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Effects of culturally-responsive teaching practices on first grade students' reading comprehension and vocabulary gains

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Phyllis Swann Underwood
Abstract:
Accumulating research reveals that children's reading comprehension is influenced by a reader's experiences, knowledge, language structure, and vocabulary. Thus, this researcher investigated the construct, culturally-responsive practice, as a way to provide effective learning opportunities for children from non-mainstream cultures, including children living in poverty. Evidence from this study suggests that the most critical component of culturally-responsive practice on students' reading comprehension is the development and implementation of reading comprehension strategies. While this is an important finding, a notable word of caution is that the practices considered to be important for honoring students' cultural backgrounds are also considered to be effective reading comprehension strategies in general. Study results reflect the successful development and implementation of a first grade vocabulary intervention that supported students' reading skill growth. This was the case even though one of the participating schools served many children living in poverty. While the intervention offers a promising approach to support children's vocabulary and reading comprehension more generally, additional research is essential. Exploration of students' language use during language arts instruction in general, and vocabulary instruction in particular may provide answers. At the same time, it should be recognized that as a self-standing construct, culturally-responsive practice may be too limited. Thus, absent effective teaching overall, these results suggest that focus solely on instilling culturally-responsive practices in the classroom will likely fail to lead to stronger student achievement. Many questions remain unanswered, supporting the need for well designed randomized control field trials that incorporate complementary methods--both experimental and observational, examining teachers' culturally-responsive practices (or lack thereof) in the classroom, evidence-based reading comprehension instruction, students' reaction to this practice, and how these practices relate to students' reading skill growth. It may be that culturally-responsive practices enhance other student outcomes, such as social skills and behavior, which were beyond the scope of this study. Implications also exist for pre-service teacher education programs and teacher professional development efforts as well. While training in culturally-responsive practices has a long history, classroom-based research to support these practices has been limited.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

List of Tables vii

List of Figures viii

Abstract x

INTRODUCTION 1

REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE 6 Development and Application of Reading Comprehension Strategies 7 Culturally-Responsive Teaching Practices 10 The Influence of Background Knowledge and Vocabulary on Reading Comprehension 13 Incorporating Home Culture in the Educational Setting through Culturally-Responsive Practices 15 Culturally-Responsive Classroom Management Practices 17 Summary of Culturally-Responsive Practices 19

METHODOLOGY 21 Purpose and Research Questions 21 Study Design 23 Participants and Setting 24 Data Collection Procedures Teacher and Classroom Level 30 Data Collection Procedures Student Level 37 The Intervention 38 Data Analysis 39

RESULTS 42 Research Question 1 43 Research Question 2 47 Research Question 3 47 Research Question 4 51 Research Question 5 53

DISCUSSION 57 Summary of Findings 58 Limitations 61 Conclusions 62

APPENDICES 64 Appendix A: Teacher Participant Consent Form 67 Appendix B: Student Subject Consent Form 69 Appendix C: Culturally-Responsive Teaching Practices Assessment Instrument 74 v

Appendix D: Culturally-Responsive Teaching Practices Checklist 81 Appendix E: Vocabulary Word Inventory 86 Appendix F: Vocabulary Word Inventory Rubric 90 Appendix G: Vocabulary Intervention Lessons 93

