by Claire Miller
In one of his undergraduate classes at the University of California, Davis, Stephen Athanases teaches cultural diversity in education and how his students can infuse different subject areas with cultural content.
“I’ve been very interested in teachers who make it their business to engage in open dialogue about race and issues of diversity in the context of academic work,” he told College of Education faculty, staff and students during the Feb. 23 Research Wednesdays. “This comes from my own passion for teaching and observing really thoughtful practices of teachers who are meeting the needs of diverse youths.”
Since the 1990s, Athanases has worked on long-term studies in high school classrooms in California – observing lessons, taping class discussions and even taking on the role of teacher – to see what teacher practices are most effective for diverse students in urban, low-income areas.
In particular, he focused on five 10th grade English classes in four different schools to observe how adolescents explore race and diversity through literary study.
The English teachers did well selecting the texts they required students to read and thinking about what themes and ideas they could discuss through those literary works. For example, one teacher had her students choose subjects from their texts and interact with each other as those characters.
“It’s important to look at what texts we use, but more than that, it’s what you do with the texts once you have that cultural infusion,” he said. “What’s the reader-text transaction that gets constructed in a class so that young people who are themselves diverse have an opportunity to have their voices heard as they make meaning?”
He also polled students to learn about the elements that made their class time meaningful and overwhelmingly received the same answer: The in-class discussions made a big difference.
Though some classes are structured with the teacher lecturing the students and leading the discussions, Athanases said it’s also important for teachers to moderate class discussions and let their students bring their own ideas to the table.
“It’s interesting to see the changes when a teacher transitions from being a leader of the discussion to someone who facilitates it,” he explained. “Teachers can socialize kids into talking about race and identity.”
The Research Wednesdays Speaker Series is designed to fulfill three goals: to provide a platform for explorations of new ways of conducting and disseminating educational research, to discuss new methods of mentoring doctoral students in an effort to enhance their development as researchers, and to fill a professional development need by providing access to cutting edge researchers at the state and national levels.
For more information about Athanases and the Research Wednesdays Speaker Series, visit http://education.gsu.edu/main/coe_events.htm.