Urban elementary school teachers' use of African American literature within a technical-scientific curriculum
TABLE OF CONTENTS IV ABSTRACT Ill TABLE OF CONTENTS IV LIST OF TABLES VII CHAPTER ONE 1 INTRODUCTION 1 Central Theme 1 Problem Statement 1 Failure of Urban Schools 1 Cultural Disconnect 4 Factors That Contribute to the MarginaUzation of African American Literature... 5 Promise for Enhancing Achievement for African American Students 7 Purpose of the Study 7 Need for the Study 9 Research Questions 10 Research Assumptions 11 Research Approach 11 Definition of Terms 13 African American Literature 13 Urban Elementary School Teachers 14 Technical-Scientific Curricula 15 CHAPTER TWO 16 LITERATURE REVIEW 16 Perspectives on the Presence and Use of African American Literature in Schools. 16 Factors That Have Contributed to the MarginaUzation of African American Literature in Schools 17 Deculturalization 17 Technical Scientific Curricula 19 No Child Left Behind Act 23 Teachers' Use of Multicultural Literature 23 Centering African American Literature in the Curriculum: 25 Theoretical Perspectives 25 Democratic Pluralistic Education 25 Critical Race Theory 28 Multicultural Education 29 Culturally Responsive Pedagogy 32 Diverse Constructivist Framework 33 Multicultural Curriculum Reform Theory 35 Critical Literacy 37 The Significance and Use of African American Literature in Schools 39 Using Culturally Relevant Literature to Enhance Comprehension 42 How Literature is Used to Enhance Motivation 46
V Connection Between Literacy, Identity, and Self-Esteem 47 Identifying Gaps in the Research Literature 50 Summary 50 CHAPTER THREE 52 METHODOLOGY 52 Research Design 52 Participants and Context 55 Sample Bias 58 Role of the Researcher and Researcher Bias 58 Ethical Considerations 59 Information Collection 59 Document analysis 60 Surveys 61 Interviews 62 Observation 64 Procedures 64 Information Analysis 65 Trustworthiness 69 CHAPTER FOUR 71 FINDINGS 71 Interpretation of Data Analysis 71 Availability of Texts 71 District-mandated materials 71 Classroom libraries: Imported texts 73 Teacher Practices 75 School practices 75 Participants' practices 76 Teachers and Their Beliefs: Teaching Within a Non-Critical Approach to Literature 77 Fran 77 Maria 81 Ayanna 86 Teachers and Their Beliefs: Teaching Toward the Transformative Approach 92 Samantha 92 Brianna 100 Teachers' Use of African American Literature in Relation to the Theoretical Frameworks 105 Teacher Beliefs 109 Little room for curriculum deviation 109 Teacher belief systems and lesson planning 111 Teachers and Their Beliefs: Teaching Toward the Transformative Approach... 111 Teachers and Their Beliefs: Teaching Within a Non-Critical Approach to Literature 114 Summary 118
vi CHAPTER FIVE 122 INTERPRETATION AND DISCUSSION 122 Discussion of Findings 122 Availability of Text 123 Summary of findings 124 Teacher Practices 123 Summary of findings 124 Teacher Beliefs 125 Summary of findings 125 Relationship Between Teachers' Beliefs and Relevant Theories 125 Implications 126 Implications for Curriculum and Instruction 126 Implications for Professional Development and Teacher Education 128 Further Study 130 Limitations 131 REFERENCES 133 APPENDIX A 148 APPENDIX B 152 APPENDIX C 153 APPENDIX D 154 APPENDIX E 155 APPENDIX F 156 APPENDIX G 157 APPENDIX H 158 APPENDIX I 159 APPENDIX J 160 APPENDIX K 161 APPENDIX L 162
vii LIST OF TABLES Table 1. Summarization of Research Questions and Methods for Data Assertions.. 157 Table 2. Summary of Participants' Characteristics 158 Table 3. District Used Text, Harcourt Anthology: Breakdown of Literature Type.. 159 Table 4. Summary of the Literature Within Classroom Libraries 160 Table 5. Summary of Classroom Visits 161 Table 6. Banks' Multicultural Curriculum Reform Theory with Participant's Level Added 162
viii ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS There are many people to whom I am indebted for their assistance in the completion of not only my dissertation, but the opportunity to engage in the Doctoral program. First, I want to express my sincere thanks and appreciation to Fran, Ayanna, Samantha, Maria, and Brianna. This study would not have been possible without their agreement and willingness to allow me into their rooms and their lives. As importantly, I'd like to acknowledge the support of my family. What can I say to them? My daughter, who at 12, understands the notion of sacrifice; my mom, who at 66, not only understands sacrifice, but has lived it on my behalf for far beyond these five years; my brother, who stepped in and became the role model needed; Vince and Satu, who refused to let me give up EVER, and the rest of my family for listening and listening. I could not have proceeded without the assistance of my many colleagues. They encouraged me and helped me whenever necessary. Providing an ear, or reviewing my work, or just discussing how to proceed were just a few of the activities they helped with. Without their support, I would not have succeeded. I am extremely grateful to the members of my doctoral committee and extend to them my true thanks. 1 am amazed at the depth of their knowledge and their work within the Saint Joseph's Academic Community. Dr. Althier Lazar, as my chair, has been my rock. She pushed me far harder than I thought I could be pushed without breaking. Dr. Horn's constant words of wisdom and Dr. Nilsson's insight were also invaluable. Isn't life full of amazing wonders?
