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Investigating the Effects of Culturally Relevant Texts on African American Struggling Readers’ Progress


by Kathleen F. Clark - 2017

Background/Context: In a recent review of culturally relevant instruction and reading comprehension, Fairbanks, Cooper, Masterson, and Webb (2009) highlighted the paucity of research available to support the widespread claim in the literacy field that “students’ social and cultural practices are deeply intertwined with literacy learning” (p. 600). They noted that few studies have examined comprehension as an outcome variable and that most studies have been qualitative and focused upon participation structures and interactional patterns. The research reported here addresses these deficiencies in the knowledge base. In two related studies, it quantitatively investigated the achievement gains of African American children enrolled in a 10-week after-school reading program given three text conditions—exclusive use of culturally relevant texts, exclusive use of non-culturally relevant texts, and intermittent use of culturally relevant texts.

Purpose: The purpose was to examine the influence of culturally relevant instructional texts on African American students’ reading gains. The first of the two studies investigated whether children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively for instruction would show a different pattern of reading gain than those who read texts that were not culturally relevant. The second investigated whether those who read culturally relevant texts exclusively would show a different pattern of gain than those who read them intermittently.

Research Design: The first study employed a quasi-experimental, control group design to evaluate reading progress given two conditions, exclusive use of culturally relevant instructional texts and exclusive use of texts that were not culturally relevant, while the second drew upon archival data and used a matched pair design to compare the reading gain of children in the first study’s exclusively culturally relevant condition to that of children who attended the program in semesters not associated with the first study and who read culturally relevant instructional texts only intermittently in the program.

Findings: Across the studies, the analyses revealed that (1) the comprehension growth of children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively significantly outpaced that of peers who did not read them as well as those who read them intermittently, (2) the contextual word recognition growth of children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively significantly outpaced that of peers who did not read them and nearly significantly outpaced that of peers who read them intermittently, and (3) children’s word recognition in isolation growth did not differ significantly.

Conclusions: The findings provide empirical support for perspectives that view students’ socio-cultural subjectivities as integral to learning. They demonstrate that instruction grounded in culturally relevant texts can produce superior achievement gains for African American children. The amount of instruction associated with the children who made superior gains in this research would be fairly easy to accommodate within schools. The results of this research indicate that it may be worth the effort.



“At least here we get to read books about Black people.” I overheard this candid, matter-of-fact statement while waiting “behind the glass” for guided reading instruction to begin in a small classroom in my university’s literacy center. Two African American third grade girls were talking casually as they worked on a review task. Their teacher, a pre-service practicum teacher, was just outside the classroom finishing an assessment with a third child. The statement came on the heels of an exchange between the two girls as they lamented the quality of music at their school’s aftercare program, “music not even my grandmother would listen to,” “White people’s music.” The statement represented a powerful affirmation of the need for culturally relevant educational experiences for children of color.


CULTURAL RELEVANCE


Issues of cultural relevance have been widely considered in recent decades (Banks & Banks, 1995; Delpit, 1988; Gay, 2000; Howard, 2003; Ladson-Billings, 1992, 1995, 2001; Lee, 1992). Ladson-Billings (1995) has identified culturally relevant instruction as that which draws upon and incorporates cultural referents to develop students’ knowledge, skills, and attitudes in order to intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically empower them. Gay (2000) has emphasized that such instruction is critical because it employs diverse students’ cultural knowledge, experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles to strengthen the instruction’s efficacy. In this way, Lee (1992) has elaborated, culturally relevant instruction serves as a scaffold that creates a bridge between diverse students’ community acquired concepts and practices and the knowledge and skills students are developing in school-based contexts.  


Multiple factors related to cultural relevance have been posited, among them curriculum content. Banks and Banks (1995) have advocated for a transformative curricula in which students’ cultures are reflected and valued. Similarly, Ladson-Billings (1992) has argued that instructional content is as critical to learning as appropriate instructional approaches. In a synthesis of 25 ethnographic studies that explored culturally relevant curriculum content, three of which included African American informants, Osborne (1996) concluded that Ladson-Billings’ point was indeed the case:


I believe [these] studies provide incontrovertible evidence that teachers should begin with the subjectivities of the students from the groups that we have marginalized and normalized. This is consistent with the work of cognitive psychologists Piaget, Bruner, and Vygotsky. By this means, rather than simply focusing on the way children think, start with what they know about their own lives and how they see them. (p. 293)  


FOUNDATIONAL THEORETICAL PERSPECTIVES


Theoretical perspectives explain how students’ subjectivities influence learning. Sociocultural theory conceives of consciousness not within an individual’s “independently acting mechanisms of the brain” but rather in individuals’ “relationship with reality, in their social history” (Luria, 1982, p. 28). In this perspective, learning is seen to occur through joint participation between and among less and more skillful others. Vygotsky (1978) elaborated the social mechanism through which it occurs. Every mental function in a child’s development appears first between individuals as an interpersonal function. Over time, given problem-solving experiences, a child internalizes the social form of the requisite process and it becomes an intrapsychological function. Tools and signs—semiotic systems—that are social in origin mediate human action (Vygotsky, 1981). These systems are many and include spoken and written language, mathematics, and all manner of things and processes related to representational activity. Individuals use these systems to mediate their interactions within their respective social worlds and to mediate their interactions within themselves, in other words, to think.


A theoretical concept grounded in sociocultural theory that addresses students’ subjectivities is funds of knowledge (González, Moll, & Amanti, 2005; Moll, 1994). The term funds emerged in anthropological work (Wolf, 1966) as a way of describing the resources that individuals who occupied the lower echelons of their respective communities around the world needed to maintain their households and livelihoods. It resonated with University of Arizona anthropologists Vélez-Ibáñez and Greenberg (1992), who employed the expanded term funds of knowledge to identify the strategic and cultural resources inherent in the U.S.-Mexican households they were investigating. Their colleagues at the University of Arizona and educators with whom they collaborated further elaborated funds of knowledge as the “historically accumulated and culturally developed bodies of knowledge and skills essential for household or individual functioning and well-being” (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & González, 1992, p. 133). Within the funds of knowledge perspective, culturally, economically, and/or linguistically diverse children, families, and communities are viewed from a position of strength—they have rich bodies of home- and community-based knowledge and skills to bring to the educational table (González, Wyman, & O’Connor, 2011).