BIBLIOGRAPHY 136

BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH 147

vi

LIST OF TABLES

1. Correlations Between Culturally-Responsive Rating Categories 46

2. Culturally-Responsive Practices Ratings Descriptive Statistics by School SES 47

vii

LIST OF FIGURES

1. Study model for a culturally-responsive vocabulary intervention 7

2. Data Book 2007/08 pre-k through grade 5 enrollment data percentages by race 25

3. Data Book 2007/08 grade 1 enrollment data percentages by race 26

4. Elementary School A 2007/08 grade 1 student enrollment data by race 27

5. Elementary School B 2007/08 grade 1 student enrollment data by race 28

6. Matched Control School A-1 2007/08 grade 1 student enrollment data by race 29

7. Matched Control School B-1 2007/08 grade 1 student enrollment data by race 30

8. Incorporating Home Culture in the Educational Setting Live Observation Fidelity Rating Indicators 31

9. Development/application of Reading Comprehension Strategies Live observation Fidelity Rating Indicators 32

10. Classroom Management Practices Live Observation Fidelity Rating Indicators 33

11. Incorporating Home Culture Practices Videotaped Observation Checklist Indicators 34

12. Development and Application of Comprehension Strategies Practices Videotaped Observation Checklist Indicators 36

13. Classroom Management Practices Videotaped Observation Checklist Indicators 36

14. Teacher Fidelity Composite Rating 44

15. Teacher Fidelity Ratings by Category 45

16. Classroom Average Student Vocabulary Growth by Teacher Fidelity Composite Rating 48

17. Classroom Average Student Vocabulary Growth by Teacher Fidelity in Home Culture, Reading Comprehension Strategies, and Classroom Management 49

18. HLM Output for Spring Reading Comprehension for Teachers Use of Culturally- Responsive Reading Comprehension Strategies (RC CPR) Controlling for Fall Reading Comprehension scores 50 viii

19. Spring WJ Passage Comprehension for Teachers Use of Culturally-Responsive Reading Comprehension Strategies Controlling for Fall Vocabulary, Passage Comprehension, and Word Reading scores 51

20. HLM Output for Close Transfer Vocabulary Post Assessment by Treatment Condition 52

21. Close Transfer Vocabulary Post Assessment by Treatment Condition 53

22. HLM Output for Spring WJ Passage Comprehension Outcome by Treatment Condition 55

23. Spring WJ Passage Comprehension Scores by Treatment Condition for Treatment and Matched Control Schools 56

ix

ABSTRACT

Accumulating research reveals that children’s reading comprehension is influenced by a reader’s experiences, knowledge, language structure, and vocabulary. Thus, this researcher investigated the construct, culturally-responsive practice, as a way to provide effective learning opportunities for children from non-mainstream cultures, including children living in poverty. Evidence from this study suggests that the most critical component of culturally-responsive practice on students’ reading comprehension is the development and implementation of reading comprehension strategies. While this is an important finding, a notable word of caution is that the practices considered to be important for honoring students’ cultural backgrounds are also considered to be effective reading comprehension strategies in general. Study results reflect the successful development and implementation of a first grade vocabulary intervention that supported students’ reading skill growth. This was the case even though one of the participating schools served many children living in poverty. While the intervention offers a promising approach to support children’s vocabulary and reading comprehension more generally, additional research is essential. Exploration of students’ language use during language arts instruction in general, and vocabulary instruction in particular may provide answers. At the same time, it should be recognized that as a self- standing construct, culturally-responsive practice may be too limited. Thus, absent effective teaching overall, these results suggest that focus solely on instilling culturally-responsive practices in the classroom will likely fail to lead to stronger student achievement. Many questions remain unanswered, supporting the need for well designed randomized control field trials that incorporate complementary methods – both experimental and observational, examining teachers’ culturally-responsive practices (or lack thereof) in the classroom, evidence-based reading comprehension instruction, students’ reaction to this practice, and how these practices relate to students’ reading skill growth. It may be that culturally-responsive practices enhance other student outcomes, such as social skills and behavior, which were beyond the scope of this study. Implications also exist for pre-service teacher education programs and teacher professional development efforts as well. While training in culturally-responsive practices has a long history, classroom-based research to support these practices has been limited. x

1

CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION

Effects of Culturally-Responsive Teaching Practices on First Grade Students’ Reading Comprehension and Vocabulary Gains

Understanding the role of culture in the teaching and learning processes may, potentially, serve as the foundation of culturally-responsive teaching practices (Adams, Bondy, & Kuhel, 2005). Culturally-responsive education may promote academic achievement by encouraging the development of personal relationships between teachers and students, supporting the maintenance of students’ familiar language structures, requiring the establishment and enforcement of clear behavioral expectations, tapping students’ rich cultural background knowledge, and modifying instructional strategies for students from diverse cultures, allowing students’ personal culture, experiences, and prior knowledge to inform instruction. Culturally-responsive teaching practices are defined as those teaching practices that are “…grounded in an understanding of the role of culture in the teaching and learning process” (Adams, Bondy, & Kuhel, 2005, p. 50). According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children (1996), “Knowledge of the social and cultural contexts in which children live…” is an important kind of information, which may help ensure that children and their families encounter significant and respectful learning experiences. In turn, it is conjectured that these kinds of learning experiences will improve children’s achievement and, specifically for the proposed study, their reading comprehension skills. Thus, this study was designed to explore the impact of culturally-responsive practices in the classroom and during a vocabulary intervention on students’ literacy gains.