CHAPTER ONE INTRODUCTION Central Theme This is a qualitative study that looks at the use of African American literature in an urban elementary school. Specifically, this study explores urban elementary teachers' use of African American literature within a technical-scientific curriculum. The following secondary questions also guided this study: 1) What is the availability of African American literature within the school's curriculum? 2) What is the relationship between teacher beliefs and their use of African American literature? The major premise upon which this study is based is that African American literature should be more centered in school curricula, especially in schools that serve high percentages of African American students. This is based on principles of democratic pluralistic education and critical race theory, and is further justified by the diverse constructivist framework, multicultural curricula reform theory, critical literacy and empirical data on the benefits of using this literature with African American students. This study will provide new pathways to inform research and support teachers' use of this literature. Problem Statement Failure of Urban Schools Urban schools are failing African American students in so many ways. These patterns of failure are repetitious, and are a result of many factors. These factors contribute to a distinct achievement gap between African American and white students, particularly in the area of reading, creating a system of marked disparities between these two groups.
2 To further discuss the gap as marked by academic achievement, I will describe both high school graduation rates and standardized tests, two indicators of academic achievement. Swanson (2004) suggests that roughly two-thirds of public school students nationwide graduate, with this number plummeting to roughly one-third in high poverty urban districts, which serve a large population of African American students (Swanson, 2004, p. 1). The dropout rate is of particular importance in a democratic society where all members of a society have equal responsibility for the growth and success of their culture. It is as equally important to urban high school students, as levels of educational attainment have a corollary relationship with individual and social outcomes (Swanson, 2004). Without some very pointed intervention, dropout rates will have catastrophic future repercussions. Standardized tests also show a system failing African American students. Not only do African American students struggle with standardized testing, as indicated by scores significantly below their white counterparts, but the tests themselves are biased. Berlak (2001) indicates: Standardized tests are a particularly invidious form of institutionalized racism because they lend the cloak of science to policies that have denied, and are continuing to deny, persons of color equal access to educational and job opportunities. An educational accountability system based on standardized testing — though predicated on "standardized" measurements which are purportedly neutral, objective, and color-blind — perpetuates and strengthens institutionalized racism, (p. 87)
3 Additionally, urban schools are failing African American students in terms of literacy achievement. The reading achievement gap between African American and White students perseveres, as shown by the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP). This national test is given in every state to samples of students whom experts agree are statistically reliable. The NAEP test is revered as the closest facsimile to a nationwide standardized test in the area of reading and math. Fourth grade reading scores for urban children, many of whom are African American, show a differential that is as much as fifteen points below that of their non-urban peers (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2005). Sixty-three percent of African American fourth graders are below basic with regard to levels of reading. Fifty percent of African American high school students also still read below grade level (Hammond, Hover, & McPhail, 2005). The gap in reading test scores that are considered below a proficient level between African American and White students increases each year. In fourth grade reading, between the years of 1992 - 2000, only one state diminished the achievement gap between minority students, many of whom are African American, and White students (Barton, 2001). The gap in Pennsylvania is wide, whereby the U.S. average is 230 for White students, while African American students' average is 203. (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2007). These statistics are not accurate representations of these students' abilities. Hoover (2005) maintained that ineffectual literacy and school practices contradicted the learning styles of many children of color, creating, particularly in reading, a learning gap between African Americans and white students. Moreover, research indicates that
