Lesson #8: Study Together to Develop a Critical Perspective
From the beginning, we knew that the work of PDCRT had to be more than the implementation of activities, even those that challenged the standard colonizing curriculum, and that there was a need for joint study linked with the development of a critical perspective. Thus, together we read works by Souto-Manning (2013), Ladson-Billings (2014), and Delpit (2012) in addition to those mentioned above and discussed them in blogs and during virtual and face-to-face meetings. As noted in the interviews, often there was not as much time as we would have liked to discuss them in depth. Nonetheless, the infusion of conceptual writing in the books and reflective discussion prompted by classroom experiences too helped us nurture a critical perspective and understandings of the broader contexts of the past and present movements toward pedagogical and societal change.
Collaborative discussions of readings that challenged the thinking of both teachers and teacher educators leveled the field and contributed to the development of mutual mentorships. Dyad members realized that, in some ways, prior to PDCRT they had already been implementing culturally relevant pedagogies that they could now name as such. They also realized that, at times, they had been merely skimming the surface. Group study across dyads helped to reveal this and to deepen our knowledge. As a result, dyads were inspired to extend these pedagogies in new ways, becoming more intentional in their use as well as advocating for them within and beyond their schools. For example, Chinyere’s book group with colleagues spread the message of PDCRT to her whole school. Readings gave theoretical and historical teeth to teachers’ arguments when they articulated their work to administrators. And once PDCRT participants began to read with the project, they went on to read after the project while collaborating to write in peer-reviewed journals and to publish books and present at national conferences.
Perspectives and Action Steps
It is important to recognize teaching as intellectual and political work and then to provide time and opportunities for teachers and teacher educators to read, reflect, present, think, and act collaboratively, learning to work together from a critical stance. In the process, they can identify elements of their work that already challenge the monocultural and monolingual status quo as they deepen their knowledge and take risks to generate new and innovative strategies. Virtual meetings, blogs, joint attendance at conferences, as well as face-to-face discussions, can all contribute to this kind of collaborative growth.
Lesson #9: Develop Equitable Assessments
As the project progressed, we came to better understand the complex task we had set ourselves of helping children succeed on standardized measures while challenging those measures as discriminatory. Though assessment was not highlighted in PDCRT’s fonnal goals, it was a key theme in the dyads’ description of their work in this volume.
Strong examples of culturally relevant and culturally supportive assessment can be found across dyads. For example, Patricia assessed children as emerging bilinguals and used portfolios including anecdotal notes, observation checklists, formative assessments, formal assessment, recordings of informal conversations, photos, and samples of children’s work as part of an authentic assessment process to reveal the knowledge and skills of children such as Santiago. Chinyere used interviews, checklists, and children’s products as well to provide insights into their learning. Alicia and Bilal created culturally relevant texts and assessment materials that ultimately resulted in students’ powerful growth, as demonstrated on the conventional and dominant literacy assessment by Fountas and Pinnell (2010) used in their school.
In all four settings, the dyads worked against the oppressive power of standardized, high-stakes, official, biased assessments to counter damage—at least for a school year—that traditional assessments inflict on children and families by failing to provide a true picture of children’s literacy abilities.
Perspectives and Action Steps
It is important for teachers and teacher educators to take a stand to advocate for sustaining children’s languages, literacies, histories, and heritage while preparing them for standardized assessments and challenging these assessments. For this PDCRT cohort, this meant supplementing official assessments with multiple, more useful, valid, and culturally relevant measures which could not yet be used as official alternatives but represent a step forward in identifying potential alternatives. While there is little in the literature on culturally relevant assessment, many teachers use such assessments already and explicitly identifying them can be part of the process of creating culturally relevant pedagogies. Other innovative assessment strategies can be gleaned from the literature and the work of colleagues; many more will be generated by practice. Documenting and disseminating information about such assessments helps the field make progress toward addressing this challenge.