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Achieving Success with African AmericanLearners: A Framework for Culturally ResponsiveMathematics TeachingEmily P. Bonner aa Curriculum and Instruction, Department of Interdisciplinary Learning andTeaching , University of Texas , San Antonio , USAPublished online: 25 Jul 2012.
To cite this article: Emily P. Bonner (2009) Achieving Success with African American Learners: A Framework forCulturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching, Childhood Education, 86:1, 2-6, DOI: 10.1080/00094056.2009.10523100
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/00094056.2009.10523100
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Emily P. Bonner I Achieving Success With Emily P. Bonner is Assistant Professor, Curriculum and Instruction, I Department of Interdisciplinary
of Texas at Sun Antonio. Learning and Teaching, University 1 African American Learners
A Framework for Culturally Responsive Mat hematics Teaching
F or decades, one of the biggest challenges facing the United States has been that of providing equitable education for all students. Today, more than 50 years after the famous Brown us. Board ofEducation Supreme Court deci- sion, which legally ended school segregation based on race, urban schools are more segregated than ever (Ladson-Billings, 2004). Large numbers of minor- ity students in impoverished neighborhoods endure the greatest injustices. The school buildings often are dilapidated and have fewer resources than those in wealthier neighborhoods, and the schools experience lower student achievement and higher dropout rates. Each year, these schools receive fewer qualified teachers, and seem to become more invisible to the school system (Kozol, 1995,2005). Student achievement data show the effects of this negligence, illustrating that students of color, particularly African American males, are falling behind in nearly every academic category (Ferguson, 2000; Noguera, 2003), regardless of their socioeconomic status.
Within schools, dominant norms and ways of teaching are often based in white culture, mirroring Euro-centric norms. The resulting practices con- tribute to cultural incongruities in classrooms and schools, leading students of color to perform below their potential. In turn, teachers assume deficits in students of color (Delpit, 1992) and, over time, varied ethnic practices and ways of learning are deemed inappropriate. These negative beliefs may be validated, reinforced, and even exacerbated among colleagues, as the majority of the teaching force, particularly at the elementary level, is white, female, and middle class (Howard, 2006), and most have limited interactions with individuals from diverse backgrounds (Nieto, 1999).
Inconsistencies in school versus home culture (eg., how learning is assessed, how information is acquired) contribute to students academic struggles (Boykin, 1986; Spindler, 1987). As such, teachers must consider that poor test scores and grades [among students of color] are symptoms, not causes, of achievement problems (Gay, 2000, p. 16).
In response to low achievement among particular groups, inequitable tracking practices are adopted. Students who do not conform to a particular set of cultural behaviors are often placed in the lowest tracks. This trend is evidenced by the overrepresentation of students of color in special educa- tion (Gay, 2002), increased drop-out rates among students of color (Montecel, Cortez, & Cortez, 2004), and growing achievement gaps that exist between
dominant norms and
ways of teaching are
often based in white
The resulting practices
contribute to cultural
2 Childhood Education
these groups and their white (European American) counterparts. These gaps are particularly marked in mathematics (Howard, 2006), and mathematics instruc- tion to students of color is often tarnished by lowered expectations, actions that reinforce racial stereotypes, and generally ineffective teaching methods (Irvine & York, 1993). Indeed, The mathematics classroom is one of the most segregated places in America (Stiff, 1990).
CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE TEACHING Successful teachers of African American students have been shown to bring diverse family histories, value orientations, and experiences to students in the class- room, attributes often not found in textbooks (Pang & Gibson, 2001, p. 260), helping students to bridge the home-school cultural gap. These educators have strong ties to the black community (Ladson-Billings, 1994) and maintain a strong academic focus while helping students to develop self-awareness, self-confidence, and leadership skills (Foster, 1987). African American chil- dren have been shown to respond in a positive manner to warm demanders (Ware, 2006), or those teachers who engage students through the use of high expecta-
tions, firm and authoritative classroom management, and culturally familiar communication patterns (Ross, Bondy, Gallingame, & Hambacher, 2008). Identifying these attributes is helpful; however, it has remained difficult to describe the whole practice of a culturally responsive teacher in the context of mathematics.
AN ILLUSTRATION OF CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE MATHEMATICS TEACHING
This article presents a working theory meant to help teachers and teacher educators conceptualize culturally responsive mathematics teaching (CRMT). Grounded in the work of Ms. Johnson (a pseudonym), a highly effective mathematics teacher in a largely African American, high-poverty school, this theory can guide teacher efforts to help students of color succeed in mathematics classrooms. Given the complexity of mathematics classrooms, it is difficult to capture every detail of teacher practice. Major themes in Ms. Johnsons teaching and practice, which were extracted through observations, interviews, and artifact collection, have been organized into the following graphic (Figure 1) in an effort to capture the complex and fluid nature of CRMT.
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Knowledge Clearly, teachers must have vast funds of knowledge. In mathematics, pedagogical content knowledge is es- sential. Ms. Johnson exhibits a deep understanding of mathematics, making it possible for her to deconstruct difficult concepts, analyze student errors, and contex- tualize important mathematical ideas. Moreover, this knowledge is often accessed in action, and mathemati- cal knowledge is activated in the course of teaching (Ball & Bass, 2000) in appropriate ways that allow for student-driven changes in direction and maximum student understanding.
Also evident in Ms. Johnsons knowledge base is a clear and profound understanding of her students lives, cultures, and interests. It has been shown that successful teachers of African American students often use their cultural knowledge to refer to metaphors and family ties when presenting material, indicating a strong, almost familial, relationship with their students (Foster, 1997; Ladson-Billings, 1994). A product of the neighborhood in which she teaches, Ms. Johnson is able to relate mathematics to student lives in a non- superficial manner. For example, when describing to students how to find a least common multiple or denominator, she refers to the two numbers in question as big brother (8, for example) and little brother (4, for example). She then relays a story about big brother c