4 underachievement is related to their being in schools that are failing them, especially in the area of providing a self-affirming curriculum. Cultural Disconnect There are many factors that negatively impact African American students' academic achievement. I will focus on the cultural disconnect between these students and the predominantly Eurocentric curriculum they often experience. Specifically, literature that reflects students' culture and heritage is often marginalized in the curriculum. This means that many African American students may experience a cultural disconnect between their home lives and that of the curriculum of school. The impact of this disconnect on many African American students may have profound repercussions on student achievement (Brooks, 2006). Franklin (1989) maintained that the curriculum in urban schools should reflect the interest and lives of children of color; so all students of differing backgrounds could feel a bond and sense of belonging. Franklin (1989) further indicated that a sense of connectedness, based on his research, provided them with the opportunity to execute as proficiently as their White counterparts. Finn (1991) maintained a similar perspective, claiming that public schools serve only a part of the population, because the presented school curriculum was ethnocentric, mono-cultural, overpowering, and unsuitable for students of diverse cultures. Schooling is considered a crucial factor in the creation and representation of oneself. Heine, Lehman, Markus, and Kitayama (1999) suggest, "People have a need to view themselves positively" (p. 766). In addition to viewing oneself positively, it has also been stated by many in the field of psychology, that actual positive self-regard is
5 fundamental for attaining mental health (Baumeister, 1993; Leary,Tambor,Terdal, & Downs, 1995; Taylor & Brown, 1988) and academic success (Steele, 1997). As an urban educator, the reflection of oneself is a profoundly crucial component within the role of education (Steele, 1997). Weis and Fine (2000) discuss as the "recognition that much of what youths learn, teach, believe in, long to know - and, most fundamentally, how they form and re-form identities - take shape with spaces both within and outside of school" (p. xi). Given this possibility, it is useful to discuss one of the primary tools of schooling today: literature. Research has suggested again and again that students must "see themselves in literature," (Hefflin & Barksdale-Ladd, 2001). African American students need to have the opportunity to interact with texts that could reflect their experiences and culture (Delpit, 1988; Dozier & Rutten, 2006: Fine &Weiss, 2003). Factors That Contribute to the Marginalization of African American Literature Three factors combine to marginalize African American literature in the curriculum. These include deculturalization, educational paradigms that conflict with the presence of multicultural literature, and the teacher's resistance to using and facilitating discussions about multicultural literature. The historical significance of schooling for African Americans hinges on the concept of deculturalization (Spring, 2004). The deculturalization of African Americans in the United States has created lasting effects that can be seen in the educational context. As a dominated culture in the United States, African Americans have existed in an educational system that has been molded by Eurocentric views, creating opportunities for
6 assimilation into mainstream culture, instead of growth or reproduction of African culture. This has had impact on the marginalization of African America literature. To understand how urban teachers use African American literature we must interrogate the very purpose for schooling, and the national agenda. The federal education policy of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) contributes to the marginalization of African American literature. This marginalization occurs as a direct result of a standards movement defined by the accumulation of knowledge versus an accumulation of thinking skills (AUington, 2010). Curriculum designs and daily teaching activities are being driven by literacy standards that do not place much value in the use of literature that reflects students' culture and heritage (Hoover, 2005). NCLB does not encourage the use of multicultural literature, as the primary thrust of the Act is a back-to- basics orientation toward literacy teaching. It does not suggest that culture should play any role in academic success. This type of educational paradigmatic divergence is the type of conflict that does not promote an environment that encourages the use of multicultural literature. Teachers are placed in the position of having to attend to standardized curricula on one hand, and responding to the needs their students on the other. According to Copenhaver (2000), many teachers are resistant to using multicultural literature. Copenhaver (2000) suggests that many are unfamiliar with the content of these books. Additionally, she suggests teachers are uncomfortable mediating conversations where they feel inadequate or are afraid of what parents might say if these texts prompt conversations about controversial topics.