2 The achievement gap between children living in poverty and certain ethnic minorities and their more affluent majority peers remains a persistent and perplexing problem (Jencks & Phillips, 1998; NAEP, 2005; Snow, Burns, & Griffin, 1998). The improvement in the most recent NAEP reports, while encouraging, is insufficient to ensure that a majority of children living in poverty, who frequently come from cultures and backgrounds that are distinct from many of their teachers, will achieve proficient literacy skills by the time they reach fourth grade. For example, 55% of Black and 39% of Hispanic fourth-graders achieved FCAT scores of 207 or less, which means that they cannot read proficiently enough to understand what they are reading or to learn from textbooks and other written material. This is in comparison to their White peers of whom only 25% achieved scores below 207 or their Asian/Pacific Island peers of whom 24% achieved scores below 207. Moving beyond Florida to consider the nation as a whole, on average, fourth- graders scored an average of one point higher in 2005 in Reading than fourth-graders in 2003, and an average of two points higher in 2005 than fourth-graders in 1992. Black and Hispanic fourth-graders scored higher, on average, in 2005 in Reading than in 2003. While Asian/Pacific Islander, Black, Hispanic, and White fourth-graders scored, on average, higher in 2005 in Reading than in 1992; still, White students scored, on average, higher than their Black and Hispanic peers. Even on the local level, which is the setting for this study, the 2008 third-grade FCAT Reading scores for elementary schools in the study county reflect that 10 % of students scored at Level 1, the lowest of five levels. Students scoring at Level 1 have “…little success with the challenging content of the Sunshine State Standards” (Florida Department of Education, 2005, Achievement Levels Definitions Table, the Sunshine State Standards identify content students are expected to know and be able to do). Additionally, 11% of students scored at Level 2; therefore a total of 21% of our local students are scoring below level 3, the level of proficiency. Most of the children failing to achieve above basic levels are also living in poverty and come from non-mainstream cultures. Indeed, according to the National Center for Educational Statistics (2005), 17.5% of Florida’s students in 2001 were considered to be living in households at poverty

3 level. Similarly, the U.S. Census Bureau 2005 American Community Survey reported that approximately 19% of children under the age of 18 residing in the study county live in poverty. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2005), “If a family’s total income is less than the family’s threshold, then that family, and every individual in it, is considered poor”. A sister to culturally-responsive practice is “Critical pedagogy”, which is founded on the principle that issues can be viewed from many perspectives, that there is no one right answer to most problems, and that critical thinking, reflection, and action are promoted when students approach issues from multiple perspectives, and analyze and question what they are learning. Empowerment is the purpose and outcome of critical pedagogy. In order for students to be empowered, the relationship between teachers, students, parents and administrators needs to be redefined. Progressive educators seek instructional strategies that empower their students (Nieto, 1999). Using critical pedagogy in combination with the ecological and psychological reading theories offers a potentially powerful perspective to understand why culturally-responsive practices might enhance students’ reading comprehension skills. Instructional practices of teachers appear to be influential forces in the development of a child (Morrison, Bachman, & Connor, 2005). For example, first graders who spent more time in academically focused instruction made greater gains in word reading skills, controlling for initial status (Connor, Son, Hindman, & Morrison, 2005; NICHD-ECCRN, 2002). Thus, for children from non-mainstream cultures, researchers have proposed that “[c]ulturally responsive teaching promotes the celebration of diversity and allows the students to make personal connections to new concepts” (Conrad et al., 2004, p. 191). By modifying instructional strategies based on the customs of ethnically diverse student populations, learning can be enhanced (Gay, 2002). Hefflin (2002) describes culturally-relevant pedagogy that creates educational settings, which include diverse cultures and customs, the use of meaningful and significant resources, as well as lessons designed to assist students in bridging their life and school-related experiences.