Teachers who work within the funds of knowledge perspective identify the knowledge, skills, and experiences that their diverse students and their families possess and find ways to link them with curricular goals (Moll et al., 1992; Riojas-Cortez, Huerta, Flores Bustos, Perez, & Clark, 2008). A primary curricular goal during the elementary school years is reading acquisition. In addressing this goal in relation to African American students, noted African American scholar Sims Bishop (2005) has argued, “what children read matters as much as how they learn to read” [emphasis original] (p. 106). Like Ladson-Billings (1992), she has stressed that African American children’s reading materials must reflect their lives and experiences. Such materials will enable African American children to draw upon and employ their socially and culturally situated, home- and community-acquired skills and knowledge—their funds of knowledge—in support of their reading acquisition. Evidence suggests that texts that reflect African American children’s lives and experiences can influence their reading development.

 

EVIDENCE FOR THE INFLUENCE OF CULTURALLY RELEVANT TEXTS ON AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS’ READING DEVELOPMENT


ENJOYMENT AND RESONANCE


A number of inquiries have documented that African American children enjoy and resonate with texts that reflect themselves, their families, and their communities. Sims (1983) explored a 10-year old African American girl’s response to literature about strong, active, African American girls. She attributed the child’s interest in the works, in part, to the texts’ culturally relevant language, illustrations, and humor. More recently, two inquiries related similar results. Smith (1995) found that three African American fifth graders selected texts to read that were about African Americans because the content and illustrations reflected their own experiences, the experiences of African Americans, and African American culture generally. Subsequently, Taylor (1997) identified a strong preference among low-progress African American fifth graders for culturally relevant literature. Similarly, Tyson (1999) found that fifth grade African American boys who read fiction that reflected circumstances in their lives and the lives of other African Americans became interested and involved readers. In a larger study of sixth and seventh graders, Rickford (2001) found that culturally relevant folk tales and contemporary narratives stimulated African American students’ reading enjoyment. More recently, Brooks (2006) found that African American eighth graders drew upon cultural knowledge, experiences, and text features to craft responses to texts in support of literary understanding. Collectively, these findings provide evidence that African American children value and benefit from texts that reflect their culture and life experiences.


READING PERFORMANCE


Four studies have provided evidence that culturally relevant texts positively influence reading performance. Grant (1973) experimentally examined the achievement and self-concept of nearly 1,000 urban African American third and sixth graders given the use of SRA We Are Black Laboratory materials over four months. While Grant did not find a significant difference in self-concept, there was a significant difference in achievement as measured by scores on the Metropolitan Reading Test. Bell and Clark (1998) investigated the literal and inferential comprehension of 53 first and second grade and 56 third and fourth grade African American children given three stories that varied in racial imagery and sociocultural themes. One story reflected African American characters and themes, a second reflected African American characters and Caucasian themes, and a third reflected Caucasian characters and themes. Bell and Clark found no differences in children’s literal recall given the three kinds of stories. However, they found that children’s inferential responses to why questions were significantly better for stories with African American characters and themes than for stories with African American characters and Caucasian themes, and significantly better for stories with African American characters and Caucasian themes than for Caucasian characters and themes. Rickford (2001) similarly compared African American sixth and seventh grade students’ lower order (literal) and higher order (interpretive and evaluative) comprehension given culturally relevant texts, and found that students scored better on interpretive and evaluative than literal questions. Most recently, Garth McCullough (2013) investigated the influence of reader interest and culturally-based prior knowledge on African American eighth graders’ comprehension of short stories representing three different cultural backgrounds (African American, Chinese American, European American). Regression analyses revealed that prior knowledge better predicted comprehension than interest, however, a comparison of students’ mean comprehension scores on the differently themed stories revealed comparable performance. Although this finding was unexpected given students’ significantly greater prior knowledge for the African American themed stories, it is consistent with previous research (Oakhill, 1993; Yuill & Oakhill, 1988, 1991) that found that, while readers may have relevant prior knowledge, they may not know how to use it to draw inferences when reading. While limited in number, and with somewhat mixed results (Garth McCullough, 2013), these investigations have demonstrated that culturally relevant texts can influence African American children’s reading performance. Theoretical models of reading comprehension elucidate the processes through which African American children’s reading performance might be facilitated given culturally relevant texts.


COMPREHENSION PROCESSES AND CULTURALLY RELEVANT TEXTS


Within the schema-theoretic tradition, individuals’ experiences are embodied in their schemata, their organized sets of knowledge about the world and how it works (Anderson, 1994). Schemata emerge from individuals’ interactions with their respective environments (McVee, Dunsmore, & Gavelek, 2013) and comprise the building blocks of cognition (Rumelhart, 1980). Stored within individuals’ schemata are their declarative, procedural, and conditional knowledge, knowledge that includes knowledge of language, understandings related to reading processes, and understandings associated with themselves and the world (Ruddell & Unrau, 2013). Schemata form “much of the basis for comprehending, learning, and remembering the ideas in stories and texts” (Anderson, 1994, p. 469). They do so by aiding readers in searching their memories for salient information, enabling them to draw inferences, and by enabling them to organize incoming information into coherent and usable mental representations of texts (Anderson & Pearson, 1984). Schemata are inherently embedded within individuals’ social and cultural contexts, and hence necessarily reflect their lived experiences (McVee et al., 2013). Research conducted at the time of initial explorations within the schema-theoretic tradition document the manner in which readers’ lived experiences influence their understanding of texts.


Two investigations (Andersson & Gipe, 1983; Lipson, 1983) examined the influence of religiously derived schemata on comprehension. Andersson and Gipe (1983) had two groups of parochial school sixth graders, one from a New York Greek Orthodox community and the other from a New Orleans Catholic community, read passages, six with content unfamiliar to all, six with content familiar to the New York Greek Orthodox community, six with content familiar to the New Orleans Catholic community, and six with content that would be familiar to all students. Students performed significantly better on post-test questions for which they had schemata. Similarly, Lipson (1983) examined the influence of such schemata on Catholic and Jewish upper elementary grade students’ comprehension. Students read three passages in which the content was either culturally neutral, culturally Jewish (a Bar Mitzvah), or culturally Catholic (First Communion). The results revealed that students read the passage with culturally familiar content more quickly than the others and that the quantity and accuracy of their explicit and inferential recall were affected by their culturally-based schemata.


Other researchers (Pickens, 1982; Reynolds, Taylor, Steffensen, Shirey, & Anderson, 1982) investigated the influence of students’ ethnically and/or racially based cultural schemata on comprehension. Working with Hispanic, Navajo, and Anglo sixth graders, Pickens (1982) had students read nine folktales, three of which were representative of the beliefs, traditions, and values common to students’ respective cultural groups. There were significant differences between students’ comprehension of culturally familiar and unfamiliar folktales. Reynolds et al. (1982) had urban Black and White eighth graders read an ambiguous letter that could be interpreted as either a fight or an incident of “playing the dozens,” a game of ritual insulting that would be familiar to the Black students. On a false sentence recognition task, there was a significant interaction between probe (sounding, fight) and culture and on free recall there was a significant effect for differences in theme (sounding, fight). More Black than White students thought the incident involved friends, and more White than Black students thought observers in the story laughed because there was a fight.


