Joseph Russo portfolio
The events of the summer of 2020 -- namely, the nation's reckoning with racial injustice in response to the murders of unarmed black men and women -- Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, among too many others -- have inspired many of us to seek paths to social justice; for educators, we may have decided that curriculum design and implementation is the most effective route for seeking that righteousness. In this course, we will discover how to provide a more equitable, racially conscious, socially just, and culturally responsive school environment for everybody, particularly in the Geometry classroom, but also with applications across subjects.
From using trigonometry and composite area to study the historical context of redlining and gerrymandering, to the investigation of ethnomathematics via Islamic tessellations and African polyrhythms, there is a depth of culturally responsive geometry curriculum ready to be tapped. In addition, being able to fold in other content areas will allow us to break out of the usual mold for a math class, which will serve as a catalyst for engagement and interactivity.
When faced with the challenges of having to rework a school year's curriculum and materials to suit the needs of a diverse student population, we must only acknowledge that we are in fact accustomed to such a large task; we are taught as educators that we must differentiate instruction -- only, that differentiation seems to almost always be framed in the context of cognitive ability alone. While it is indeed a massive undertaking on its face, we will take the first steps by developing projects that connect our required curriculum to culturally responsive teaching.
I hope this is something that more and more teachers will find of interest as we try to do the hard work of confronting the systemic racial disparities in our educational system. It is a large machine, but change can happen one cog at a time.
Scope of Learning Outcomes and Content
Racial differences that exist between educators and the students they teach create a measurable empathy gap, starting a young age, with "[p]reschool teachers [who] tend to more closely observe blacks than whites, especially black boys when challenging behaviors are expected," according to a study by the Yale University Child Study Center done in 2016. The analysis showed that teachers disproportionately watched black, male students (42% of the time) in a class of black and white students of boys and girls, with students equally distributed among sex and race identifications. This finding was generally true for all teachers.
Educators in the United States have minimal compulsory exposure to the disparities that exist among racial groups in the country before graduating from teacher training programs, and therefore are too often ill-equipped to understand the historical context in which their presence -- as a white person in a position of authority at a school with a majority of black students, for instance, compared with a black teacher in the same position -- may affect student performance, well-being, and outlook.
This challenge of perspective has come to the forefront in light of the events of the summer of 2020, with the nation experiencing a loud and public reckoning with racial injustice in response to the murders of unarmed black men and women, often at the hands of police officers. Educators are inadvertently involved in the process, with the school-to-prison pipeline acting as a direct link from classroom discipline to our country's dysfunctional social justice system. According to the ACLU, "[s]tudents of color... are far more likely than their white peers to be suspended, expelled, or arrested for the same kind of conduct at school." In response, teachers must use their positions of power in the classroom for good, with the design and delivery of curriculum as tools for reconciliation, reparation, and reform.
What is to be Learned
We will study the concept of Culturally Responsive Teaching (CRT) as described in detail by Zaretta Hammond in her 2014 book, "Culturally Responsive Teaching and the Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students," and apply its principles to a high school geometry curriculum first, as an example. Next, we will investigate efficient and effective means of resource acquisition and creation so that you may, finally, apply the pedological approach to your own content area.
Exploring the Problem and Solution
In the first unit, we will read excerpts from Hammond's "Culturally Responsive Teaching" to gain perspective on the lack of socially just curriculum currently in circulation. That knowledge, coupled with personal experience, will shape the outcome of the course; each participant will evaluate the needs of their class and decide how they can be culturally responsive with their learners, in their content area. Through the second, third, and fourth modules of this course, we will create lesson materials that will address the needs unveiled in the first unit.
By the end of the course, not only will each participant have a lesson to bring to their classroom that responds to the needs of the cultural identities of their students, but a revitalized mindset and approach to the practice of teaching will be instilled -- one that reminds us that teaching is not just another job, but indeed a tool for social justice, necessarily.
Analysis of the Learner and Context
The course is designed for all teachers -- yes, perhaps it seems particularly useful to educators who already recognize the need for this kind of curriculum, but teachers who are not as readily able to perceive that need will gain something, surely, the more we learn about why CRT has been shown to improve teacher-student relationships, student performance, and the good of the school community. This course might appear to be especially meaningful for teachers who find themselves in schools where the disparities in achievement along racial lines are most pronounced, but all educators are responsible for understanding and responding to the needs of all learners, simply as members of the body of teachers in this country with fraught racial relations throughout its entire history. Together, we will all try to better ourselves for the good of all of our students.
This is a fully online course. We will be making use of Google Drive, Docs, Slides, Sheets, and Forms in our curriculum development, through resource acquisition and creation, and to reference reading materials. Reliable internet access, either consistently or in a manner that would allow for lesson materials to be downloaded and viewed/completed at the learner's convenience, is the only required material for this course.
