Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


Languages, Literatures and Cultures


Language and Literacy

First Advisor

Diane Stephens

Second Advisor

Tasha Laman


In the public school setting and beyond, African American males are often positioned as a problem. Educators have implemented and studied the use of culturally relevant pedagogy (CRP) in an effort to shift this deficit perspective of African American male students, as well as other students of color. CRP positions all students as knowledgeable and capable of learning while valuing their cultural backgrounds and experiences. CRP also provides an opportunity to explore issues around race and culture. Though some research has been done in the area of CRP, very little focuses on the students’ experiences in culturally relevant classrooms, and there are no studies that focus specifically on the middle school student’s experience. I conducted this action research study to fill this gap in the literature. Specifically, I sought to understand: What happens when the interests, lives, and cultural resources of middle school students are drawn upon and studied through English Language Arts curriculum?

There were 11 male students in my seventh-grade, single-gender English Language Arts (ELA) classroom. I collected data on my instructional moves and about the responses of all the students while focusing on two African American boys who had also been in my classroom the prior year. Data included notes from my researcher’s notebook, video-recorded classroom observations, audio-recorded interviews, and students’ learning artifacts.

As the instructor, I followed three major principles of CRP: I drew on students’ lives and interests, relied on classroom community, and brought race and cultural background into the curriculum. I paid close attention to how students responded to my instructional decisions and often adjusted my teaching in an effort to increase student engagement. I identified three other characteristics of my attempt to become a culturally relevant teacher: 1) I made an effort to develop caring relationships with students; 2) I believed that all students were knowledgeable and able to learn; and 3) I reflected on my racial identity. This resulted in an ever-changing lived curriculum because my reflection on student responses often led to instructional changes. I identified four pathways to student engagement: students engaged when they 1) had prior knowledge of the topic; 2) could make a personal connection; 3) were involved in play as a means of learning; and 4) had an authentic purpose. My study suggests that teachers interested in CRP need to: 1) recognize that CRP is based on best practice teaching strategies; 2) create a space for curricular connections to race and culture; and 3) reflect on their own racial identities. More research is needed on middle grades students’ responses to CRP and on European American teachers who are implementing CRP.