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The Importance of Culturally Relevant Teaching in Low-income Neighborhoods

Culturally relevant teaching is a pedagogy that empowers students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes. It is not a matter of race, gender, or teaching style. Teachers with culturally relevant practices see themselves as part of the community and they encourage students to learn collaboratively. Culturally relevant teachers help students make connections between their community, nationality and global identities. Teachers who are culturally relevant view knowledge critically and see teaching as “digging knowledge out” of students. The lack of culturally relevant teaching seems to be at the forefront of the educational setbacks of our youth. Our students are learning but there seems to be something lacking. As a team, we want to understand why it is important for culturally relevant teaching to be implemented in low income neighborhoods?
Ethical Consideration
Informed participation:
Our number one priority as a group is to make sure that we follow a strict ethics code when it comes to our upcoming research. Before approaching the teachers, we will need consent from the principals. Once given permission, they will be given a formal letter that will introduce to them the topic and reasons on why we have chosen to do this study. Children’s feelings are often taken for granted when it comes to research and we want to make sure that they are comfortable knowing that we as interviewers will give them the utmost respect. They will also be given a formal letter that will introduce to them the topic and reasons why we chose to do this study for them to take home to their parents. When dealing with children, we want to make sure the adults who supervise them from home to school are well aware of our intentions.
Voluntary participation:
To make sure everyone knows that sharing their opinions is completely voluntary, on the letter mentioned above, there will be a question asking whether or not they wish to participate in the interview. It will specify that it is solely their decision, and no one else’s. This letter will act as a legal document so the aforementioned will be protected from any malicious intent.
Confidentiality and anonymity:
To keep the identities of our participant’s safe they shall remain anonymous, keeping all of their information a secret. Any interview response given by our participants will be completely unknown to the reader. We will only use the neighborhood location and school for documentation purposes. The participants’ names will never be listed or said during or after the interview process but we will have our own personal records of the participants, schools, and locations for documentation purposes.
Protection from harm:
Our study does not intend to harm any of our participants but in the event we happen to anger someone or make them feel sadness in any way we will pause the discussion and let them know their open and honest emotions are respected. We will apologize but let them know that the main reason we are doing this study is to get what’s real and not what we want to hear. We will be interviewing willing children with discretion in respect to them, their parents and their school. There are no serious risks involved in our study and the honest opinions from our participants are the only thing we sincerely need from them.
Participation of children:
In recruiting the children we’d like to include in our study, the above-mentioned consent form comes into play. We plan on going to the school, and speaking with the different teachers. They will be our gatekeepers. This of course will be after speaking with the Principal, who then will inform their faculty of our study. Those who sign up and agree will be our gatekeepers. They will then pass on the letters to their students of which will then pass on to their parent or guardian. This will only be done after we speak openly and respectfully to each class, of course with the teachers consent. In order to gain voluntary consent of the teachers, we will explain to the parents of the children as well as the teachers and other associates of the school that the purpose of our interview is to understand the factors of a school in a low income neighborhood as well the influences it has on the children attending it. We will answer any questions the children or teachers may have right then and there referring to the upcoming interview. We want the children to know that their opinion and theirs alone is who we want to focus on. We want to explain to them how important it is for them to know that they shouldn’t feel coerced into lying or saying anything that doesn’t respect how they feel as individuals. When speaking with the children who are actively participate in our study we have to switch things up. We need to make it clear and comprehensible for these kids because they will be the ones reading our research and findings. We will use vocabulary that they are more familiar with, and speak in friendly tones. We don’t want the children to feel intimidated by our presence, especially because we are strangers to them compared to their teacher. Our body language has to give off a friendly demeanor that will enable the children to build a certain trust with us as researchers. When it comes to the children we will do this in a way that makes them feel comfortable and at ease knowing they’re input will be included. In no way do we want to make them feel judged or seem as if they are just a project or experiment. We want to observe them in an environment where they feel relaxed.
