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Crossing Boundaries - Teaching and Learning with Urban Youth

reviewed by Terrence Range - September 07, 2012

coverTitle: Crossing Boundaries - Teaching and Learning with Urban Youth
Author(s): Valerie Kinloch
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807752959, Pages: 168, Year: 2012
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Crossing Boundaries by Valerie Kinloch highlights the use of narrative based research to examine the critical role of urban school reform in the American educational system. Through the use of innovative approaches that redefine traditional classroom pedagogical practice, she calls attention to the power in “centering students and establishing a common ground” amongst students and teachers in classrooms (p. 14).  Kinloch’s repositioning of knowledge, dialogue, and literacy resistance to outdated English texts challenge the inequalities that exist in urban classrooms. She expands conventional teaching strategies by demanding a more collaborative solution to learning. In addition, she uncovers the fundamental differences that exist in classrooms by positioning the dialogue in literacy engagement research. The issue of literacy development for urban youth is at the forefront of American education. The display of collaborative discourse inside of the classroom intersects race, socioeconomic status, and varied forms of knowledge. Her avid display of difference is demonstrated throughout the book in the form of case studies and a “teacher-researcher reflexive lens” (p. 1).  Kinloch organizes the book as follows: Chapter One “Crossing Boundaries in Teaching and Teacher Education outlines the differences in meaning making among students and teachers, Chapter Two “Equity and Diversity in Teaching and Learning: Case studies at Perennial High School provides readers with an in-depth description of East Harlem and the surrounding community, Chapter Three “Damya’s Democracy: Classrooms as sites of literacy engagements” defines the purpose of Democratic Engagement inside of the classroom. It’s important to note that Democratic Engagement is considered an important pillar in Crossing Boundaries. The Democratic Engagement model coupled with Perennial students’ intellectual inquiry in the classroom shapes the conceptual roadmap of the book.

Readers are able to catapult themselves into the text, whereby they can taste, feel, smell, and experience the complexities of an urban classroom setting. In addition, a more fascinating observation is the intentionality in creating a collaborative space for useful literacy discourse. During her field research, Kinloch facilitated dialogue amongst her students at Perennial High School and the local university graduate students in the Teacher Education program. At the outset, Kinloch challenged her participants, teachers and students alike, to answer the following question, “describe the difference between equity and equality?”  The students and teachers struggle to develop a cohesive response at first; however, they eventually construct a collaborative answer reminiscent of the inclusivity apparent in the definition of “Democratic Engagement” (p. 113) espoused by Kinloch in her earlier work on urban teaching and learning.  

Chapter One begins with an overview of the conceptual framework and emerging questions that explore the boundaries of urban classrooms and attempt to wrestle with the following topics: “classroom teacher engagement, perceptions of learning and teaching by students, role-reversal in the learning process, and how to best foster a collaboratively safe space for exploration” (p. 124). In addition, Chapter One is couched in dual scenarios that broadly define the thesis of the text. Kinloch presents a classroom scenario in the first chapter that exemplifies the underlying goal of social justice oriented teacher education. That is, to allow students’ knowledge and experiences to resonate and connect with the course materials being taught in the classroom. Moreover, she demonstrates the cultural difference when two groups, the Perennial High School students and graduate students at the local university, negotiate difference in unprecedented ways. Kinloch’s primary goal in Chapter One, and for the overall text, is to establish “common ground” among students and teachers (p. 6). Throughout the first chapter, Kinloch encourages both the student and teacher to take ownership of their respective learning and literacy engagement.  She demonstrates the aforementioned pedagogical practice in Chapter Three by assigning culturally relevant assignments to the Perennial students that engage them in highly complex literacy exercises. Through the use of assignments that are centered on cultural relevance, requiring students to complete a written report on their favorite music artists, Kinloch shifts the ownership of learning to students, and re-constructs the identities of teachers. Notwithstanding, Chapter Two describes the surrounding community near Perennial and the local university. Crossing Boundaries takes place in the backyard of Harlem, New York.  

According to Kinloch, Chapter Two “complicates the conversation surrounding diversity, literacy, and teaching” because of its richness in diversity regarding the Harlem community (p. 7). Harlem is considered a cultural reservoir in Chapter Two because of the large population of Latino and African American residents. Chapter Two highlights the scant financial resources and low-wage teacher salaries at Perennial High School, all of which affect the way students engage or disengage with literacy texts and course material. According to Kinloch, teacher salaries impact classroom moral and employment performance.  While her support for this argument is not explicit in Crossing Boundaries, she provides evidence of such an idea in the latter segments of the book in her field notes. Perennial is described as a “chaotic” place for students despite the rapid gentrification of wealthy elites occurring in east Harlem (p. 37). Interestingly, Kinloch notes throughout Chapter Two that Perennial sits “at the heart of an active urban community” (p. 39). Her perception of the local community is further supported throughout subsequent cases in chapters 3-6. Chapter Three outlines the process of “Democratic Engagement” as a framework for social change in the classroom.

She also argues in Chapter Three that Democratic Engagement will only work under the active participation and understanding of multi-cultural pedagogy. Her justification is duly noted, however, limited in its applicability to other communities that may stand conversely different from Harlem. Kinloch returns in Chapter Three to the importance of shifting identities in the classroom, and how roles must remain fluid in order for successful Democratic Engagement to “flourish” (p. 59.). For teachers, Democratic Engagement can be demonstrated by connecting the required course literary texts with a student’s “secondary text” or personal narrative and connection with the course material (p. 60). In large part, much of what Kinloch calls for is an overhaul of aggressive meaning-making strategies inside of the classroom for both the student and teacher. Through the use of poems and essays, Kinloch broadly advocates for reciprocity in learning on the secondary school level. In Chapter Four, Kinloch investigates “writerly stances” among the Perennial students and how they inadvertently debunk their juvenile perceptions to align more closely with their lived experiences through culturally relevant questioning. Simply put, Kinloch makes a concerted effort in Chapter Four to bridge the importance of students’ perspectives on learning with the requisite course material in the classroom. She further supports the notion of centering the student by allowing the manifestation of resistance to naturally occur as a result of literacy engagement.

Toward the end of the book, Kinloch begins to make broader connections regarding her reflexive lens. Chapters Five and Six, respectively, move through the importance of going beyond the conventional classroom, by highlighting the implicative purpose of “crossing boundaries” (p. 117). She closes the book by spending considerable time on literacy identities and their importance therein. According to Kinloch, “literacy identities are explained through the diverse voices of students in the classroom” (p.114). Throughout the book, students’ voices are defined by power, narrative agency, and literary resistance inside and outside of the classroom. Valerie Kinloch provides readers, practitioners, scholars, and policymakers with radically different solutions to longstanding problems in secondary education, particularly those that remain inside of the classroom. Her position, perspective, and opinion is simple: center the student. In that regard, Crossing Boundaries challenges America’s education system through the context of social justice and equality, two critical pillars that serve as the bedrock for Kinloch’s latest book.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: September 07, 2012
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 16865, Date Accessed: 1/27/2022 8:57:47 AM

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About the Author
  • Terrence Range
    University of California, Berkeley
    E-mail Author
    TERRENCE RANGE currently serves as a Program Director at the University of California, Berkeley in the New Student Services Office. Terrance's research interests investigate the impact of race, leadership, policy, and social class in Higher Education.
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