7 All of these factors inhibit the use of multicultural literature. Paradigmatic alignment, NCLB, deculturalization, and the teacher's reluctance to address the conversations that emerge from multicultural literature contribute to the marginalization of African American literature in the school curriculum. Promise for Enhancing Achievement for African American Students As learned members of a scholarly community, we are aware that research shows that the use of African American literature helps African American students identify with the curriculum, which embraces promise for enhancing students' academic achievement. Culturally responsive teaching teaches to and through the assets of students because it uses an expansive range of instructional strategies associated with different learning * styles, enhancing student achievement (Gay, 2000; Hale, 2001; Ladson-Billings, 1994). There are a number of studies that suggest that reading comprehension is dependent on one's familiarity with text content, and so students' level of exposure to this content is an important component of the curriculum (Mustapha, 1988; Pritchard, 1990; Stefenson, Joag-Dev, & Anderson, 1979). By providing students access to culturally responsive teaching through the provision of culturally relevant materials, academic achievement can be achieved. Currently, however, little is known about the availability of African American literature in a curriculum that serves primarily African American children, and very little information exists on how teachers use this literature. These questions form the basis for my study. Purpose of the Study This study examines how teachers use multicultural literature in their daily teaching events given the constraints outlined above. This study explores how teachers
8 negotiate the use of multicultural literature within a technical-scientific curriculum. The study takes place in an urban K-6 school on the east coast with roughly 450 students. I will refer to multicultural literature as African American literature, as the population in the school is 99% African American. I set out to examine the availability of African American literature in the school's curriculum and how urban teachers use African American literature within their classrooms as it relates to culturally relevant pedagogy. There is a plethora of research discussing reader response to multicultural literature (Brooks, 2006; Brooks & Hampton, 2005; Glazier & Seo, 2005; Rice, 2005; Sipe, 1999,2000), but I wanted to go beyond that to connect with the teacher component of the use of African American Literature. My thinking behind this focus was that if a teacher does not use African American Literature in a predominantly African American school, then students' opportunities to connect personally with texts would be compromised, and this can undermine their academic achievement. Therefore, my questions focus on how teachers use literature that reflects the cultured and heritage of the children in a school that serves primarily African America children. Another consideration that helped determine my focus is the technical-scientific approach, from which the curriculum was developed in the study site where I researched. Ornstein and Hunkins (2004) define the technical-scientific approach as a "view (that) can enable us to comprehend curriculum from a macro or broad view and to understand it as a complex unity of parts organized to serve a common function - the education of individuals" (p. 196). To accomplish this, educators must take a rational stance, demarcating in a systematic fashion, the actions that will assist the conception of
9 curricula. Will this rational, deliberative model as outlined impede the use of African American literature? How do urban teachers use African American literature within the framework of a technical-scientific approach to curriculum, whereby a rational model of standards driven curriculum is presented? So, to engage these questions and my passions, I turn now to the need for the study. Need for the Study Research efforts have been designed to identify and investigate some of the critical factors surrounding how teachers use African American literature. Extensive research has laid bare how students respond to literature (Beach & Hynds, 1991; Galda, 1982; Marshall, 2000; Sipe, 1999). Galda and Beach (2001) suggest the sociocultural frame, or cultural models that include an intermingling of texts, readers, and contexts also have meaning in students' responses to literature. Additionally, Brooks and Hampton (2005) delineate research findings around teachers' use of whole group literature discussions and writing in response to literature to foster a use of multicultural literature. Brooks (2006) details teachers' use of consecutive, large group literature discussions as a specific mode within the framework of multicultural literature exploration. Copenhaver (2001) presents research regarding teachers' use of read alouds, delineating the constrictions encountered through validating or invalidating students' response. Rice (2005) discusses research surrounding peer-led literature discussion groups, and the rigor associated with this construction. Yet lacking in much of this research are the perceptions of teachers about why and how they include and utilize African American literature, especially within the framework of a technical-scientific curriculum. Diaz-Gemmati (1995) and Stallworth, Gibbons, and Fauber (2006) are exceptions. Diaz-Gemmati
