Cultivating 'New Achievers': Experts Say K-12 Teachers Who Adopt 'Culturally Relevant' Teaching Strategies Can Engage Minority Students and Prime Them for Higher Education

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Widening the use of K-12 classroom "cultural relevancy" tactics to engage minority students and help them do better in school could create a new breed of curious, college-bound students.

That's according to the National Urban Alliance for Effective Education and other groups, who are conducting nationwide teacher-training workshops to show thousands of K-12 educators how to improve the performance of underachieving students by drawing out their strengths and incorporating their culture into learning activities.

As a result of learning in a culturally inclusive K-12 atmosphere, these "new achievers" may come to college with the expectation that their own cultural context will be included in college classrooms. NUA says the concept will give rise to a different kind of college student, one who expects professors to be culturally competent as well.

"They will come to college with strategies that will enable them to better learn how to learn, to use the content that the college professor is providing them," says Dr. Eric Cooper, NUA president. "The strategies that we're talking about are as appropriate for K-12 as they are for college education." He says "thinking maps" and other techniques "really enable [students] to learn the content in a way that sticks."

Cooper and his colleagues presented their research at NUNs "Teaching for Intelligence: Believe to Achieve" conference in Minneapolis earlier this month. NUA has taught its engagement techniques to teachers in 75 cities--and to college education majors as well.

NUA has shown promising results. In Birmingham, Ala., where NUA partners with schools, the share of students meeting state standards doubled to 80 percent in 2006 from 40 percent a year earlier. NUA claims its techniques have also helped improve performance among under-achieving students in Minneapolis, Newark, Indianapolis and Seattle.

Dr. Marybeth Gasman, an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania who does research on Black colleges, confirms that "Afrocentric" classroom approaches work for African-American students, and her own experience is that students of color are more active in discussions when she uses examples from other cultures. …