4 Children who lack basic proficient reading skills are more likely to be referred to special education, drop out of high school, and to enter the juvenile criminal system (Reynolds, Temple, Robertson, & Mann, 2003). Thus, ensuring that all children, including those living in poverty and from minority cultures, learn to read proficiently by the end of third grade would do much to close the achievement gap. However, the well supported ecological theory first proposed by Bronfenbrenner (1986) and supported by accumulating research (Morrison et al., 2005) indicates that a complexity of factors are associated with proficient reading. Indeed, the research is compelling that reading comprehension is influenced by a variety of interacting factors including personal experiences, background knowledge, language structure and vocabulary and engagement and motivation (Guthrie, Wigfield, Barbosa, Perencevich, Taboada, Davis, Scarfiddi, & Tonks, 2004; Snow, 2001). The National Reading Panel report (2000) identified three themes as a result of their research pertaining to the development of comprehension skills: First, reading comprehension is a complex cognitive process that cannot be understood without a clear description of the role that vocabulary development and vocabulary instruction play in the understanding of what has been read. Second, comprehension is an active process that requires an intentional and thoughtful interaction between the reader and the text. Third, the preparation of teachers to better equip students to develop and apply reading comprehension strategies to enhance understanding is intimately linked to students’ achievement in this area (Findings and Determinations of the National Reading Panel by Topic Areas, Comprehension, p. 4-1). The link between vocabulary and reading comprehension has been documented for over two decades (Anderson & Freebody, 1981; Duke, 2008). The findings of The National Reading Panel (NRP, 2000), a meta-analysis of over 50 studies relating to best practices for the teaching of vocabulary instruction and its relation to reading comprehension, suggested that when instruction focused on building vocabulary, children’s reading skills improved. They stated that “[r]eading vocabulary is crucial to the comprehension processes of a skilled reader” (NRP, 2000, Vocabulary Instruction, p. 4-3). The links between background knowledge, vocabulary, and reading comprehension

5 have been well established (NRP, 2000; Snow, 2001). Evidence has repeatedly shown that children will better understand what they read when they are familiar with the topic of the text. Therefore, the purpose of the study was to examine whether certain instructional practices, frequently characterized as “culturally-responsive practices” (Adams, Bondy, & Kuhel, 2005, p. 50), are positively related to students’ reading achievement gains, and to examine in particular, if teachers who can build upon children’s skills and knowledge by using culturally-responsive practices, are more likely to be effective than teachers who do not employ such practices. In light of the disappointing results in students’ reading achievement, nationally and in Florida, the potentially positive impact of culturally- responsive teaching practices as they inform evidence-based reading instruction on students’ reading comprehension scores provides justification for this line of research. While there is an abundance of literature related to both culturally-responsive teaching practices (Ball, 1994; Brown, 1994; Delpit, 1995; Powers, 2002) and reading comprehension (Duke, 2008; Snow, 2001; Torgesen, 2002) as independent areas of study, there is a paucity of research relating students’ reading comprehension outcomes to culturally-responsive teaching practices. The literature on culturally-responsive teaching is almost exclusively descriptive in nature rather than experimental or quasi- experimental and is largely what might be considered proof by assertion. This means that there is virtually no empirical evidence as to whether or not culturally-responsive teaching strategies will promote students’ academic outcomes, particularly reading comprehension. In contrast, there is emerging empirical evidence that comprehension skills can be taught effectively and that better classroom management is associated with stronger student outcomes (NRP, 2000).

