Relevance and Care in Teacher Practices: Supporting African American Students as Learners

Smith, Davonda, Educational Psychology - Curry School of Education, University of Virginia
Tomlinson, Carol, Curry School of Education, University of Virginia

For African American students, the classroom is a crucial setting for experiences that influence and are influenced by their developing identities. Access to meaningful educational opportunities can play a role in student retention of new learning (Sousa & Tomlinson, 2011), signal the worthwhileness of pursuing career and personal interests (Oyserman, 2013), and bolster the development of goals that align with the practices of a particular discipline (Nasir, 2002). Additionally, experiences of care can play an important role in the identities students construct (Morrison, Robbins & Rose, 2008; Nasir, 2008; Oyserman, 2013) and their motivation to persevere through difficult tasks (Rattan, Good & Dweck, 2012). Relevant curriculum and instruction offered within classrooms where students feel cared for provide inviting contexts for students to assume roles as learners and rich opportunities for teachers to contribute to the recognition and continued development of their capacity.
The first objective of this capstone project was to explore how the practices of teachers at a South-Atlantic high school mirrored a framework for conceptualizing relevance and care as factors that contribute to African American students assuming roles as learners within their classrooms. The second objective was to prepare a context-informed resource to support the school in providing their African American students with high quality opportunities to invest as learners. Toward these ends, a case study design served as a means for gaining an understanding of the mindsets and practices of teachers and administrators with regard to serving their African American students. Observations of classroom instruction and semi-structured interviews with school faculty served as the primary methods of data collection.
Study findings suggest that teachers within the school were at different places along a spectrum of different attitudes and degrees of readiness and comfort with regard to discussing and providing relevant curriculum and instruction and demonstrating care for students in ways that mirrored the framework guiding this study. In response to findings, this project resulted in the creation of a handbook with recommendations to the administrators of the high school for partnering with faculty to provide meaningful and useful curriculum and instruction and demonstrate care for African American and all students.

EDD (Doctor of Education)
relevance, curriculum and instruction, identity, culturally responsive teaching, African American students, adolescence
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