Investigating Strategies for Enhancing Achievement of Urban African American Students in Middle School Science Classrooms

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Virginia Tech


This dissertation interprets a qualitative study designed to investigate the pedagogical practices of experienced science teachers who, through their teaching practices, promote learning and achievement of urban African American middle school students between the ages 10-13 years. Based upon the theoretical frameworks of the theory of third space and culturally-responsive pedagogy, this study targeted the pedagogical practices that connected home-to-school experiences.

The study sample consisted of 17 students, 2 experienced science teachers, and 1 principal from the same urban middle school. Data collected over a six-month period include in-depth individual interviews, classroom observations, audio recordings, videotaping, and review of documentation. Interviews focused on the participants' experiences, views, and the role each played in learning and achievement. Classroom observations provided additional insights into the classroom setting, participants' actions, and participants' interactions with the teachers and other students. The student focus group emphasized the students' perspectives of their teacher and her teaching strategies. A whole-text analysis of the interview transcripts, observational field notes, video recording and documents generated three major categories: connection to students, classroom management, and instructional pedagogy. The following significant findings emerged from the data: (a) the beliefs and views of teachers affect their classroom practices; (b) when teachers build rapport with African American students, they are better able to create trust, increase the comfort level in their classroom, and motivate learning; (c) a teacher's use of home-to-school connections motivates students' interest in learning while helping them to make connections to curriculum, (d) the type of classroom management practices a teacher uses can enhance effective content implementation, and (e) a teacher's varied instructional pedagogical practices can provide African American students the opportunity they need to demonstrate knowledge and achievement. Implications for middle school teachers, students, parents, administrators, and teacher educators are included. Suggestions for future research are also provided.

The results from this qualitative study strongly suggest that third space theory provides a theoretical framework for understanding the connections necessary for bridging a culturally-responsive disposition and a continuum between home and school experiences, which is critical in a science classroom populated by urban African American students.



urban middle school students, African American student achievement, science-teaching strategies, theory of third space, culturally-responsive pedagogy, student-teacher interactions