Collectively, these schema-theoretic studies demonstrate that knowledge grounded in individuals’ culturally-based lived experiences functions as an interpretive framework for understanding texts. Kintsch’s (1994) construction-integration model of comprehension explains the reading processes through which schemata come to influence comprehension. As readers read, they first construct a text base, or a model of the surface code of the text. This includes the words, phrases, key ideas encoded as propositions, and low-level inferences associated with the linguistic information and key ideas in the text. The text base is “an initial, enriched, but incoherent and possibly contradictory” construction that is then “subject to an integration process to form a coherent structure” (Kintsch, 1994, p. 956). During the integration process, readers invoke and employ schemata relevant to the text base to create a more complete mental model of the text they are reading, what Kintsch refers to as the situation model. As Duke, Pearson, Strachan, and Billman (2011) have related, “If the text base is an account of what the text says, the situation model can be thought of as an account of what the text means” (p. 54). When individuals read texts that are grounded in their life circumstances, cultural and otherwise, they have considerably more schemata to bring to bear in the construction of situation models.


To synthesize, culturally relevant instruction is that which draws upon and integrates students’ culturally based experiences and referents to empower them and to further academic goals (Ladson-Billings, 1995). Culturally relevant reading materials, a single aspect of culturally relevant instruction, allow students to draw upon their schemata related to “self and world” (Ruddell & Unrau, 2013, p. 1027), what Moll and his colleagues have identified as funds of knowledge (González et al., 2005), in support of developing reading proficiency. Schema-theoretic research has demonstrated that readers’ comprehension is benefitted when they read texts for which they have more culturally based schemata (Andersson & Gipe, 1983; Lipson, 1983; Pickens, 1982; Reynolds et al., 1982). Research investigating African American children’s reading given culturally relevant texts has provided evidence that African American children respond positively to culturally relevant texts (Brooks, 2006; Rickford, 2001; Sims, 1983; Smith, 1995; Taylor, 1997; Tyson, 1999) and that such texts can influence reading performance (Bell & Clark, 1998; Garth McCullough, 2013; Grant, 1973; Rickford, 2001).


Further research is needed, however. As Fairbanks, Cooper, Masterson, and Webb (2009) highlighted in their summary of scholarship related to culturally relevant pedagogy and reading comprehension, little empirical evidence exists to support the widespread claims in the literacy field that “students’ social and cultural practices are deeply intertwined with literacy learning” (p. 600). Moreover, Fairbanks et al. (2009) remarked, few studies have explicitly examined reading comprehension as an outcome variable. Rather, the research has been largely qualitative in nature and focused upon illuminating participation structures and interactional patterns. While research reviewed here (Bell & Clark, 1998; Garth McCullough, 2013; Rickford, 2001) focused explicitly upon comprehension outcomes, the outcomes of interest were students’ comprehension of specific research texts. Developing students’ ability to read wide ranging texts with comprehension, however, is the focus of reading instruction in schools. Thus, investigating whether African American students’ comprehension abilities generally are fostered given the use of culturally relevant texts for reading instruction is an important question to pursue. Grant’s (1973) early research with SRA We Are Black self-instructional materials remains the primary study to date that documented students’ gains in reading achievement generally given the use of culturally relevant texts. The purpose of the research reported here was to similarly investigate the influence of culturally relevant reading materials on African American students’ reading achievement. The materials used were of the kind that today’s children would encounter in contemporary reading programs, and their use was embedded within small group reading instruction across time.


SETTING


The studies took place in my university’s literacy center. The center serves as the practicum site for undergraduates enrolled in an advanced reading assessment and instruction course. They each have their own small classroom in the center, and each instructs a small group of children with similar reading abilities. They engage children in 90 minutes of instruction, twice weekly, from weeks 5 through 15 of the semester.


STUDY 1


This study employed a quasi-experimental, control group design to evaluate the reading achievement of the urban African American children the center serves given two text conditions, exclusive use of instructional texts that featured African American children, families, and/or communities (culturally relevant) and exclusive use of texts that did not feature African American children, families, and/or communities (non-culturally relevant). The intent was to create a “book flood” (Elley, 2000) of texts in which children in the culturally relevant condition could likely see themselves and their lives reflected. The research question addressed was: Do the children in the culturally relevant condition show a different pattern of reading progress than those in the non-culturally relevant condition?


METHOD


PARTICIPANTS


Children


One hundred thirty-one children in Grades 1 through 5 (73 girls, 58 boys) served as participants. They attended the center during the Fall 2008, Spring 2009, and Fall 2009 semesters. The numbers of children per grade level and gender appear in Table 1. The children attended six urban schools—three public, one parochial, and two campuses of an independent private school. The percentages of children who were eligible for free or reduced price lunch at the public schools were 68%, 94%, and 95%, respectively. Such information was not available for the other schools, however the state’s Department of Public Instruction identified each as high-poverty.


Pre-service Teachers


Fifty-eight pre-service teachers, 56 females (54 European American, 2 African American) and 2 males (European American), served as children’s teachers. All came from middle class backgrounds.


Table 1. Study 1: Participants by Grade, Condition, and Gender

 

CULTURALLY

RELEVANT

(N = 71)

NON-CULTURALLY RELEVANT

(N = 60)

GRADE

GIRLS

(N = 45)

BOYS

(N = 26)

GIRLS

(N = 28)

BOYS

(N = 32)

1

0

0

1

0

2

15

7

7

14

3

8

12

11

10

4

14

7

7

3

5

8

0

2

5


ASSESSMENT MATERIALS AND PROCEDURES


In the two weeks prior to and following each semester’s 10-week instructional program session, a team of educators and I individually assessed the children using the Qualitative Reading Inventory-4 (QRI) (Leslie & Caldwell, 2006). The QRI is an individually administered reading assessment. Children read a series of graded word lists and then passages to the point at which they cannot read with sufficient accuracy and/or comprehension. The instrument identifies children’s independent, instructional, and frustration reading levels, provides measures of reading rate, and yields qualitative insights into children’s cognitive reading processes. Leslie and Caldwell (2006) report the reliability of QRI instructional level decisions to be .80 or better on all passages and alternate-form agreement reliabilities to be between 71% and 85% across the pre-primer through fifth grade levels, the levels associated with the children in the present research. The correlations of QRI instructional levels with Normal Curve Equivalents on group-administered and individually administered standardized reading assessments were identified as .65 and .75, respectively. While a subset of QRI-4 passages for elementary level readers have either illustrations that depict African American characters [i.e., Just Like Mom (Pre-primer), Marva Finds a Friend (Level One)] or are about prominent African Americans [i.e., Martin Luther King, Jr. (Level Five), Patricia McKissack (Level Five)], the children involved in this research did not read these passages. Rather, they read passages that either depicted characters [e.g., Fox and Mouse (Primer), Father’s New Game (Second)] or prominent figures who were not African American [e.g., Johnny Appleseed (Fourth), Margaret Mead (Fifth)].