Some researchers of children disregard the true opinions of the youth and say what they feel children are thinking. Any questions asked by us, we want them to know that their responses are solely based upon what they feel and that alone. When synthesizing and trying to make sense of each word from the scripts presented to us, we will only be narrowing down the focus areas. We will have to compare and contrast the original script with what we synthesized so we make sure the voices and feelings of the kids remain at the forefront.
Data security:
To ensure the security of the data received from our participants, they will be filed in a locked cabinet where only the three of us will have access with our keys. Then our coded data for analysis and reporting will be kept password protected in which only the three of us will know what that password will be.
Dissemination and use of research:
There are many ways our research can be manipulated and misunderstood by those who are reading it and participating in it. With that being said, we want to make sure there are no misunderstandings. We will thoroughly explain exactly what our research is and its purpose.
Literature Review
Our literature review allows one to understand the link between race and academic achievement amongst minorities who are underprivileged. Noguera states “minority and disadvantaged children tend to not do as well in school than affluent white students” (Noguera, 2003). There are children who are not able to have the same opportunities as other students. They get sent to schools that do not have enough funding, which cause the students to have less than they deserve. The schools that are funded and have the resources are geared to children who in a higher class and have the means to get a good education and achieve academically. They analyzed a school in East Bay (Richmond, Berkeley, and Oakland) and it showed the outcomes of the student’s academics. There was a study that showed academic outcomes of children was linked to a child’s race and class based on the characteristics of their neighborhood. Also a child’s culture may determine how they perceive education and the importance of it. Though this is happening, there is no one making a big enough impact because there are still failing schools and students who are dropping out.
According to Mickelson, young people have two different mindsets on education. It is explained that Blacks have a positive attitude toward education but they have poor academics. They know having an education is important but continue to fail academically or drop out. They know they do not have the same opportunities as their white counterparts. They have these attitudes that cause them to act and think this way. The first attitude is called “abstract attitude” which is a global way of thinking and deals with cultural values. Abstract thinking is how we view success and goals. We know that school is a way to be successful. On the other hand, there’s “concrete attitudes” that shape our realistic views on education and our experiences. Concrete attitudes are situationally based. A study was done on 8 schools which included 1,193 seniors in a social studies course. They were given a questionnaire on their concrete and abstract attitudes toward education, family background, peers, and leisure and work history. The findings showed that all students have abstract and concrete attitudes but when it came to race and class, they only had concrete attitudes. It showed that concrete predicted academic achievement. With that being said, the relationship between, race, class, and school performance has been one of the most consistent features of education in the United States and has an effect on academics and future success.
Gloria Ladson-Billings does an awesome job illustrating the different methods her teachers use within her book Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American children. Within the book, she introduces us as readers to teachers who are current examples of good teaching. She shows that culturally relevant teaching is not a matter of race, gender, or teaching style. What matters most are the teacher’s efforts to work with the unique strengths a child brings to the classroom. The mischaracterization of African American children, in particular, has roused Ladson-Billings to write about ways to educate and inspire them. Dedicated to discovering what kind of instruction works in diverse classrooms, she is credited with coining the phrase “culturally relevant teaching,” an educational philosophy rooted in using students’ home cultures to engage them. . During her travels across the country, she encountered a number of incredible teachers that easily fell into the category, “Dreamkeeper.” These were teachers who focused on student learning, cultural competence, and sociopolitical consciousness in their work with African American and Latino students. These teachers exist and she felt the need to acknowledge and celebrate them in writing this book.
Gloria Ladson-Billings is considered one of the leaders in scholarship concerning the education of African-American children today. Ladson-Billings’ research examines the pedagogical practices of teachers who are successful with African American students. Most notably she is credited with the concept of “culturally relevant pedagogy,” which is explored in great depth in her book, The Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children. She asks the African-American community in her study to identify good teachers (regardless of race) and develops profiles of those teachers. She also investigates Critical Race Theory applications to education.
