Culturally Relevant Literacy Instruction: Promoting Shifts in Teachers' Beliefs and Practices

Culturally Relevant Literacy Instruction: Promoting Shifts in Teachers' Beliefs and Practices

Natasha A. Thornton (Kennesaw State University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1067-3.ch017


This study works toward addressing a very critical educational problem in that it seeks to understand how gaining conceptual and pedagogical understandings of culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) impact shifts in teachers' beliefs and practices. Rather, than considering the impact of CRP on students' educational success, this study examined teachers' changing beliefs and practices as they engaged in professional development on issues related to CRP and literacy instruction. Formative experiment was conducted and continuous, teacher-centered professional development focused on CRP served as the intervention for the study. Findings indicate that theoretical learning, critical self-reflection, collaboration, and longevity are integral to support shifts in teachers' beliefs and practices around CRP. Findings also show that the shifting process is dynamic and complex and occurs differently for individuals. The outcomes of this study suggest that professional learning should considers teachers' beliefs, experiences, and work context during the learning process.
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Teacher Beliefs

The role that teachers play in the academic achievement of all students is critical, especially for students of color. While there are a variety of races and cultures in our schools, white, middle-class, male norms and values are most validated in the educational system (Ntiri, 2009), consequently negating the linguistic and cultural resources of diverse learners. Therefore, understanding teacher beliefs and studying practices that support shifts in teachers’ beliefs is of great importance. Kagan (1992) suggests that beliefs “may be the clearest measure of a teacher’s professional growth” (p. 85).

Research on teacher beliefs is important to the understandings of teacher actions and decision-making inside and outside the classroom. Teachers make decisions about classroom instruction in relation to the beliefs that they have about teaching, learning, and the students in which they serve (Harste, 1977). Kavanagh (2010) reasons that beliefs, attitudes, identity, and context intersect, influence, and shape classroom practice.

Teachers must reflect on their beliefs and have a critical stance to be culturally relevant. Howard (2003) suggests that teachers should equip themselves with the necessary skills to critically reflect on their own racial and cultural identities to recognize how these identities coexist with cultural compositions of their students. This type of critical reflection is embedded in the genuine belief that all students have intellectual ability to succeed, without ignoring or demeaning their cultural identities and is essential for shaping academic success through cultural validation (Gay, 2002). Critical self-reflection will be implemented during the professional development for this study and teachers will critique their own thoughts and practices and examine how race, culture, and socioeconomic class impacts their students thinking and learning (Howard, 2003). Reflective practice is a critical component in pre-service teacher education but is missing in in-service teacher professional development and subsequent studies (Kurboska, 2011; Powers et al., 2006).

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