness, for data segmentation by question, and then thematically to identify repeated ideas.  Resulting themes were organized by a block and file system as well as conceptual mapping.  The responses were then re-read “to identify confirming evidence supporting the themes or disconfirming evidence” (Rodriguez, 2014, p. 8).

The rubrics indicated that 77% of participants found their book to be culturally relevant, with 91% of participants having experienced something like what happened in the story and 95% of participants relating directly to the characters.  Regarding themes from the open-ended questions, students discussed connection to ethnicity and language, as well as cultural practices.  When asked if they would like to read more culturally relevant books, 95% of participants answered in the affirmative, citing “reality and culture” among their justifications.

The findings suggest that students are more interested in learning if their classroom experience values their culture.  Further, students connected deeply to cultural practices within the reading, allowing them to focus on higher-order reading comprehension skills, such as theme.  Students shared personal connections to events that transpired within the narratives.

Critique of the Study

A strength of this study is its apparent ability to successfully measure student motivation and engagement around goal orientations.  Schunk (2016) defines these as “learners’ reasons for engaging in academic tasks” relational to “conceptions of ability, social and self-comparisons, and achievement behaviors” (pp. 372-373).  Students clearly responded positively through active comparisons to both individual experiences and culturally relevant themes, as well as in their expressed desire to continue reading similar books.

Although this study suggests promise in regards to using culturally responsive texts to motivate students, it would have been bolstered by the use of a control.  For example, reading two books to the student (one identified as culturally relevant, and one identified as generic but of high-interest) would ensure that the data collected was most meaningful.  It is also questionable whether students in the studied age-range were able to accurately complete a numerical rubric and whether they fully understood the terminology utilized on such a document.  A more accurate measure might have included a reading comprehension exercise that could measure academic engagement with the books in question.

My own interest lies in how culturally-responsive texts lead to increased student engagement in a high school classroom.  This study is promising in that it asserts that students are willing to read texts which relate to them, but some aspects are not able to be replicated.  For instance, although a high school teacher can consider cultural relevancy in teaching, it is unlikely to be as effective as the personal selections made by the pre-service teachers within this study.  The study noted that the children openly discussed similar events which happened in their lives, a connection which might have been enhanced by the personal knowledge of the pre-service teachers; it seems unlikely that such a highly individualized technique could be generalized to a standard high school population.  The children in the study were also read the books aloud; in high school, if a student is not motivated to begin the reading, they might not ever realize the book’s relevance to them.   It is important to explore whether any increased engagement  stemming from culturally relevant texts extends beyond a willingness to read. Can educators using culturally relevant texts expect an impact on class discussion participation or positive attitude across the learning spectrum?

References

Freeman, D. & Freeman, Y. (2007).  English language learners: The essential guide.  NewYork: Scholastic.

Rodriguez, A. D. (2014). Culturally Relevant Books: Culturally Responsive Teaching inBilingual Classrooms. Retrieved September 23, 2017, from https://www2.nau.edu/nabej-p/ojs/index.php/njrp/article/view/30

Schunk, D. H. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective – With access (7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Social Cognitive Theory

Schunk’s modeling processes include instinct, development, conditioning, and instrumental behavior.  In an instinct framework, a behavior is imitated, or learned, by a person mimicking the actions of another person, with this imitation driven by an internal impetus, or instinct, for the imitation.  The development view grants less power to imitation as a driver of learning behavior; people develop schemes, or “cognitive structures that underlie and make possible organized thought and action” (Schunk, 2016, p. 122).  The schemes available to an individual are created by prior experiences, represent the individual’s knowledge at a given point, and determine their reaction to events or stimuli.  In this framework, a behavior is driven by a person’s schemes rather than learned through imitation.  In the conditioning framework, stimuli cause responses, which in turn become or create further stimuli.  Imitation happens when the same response results in the same reinforcement stimulus, which creates associations for the response.  This framework leaves it unclear how a new response could manifest.  The instrumental behavior framework also does not explain how new behaviors are learned and instead explains how responses are reinforced.  Initially, a person responds to a stimulus that it interprets as behavioral cues via trial and error; the person refines the model with which they are interpreting these cues based on reinforcement.

Bandura’s three key functions of modeling are response facilitation, inhibition/disinhibition, and observational learning.  Response facilitation is creating modeled behavioral cues that communicate the appropriateness of or even provide the motivation for desired behaviors.  Inhibition and disinhibition are simply punishment and reward mechanisms in that observers gain expectations of certain consequences, positive or negative, for certain behaviors.  Both inhibition and response facilitation encourage certain behaviors that someone may have already learned, rather than teaching new behaviors.  Observational learning does teach new behavior through “attention, retention, production, and motivation” (Schunk, 2016, p. 125).  Observers need to pay attention to the modeled behavior in order to learn and retain it.  However, the producer must also transform this knowledge into behavior, a process called production that can require practice and continued teaching.  Finally, people are more likely to learn new behaviors that they are motivated to learn.

Martins and Wilson (2012) offer two frameworks by which children could imitate or learn social aggression from television.  First, seeing the social aggression on television would make children more likely to mimic it, as “children can imitate people in their immediate surroundings…or in the media” (Martins and Wilson, 2012, p. 51).  In Schunk’s terms, this could occur in an instinct or conditioning framework.  In an instinct framework, the children who are exposed to aggression would themselves be driven to aggression via an instinctive need to copy and imitate.  This could occur even without assuming some sort of positive stimulus associated with aggression on television.  In a conditioning framework, a positive stimulus such as television-watching itself could create a positive association with aggression.  This aggression could be more likely to manifest itself in the children’s behavior if it were rewarded, as in Bandura’s inhibition/disinhibition framework.  Second, in a development framework, the children would be exposed to new schemes that would teach them aggression or make aggressive responses available in schemes, giving children an ability to display aggression that they did not previously have.

A strength of the article was its use of a correlative longitudinal study to support the gender-dependent impact of heightened social aggression in females.  This helps to account for uncontrollable factors, such as personal interest in the particular programs that were streamed.  However, despite explaining contradictory age-dependent findings, the study failed to explore differences in cognitive development stages in relation to social cognitive impacts.  Doing so would have bolstered the gender-findings in that it might negate any notions of increased social aggression among females merely relating to particular adolescent tendencies.

The study explains that it was the first to “provide evidence that viewing social aggression on television is related to an increased tendency for elementary school children to perpetrate such behaviors in the classroom” (Martins and Wilson, 2012, p. 64).  This might manifest as small initial behaviors, such as ignoring a peer when forming a group, or isolating a classmate on the playground, or it might escalate to bullying behaviors.  Teachers can combat this behavior in the classroom by motivating a social leader of the classroom to engage in learning.  This takes advantage of students that have learned to model the social leader via an instrumental behavior mechanism.  The social leader enthusiastically engaging in learning creates a response facilitation in which the observing students would imitate the social leader’s modeled (desired) behavior.

When we model desired behaviors and students observe these behaviors, they can make the educated decision to exhibit the displayed behaviors.  Rather than attempting to create a negative association with bad behavior or a positive association with good behavior, the teacher would grant their students the ability to recognize and follow good behaviors.

Martins, N., & Wilson, B. J. (2012). Social aggression on television and its relationship to children’s aggression in the classroom. Human Communication Research, 38(1), 48–71.

 Schunk, D. H. (2016). Learning theories: An educational perspective – With access(7th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.