10 (1995) relays her thoughts, both as a teacher and action researcher, regarding the "why and the how" to include multicultural literature within her curriculum. Using a series of exercises with her students, Diaz-Gemmati engaged in thoughtful discussions regarding racial issues, through which students were able to share common experiences, and find common ground among non-common experiences. Stall worth, Gibbons, and Fauber (2006) completed a study that was an exploration of teacher perspectives on the use of multicultural literature. Stallworth et al. (2006) explored the reasons for including or excluding multicultural literature. However, these studies did not go so far as to investigate the teaching of African American literature in relation to an imposed curriculum, nor did they look at the relationship between teacher practices and beliefs. The present study extends these studies to examine how children respond to African American literature (Beach, 1998; Dressel, 2005; Galda & Beach, 2001; Sipe, 1999,2000), focusing instead, on the teachers themselves and their decisions regarding curriculum. This addresses the current gap in the knowledge base in current research literature that must be addressed, and specifically addressed the teachers' ways of infusing literature given the constraints discussed above. Research Questions The following overarching research question guided this study: How do urban elementary teachers use African American literature within a technical-scientific curriculum? The following secondary questions also guided this study: 1) What is the availability of African American literature within the school's curriculum?
11 2) What is the relationship between teacher beliefs and their use of African American literature? Research Assumptions Every study is somehow derived from, and guided by, certain assertions that reside within a specific philosophical orientation. This study follows course, drawing strength from composite impressions. The first of these assumptions is this researcher's belief that the academic crisis in urban education has dire consequences for society as an entirety. Additionally, it is my belief that not only can we change the direction of the down-spiraling urban educational system, but also we must, and we must do it now. Educators are failing many African American students, and as the system is designed to continue to enhance the structure and system for those who are already achieving, it leaves precious little but to try to catch up for the others. This cannot be acceptable to parents, students, educators, administrators, taxpayers, and active members of society. This cannot be tolerated by any of us. Now is the time to look closely, to be honest, to be descriptive, and engage in discourse that could still change this grim forecast. We must have this discourse now, before it is too late. These postulations lay bare the confirmation needed to address this social dilemma, forcing all stakeholders to view possibilities for change. Research Approach Our world is conceptualized through our beliefs, ideas, values, and world-view, which in turn can be viewed through a particular paradigm. This paradigm often allows for the basis for reflection and self-revelation that in turn, reinforces the paradigm itself. Patton (2002) states:
12 A paradigm is a worldview, a general perspective, a way of breaking down the complexity of the real world. As such, paradigms are deeply embedded in the socialization of adherents and practitioners: paradigms tell them what is important, legitimate, and reasonable. Paradigms are also normative, telling the practitioner what to do without the necessity of long existential of epistemological considerations, (p. 203) After identifying the paradigm from whence the researcher operates, the type of inquiry comes into alignment as well. Engaging in an inquiry that reflects the tenets of a paradigm is then a natural supposition. Notably, one must then uncover the paradigm from which a researcher functions, departing on a type of intellectual vision quest. Though a teacher by profession, I was not and am not comfortable in the black and white version of truth presented by quantitative data. It seemed like a nagging, irritating mosquito, causing me to continually question, reflect, and question some more. However, this journey did not begin for me in earnest until the beginning of my doctoral work. From the inception of the program, I was placed in a vortex of intellectual readings, including Freire, Kuhn, Dewey, Giroux, hooks, McLaren, Greene, Ellsworth, Callahan, and many others. It became clear from our interrogation of not only the writing and conceptual development, but also the foundation from which these researchers draw conclusions, which this knowledge helped to support the view of the world this researcher holds. Recognizing "values permeate every paradigm that has been proposed or might be proposed, for paradigms are human constructions, and hence cannot be impervious to human values" (Guba & Lincoln, 1989, p. 65), I found myself draw not to the traditional
