It so happens that I took a class that was very similar to the EDU 6525 course about a decade ago. The first time was as part of a teacher certification program while I was student teaching. Now I have taught 4th to 6th grade for about ten years (and still teach a multi-age 4/5 class). Somewhat surprisingly, the curriculum and class approach I experienced this past year was very similar to the course from a decade ago. In fact, the earlier course used the same Banks textbook!
For me, what is interesting is to think about how my own experiences and current perspective has changed how I view and process the content of the course. Where as the first time the course was more about helping me get a certain mindset going into my career, the second time the was more about using course information or ideas and applying them to specific situations I am currently experiencing in the classroom, in the interest of improving. I now know the value of building a culturally inclusive classroom from practical experience and from research, including Howard (2010) who provided empirical data from schools that have improved achievement outcomes for racially and culturally diverse students by implementing culturally responsive practices.
I was able to share some of that perspective through my poem (see artifact titled “Poem”). This poem was allowed in lieu of a traditional essay by our professor in EDU 6525. I enjoyed the flexibility of the assignment, and thought that it represented an ethos that was core to the course; students can present their learning and ideas in a variety of ways. This culturally responsive approach to teaching has been shown to address the achievement gap and the over-representation of certain races and classes of students in special education programs (Griner and Stewart, 2013). It was also a reminder to me to, whenever possible, provide a variety of options to my own students for how they represent their learning. For example, when my students researched explorers I allowed them to pick any presentation format they would like to convey the information they gathered. Students chose to make comic books, do traditional Powerpoints, and even write mini-plays. This open approach allowed students to leverage their existing strengths and interests, including those brought from home. Au (2011) claimed that such openness can aid in closing the literacy achievement gap. I agree. I have seen student confidence and effort increase during the explorer project since I made the change. I can personally relate as I felt the same boost when I was able to write the poem and later, a song, to convey my learning for the EDU 6525 class.
The other learning from EDU 6525 and other courses that impacted me significantly related to engaging the students in discussions on controversial topics. This feels especially relevant in our current post-fact era, where many people have forgotten how to engage individuals with other views in a respectful conversation that ultimately benefits both sides.
How we prepare students to become productive citizens is a topic that has not been ignored by educational researchers. Since writing his seminal textbook on multicultural education 25 years ago, Banks (2008) has continued to reflect on the importance of preparing people to be responsible citizens. He advocates for educational programs in which schools ““implement a transformative and critical conception of citizenship education that will increase educational equality for all students. A transformative citizenship educational also helps students to interact and deliberate with their peers form diverse racial and ethnic groups.” (p. 129) We received additional guidance during our Master’s program when we read in Pace (2015) about methods that we can use to facilitate discussions on controversial topics, ultimately allowing students to “generate deeper thought and understanding as participants co-construct knowledge” (Pace, 2015, p. 45) I had excellent opportunities this past school year to implement these practices during the months leading up to the presidential election. Guiding students not on what to think, but on how to utilize facts, and then discuss and convey their opinions and ideas in a productive manner was a big focus this past fall. Utilizing the strategies laid out by Pace (2015) and others helped me better prepare for these discussions. Actually, it made me feel like teaching the same thing to many of the misbehaving adults I have witnessed during the past year!
Working to establish a culturally inclusive learning environment that maximizes opportunity for all students is challenging and never-ending charge for school teachers. This is especially true because the actions and approaches required to be culturally inclusive change with each unique cohort of students. I will continue to use my learning from this program to be a more culturally inclusive teacher.
Au, K. H. (2011). Literacy Achievement and Diversity: Keys to Success for Students, Teachers, and Schools. Multicultural Education Series. Teachers College Press.
Banks, James (2008). Diversity, group identity, and citizenship educational in a global age. Educational Researcher. 37(3), 129-139.
Griner, A. C., & Stewart, M. L. (2013). Addressing the Achievement Gap and Disproportionality through the Use of Culturally Responsive Teaching Practices. Urban Education, 48(4), 585-621.
Pace, Judith L. (2015-02-11). The Charged Classroom: Predicaments and Possibilities for Democratic Teaching. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
Howard, T. C. (2010). Why Race and Culture Matter in Schools: Closing the Achievement Gap in America’s Classrooms. Multicultural Education Series. Teachers College Press.