6 CHAPTER TWO REVIEW OF LITERATURE

The study model assumes that students’ background knowledge and vocabulary skills influence their reading comprehension, and that teachers who build upon this knowledge by using culturally-responsive practices are generally likely to be the most effective teachers, and specifically for the purpose of this study, in the area of reading instruction. As support for the proposed model, a thorough review of the literature was conducted in the areas of reading comprehension strategies, background knowledge, vocabulary, culturally-responsive teaching practices, and classroom management. Thus, the model informing this study synthesizes a socio-cultural perspective with cognitive theory describing the influence of students’ background knowledge and vocabulary skills on reading comprehension (see Figure 1). Reading comprehension relies on a specific set of skills (e.g., decoding, vocabulary, background knowledge) and these skills appear to be largely influenced by children’s early life experiences (NICHD- ECCRN, 2004). These early experiences are influenced by the family culture and affluence (Gee, 2000; Jencks & Phillips, 1998; McLoyd, 1990, 1998). While semantic memory pertains to all stored information that can be retrieved independently of the learning context (Driscoll, 2000) and is a critical component of the comprehension process, it is episodic memory that pertains to memory of a specific event (Driscoll, 2000) and is considered to play a key role in the retrieval of recently obtained understanding (Rickard & Bajic, 2006). Therefore, these experiences, influenced by culture, serve as the foundation upon which episodic events are constructed, and may be the gateway to stronger student vocabulary skills and reading comprehension.

Sociocultural Influences

Ethnicity Socioeconomic Status Gender Age Cognitive Influences

Background Experiences Interests, Motivation, Attitudes, Beliefs, Feelings, Lan g ua g e Abilities Classroom Influences

Classroom Culture Classroom Management Teaching Practices

Student Outcomes

Reading Comprehension Vocabulary WJ Letter Word Open Court Vocabulary WJ Picture Vocabulary WJ Passage Comprehension Figure 1. Study model for a culturally-responsive vocabulary intervention.

Development and Application of Reading Comprehension Strategies

7

8 Reading comprehension is the active extraction and construction of meaning from text ( Honig, Diamond, & Gutlohn, 2000; NRP, 2000; Snow, 2001). The goal of reading instruction is to help students acquire the skills “…that enable learning from, understanding, and enjoyment of written language” (Torgesen, 2002, p. 9). Research asserts that reading comprehension is influenced by a variety of interacting factors including personal experiences, background knowledge, language structure and vocabulary and engagement and motivation (Guthrie, et al., 2004; Snow, 2001). According to the SIMPLE view of reading (Adams, 2001; Hoover & Gough, 1990), in order to construct meaning from text, language comprehension skills, as well as accurate and fluent identification of individual printed words, are needed. Additionally, reading comprehension is influenced by readers’ experiences, knowledge of their world, vocabulary, and language structure, as well as the strategies they bring to the reading experience (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Children’s ability to concisely use strategies to improve their understanding is related to improved reading comprehension (NRP, 2000; Snow, 2001). Evidence suggests that student monitoring of their own comprehension appears to provide them with the awareness of what they do understand, identify what they do not understand, and to implement strategies to resolve gaps in comprehension. Effective self-monitoring comprehension strategies include the identification of the passage of difficulty, identification of the type of difficulty, restatement of the difficult passage in the student’s own words, going back through the text to locate information that is pertinent to the difficult passage, and looking ahead through the text for information that may resolve the difficulty (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Hypothetically, children from non- mainstream cultures may be less familiar with these kinds of strategies, especially if books are not a large part of their home and community environment (Teale, 1986). Comprehension strategies consist of actions taken by good readers to gain meaning from text (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). “…teachers must themselves have a firm grasp not only of the strategies that they are teaching the children but also of the instructional strategies that they can employ to achieve their goal.” (NRP, 2000, Teacher Preparation and Comprehension Strategies Instruction, p. 4-7). In addition to