One teacher, Elizabeth Harris, illustrates the importance of such behavior perfectly by inviting her students to her Sunday school class. She states, “You’ve got to realize that being with the children for 5 or 6 hours a day is just not enough for the kind of impact you want to have on them. The stuff they’re exposed to on TV and in the movies, the music, the streets…all if this is vying for their hearts and minds. I just want to do whatever I can to get to know the children better” (Ladson-Billings, p69). Examples as such within the book shows the reader that having this philosophy as a culturally competent teacher demonstrates a connectedness with all of their students and encourages that same connectedness between the students. They are a family. When one fails, they all fail; when one succeeds, they all succeed. As members of an extended family, the students assist, support, and encourage one another to strive for success. These teachers can be identified by the ways in which they structure their social interactions. Their relationships with students are fluid and unbiased and extend beyond the classroom.
Mrs. Ladson-Billings shows that culturally relevant teaching is not a matter of race, gender, or teaching style. What matters most are a teacher’s efforts to work with the unique strengths a child brings to the classroom. With a brilliant mixture of scholarship and storytelling, The Dreamkeepers challenges us to envision intellectually rigorous and culturally relevant classrooms that have the power to improve the lives of not just African American students, but all children. She makes you understand that participating in culturally relevant teaching essentially means that teachers create a bridge between students’ home and school lives, while still meeting the expectations of the district and state curricular requirements. Culturally relevant teaching utilizes the backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences of the students to inform the teacher’s lessons and methodology. Teachers who use culturally relevant pedagogy provide students with a curriculum that builds on their prior knowledge and cultural experiences.
Gay points out that there needs to be recognition that underachievement may have more to do with the education system and less to do with the students who are participating in it (especially those who are struggling). The author supports this concept with some common misconceptions about education and diversity such as “education has nothing to do with culture and heritage” and “good teaching in transcendent; it is identical for all students…” (Gay, 2000, 22). Gay argues that this is the opposite of what should be expressed in a diverse classroom. Students’ individuality (and thus their identity in their cultural and ethnicity) need to be considered when striving to provide them with the best education possible. Not only will implementing cultural components that every student can identify with help the individual student from that particular culture or ethnic group, but the class as a whole will benefit from the positive exposure to the cultures of their classmates.
Tatum addresses specific topics in which give the reader a better understanding of race, the influence it has on an individual and the influence it has in society. The main topics discussed throughout the book initiate with defining racism and identity, how children are influenced by racism in schools, the outcome of identity development in adults, white identity, identity development beyond black and white, identity development in multiracial families and cross-racial dialogue. Race is the main topic in this book and Tatum goes into depth to talk about the levels in which it affects our lives. She explains how race is “system of advantage based on race” and through this system, individuals in such a society, are defined by their race (Tatum, 1997, 7) Further into the book, she discusses how this idea of having society define us is implemented in our minds. This creates an imbalance amongst races by creating a false perception about what each individual’s role should be in society based on race instead of the individual.
Every topic discussed by the author was supported in her agenda through evidence she provided such as her expertise in the field of psychology, research on black families in white communities, racial identity in teens and the role of race in a classroom. She uses different models such as Cross’s Model, Helms Model and Phinney’s Model to further explain the idea behind seclusion amongst races, how this idea must be approached and ultimately how to achieve identity development over time. The implications Tatum illustrates in her book for the future of unprivileged children in the urban education system aid to resist negative societal messages and develop an empowered sense of self in the face of a racist society. In other words, because differences will always exist amongst each individual in society whether it has to do with race, culture, sex etc., one must achieve acceptance within him/herself through the development of identity and learn how this can be applied to society to create a just environment.
W. E. B. Du Bois states that, “The proper education of any people includes sympathetic touch between teacher and pupil; knowledge on the part of the teacher, not simply of the individual taught but of his surroundings and background, and the history of his class and group” (DuBois, p328). In chapter 2 of Pedagogy of the Oppressed, Freire discusses the concept of banking, a tactic in which has been used in the education system to teach children. This banking concept consists of feeding children’s minds with information in which they are to carelessly memorize various teachings such as certain events, important dates and specific individuals throughout history. The problem with this system is it doesn’t allow for outside information to be discussed to expand the child’s mind beyond the given information in which can allow the child to raise questions and think outside the box. Students are treated like robots where they are given this information to recite, use this information to succeed in state tests, and dispose of the information once it is no longer useful to them. What this is taking away from the child is the ability to develop an independent way of thinking because all the child is being taught is how to memorize. Through this concept, the child will grow up with facts that may or may not be remembered and the inability to contribute anything besides these facts because the mind wasn’t trained to creatively and critically think.
