Finding Poetic Justice: How Teacher Inquiry Impacts Elementary Math Instruction

Moore, Kathleen McCarrollProQuest LLC, Ed.D. Dissertation, California State University, East Bay, 2012


African American students, commonly designated a sub-group in assessment data reports, consistently score well below their peers in mathematics. A consequence of this phenomenon is that math teachers often feel obligated to provide remedial methods of instruction focused on recall and repetitive practice, believing that these strategies will result in an increase in mathematical proficiency and lead to a narrowing of the achievement gap. This practice is socially unjust, excluding low-achieving math students from experiencing intellectually challenging or engaging math content, and limiting their academic opportunities. This study was designed to explore teacher attitudes and practices through an inquiry case study at a Title 1 elementary school in a high-performing suburban school district. Five elementary teachers self-assessed at the beginning and at the close of the study; they participated in a series of collaborative sessions to examine culturally relevant pedagogy, and to plan, deliver, and revise lessons using instructional methods deemed considerate of the cultural strengths that individual students bring to the classroom. Taking the stance of poetry as a form of culturally relevant pedagogy allowed the researcher to infuse poetry texts and research articles linking math and poetry into every phase of the inquiry case study. Participants reported an increase in student engagement during math instruction which mirrored the participants’ reported change in attitudes and instructional practices as determined through interviews, audio taped study sessions, and pre and post self-assessments. Analyzed and coded data culled from these sources revealed three major issues: students who struggle early continue to lag behind their peers, compartmentalization of math instruction leads to an inability to recognize its relevance, and lack of enthusiasm for math results in a lack of mathematical understanding. The research findings highlight the importance of establishing a community of practice built on trust in order to bring about change. Study participants reported that the strategies designed and implemented provided connections between language and math that made the learning experience more relevant and accessible. The study did not examine whether the increase in engagement resulted in increased mathematical comprehension although it did suggest a link between the two; further study is warranted.