9 knowledge of the strategies themselves and the most effective ways to teach as well as model these strategies, teachers need to know which strategies are most effective for their diverse student population and varied content (NRP, 2000, p. 4-7). Research demonstrates that comprehension strategy instruction is predominantly effective through explicit teaching that includes a direct explanation of why a particular strategy is helpful and when the strategy should be used, modeling of the strategy application, teacher guidance with identifying how and when the strategy should be applied, and assistance as the student moves to independent application of the strategy. Students can work in pairs or small groups as they learn and apply comprehension strategies. The use of prior knowledge and mental imagery are two strategies with research support (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). Comprehension monitoring, using graphic and semantic organizers, answering questions, generating questions, recognizing story structure, and summarizing are six strategies with strong, scientific evidence for improving comprehension of text (U.S. Department of Education, 2001). While explicit comprehension strategy instruction has proven to be beneficial, Al Otaiba, Kosanovich-Grek, Torgesen, Hassler, and Wahl, (2005) cautioned that reading programs not aligned with Scientifically-Based Reading Research (SBRR) frequently introduced too many strategies within a sole lesson, thus failing to provide sufficient time for students to practice and internalize the comprehension strategies. Assessment of comprehension in the early grades is accomplished through a variety of strategies, including the “listening and retelling experiences” strategy recommended by Honig, Diamond, and Gutlohn (2000). After the teacher reads aloud a story, this strategy encourages students to verbally share their understanding of a story’s characters, settings, and events, thus providing the teacher with a means for assessing listening comprehension. The authors suggest that students displaying weakness in this area would benefit from intervention targeted specifically at listening comprehension. A strategy for facilitating both listening and reading comprehension is the “read- aloud plus” strategy recommended by Herrell and Jordan (2004, p. 199). In addition to reading aloud as recommended by Honig et al. (2000) , this particular strategy calls for

10 the teacher to model fluent, expressive reading while tapping into background knowledge needed to facilitate the connection between the text and student experiences, explaining vocabulary, and checking for understanding. The teacher’s observations and anecdotal notes serve as either evidence of students’ demonstration of understanding or documentation of the need for intervention in the identified area(s). Text talk, an instructional strategy focusing on the development of oral language and comprehension, has the potential to enhance student learning when combined with culturally-responsive teaching practices (Conrad et al., 2004). Text Talk, developed by Isabel Beck and Margaret McKeown (2001), is an instructional strategy facilitating the construction of meaning. Through teacher initiated questions, students consider ideas presented in selected texts and then connect the ideas as they move along through the story.

Culturally-Responsive Teaching Strategies Culturally-responsive teaching practices vary from good educational practice in that “Educational solutions developed in one place and for one population of students are not necessarily the best solutions for another population so children in another place.” (Jordan, 1995). Jordan asserts that while there may be teaching principles applicable for all students, effective practices may vary from group to group. Reading and writing “…are social practices that vary both across and within cultures, are shaped by the cultures that give rise to them, and shape individuals’ ways of participating in literacy events…” (Foster, 2000). Motivating students and adapting teaching strategies to fit various student cultures and individual differences are considered to be essential components of successful learning. Schulz and Bravi (1986) suggest that teachers be willing to make needed adjustments in order to meet the needs of all students, and use a variety of instructional methods and tools in a flexible learning structure. Glasgow, McNary, and Hicks (2006) have identified certain comprehension strategies as being characteristic of culturally-responsive instruction. These strategies include comprehension modeling, graphic organizers, semantic organizers, mental imagery, generating questions, answering questions, recognizing story structure, and

11 summarizing. Also suggested by Glasgow et al. (2006) is that the teacher should provide an explanation of when a strategy should be used and why the strategy is helpful, followed by teacher modeling of the strategy, student practice, and finally assistance with strategy application as students move to independence. Allowing students to work in small groups or pairs as they are learning and applying strategies helps facilitate student comprehension. Powers (2002) asserts that confirmation of language structures familiar to students should lead to an increase in student appeal and accomplishment. Research examining student-teacher discourse disclosed that differences between students’ subcultures - their traditions, gestures, and native tongue - and the conventional culture led to instances of discrimination. In a study analyzing teacher-student discourse in writing conferences, with the student’s view of the teacher’s discourse serving as the principal focal point, it was revealed that even though the student participant was encouraged to be actively engaged in discussion during writing conferences, the teacher participant failed to provide writing assignments that would capitalize on the student participant’s native storytelling language. The fourth-grade student selected to be the participant of the study was a native Appalachian and had been identified as struggling in the areas of both reading and writing. Data were gathered via qualitative means including interviews, observations, and assessment of student writing samples, over a period of 60 days, with observations occurring four to five days each week. Even though the teacher participant valued the student participant’s thinking and interests, and continued to provide support and structure, the student participant refused to dispose of his home language in favor of one that was representative of the dominant culture. Since spoken language is the venue through which most teaching and demonstration of learning occur one might expect for students’ literacy encounters to be aligned with their own cultural identity (Powers, 2002). The student participant, like many Appalachians, both rural and urban, had most likely encountered instances of discrimination due to the differences between his own mountain subculture and the conventional culture in reference to his traditions, gestures, and native tongue. While this study provided an in-depth analysis of the teacher-student discourse, without an