Data Collection Methodology
The qualitative data collection method we chose to do as a group was the interview method with a heavy focus on survey use. By using a combination of these two methods, it lays out the best platform for us as child researchers to get unbiased information from our research participants directly. We believe that by choosing the survey method to collect this data, we will acquire the desired information in which will build the foundation of our research. Acknowledging that surveys do not entirely provide the information needed to conduct this research, they are a crucial step to build up on. By supplementing our data collection with interviews, we are able to retrieve an in depth analysis in which supports our study. When children are in their natural setting such as the classroom where they interact with their peers and be themselves, you get the raw idea of who that child is. I have friends who are teachers and they tell me some of the things their students say and all you can do is laugh. They are honest almost to a fault but you know for a fact that the child is saying what they truly feel. When they are in the classroom, they are at peace and completely in their element and their own world. Interviewing a child about how they feel they are learning and being taught within the environment in which they learn everyday seems to be the best way to get their minds flowing. In order to ensure reliability of our data collection, one must take into consideration whether the information is an accurate representation of reality. Considering the selection of population and sample of our research through the various districts we are choosing as well as the cluster of population involved in our data, we are choosing targets in which represent the majority of the population in each given location. By doing so, this accurately supports the representation of the variables of which will back up our research.
Population and Sample
Our population of interest is elementary schools in 20 different school districts within the 5 boroughs. We will use non-participatory approach to collecting our data by allowing the population to answer freely on the survey given. The population consists of the students, parents and educators of these schools. By choosing these participants, we plan to obtain a variety of insight from different perspectives. From each school we will pick one class to interview, 5 teachers from each school and 1 parent/guardian from each of the participating children. Then we will go to the schools and set up a meeting with the principles and ask them if we will be allowed to conduct our research at the school. We need to ask for permission to interview the teachers, students and parents. After that is said and done, we would need to send out consent letters to ask the parents if they will agree to allow us to interview their child. The sampling technique used here is cluster sample due to the fact that we are choosing randomly selected schools and from each cluster the targeted audience will complete the survey.
Study site
In order to conduct our research we decided to go to a school to interview the teachers, students and the parents. The school is the best site for us to gather our information because it is a communal space where the child feels safe considering the convenience and ease of our targeted audience is of the utmost importance. It is also the most convenient space to talk to the teachers to get their input. When it comes to the parents we can get their ideas on the topic when they are either picking up or dropping off their child at school. We will be conducting our interviews within the 20 schools in each of the 5 boroughs. By doing so, we can get a wide array of data in which represents the various cultures and backgrounds that make up New York City. We want to be able to compare and contrast between the different school districts and take this into consideration when completing our study. It would also help to see the range of teaching styles these teachers use. We will decide on which schools we would want to interview by random lottery picking.
Sample Survey: Thinking about your school, how much do you agree or disagree with the following? For each statement, please check the appropriate box.