In this research, the children read graded word lists until they reached frustration level (65% or fewer correct). Then, they orally read successive narrative passages that increased in difficulty until an instructional level was identified (90% to 97% word recognition accuracy and 70% to 89% comprehension). For each passage, the reading was timed, and children’s reading rates in words-correct-per-minute (WCPM) were calculated. On the QRI, passages within reading levels vary somewhat in difficulty, and the authors provide mean comprehension scores for each passage. Children read easier narratives within instructional levels pre-program and harder narratives within instructional levels post-program.


ASSIGNMENTS TO INSTRUCTIONAL GROUPS AND CONDITIONS


At the beginning of each semester’s program session in the center, children are placed in groups based upon instructional reading level and grade level. To the extent possible, boys and girls are included in each group. For the purpose of this research, during the fall semesters of 2008 and 2009, children with the same pre-program instructional reading levels were randomly assigned to groups. The groups were then categorized by reading level (Pre-primer-Primer, Grades 1–2, Grades 3–4) and then randomly assigned to text conditions. During the spring semester of 2009, the children were regrouped to reflect their January 2009 reading levels and, with the exception of two children, were continued in their Fall 2008 text condition.


The pre-service teachers were randomly assigned to text conditions and then, within text conditions, randomly assigned to instructional groups.


INSTRUCTIONAL TEXTS


Culturally Relevant


Grant’s (1973) definition of culturally relevant guided text selection. According to Grant, culturally relevant means “‘deals with’ or ‘is about,’ or ‘draws’ its content, language, and illustrations from familiar objects and events in the lives of the [children] involved, and reflects many aspects of students’ life-style and background” (p. 401). Children in this condition read leveled texts and literary selections that featured African American children, families, and/or communities. The leveled texts were primarily titles from Lee and Low’s Bebop Books imprint, an imprint focused on culturally diverse books for beginning readers; Scholastic’s Just for You series, texts by African American authors and illustrators; and McGraw-Hill’s Visions series, a collection of texts by African American authors and illustrators. The trade selections that children read included what they referred to as “stand alone books” (e.g., Somebody’s New Pajamas by Isaac Jackson, Tippy Lemmey by Patricia McKissack, Solo Girl by Andrea Davis Pinkney) and series books (e.g., Juanita Havill’s books about Brianna and her friends, Ann Cameron’s books about Julian and his friends, Sharon Draper’s Ziggy and the Black Dinosaurs series). The texts in this condition were not examined for specific cultural knowledge and/or themes. However, as the vast majority were written and/or illustrated by African Americans, the assumption was that most, hence, would reflect the life rhythms and experiences with which African American children would be familiar and resonate.


Non-culturally Relevant


The books that children in this condition read were any leveled or trade books that did not feature African American characters. These included multicultural selections about children, families, and/or communities that were not African American (e.g., Ed Young’s Lon Po Po, Gary Soto’s Too Many Tamales), books featuring European American children, families, and/or communities (e.g., Peter and Connie Roop’s Keep the Lights Burning, Abbie, Kevin Henkes’ Margaret and Taylor, Dick King-Smith’s Jenius, the Amazing Guinea Pig), animal fantasy (e.g., books in Cynthia Rylant’s Poppleton series, Marc Brown’s Arthur books), and informational texts (e.g., Gail Gibbons’ Bats, Marge Kennedy’s Pets at the White House).


INSTRUCTION IN THE PROGRAM


Content


During the semesters of the research reported here, the instructional program remained consistent. It included five components: oral retelling and review of previously read text, 20 minutes of word study, 20 minutes of guided reading, and 15 minutes of writing in response to reading. For children reading at pre-primer through Grade 1, the word study component consisted of engaging children in a technique for learning high frequency words and in lessons in how to use one syllable words with a common phonogram to decode other words that share the phonogram. For children reading at Grade 2 or above, the focus of word study was on teaching children to use known word parts to decode multisyllabic words. The guided reading component varied in content per the children’s reading levels. For all children, though, it included an introduction to the text, activation of prior knowledge, using prior knowledge to predict before and during reading, drawing inferences, and summarizing during and following reading using text structure as a scaffold. Writing in response to reading was comprised of children’s responses to a choice of open-ended prompts.


Supervision


Each pre-service teacher was assigned a supervisor. These were elementary teachers and reading specialists. They evaluated lesson plans, evaluated instruction at three points during the program, and conferred with students following observations. As the course instructor, I also engaged in these supervisory tasks. This high level of supervision enabled maintenance of program integrity within and across the semesters of the study.


DATA PREPARATION AND ANALYSES


For the purpose of analysis, a child’s assessment information was included in the data set only the first program session that he or she participated in a text condition. In this way, the duration a child was exposed to a text condition remained constant at 10 weeks. For example, if a child had been assigned to the culturally relevant condition in the Fall 2008 session and continued in that condition in the Spring 2009 session, only that child’s fall participation scores would be included in the analysis. Similarly, if a child had participated in the non-culturally relevant condition in the Spring 2009 session and again in the Fall 2009 session, only that child’s Spring 2009 assessment data would be included in the analysis.


Scoring


As children did not read all the QRI word lists successively from pre-primer to the list at which they reached the point of frustration, to arrive at a word recognition in isolation score for a child, I multiplied the percentage correct on the highest word list a child read at the instructional level or better by the level of that list. In this way, the levels of the lists served to weight the scores. I used Leslie and Allen’s (1999) procedure for weighting QRI levels. The procedure is as follows. The QRI identifies the three levels within the first grade as pre-primer, primer, and first grade. These levels are represented as points within the first grade with the following weights: pre-primer = .25, primer = .50 and first grade = 1. Moving forward, the levels are represented numerically by grade level [e.g., Level 2 (second grade) = 2.0]. Given these weights, if a child read the Level 3 word list with 80% accuracy (instructional level) and the Level 4 list at 55% accuracy (frustration level), then that child’s word recognition in isolation score would be 80% x 3 = 240. If a child read the Level 2 list at 85% accuracy (instructional level), the Level 3 list at 95% accuracy (independent), and the Level 4 list at 60% (frustration), then that child’s score would be 95% ´ 3 = 285. To arrive at a child’s word recognition in context score, I identified the highest level passage that the child read with instructional level or better word recognition accuracy and comprehension. I then multiplied the total accuracy percentage on that passage by the level of the passage. For example, if the highest level passage that a child read with instructional level or better word recognition and comprehension was Level 2 and the child read the passage with 94% word recognition accuracy, then the child’s word recognition in context score would be 94% ´ 2 = 188. The use of these two word recognition scores enabled me to evaluate children’s word recognition abilities when they were and were not facilitated by syntactic and semantic context.