12 investigation of the impact on the student’s learning, there is very little evidence to support the claim that the teacher’s practices were ineffective. One of the most important studies demonstrating the potential of culturally- responsive practices (CRP) to enhance student reading comprehension is the Kamehameha Elementary Education Program (KEEP), an educational research and development program tasked with changing educational practices to increase achievement of Native Hawaiian children. The product was a language arts program for children in grades K through 3 associated with gains in reading achievement for Hawaiian children identified as educationally at-risk for underachievement (Jordan, 1995). Hawaiian students identified as academically at-risk worked diligently at school tasks with teachers who provided an efficient and timely systematic delivery of a phonics-based reading program. Although the amount of content students covered increased as did their motivation and time on task, there was no significant improvement in student performance on standardized tests. As a result, changes were made in the curriculum to reflect an emphasis on comprehension with students being encouraged to relate information about their Hawaiian culture, personal experiences, and background knowledge to their stories in the classroom. Coinciding with the implementation of these procedures, students’ reading skills improved. Because of the encouraging results of the KEEP program, a collaborative project between the Educational Research Center and the Rough Rock Demonstration School located on a Navajo Reservation was implemented to determine whether or not the apparently effective program developed for the Hawaiian children would also work with children from another culture. Indeed, CRP focused on the Hawaiian culture was not associated with Navajo student gains. Rather, study personnel observed that the classroom functioned more smoothly and was conducive to further program implementation when management routines were adapted to the Navajo culture. Unfortunately, students’ reading comprehension was not assessed so it is not clear that the improved classroom management was related to stronger student outcomes. An interesting and culturally-related finding was that Navajo student groups worked effectively if they consisted of only two to three students of the same sex. This is

Full document contains 160 pages
Abstract: Accumulating research reveals that children's reading comprehension is influenced by a reader's experiences, knowledge, language structure, and vocabulary. Thus, this researcher investigated the construct, culturally-responsive practice, as a way to provide effective learning opportunities for children from non-mainstream cultures, including children living in poverty. Evidence from this study suggests that the most critical component of culturally-responsive practice on students' reading comprehension is the development and implementation of reading comprehension strategies. While this is an important finding, a notable word of caution is that the practices considered to be important for honoring students' cultural backgrounds are also considered to be effective reading comprehension strategies in general. Study results reflect the successful development and implementation of a first grade vocabulary intervention that supported students' reading skill growth. This was the case even though one of the participating schools served many children living in poverty. While the intervention offers a promising approach to support children's vocabulary and reading comprehension more generally, additional research is essential. Exploration of students' language use during language arts instruction in general, and vocabulary instruction in particular may provide answers. At the same time, it should be recognized that as a self-standing construct, culturally-responsive practice may be too limited. Thus, absent effective teaching overall, these results suggest that focus solely on instilling culturally-responsive practices in the classroom will likely fail to lead to stronger student achievement. Many questions remain unanswered, supporting the need for well designed randomized control field trials that incorporate complementary methods--both experimental and observational, examining teachers' culturally-responsive practices (or lack thereof) in the classroom, evidence-based reading comprehension instruction, students' reaction to this practice, and how these practices relate to students' reading skill growth. It may be that culturally-responsive practices enhance other student outcomes, such as social skills and behavior, which were beyond the scope of this study. Implications also exist for pre-service teacher education programs and teacher professional development efforts as well. While training in culturally-responsive practices has a long history, classroom-based research to support these practices has been limited.