Teaching with Vision: Culturally Responsive Teaching in Standards-Based Classrooms
reviewed by Christina DeNicolo & Karla Zaccor - July 20, 2011
Title: Teaching with Vision: Culturally Responsive Teaching in Standards-Based Classrooms
Author(s): Christine E. Sleeter and Catherine Cornbleth
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807751723, Pages: 176, Year: 2011
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This edited volume engages readers in a dialogue with experienced educators regarding the ways they extended their understandings of themselves, their students, and their profession while negotiating the current climate of mandated curricula and high-stakes testing that frequently fails to acknowledge the voices of teachers. Each chapter addresses a range of challenges faced by school personnel today and provides insight into how each teacher interpreted and responded to these challenges. What is significant about this edited volume is the honesty with which each of the authors writes. Their willingness to explore the complexity of culturally responsive teaching by putting forth their perceptions and decisions across different points in their careers is one of the reasons this text is a valuable resource for teacher education courses.
The editors provide an overview of the framework of cultural responsiveness, intellectual engagement, and social awareness that is drawn upon in the personal accounts written by teachers. The volume consists of five sections that begin with introductory comments from the editors and include two to three chapters written by teachers. In the first section, contributing teacher Mohammed offers insight into the lessons he learned from his first years as a teacher that include: teaching from an understanding of oneself, developing empathy for students, and staying committed to ones goals. The second teacher, Forni, discusses the feelings of frustration in her first teaching position that led her to quit at the end of the year. She returned to teaching determined to find a way to be connected with others and was able to do so when she began working after school with middle school students preparing for a public speaking competition. The shared interest and joy from all that the competitions involved maintained her passion for the profession and led to many benefits, such as developing strong relationships with students and parents.
Identifying ways to learn from students is the focus of the second section and is central to culturally responsive teaching. When teachers choose the problem-posing form of education and become co-learners with their students (Freire, 1970), the classroom environment is transformed. DiLeo, the first teacher in this section, talks about his experience moving from teaching content that was totally removed from his bilingual students lives with little success, to finding ways to teach based on what was meaningful to his students. Drawing on lessons learned from reading Holler If You Hear Me: The Education of a Teacher and His Students (Mitchie, 1999), DiLeo began to identify his students strengths and interests through the class reading and discussion of The House on Mango Street (Cisneros, 1991). The final author in this section, Roberts, writes of deepening his understanding of his own privilege as a white male and member of the middle-class through discussions of race and racism with his elementary students in Salinas, California. Creating a classroom based on trust and open dialogue enabled students to feel free to voice difficult questions regarding issues of racism and equity.
The third section addresses the types of student-centered learning experiences teachers can provide in the midst of an environment that might be highly regulated in terms of what you can teach, and even how you should teach it. In the first account, Richman, a bilingual teacher, describes a thematic unit she created that cut across content areas and drew on her students lived experiences. Beyond being an important academic and language learning support for her bilingual students, the thematic units provided an opportunity for her to learn about what students knew outside of school. Perea, also a bilingual teacher, describes responding to mandated curriculum by developing a sense of community in her second grade classroom where students had voice in all parts of the instructional process. Her students developed research projects that were grounded in their funds of knowledge (Moll, et al., 1992), addressed state standards, and included assessment criteria. In the final chapter of this section, Stiller writes of the importance of reflection for teachers to see how they interpret student behavior and responses. He highlights the beneficial role that positive support from colleagues has on being a reflective teacher. This was connected to his ability to change from a teaching style that was primarily lecturing to creating a collaborative classroom where students worked in groups as he provided guidance, honored their efforts, and facilitated peer collaboration.
Developing authentic relationships with students and their families was a common thread that ran throughout this book. The fourth section addresses what it means for teachers to learn from and work with people in the communities where they teach and the narratives illustrate what this type of commitment can look like. Rickard-Weinholtz writes about her journey fighting for Tuscarora students to have access to their history within the school curriculum. A teacher at the elementary school she herself attended and a citizen of the Tuscarora Nation, she describes the importance of teaching students about their cultural heritage. In the narrative that follows, DeShera writes of her choice to live in the community where she teaches and how this provides her with an understanding of the knowledge and resources that she would never have access to if she lived elsewhere. From selecting literature that reflects the cultures of her students to organizing with families to address local issues of concern, DeShera reminds us that teachers can advocate for change with positive results.
The importance of professional development and support for teacher growth is the topic of the fifth section. Two organizations are highlighted that provide a space for teachers to learn with one another and advocate for schooling that promotes learning for all students. The first author, Johns, a former bilingual teacher, describes Abriendo Caminos, a professional development and coaching program she founded in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District. The program is grounded in theories that inform both multicultural and bilingual education and with a specific focus on research studies that address instructional contexts and approaches for bilingual students at the middle school level. This is significant as instructional methods, curriculum, and assessments that are developed for monolingual learners are frequently assumed to be appropriate for bilingual learners (La-Celle Peterson & Rivera, 1994). The second organization, Educators Advocating for Students was created to address the lack of voice teachers in one school district were experiencing due to top-down mandates for curriculum and student assessment. Meeting with a professor of education, teachers expressed frustration about having to use class time for test preparation and administer assessments that were problematic particularly for their bilingual students learning English in school. The organizations focus is collective action to respond to the narrowing of the curriculum due to mandates and testing and the de-professionalization of teachers. In working towards these goals, teachers also provide support for one another.
Both of us can recall our first years as teachers and feeling that the teacher success stories we read did not reflect the schools where we taught or provide insight into how the teachers developed their knowledge. Teaching with Vision offers a range of voices that cut across grade levels and contexts. We believe using this text in education courses with both pre-service and in-service teachers will enhance their understanding of culturally responsive pedagogy through the many examples of how teachers built upon the knowledge that students develop in their homes and communities in multiple ways, which is often difficult for education students, even those with teaching experience, to envision. Additionally, honest conversations, such as the ones presented in this text, can serve as starting points for promoting an increased understanding of the structural forces that contribute to the challenges addressed across the individual accounts.
As the editors discuss at the start of the book, culturally responsive education goes hand in hand with developing consciousness regarding the ideologies that inform and shape students experiences in school, such as the low expectations for teachers and students that several of the authors encountered in the schools where they worked. This awareness also forces us to consider what it means to work with and advocate for students across cultural and linguistic backgrounds or in communities that differ in many ways from where one was raised. Teaching that is culturally responsive as portrayed in these narratives is not a prescribed method or quickly acquired skill set; it is an on-going process that involves risk-taking and opening oneself up to learning. Future teachers, practicing teachers, and teacher educators alike, benefit from reflecting on what this approach means for our students and the field of education.
Cisneros, S. (1991). The house on mango street. New York: Vintage.
Freire, P. 1970. Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Herder and Herder.
La-Celle Peterson, M.W. & Rivera, C. (1994). Is it real for all kids? A framework for equitable assessment policies for English language learners. Harvard Educational Review, 64(1), 55 -75.
Michie, G. (1999). Holler if you hear me: The education of a teacher and his students. New York: Teachers College Press.
Moll, L.C., Amanti, C., Neff, D., & González, N. (1992). Funds of knowledge for teaching: Using a qualitative approach to connect homes and classroom. Theory into Practice, 31(2), 132141.