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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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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 122 Number 8, 2020, p. 1-49
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23373, Date Accessed: 1/17/2021 5:23:45 PM

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About the Author
  • Marnie Curry
    University of California, Santa Cruz
    E-mail Author
    MARNIE W. CURRY, Ph.D., is a researcher at the University of California, Santa Cruz. Her research focuses on teacher professional development and efforts to advance educational equity for historically underserved youth. A recent (2018) chapter (with S. Athanases) is “Framing Literacy as ‘Revolutionary’: Creating Transformative Learning Opportunities in a Predominantly Latinx-Serving High School” in Humanizing Schools for Multilingual Students: Transforming Literacies, Learning, and Lives, Teachers College Press.
  • Steven Athanases
    University of California, Davis
    E-mail Author
    STEVEN Z. ATHANASES, Ph.D., is professor and the Dolly and David Fiddyment Chair in Teacher Education, School of Education, University of California, Davis. He studies teaching and teacher education focused on literacy, English teaching, diversity, and equity. He is PI for a McDonnell Foundation Teachers as Learners grant (New Teachers Learning Disciplined Improvisation for Meaningful Talk in Diverse Classrooms), and research director for the UC Davis Center for Shakespeare in Diverse Classrooms. His 2018 article “Locked in Sequence and Stuck on Skills in a College-for-All Culture for Urban Latinx Youth” appeared in Urban Education.
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