In Pursuit of Engaged Learning With Latinx Students: Expanding Learning Beyond Classrooms Through Performance-Based Engagements
by Marnie Willis Curry & Steven Z. Athanases - 2020
Background/Context: Urban public high schools serving low-SES communities historically have underserved nondominant culturally and linguistically diverse students by divesting them of social and cultural resources and delivering impoverished curriculum and instruction. Associated with such subtractive schooling, many Latinx youth have suffered from academic disengagement and limited academic success and futures.
Focus of Study: This study investigates one school’s efforts to promote Latinx students’ academic and intellectual engagement through a schoolwide system of performance-based assessments (PBAs) that featured meaningful, embodied, discourse-rich activities, many of which occurred beyond classrooms during after-school hours. We examine the scope of PBA opportunity across the school and the ways educators enacted PBAs to optimize nondominant students’ engagement. We also report the organizational structures that enabled the PBA system and some implementation challenges/tensions.
Setting: This study features Mario Molina High, a small urban Title 1 public California school serving 262 students, of whom 90% received free/reduced-price lunches, 76% were Latinx, and 33% were emergent bilinguals. MHS emphasized an explicit social justice mission and had a record of some success with Latinx students, as measured by graduation and college-going rates, course completion for admission to California universities, and standardized achievement tests.
Research Design: We treat MHS as a “critical case,” holding strategic importance to the problem on which the study focuses. Using qualitative methods, we employed a bi-level design to uncover links between school organization and instruction.
Data Collection and Analysis: We drew on 240 hours of school observations, with special attention to PBA enactments. We also drew on 45 interviews with key stakeholders; faculty survey responses; school documents; student work; and email list communications. Our analysis involved thematic coding, memos, metamatrices, and situated/discourse analyses.
Findings/Results: MHS’s PBAs drew school actors out of the spatial/temporal boundaries of classrooms and fostered serious, spirited, interactive spaces for learning. Three aspects of PBAs—authentic audiences, embodied action, and dialogic argumentation—transformed these assessments into what we call performance-based engagements (PBEs). This shift enhanced students’ engagement and contributed to a schoolwide culture of engaged learning. We argue that sustained participation in PBEs encouraged students to experiment with and adopt expanded practice-based identities as critical thinkers and change agents.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Our study suggests how the schoolwide implementation of dynamic, innovative, and culturally sustaining forms of assessment can expand and revivify traditional school learning in ways that promote the academic and intellectual engagement of historically underserved students.
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