The highest level passage that children read with either instructional or independent level comprehension served as the basis for their comprehension scores. As QRI passages vary somewhat in difficulty within readability levels, to calculate comprehension scores, I used a weighting procedure that previous researchers (Leslie & Allen, 1999; Leslie & Calhoon, 1995; Regner, 1992) have used when employing the QRI. The procedure draws upon mean comprehension scores from QRI reliability assessments to determine passage weights. To arrive at a passage weight, the passage with the highest mean comprehension score within a readability level is used as the numerator, and the mean comprehension score of the focal passage within that readability level is used as the denominator. The resulting quotient is the passage weight. Having determined passage weights, I used the following formula to calculate children’s weighted comprehension scores: percentage of comprehension questions correct on passage ´ readability level of passage ´ weight of passage within its readability level. For example, given a child’s instructional level comprehension on the Level 5 passage Margaret Mead with 75% of the questions answered correctly, the child’s weighted comprehension score would be 75% (percentage of questions correct on passage) ´ 5.0 (readability level of passage) ´ [.71/.66] (passage weight within its readability level) = 403.13.


Words-correct-per-minute (WCPM) was calculated using the following formula: [(# words in the passage - # oral reading errors) ´ 60]/# seconds taken to read passage.


Dependent Variables


Children’s word recognition in isolation, word recognition in context, comprehension, and WCPM growth scores (post-program score – pre-program score) served as dependent variables.


Analyses


The data were not sufficiently symmetrically distributed even when transformed, so I used the Mann-Whitney U test on the untransformed scores to evaluate the pre-program comparability of children’s scores per variable and to test the post-program differences in children’s growth scores per variable.


RESULTS


The Mann-Whitney U tests identified no significant pre-program differences in children’s reading abilities: word recognition in isolation (U = 1680.50, z = -1.319.5, p = .19), word recognition in context (U = 1811.00, z = -0.673, p = .50), comprehension (U = 1750.5, z = -.662, p = .51), WCPM (U = 1373.00, z = -673, p = .50). Post-program, the tests identified significant differences in children’s growth in word recognition in context (U = 1490.50, z = -2.136, p = .03, r = .19) and comprehension (U = 1387.00, z = -2.405, p = .02, r = .22), with children in the culturally relevant condition outgrowing their peers in the non-culturally relevant condition with weak to somewhat more moderate effect sizes, respectively. There were no significant differences in children’s growth in word recognition in isolation (U = 1678.50, z = -1.330, p = .18) or WCPM (U=1038.00, z = -1.757, p = .07). Mean ranks and median scores are presented in Table 2.


Table 2. Study 1: Mean Ranks and Median Scores

 

Culturally Relevant

Non-Culturally Relevant

 

n

Mean Rank

Mdn

95% CI

n

Mean Rank

Mdn

95% CI

Pre-Program

        

WR Isolation

66

67.04

80

(75-90)

59

58.48

85

(44-145)

WR Context

66

65.06

96

(69-189)

59

60.69

94

(49-185)

Comp.

65

64.01

102

(64-163)

58

59.75

77

(51-113)

WCPM

53

57.09

47

(41-59)

56

53.02

43

(37-52)

Growth

        

WR Isolation

66

67.07

50

(30-70)

59

58.45

33

(24-50)

WR Context

65

69.07

50*

(21-92)

59

 55.26

9

(4-39)

Comp.

64

68.83

51*

(18-87)

58

 53.41

9

(-1-50)

WCPM

51

56.65

21

(13-31)

51

46.35

15

(9-20)

*p < .05


STUDY 2


Children need to read a variety of texts to become knowledgeable, capable, well-rounded readers, and these include texts that reflect all kinds of people, circumstances, and topics. Moreover, it is unlikely that African American children will experience a steady diet of culturally relevant texts in typical education contexts. Hence, I sought to compare the progress of children in Study 1’s culturally relevant condition to that of African American children in the program who read culturally relevant texts intermittently during other semesters.


For Study 2, I drew upon archival data. The research question was: Do children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively and intermittently in the program show different patterns of word recognition and comprehension growth? I used a matched pair design to address this question.


METHOD

PARTICIPANTS


Children


The children who contributed data for Study 2 were the 65 children in Study 1’s culturally relevant condition that completed the program and 65 African American children who attended the program during semesters between Fall 2006 and Fall 2013 other than those associated with Study 1. The children who read culturally relevant texts intermittently were matched with those who read them exclusively in Study 1 based on pre-program instructional reading level, gender, and grade level to the extent possible: In 21 of the 65 matches, children in adjacent grades were matched. The numbers of children by grade, gender, and condition appear in Table 3. The schools that children who read culturally relevant texts intermittently attended were either the same schools that children in Study 1 attended or other schools that the state’s Department of Public Instruction identified as high-poverty.


Table 3. Study 2: Participants

 

Exclusively Culturally

Relevant

Intermittently Culturally Relevant

Grade

Girls

(N = 43)

Boys

(N = 22)

Girls

(N = 43)

Boys

(N = 22)

2

14

7

14

7

3

8

8

8

8

4

13

7

13

7

5

8

0

8

0


Pre-service Teachers


Forty-six pre-service teachers taught the children in the intermittently culturally relevant condition, 42 females and 4 males. All were European American and from middle class backgrounds.


ASSESSMENT MATERIALS AND PROCEDURES


The assessment materials and procedures were equivalent to those employed in Study 1, with one adjustment. In the literacy center, the Qualitative Reading Inventory-5 (QRI-5) (Leslie & Caldwell, 2011) was used to assess children from the fall semester of 2011 moving forward. The passages used between the fall of 2011 and the fall of 2013, however, were those that also appeared in the QRI-4, so for the purpose of this research the passage weights remained consistent and thus direct comparisons were possible.


PROGRAM INSTRUCTION AND INSTRUCTIONAL TEXTS


The children who read culturally relevant texts intermittently were engaged in the same instructional activities as children in Study 1. They read both culturally relevant and non-culturally relevant texts. An examination of pre-service teachers’ lesson plans and case reports revealed that the percentages of program days that children read culturally relevant texts ranged from a low of 10% to a high of 73%. The majority of children (N = 43) read them between 21% and 40% of program days. The numbers of children who read these texts for specific percentages of instructional time are as follows: 10%–21%, N = 7; 21%–30%, N = 20; 31%–40%, N = 23; 41%–50%, N = 5; 51%–60%, N = 5; 61%–73%, N = 4.


