An Examination of One Physics Teacher's Dilemmas around Developing and Implementing Culturally Relevant Pedagogies in the Classroom
Mathis, Clausell (author)
Southerland, Sherry A., 1962- (professor directing dissertation)
Capstick, Simon, 1958- (university representative)
Jaber, Lama (committee member)
Turner, Jeannine E. (committee member)
Florida State University (degree granting institution)
College of Education (degree granting college)
School of Teacher Education (degree granting department)
My motivation for developing this project started with the question: What is the intersection of students’ culture with physics ideas? I ask this because for decades scholars have explored the impact that the intersection of school and culture has on instruction in schools (Bryan & Atwater, 2002; Gay, 2002; Ladson-Billings, 1995; Milner, 2011; Scherff & Spector, 2011). Indeed, a variety of researchers have found that students have a higher level of engagement, performance, and identification when the instructor uses students’ cultural resources for instruction (Au & Jordan, 1981; Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Scherff & Spector, 2011). There have been developments in pedagogical theories and approaches to teaching science from a culturally informed perspective (Banks, 1993; Carreon, 2007; Ladson-Billings, 1992). Pedagogical approaches that are culture-based are designed to give students from different cultural backgrounds very distinct classroom experiences than those traditionally seen. These experiences are designed to use students’ cultural resources as a reference to enhance the content, curriculum, and teaching approaches that structure students’ formal education to create meaningful academic experiences. However, while the development of the culture-based pedagogical approaches have been described in many disciplines, researchers have struggled to implement such pedagogies in science (Boutte, Kelly-Jackson, & Johnson, 2010; Johnson, 2011). One of the primary tensions involved in this effort is the difficulty in merging the canonical knowledge to be learned with students’ cultures. There have been many approaches to bridge the two. For example, (1) identifying students’ cultural resources though funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992; Morrison, Robbins, & Rose, 2008; Teo & Khoh, 2015), and (2) problematizing a relevant issue within the context of students’ culture (Morales‐Doyle, 2017) have become well-recognized standards in this approach to instruction. However, these efforts have been largely fragmented, and the body of research has been poorly articulated as scholars have worked within different theoretical frameworks, focusing on varied disciplines and student target populations. Thus, the primary goal for this study was to systematically examine an attempt to incorporate a culturally relevant approach to physics instruction. The research has been structured to address the following research questions: 1. How does one physics teacher enact culturally relevant pedagogy? 2. What are the dilemmas a select physics teacher navigates as she develops and attempts to enact a culturally relevant approach to physics instruction? To answer these questions, I employed a qualitative case study approach to examine the efforts of a female African American Physics teacher (under the pseudonym Sarah), as she attempted to shift her instruction from a traditional approach to a culturally relevant one. Using data from classroom observations, co-planning sessions, and semi-structured interviews with the teacher, I examined the dilemmas Sarah experienced as she attempted to develop and enact culturally relevant curricula in her physics classroom. To frame my analysis of challenges posed by Sarah’s efforts, I used Windschitl’s (2002) framework of dilemmas teachers encounter which consists of: conceptual, pedagogical, cultural, and political. Findings revealed that Sarah showed the strongest indicators of culturally relevant pedagogy through her allowing students to address socio-political topics, consistent encouragement of students towards academic excellence, and ability to adapt curricula to capitalize on students’ strengths. The weakest indicator of culturally relevant pedagogy in Sarah’s instruction was found in the connection between students’ cultural norms and physics content. As Sarah worked to make her instruction more culturally relevant, she encountered many dilemmas in her teaching, ranging from difficulties with encouraging students to establish agency in their learning, constraints on using students’ cultural resources to connect to physics ideas, and restrictions from state curricula standards, along with local and school authorities that set boundaries on the sorts of lessons that she could enact. The findings from this case study suggests that Sarah placed a larger emphasis on cultural competence and socio-political consciousness, and a smaller emphasis on academic excellence in her physics instruction. The weaker emphasis on academic excellence was largely due to dilemmas Sarah encountered when she attempted to introduce a more constructivist-based approach to her teaching, as Sarah’s struggled with trying to manage students’ moments of uncertainty in their science learning. While Sarah supported students’ consideration of sociopolitical topics in her classroom, such as discussions of racial discrimination that students encountered, she struggled to find physics-based sociopolitical topics to anchor her instruction, and she struggled to connect students’ cultural resources to physics ideas. The conservative nature of her school system precluded the use of some forms of sociopolitical topics and required a fast pace of instruction, making the social consciousness tenant of Ladson Billings (1995) cultural relevance difficult to achieve within a physics context. In contrast, Sarah’s positionality as an African American woman familiar and comfortable in the students’ community allowed her to excel in cultural competence, and her drive for students to succeed provided one route to academic excellence. This study suggests that Culturally Relevant Pedagogy depends on a myriad of factors, relying in part on teachers’ relationships with students, their knowledge of students’ communities, wider institutional factors, as well as curriculum. Thus, no single lesson or activity that can assure culturally relevance. While CRP cannot be captured in any singular curricular document, these findings suggests that preservice and in-service teachers must be provided with many examples of teachers who use CRP in physics and other science classrooms and opportunities to enact such instruction, followed by a reflection on their practice. This case study is one example that will be useful to those interested in engaging in such instruction in the context of physics and it calls attention to the need for further curricular and instructional supports for such efforts.
culturally relevant pedagogy, culture, physics
April 6, 2020.
A Dissertation submitted to the School of Teacher Education in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy.
Includes bibliographical references.
Sherry A. Southerland, Professor Directing Dissertation; Simon Capstick, University Representative; Lama Jaber, Committee Member; Jeannine Turner, Committee Member.
Florida State University