13 quantitative inquiry method, but rather to the qualitative realm, where the researcher must confront and act reflexively throughout a study. Creswell (1998) describes qualitative research as: an inquiry process of understanding based on distinct methodological traditions of inquiry that explore a social or human problem. The researcher builds a complex, holistic picture, analyzes words, reports detailed views of informants, and conducts the study in a natural setting, (p. 15) The nature of the research question proposed suggests a qualitative approach, addresses a topic that needs to be explored, relies on the accounting of a detailed view of the topic, and occurs within a natural setting. All four axioms suggest the necessity for qualitative inquiry. This study's approach is supported by the critical constructivist paradigm. Within this ontological position it is recognized that "realities are constructed in the minds of individuals.. . there is an infinite number of constructions that might be made" (Lincoln & Guba, 1985, pp. 83-84). Further, Lincoln and Guba (1985) suggest: "The meanings and wholeness derived from or ascribed to the tangible phenomena in order to make sense of them, organize them, or reorganize a belief system. . . are constructed realities" (p. 84). Definition of Terms African American Literature To understand the nature of this study further, it is important to discuss and understand what African American literature encompasses. African American literature can be described as a subset within multicultural literature. Hefflin and Barksdale-Ladd
14 (2001) suggest high-quality African American children's literature include: characters who are well developed and portrayed in authentic, realistic contexts; use language that is authentic and realistic, particularly dialogue that portrays African American dialect appropriate to the character; incorporates illustrations that portray African American and other characters and settings authentically and realistically; and lastly, present accurate information (p. 814). Conceptually, multicultural literature can be considered a facet of multicultural education. Multicultural literature situates itself within the complexities of class, race, gender, and hegemonies associated with that of a student's education. Sims- Bishop (1997) suggests five broad functions of the inclusion of multicultural literature: 1) like all literature, it can provide enjoyment and illuminate human experience, in both its unity and its variety; 2) it can provide knowledge or information; 3) it can change the way students look at their world by offering varying perspectives; 4) it can promote or develop an appreciation for diversity; and 5) it can give rise to critical inquiry (pp. 4-5). African American literature is one component of multicultural education that is deemed culturally responsive pedagogy for African American students. Additionally, African American literature can also provide a platform through which Critical Race Theory can address the underlying issues of racism. Urban Elementary School Teachers Urban elementary school teachers are another concept that can be operationally defined as teachers in a city school system, grades k-6. The urban elementary school teachers in this study will include current teachers in grades 2,4,5, and 6.
15 Technical-Scientific Curricula Ornstein and Hunkins (2004) define a technical-scientific curriculum as a "plan or blueprint for structuring the learning environment and coordinating the elements of personnel, materials, and equipment" (p. 196). This plan involves the delineation of the body of knowledge each student must receive and learn from the curriculum. Specifically, the goals are set for learning, regardless of the interaction between learner and experience.
CHAPTER TWO LITERATURE REVIEW Perspectives on the Presence and Use of African American Literature in Schools This chapter will address the current research and theoretical perspectives that inform this study on the use of African American literature in schools. I will discuss the factors that have contributed to the marginalization of this literature in the school curriculum. These include: 1) the deculturalization of African Americans in the United States, 2) the evolution of a technical-scientific curriculum in schools and its connection to the No Child Left Behind federal law, and 3) teachers' limited familiarity with using multicultural literature. Following this introduction, I will provide theoretical perspectives that warrant centering African American literature in the school curriculum. The use of this literature is based on principles of democratic pluralistic education and critical race theory, and is further justified by the diverse constructivist framework (Au, 1998), multicultural curricula reform theory (Banks, 1993), and critical literacy (McDaniel, 2006). These theoretical frames, each of which are grounded in the empowerment of people, complement each other to produce a foundation for the use of African American literature in schools. Finally, I will narrow the focus to discuss what is currently known about the use of multicultural literature in schools, and specifically, the use of African American literature as a tool for motivation, comprehension, and identity formation.