ANALYSES


I used the Sign test to evaluate the between group pre-program comparability of instructional reading levels of children who read culturally relevant texts intermittently and exclusively and to test the post-program differences in children’s growth scores.


RESULTS


The pre-program instructional reading levels of children who read culturally relevant texts intermittently and exclusively were comparable (z = -.416, p = .68). Post-program, there was a significant difference in children’s growth in comprehension (z = -2.159, p = .03, r = .27), with children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively outgrowing those who read them intermittently with a moderate effect size. There were no significant differences in children’s growth in word recognition in isolation (z = -.260, p = .79) or in context (z = -1.764, p = .07, r =.22), however the difference in growth in contextual word recognition approached significance, with children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively outgrowing those who read them intermittently. Median scores are presented in Table 4.


Table 4. Study 2: Median Scores: Exclusively and Intermittently Culturally Relevant

 

Exclusively Culturally

Relevant

Intermittently Culturally Relevant

 

n

Mdn

95% CI

n

Mdn

95% CI

Pre-Program Reading Level

63

102

(76-182)

63

102

(79-165)

WR in Isolation Growth

63

50

(15-66)

63

20

(10-53)

WR in Context Growth

63

48*

(12-80)

63

5

(2-51)

Comprehension Growth

63

63**

(33-87)

63

11

(7-49)

**p < .05

*p = .07


DISCUSSION: STUDIES 1 AND 2


To summarize in relation to component reading processes, the contextual word recognition growth of children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively significantly outpaced that of peers who did not read them and nearly significantly outpaced that of peers who read them intermittently. The comprehension growth of children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively significantly outpaced that of peers who did not read them as well as those who read them intermittently. How might the benefits of culturally relevant texts have accrued for the children who read them so that they were able to make such gains?


Contextual Word Recognition


Word recognition instruction in the program involved explicitly teaching phonics elements and orthographic patterns during the word study lesson component. Then, during the guided reading component, when children struggled to recognize unfamiliar words, the pre-service teachers engaged in a coaching cycle. The cycle involved supporting children’s code-based attempts by cueing phonics and orthographic knowledge, having children confirm/disconfirm their code-based attempts via syntactic and semantic contextual supports (e.g., Does that sound right? Does it make sense? Does that match the picture?), having children identify—or attempt to identify—what more they could do to “help themselves out,” coaching subsequent attempts, and, finally, having students place the attempt at the troublesome word back in the sentence to consider its appropriateness.


Given the consistency of this approach across conditions, it seems that the contextual word recognition processes of children who read the culturally relevant texts exclusively were better fostered relative to those of children who read them intermittently or not at all by an intersection of textual, student, and instructional factors. That is, the contents of these children’s instructional texts were more consistently congruent with their cultural knowledge, experiences, and frames of reference to use Gay’s (2000) language. This increased congruency, working in concert with pre-service teachers’ coaching in the use of contextual supports to confirm/disconfirm code-based attempts at unfamiliar words, likely engendered in children, across the 10 program weeks, an increased attention to meaning while reading. This increased attention to meaning, in turn, likely developed children’s ability to detect word level inaccuracies and, following the application of code-based repair strategies, determine whether accuracy was achieved or if further attempts were warranted.


Below is an instructional excerpt that was recorded in supervisory notes during an observation. It depicts coaching in word recognition in one classroom in Study 1’s culturally relevant condition and shows how an African American child drew upon the story context and his culturally derived knowledge to support word recognition. In the excerpt, a group of third graders—one European American, one Hispanic, and two African American children—are reading The Meanest Thing to Say. In the story, Little Bill, an African American boy, becomes involved in a game of verbal sparring known as the dozens, a game that would be familiar to many African American youth. The African American reader, S1, is having difficulty with the word lousy. At this point in the story, a boy, Andrew, has picked another child, Michael, for his basketball team. Little Bill has responded to the pick with, “He’s a lousy player,” in so doing instantiating the previous day’s game of playing the dozens. The characters laugh genially at the insult. The text reads, “He’s a lousy player,” I said, grinning at Andrew.


S1:

He’s a l . . .

T:

You have the first sound. Now look at the o-u. Remember, o-u can make different sounds. So what can you do?

S1:

Try another sound.

T:

We have a word on the word wall that has the sound o-u makes here. Look under R and find the word that has o-u.

S1:

round

T:

So use that o-u sound.

S1:

 lousy [with s phonologically recoded as /s/]

T:

Almost. The s is making the z sound here.

S1:

lousy!


The teacher then has the reader place the word back in the sentence and asks the group to consider whether or not it makes sense. The European American child, S2, concludes it does not and the African American reader elaborates why it does.

 

T:

Now, what do you need to do?

S1:

Read [the sentence] to see if it makes sense.

T:

Okay. Let’s listen.

S1:

“He’s a lousy player,” I said, grinnin’ at Andrew.

T:

What do you think, group? Does that make sense?

S2:

No, that’s mean, but . . . but the kids are smiling and . . . he . . . that kid’s not mad. I’d be mad.

S1:

Yeah, it does. He don’t mean it mean. He just kiddin’. That’s why they smilin’ and laughin’.


In the excerpt, the European American child, S2, knows the meaning of the word lousy, and the discrepancy between its meaning, its use in the sentence, and the smiling and laughing story characters creates for him a dissonance that causes him to conclude that the word has not been accurately decoded. In contrast, the word’s meaning, its use in the sentence, and the smiling and laughing characters create a consonance for the African American reader, and he affirms the accuracy of his decoding and elaborates why it is so. This excerpt demonstrates how the better match between text content and children’s knowledge, experiences, and frames of reference may have enabled the children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively to draw upon their funds of cultural knowledge and sensitivity to the life rhythms and experiences depicted in the texts to monitor the accuracy of their word recognition and, if needed and with their teachers’ support, make and evaluate the appropriateness of word-level repairs.