Agree: 1
Somewhat Disagree: 3
Disagree: 5
1. Students in my school treat one another with respect.
2. Most of my teachers don’t understand what my life is like outside of school.
3. I feel emotionally safe in my classes.
4. I feel emotionally safe outside of the classroom (restrooms, lockers, hallways, cafeteria, etc.).
5. My school disciplines students fairly. 6. My principal models respectful behavior.
7. Faculty and staff value what students have to say.
8. My school respects all races and cultures.
9. Students in my school care about learning and getting a good education.
10. Classes in my school are challenging.
11. Students are involved in decisions about things that affect them in school.
12. Most of my teachers are enthusiastic about teaching and communicate this to students.
13. I feel that I belong (am accepted and liked) at school.
14. Most of my teachers like me.
15. I respect most of my teachers.
16. Most of my teachers know my name.
17. Students in my school help one another even if they are not friends.
18. Teachers at my school are respectful toward one another.
19. I feel physically safe outside of the classroom (restrooms, lockers, hallways, cafeteria, etc.).
20. Students at my school support most extra-curricular activities (not just sports).
21. Students are encouraged to say what they think.
22. I feel physically safe in my classes.
Interview & Survey
For the distribution of the survey, each participant will receive one survey in which will be given in person. The survey will consist of only 20 questions and we will give the students about 20 minutes to complete it as the adult participants get 15 minutes. We will be attending the schools from the cluster pick and speak to the people we need to that would help us gain information for our research. We will be interviewing parents, teachers and the children that attend the school. Each interview question would be similar for each category but worded differently. For the children, we will make it simple but make it an open-ended question so they are comfortable and also have an opportunity to talk. For the teachers we would get their opinion on what the curriculum and how they would want to change it. For parents we would ask them questions that more relate to what they think is being taught in their child’s school and what they would want them to learn. Our interviews would be semi-structured but also formal because with the children we don’t want them to feel coerced when speaking with us. When it comes to the teachers and parents we want them to be able to give us their honest opinions and their views on culturally relevant teaching. The sample will be divided into control and experiment groups by sectioning our population and supplying them with the given survey constructed specifically for the role they take in this experiment such as teacher, parent or student. The dependent variable in our research consists of asking questions to indicate students’ achievements and learning abilities in school. The independent variable is the overall picture of how children in low income neighborhoods are influenced on their achievements and learning abilities based on their socioeconomic status and environment. We will be observing 4 schools in each of the 5 boroughs consisting neighborhoods of different socioeconomic status in order to compare results on the targeted variable. We will be using paper and pencil to record the data.
Data Analysis Plan
We will be collecting qualitative data because we chose the interview method with a heavy focus on survey use. With that being said, organizing the data to be analyzed will have to be by school and then by the students. Data collected from the parent and teacher groups will be reviewed but will mainly be for documentation purposes. The children’s responses are our main focus. We will go through all of the interviews and try and sieve through the dominant responses and themes. We will be putting all 20 schools together. It may sound weird but the idea is to see if there is a collective response throughout the schools or if there seems to be certain mentalities based on location. Once that is done, reviewing the answers to the survey by school and borough will give us a thorough understanding of what the overall mindset of the students, parents, and teachers feel about culturally relevant pedagogy in their school, neighborhood and borough is. The children may feel one way while the parents and teachers feeling another way. In her book Dreamkeepers, Ladson-Billings uses different themes to use as a focal point for her study such as “Does Culture Matter”, “Seeing Color, Seeing Culture”, and “Making Dreams Into Reality”. Using examples such as these will allow us to categorize our findings within these boundaries. Because her pedagogy is the foundation of our overall analysis, we want to compare our qualitative data findings with that of her teachings. She was able to find success with her teachers and students and comparing our findings will help us to be successful as well. If we can see similarities from our research and they be indicative of what Ladson-Billings was trying to portray with her study, then we can say that we have found validation through our research. We can then come to an overall conclusion on how to make sure that culturally relevant teaching is prominent in the classrooms and a success for our students, teachers and parents.
All students do not learn in the same way. As educators, we need to be mindful of this and respond accordingly. If we do not, then we run the risk of treating students as unintelligent, incapable of understanding or achieving. The primary aim of culturally relevant teaching is to assist in the development of a “relevant black personality” that allows African American students to choose academic excellence yet still identify with African and African American culture. Teachers who emphasize and practice cultural relevant methods, help students make connection between their local, national, racial, cultural and global identities. These teachers believe that students are capable of excellence and assume responsibility for ensuring that their students achieve such excellence. Finally the teachers that know the importance of culture and apply it within the class and beyond, they do not need personal recognition in order to achieve such excellence.
Below are the ways in which students lives were impacted and may continue to be impacted as a result of culturally relevant teaching:
• Because of the demands and encouragement from teachers, African American students will develop a strong social power.
• When teachers show appreciation and are attentive to their students’ culture, students will be more willing to engage in discussions about history and the culture of others.
• The demand from teachers, unto the students, to develop a broad sociopolitical consciousness and engage critically in the world will help students to have a healthy dose of self.

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