Many African American students listen to hip-hop not only because they enjoy the beat of the music, but because they can relate to the issues addressed in the lyrics. If played Common's song "Sixth Sense," whose first line is "The revolution will not be televised," many students would know the song at once. However, if played "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised," Gil Scott-Heron's 1970s hit that helped to inspire Common's song of three decades later, few if any of these same students would recognize the older song. Listening to and learning about the piece of music by Scott-Heron, however, not only is rewarding in itself, but invariably gives students new insights on and appreciation for the piece of music by Common. If African American students were exposed in the classroom to the historical content of spirituals, slave songs, work songs, ragtime, blues, jazz, soul, and other traditional genres of African American music, they would be able to get even more out of hip-hop, by recognizing how many hip-hop artists make strong references and connections to historical events, issues, and figures.
The contributors to this edition of Black History Bulletin have designed sample curricula to show students how African American historians, artists, and explorers used their own creative abilities to capture and eternalize significant African American historical and cultural events. The articles pay tribute to significant African American figures whose names are typically overlooked or omitted from textbooks. The lesson plans not only expose students to unsung heroes, but they incorporate activities that work to create identities of achievement in African American students (Perry, Steele, & Hilliard, 2004)--exposing them to curricula that are intellectually challenging. To design intellectually challenging curricula, of course, requires educators to be "culturally responsive."
In this context, culturally responsive means paying attention to how African American students learn. When educators pay attention to students' learning styles, it provides them with "functional directions for modifying instructional techniques that more effectively meet the academic needs of ethnically diverse students" (Gay, 2000, 147). The lesson plans in this Bulletin all provide evidence that the authors carefully considered the learning styles of ethnically diverse students, and more particularly, African American students.
Young, Wright, and Laster (2005) describe two preferential learning styles among African American students. The "analytical learner" is the student who processes information that is written in textbooks or stated in lectures. The "global learner" is the visual, tactile, kinesthetic learner who has to visualize what is about to be learned; this learner has to touch what is about to be learned, and the learner has to move about the learning environment in order to learn (Young, Wright, & Laster, 2005). In most cases, African American students possess the characteristics of a global learner. Therefore, the primary emphasis in this Bulletin is on how educators can reach global learners by devising instructional practices that create cultural congruity in the teaching-learning processes (Gay, 2005).
Exposing global learners to instructional variability is vital to their academic achievement. The authors in this volume provide a repertoire of pedagogical methods to enhance the learning environment for African American students who are global learners. In Regennia Williams's lesson on oral history methodology and African American religion, the author includes tactile and visual activities. More important, Williams includes kinesthetic activities that allow students to move around and work in small groups. This particular small group activity required each group to develop a list of four or five basic questions for each general area of the oral history interview. According to Gay (2000), when marginalized African, Asian, Latino, and Native American students work collaboratively to design their own assignments or work across ethnic, gender, and ability groupings, the students' academic achievement, self confidence, and self-efficacy improve. Furthermore, the possibility of peer mentoring is more likely to emerge from cooperative learning groups than students working independently. In fact, students' working in small groups is one way to have both analytical and global learners work together and learn from each other. In Williams' lesson, the analytical learner can read the instructions for the small group assignment to the global learner who will then envision what the analytical learner read. In this small group setting, the global learner has time to process the information and can ask for clarification.
James Laney's lesson plan on art as narrative history includes instructional practices that are filled with visual stimulation. For example, Laney's lesson plan integrates visual arts with other forms of art such as: music, drama/theatre arts, dance/movement, and literature. This cross curriculum approach is vital for African American students, in particular students who are global learners, because it helps them make connections and see the similarities that art, history, English, and the theatre share. In most history classes, the global learner is thinking that reading history from a textbook is laborious, boring, and irrelevant to their lives. Part of culturally responsiveness is to teach students skills that they can apply to their lives while showing them how to meet high standards of academic excellence (Gay, 2000). When educators use art, such as Jacob Lawrence's "The Migration Series" to teach students about social, cultural, and historical events, it allows students to see the connections between art and history and develop an appreciation for art beyond its aesthetic appeal. Furthermore, exposing African American students to "The Migration Series" allows them to explore the different ways he incorporated various forms of movement in his paintings. For instance, panel 3, "The Migration of the Negro," illustrates the hardships that some African Americans experienced as they traveled by foot from the South in search for a better life. Panel 50, meanwhile, captures the antagonism that existed between whites and blacks in competing for jobs in the North. Using art to teach history allows African American students who are global learners to visualize the subject matter that is written in history textbooks. Perhaps using art to clarify information in history textbooks is an effective way to enhance African American students' comprehension skills.
Another contributor, David Campos, provides a "constructivist" lesson on the explorer Matthew Henson. It requires teachers to create assignments resembling tasks that students could likely do as adults in the workforce. For instance, the author of this lesson suggests that educators have students create advertisements, banners, brochures, or any product that captures the meaningful aspects of an unsung hero's life. The activities in this lesson also require educators to design a rubric so students will know what is expected throughout the lesson. This instructional practice gives students the opportunity to develop their own ideas and the freedom to display their comprehension in varying ways. Allowing African American students who are global learners to display their comprehension in various ways not only empower those with hidden talents and abilities to surface, but it also allows them to achieve success.
It is imperative that educators get beyond "the notion that good teaching is devoid of cultural tenets" (Gay, 2000, 23) and face the realities that "monoculturalism"; one way of thinking; one way of learning does not exists in the classroom (O'Neil, 1993, 21). If educators want cultural congruity to exist in the teaching-learning processes, then they must take into consideration African American students' learning styles, and use this knowledge to design lessons that support the way they learn. Being culturally sensitive is more than just teaching a lesson or two on African American events or figures.
Becoming culturally responsive requires educators to get to know their students before beginning the instructional process. Becoming acquainted with the students will assist educators in devising instruction that will get African American students excited about learning. It will enable African American students to see the connections between art, history, and music. Furthermore, designing instructional methods that support African American students unique styles of learning will open the students' eyes and enable them to recognize the connections that some hip hop artists make with historical events, issues, and people. Finally, if educators do as the authors in this volume did, they will witness cultural responsiveness in its purest sense.
Gay, G. Culturally Responsive Teaching: Theory, Research, & Practice. New York: Teachers College Press, 2000.
O'Neill, M. Teaching Literature as Cultural Criticism. English Quarterly, 25, 19-25 (1993).
Perry, T., Steele, C., and Hilliard III, A. Young, Gifted, and Black: Promoting High Achievement Among African American Students. Boston: Beacon Press, 2003.
Young, C., Wright, J., & Laster, J. Instructing African American Students. Education, 125, 516-524 (2005).
Benita Dillard is working on a doctorate in Curriculum and Instruction, with an emphasis in literacy, at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. She teaches ninth- and tenth-grade English at Odyssey Charter High School, where she instructs students in a web-based distance education model that emulates the hybrid model.…