- Learners will develop an understanding of culturally-responsive teaching as evidenced by a written analysis of their own socio-political lens and how it might affect their teaching.
- Learners will demonstrate the connections between. mathematics and social justice by brainstorming novel culturally responsive lesson ideas for a chosen geometry topic.
- Learners will maintain a live document that will serve as a continually growing collection of resources for them as they begin to think of CRT in their own content area.
- Learners will showcase the implementation of CRT in their classroom with a lesson plan, unit plan, or pacing guide that leans heavily on their students’ cultural identities and needs in the content they teach.
Lesson 1: What is Culturally Responsive Teaching?
- Objective: In this lesson, we will read and reflect on an excerpt of Zaretta Hammond's Culturally Relevant Teaching and The Brain. All participants will learn how the need for CRT affects their individual classrooms and pedagogical approaches.
- Digital Platform(s): Desmos — used for providing reading, and sharing participant responses
- Pre-requisites: Device with access to the internet and ability to read and type on Desmos via a provided link
Lesson 2: How Teaching Geometry Can Be a Tool for Social Justice
- Objective: Here, we will first investigate a provided lesson that incorporates CRT and discuss what makes it effective. Then, we will look at some possible options for a given geometry lesson that feature CRT, and select which activities are most relevant and relatable.
- Digital Platform(s): Google Slides to illustrate example and for matching activity
- Pre-requisites: Device with access to the internet and ability to manipulate text boxes in a Google Slides presentation
Lesson 3: Finding and Developing Resources
- Objective: Students will work together to find meaningful and actionable resources that can later be used in crafting their own CRT-driven curriculum materials.
- Digital Platform(s): Nearpod — used as a collaborative board to share found resources, and to share created resource. Also, file sharing platform (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, hyperlink, etc.) — used to share participant-developed resource.
- Pre-requisites: Device with access to the internet and ability to contribute to discussion on an online platform, Nearpod. Also, ability to share via some file sharing platform a completed resource to be made available to fellow classmates.
Lesson 4: CRT in Other Content Areas
- Objective: Learners will outline, draft, and finalize lesson materials to be implemented in their own classrooms. They will rely on the reading from Lesson 1, the example provided in Lesson 2, and the resources they found, were exposed to, or developed in Lesson 3.
- Digital Platform(s): File sharing platform (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, hyperlink, etc.)
- Pre-requisites: Device with access to the internet and ability to create and share lesson materials via some file sharing platform (Dropbox, OneDrive, Google Drive, hyperlink, etc.).
References and Resources
ACLU. “School-to-Prison Pipeline.” American Civil Liberties Union, www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline.
Gutstein, Eric Rico. “Rethinking Mathematics: Teaching Social Justice by the Numbers by Eric Rico Gutstein.” Powell's Books, 2005, www.powells.com/book/rethinking-mathematics-9780942961553.
Hammond, Zaretta. “3 Tips to Make Any Lesson More Culturally Responsive.” Cult of Pedagogy, 13 June 2020, www.cultofpedagogy.com/culturally-responsive-teaching-strategies/.
Hammond, Zaretta. Culturally Responsive Teaching and The Brain: Promoting Authentic Engagement and Rigor Among Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students. Corwin Publishers, 2014.
Hathaway, Bill. “Implicit Bias May Explain High Preschool Expulsion Rates for Black Children.” YaleNews, 2 Feb. 2018, news.yale.edu/2016/09/27/implicit-bias-may-explain-high-preschool-expulsion-rates-black-children.
“Inequity Is Not an Option: Urgent Next Steps in Leading for Equitable Instruction.” Featuring Linda Darling-Hammond, and Zaretta Hammond, YouTube, Corwin, 2020, youtu.be/Ll8DcS_c9IA.
Kendi, I. X. (2016, October 20). Why the Academic Achievement Gap is a Racist Idea. African American Intellectual History Society. https://www.aaihs.org/why-the-academic-achievement-gap-is-a-racist-idea/
Reis, Sally & Renzulli, Joseph. (2015). Compass White Paper On the Five Dimensions of Differentiation. Gifted Education Press Quarterly. 29. 2-9.
Wachira, Patrick, and Jane Mburu. “Culturally Responsive Mathematics Teaching and Constructivism: Preparing Teachers for Diverse Classrooms.” Multicultural Learning and Teaching, vol. 14, no. 1, 2017, doi:10.1515/mlt-2016-0023.
Wlodkowski, Raymond J., and Margery B. Ginsberg. “A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching.” A Framework for Culturally Responsive Teaching - Educational Leadership, 1995, www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept95/vol53/num01/A-Framework-for-Culturally-Responsive-Teaching.aspx.
Wright, Pete. “Teaching Mathematics for Social Justice: Translating Theories into Practice.” University of Sussex, 2015, sro.sussex.ac.uk/id/eprint/53984/.