Comprehension


Schema theory and mental model theories of comprehension would predict that African American children with reading difficulties would show greater comprehension when reading culturally relevant texts than when reading texts that were not culturally relevant. To review, schema theory posits that readers bring schemata, or organized sets of knowledge about people, places, events, and things that they have acquired across their lives, to the reading task (Rumelhart, 1984). As readers proceed through text, they relate their schemata to textual information. Readers who have elaborated schemata for text content will have an easier time comprehending the text (Anderson & Pearson, 1984). The integration of readers’ schemata into the surface code of the text, enables the construction of a situation model (Kintsch, 1994), a more complete mental model of what the text means (Duke et al., 2011). In the current research, the children in Study 1 who read culturally relevant texts would likely have had culturally acquired schemata that more closely reflected the content of the texts they read than the children who read texts that were not culturally relevant. This greater congruency between schemata and text content likely better enabled the children who read culturally relevant texts to draw the necessary inferences to understand the texts’ contents, and, in so doing, construct richer situation models of the texts. The following set of teacher–student interactions within one classroom in Study 1’s culturally relevant condition illustrates how readers’ integration of culturally acquired schemata may have supported students’ comprehension of culturally relevant texts. The group had begun to read Elizabeth Fitzgerald Howard’s Aunt Flossie’s Hats. The teacher would routinely have students recall stories using story grammar as a guide. Here, she has students identify the characters and setting.


T:

So, let’s review. What characters have we met in these first pages, and what is the setting—where and when is it taking place?

S1:

the two girls

S2:

and the aunt

S3:

Flossie . . . Aunt Flossie

T:

Okay, those are our characters so far. How about the setting? Where does it take place?

S2:

at the house . . . Aunt Flossie house

T:

How about when? What did the author tell us? [The text reads: On Sunday afternoons, Sarah and I go to see Great-great-aunt Flossie.]

S1:

on a Sunday, yeah, yeah . . . on Sunday

T:

How do you know? What does the author say?

S1:

the dresses . . .

T:

What does the author say in the book? Find the words. Put your finger on them.

S3:

They dressed up . . . they been to church.

T:

Okay, you’re right. They’re in their Sunday clothes, all dressed in their best.


In the excerpt, the teacher wants students to notice the author’s explicit language that relates part of the setting. The students, however, recall this information not based upon the author’s words, but rather on their culturally acquired schemata related to Sundays—you get dressed up in your best. The teacher realizes this and validates students’ use of culturally derived prior knowledge to understand the setting. The excerpt shows how children’s comprehension of culturally relevant texts may have been facilitated by culturally based schemata such that they were able to construct richer situation models of instructional texts. This research, however, did not measure children’s comprehension of focal instructional texts. Rather, it measured children’s pre- to post-program gain in comprehension on the QRI, and the children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively showed significantly greater gain than those who did not read them as well as those who read them intermittently. This pattern of results suggests that it was the consistent use of culturally relevant texts across the 10 program weeks that enabled the children who read them exclusively to grow significantly as comprehenders generally. A return to the Aunt Flossie’s Hats excerpt illustrates the manner in which the development of comprehension processes generally may have occurred incrementally across the program among children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively to produce superior gains. To review, the students in the instructional group have just noted that the characters are dressed up and thus it must be Sunday.


T:

Good noticing. You noticed something in the story that reminded you of what you do in your family and you used it to help you figure out the setting. Now, how do you think the girls feel? Use what you already know—an “in your head” clue. How do you feel when you’re in your Sunday clothes and going to see your aunt, or grandmother or someone else who’s special to you?

S1:

I’m excited. I like gettin’ all dressed up and visitin’. You play with the kids and you can eat good stuff and can watch the TV.

S2:

I got an aunt and she has a lot of stuff in her apartment from when she and my mom were kids. She lets me look at it—and put the clothes on—and it’s fun!

T:

So, you enjoy getting dressed up and visiting relatives. You get to play with cousins maybe, and there’s good food, and good times. So, use your feelings about visiting relatives to make an inference about how these two girls [points to the illustration] feel. How do you think they feel?

S1:

Happy. They’re goin’ to have fun.

S2:

And maybe dress up and look at old stuff.


In this latter part of the excerpt, the teacher draws students’ attention to their use of prior knowledge to infer part of the setting and then to infer the characters’ feelings about visiting their great aunt. In the instructional program associated with this research, pre-service teachers routinely had children connect their prior knowledge with textual information to determine what was happening or what an author meant. This explicit attention to a text processing strategy—inferencing—in concert with texts that more closely reflected the stores of prior knowledge that African American children would likely have and be able to employ to good effect, likely enabled the children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively to grow as comprehenders to a degree that children who read them only intermittently or not at all could not given fewer or no opportunities to read texts that more closely reflected their culturally acquired funds of knowledge. In this way, the children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively seemed to have benefited from a variation of the virtuous cycle that Duke et al. (2011) have described:


A virtuous cycle (as opposed to a vicious cycle) drives the comprehension process: We bring knowledge to the comprehension process, and that knowledge shapes our comprehension. When we comprehend, we gain new information that changes our knowledge, which is then available for later comprehension. So, in that positive, virtuous cycle, knowledge begets comprehension, which begets knowledge, and so on. In a very real sense, we literally read and learn our way to greater knowledge about the world and greater comprehension capacity. (p. 53)


It seems that reading culturally relevant texts in concert with ongoing teacher-guided instruction in how to comprehend, coupled with daily contextual reading practice, enabled children to draw upon their existing knowledge to not only expand their knowledge of places, things, and events, but also to develop their strategic comprehension processes—processes that transfer across texts and time—in a virtuous cycle such that children emerged from the 10-week program able to construct more coherent situation models when reading generally than children who did not read culturally relevant texts.


While the contextual word recognition and comprehension findings of these investigations are compelling, it is important to consider whether there are alternative explanations for the results. There are two possibilities. First, it may be that the pre-service teachers in the culturally relevant condition were more tenacious in demonstrating enthusiasm for the texts and in connecting them to students’ lives than their counterparts in the non-culturally relevant condition and the intermittent condition. Much of the pre-service teachers’ coursework across their preparation program emphasized themes of social justice, and one of the ways that pre-service teachers understand themes of social justice is in relation to the representation of diversity in instructional materials and to the need to connect materials to children’s lives. It may be that the exclusive use of culturally relevant texts engendered in pre-service teachers a more mission-centered stance that influenced their instructional delivery. Were this to have been the case, it would have gone uncaptured in this research. The observation form used to evaluate instruction included ratings of content and language. It did not include ratings of affective delivery per se. Perhaps, then, a portion of the gains that children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively made might be attributed to an investment in teaching for social justice as their pre-service teachers understood it.


