A Case for Culturally Relevant Teaching in Science Education and Lessons Learned for Teacher Education

By Mensah, Felicia Moore | The Journal of Negro Education, Summer 2011 | Go to article overview

A Case for Culturally Relevant Teaching in Science Education and Lessons Learned for Teacher Education


Mensah, Felicia Moore, The Journal of Negro Education


In this article, the researcher discusses three elementary pre-service teachers' experiences in co-planning and co-teaching a Pollution Unit in a 4th-5th grade science classroom in New York City. The study makes use of microteaching papers, lesson plans, researcher classroom observations, interviews, and informal conversations to elicit lessons learned from implementing culturally relevant teaching in science education. Examples of pre-service teachers' planning process, culturally relevant teaching examples, assessment of student learning and reflections on microteaching are also presented as exemplars and interpretations of culturally relevant science teaching. Implications from the study are discussed in terms of support to enact culturally relevant teaching in urban elementary classrooms and in pre-service science teacher education.

Keywords: culturally relevant teaching, science education, teacher education, multicultural education

The Uterature on multicultural teacher education emphasizes the preparation of teachers for diverse classrooms, with a great deal of the literature focusing on the preparation of White teachers for communities that have been traditionaUy underserved. In a Uterature review by Sleeter (2001), she discussed the effects of various pre-service teacher education strategies, ranging from recruiting and selecting students to program restructuring. She concluded that most ofthe research addresses teacher attitudes and the lack of knowledge that pre-service teachers have about multicultural teaching. She also acknowledged that research has not addressed how to populate the teaching profession with exceUent multicultural and culturally responsive teachers.

To take this further, Furman (2008) conducted a review of the Uterature of multicultural teacher education (MTE) by examining previous published reviews and synthesized the field over the past two decades. Specifically, he "examinefd] the ways in which the problem of MTE is established and understood, how these issues have been approached by various scholars, and the evolution and current state of the field" (p. 57). He noted specific contributions, limitations, and tensions faced by multicultural researchers and the field of MTE, and then discussed two major tensions within the field - the demographic tension: how best to prepare teacher candidates for increasingly diverse schools, and the effectiveness tension. The effectiveness tension is the one that connects to this current study.

Furman (2008) argued that the effectiveness tension for MTE lies in teacher education. He stated that "teacher education itself must be culturally responsive" (p. 69), yet in his examination of research reviews on teacher education programs, it was shown that this was not the case. Sinularly, ViUegas and Lucas (2002) argued that in order to move the field of teacher education, and equaUy, MTE, a vision of teaching and learning in a diverse society is needed. Furthermore, this vision should be used to systematicaUy guide the infusion of multicultural issues throughout the pre-service curriculum. The next logical step is culturaUy relevant teaching (CRT). In other words, how might teacher education address the effectiveness tension? What is a framework of culturaUy relevant teaching that can be used as both a curriculum in the preparation of pre-service teachers and a strategy for teaching an increasingly diverse pubUc school populace? Teacher education is one context to promote culturaUy relevant teaching practices with the hope that these kinds of practices wül be implemented in classrooms. This current study argues for the teaching and learning of CRT principles in science teacher education as a means of preparing all teachers for diverse classrooms.

Ladson-Billings (1995a) explained that culturally relevant teaching rests on three criteria or propositions: "(a) students must experience academic success; (b) students must develop and/or maintain cultural competence; and (c) students must develop a critical consciousness through which they challenge the status quo of the current social order" (p.

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