Second, there were genre differences in the books that students read in Study 1’s text conditions, and these differences may have influenced that study’s results. The texts that children in the culturally relevant condition read were primarily about people and largely works of realistic fiction (70%) with considerably lesser amounts of informational texts (10%), biography (6%), fantasy (4%), fairy- or folktales (3.5%), historical fiction (3.5%), and poetry (2.5%). In contrast, there was much wider variation in genres represented in Study 1’s non-culturally relevant condition: realistic fiction (44%), fantasy (30%), informational texts (13%), biography (1.4%), fairy- or folktales (6%), poetry (4.3%), and historical fiction (2%). Although the balance of fiction to nonfiction across the two conditions was comparable (CR: 81% vs. 16%; Non-CR: 82% vs. 14.4%), it could be that children in both conditions were more familiar with the circumstances depicted in the realistic fiction texts they read and were able to leverage their greater familiarity to foster their contextual word recognition and comprehension processes. It is possible that the greater exposure to realistic fiction that children in the culturally relevant condition experienced contributed more to their superior contextual word recognition and comprehension gains than the cultural relevance of their texts. This possibility is tempered, somewhat, by the nearly comparable amount of realistic fiction included in Study 2’s intermittent condition (65%). If realistic fiction alone was the critical influence, the children who read culturally relevant texts exclusively and those who read them intermittently would likely show fairly comparable gains in the program. This was not the case, though. Rather, those who read them exclusively showed significantly greater comprehension gain, and nearly significantly greater contextual word recognition gain, than those who read them intermittently. Nonetheless, the influences of genre and text type—CR and Non-CR—cannot be disambiguated in this research.


LIMITATIONS


Several limitations to this research should be noted. First, as elaborated above, genre was uncontrolled in this research and so remains a potential confound. Second, it was conducted with convenience samples. The children involved were those that attended the center’s partner elementary schools and whose parents elected to have them participate in the after school program. They may not be representative of the larger population of urban, African American struggling readers. Third, in Study 1, it was difficult to achieve full randomization of children to text conditions. Children initially accepted into the program were randomly assigned to conditions, however when children dropped out of the program during the first two weeks, the children who were added (N = 6) were not randomly assigned. They were added because their reading levels matched those of the instructional groups in which they were placed. Further, when in subsequent semesters of the study children who had previously participated (N = 5) were regrouped by instructional level they were not randomly assigned. These randomization challenges introduce another potential confound, that of differences in children’s school-based reading instruction that may have influenced their outcomes in the center. Full randomization would have addressed any differences, but, as stated, it was not achieved. Finally, Study 2 employed a matched pairs design, and, in approximately one-third of the pairs, children in adjacent rather than the same grades were matched. Hence, it may be that, although pairs shared the same gender, race, ethnicity, and pre-program instructional reading level, developmental differences may have existed between them that influenced their respective gains.


IMPLICATIONS FOR FUTURE RESEARCH


Given the randomization challenges and potential influence of genre in the current research, a replication of Study 1 in which full randomization was achieved and genre was controlled would disambiguate the current findings. Additionally, the definition of culturally relevant applied in this research was broad: “‘deals with’ or ‘is about,’ or ‘draws’ its content, language, and illustrations from familiar objects and events in the lives of the [children] involved, and reflects many aspects of students’ life-style and background” (Grant, 1973, p. 401). The texts that children read were titles from publishers’ offerings written specifically with African American children in mind or individual trade selections by African American authors. The vast majority were written and/or illustrated by African Americans, so the working assumption was that most would reflect the life rhythms and experiences with which African American children would be familiar and resonate. The texts were not examined for specific cultural themes, however. A replication of this research in which any cultural themes within texts were documented would shed light on the relative contribution to children’s reading progress of texts that merely feature African American children, families, and/or communities and those that also reflect specific African American cultural themes.


IMPLICATIONS FOR PRACTICE


The findings reported here suggest that books that feature African American children, families, and/or communities can foster the reading progress of African American children who struggle with learning to read. The amount of instruction associated with the children who read these kinds of texts exclusively and made superior reading gains in this research would be fairly easy to accommodate within school-based contexts. Essentially, the children participated in two 90-minute instructional sessions a week for a total of 180 weekly minutes. By way of example, in the large urban school district that serves my city, 700 minutes a week are allocated to literacy instruction. If 180 of 700 minutes of struggling African American readers’ literacy instruction were grounded in texts that featured African American children, families, and/or communities, it would amount to approximately 25% of literacy instructional time. This seems very achievable. Such instruction could occur during regular classroom instruction or within supplemental intervention contexts. In an era in which districts often use published core reading programs for regular classroom instruction, supplemental instructional contexts may be the easier settings in which to ground instruction in culturally relevant texts. The results of this research indicate that it may be worth the effort.


In conclusion, this research provides substantive, quantitative empirical support for theoretical perspectives in literacy education that view students’ socioculturally grounded subjectivities as integral to the learning process. It confirms the benefit to inferential comprehension identified in previous research (Bell & Clark, 1998; Rickford, 2001), and, as an instructional study, it sheds light on Garth McCullough’s (2013) finding of no difference in African American students’ comprehension of different culturally-themed texts despite significantly higher culturally-based prior knowledge for the African American themed texts. That is, in the absence of targeted comprehension instruction, the participants likely were unable to employ their culturally-based prior knowledge for the African American themed stories to draw the inferences needed to sufficiently comprehend. Hence, the current research extends understanding of the relation between culturally relevant texts and African American students’ reading development by demonstrating the contribution of extended and specific teacher guided instruction with such texts in fostering reading gains. Critically, as in Grant’s (1973) investigation, the assessment used in the current research—a highly regarded and widely used measure of reading ability—documented that African American students can transfer the reading processes they develop when they read culturally relevant instructional texts to non-instructional and non-culturally relevant texts. This transfer of reading processes is crucial to African American students’ academic achievement, as most of the texts that they encounter in school will not be culturally relevant. The current research builds upon Grant’s work in that the achievement measure, an individually administered diagnostic reading assessment, enabled the identification of the component reading processes affected by the extended use of culturally relevant texts for reading instruction, contextual word recognition and comprehension. In summary, this research adds to the body of quantitative empirical work yielding insights into practices that foster African American children’s reading acquisition, specifically that of urban children who struggle with learning to read. It documented the importance of grounding active teacher guided instruction in how to read in large numbers of culturally relevant texts, distinguished contextual word recognition and comprehension as the component reading processes strengthened given consistent use of such texts, illustrated how such strengthening might occur across time and texts, and demonstrated that children can transfer their developing reading processes to non-instructional and non-culturally relevant texts.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 119 Number 5, 2017, p. 1-30
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21756, Date Accessed: 9/15/2019 6:21:14 AM

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About the Author
  • Kathleen Clark
    Marquette University
    E-mail Author
    KATHLEEN F. CLARK is Associate Professor in the Department of Educational Policy and Leadership at Marquette University. Her area is literacy. She researches reading acquisition and instruction in urban settings. Her recent research investigates the contributions of pre-service teachers’ linguistic and pedagogical content knowledge to urban primary grade children’s reading gains and factors that predict reading gain in summer reading programs for low-income children.
 
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