Life in School

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Life in School the Academic Identity Stories of Fifth Grade African American Boys
Walsh, Cara A
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[Gainesville, Fla.]
University of Florida
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Doctorate ( Ed.D.)
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University of Florida
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Curriculum and Instruction
Teaching and Learning
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Academic achievement ( jstor )
Academic education ( jstor )
Academic learning ( jstor )
Educational research ( jstor )
Elementary schools ( jstor )
Hidden curricula ( jstor )
High school students ( jstor )
Learning ( jstor )
Schools ( jstor )
Students ( jstor )
Teaching and Learning -- Dissertations, Academic -- UF
academic -- curriculum -- design -- hidden -- identity -- instructional -- perspective -- student
bibliography ( marcgt )
theses ( marcgt )
government publication (state, provincial, terriorial, dependent) ( marcgt )
born-digital ( sobekcm )
Electronic Thesis or Dissertation
Curriculum and Instruction thesis, Ed.D.


The vexing educational phenomenon coined the achievement gap draws much attention in America and describes a significant negative performance discrepancy between Black and White students. The effect of this phenomenon on the future of Black students, especially boys, is tremendous and can present lifelong difficulties. This research is an effort to understand that phenomenon within the localized context of one elementary school by examining academic identity through the educational experiences of three African American boys. Utilizing participant interviews with three African American boys, the construction and trajectory of academic identity and factors that may have influenced it are examined. The perspective of the participants is considered invaluable in understanding academic identity and its connection to the achievement gap. In order to accomplish this connection, I began by reviewing literature related to academic identity and hidden curriculum. I then discussed my methodology, the findings and implications of this study. The research found that the participants had internalized negative academic identities, beginning from their earliest years in elementary school. Suggestions were made about possible strategies for shifting these identities to positive and incorporating insights into a more supportive academic curriculum. In addition, suggestions to include various teaching methods, based on participant feedback, were explored. ( en )
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In the series University of Florida Digital Collections.
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Includes vita.
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Description based on online resource; title from PDF title page.
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This bibliographic record is available under the Creative Commons CC0 public domain dedication. The University of Florida Libraries, as creator of this bibliographic record, has waived all rights to it worldwide under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights, to the extent allowed by law.
Thesis (Ed.D.)--University of Florida, 2014.
Co-adviser: DANA,NANCY L.
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by Cara A Walsh.

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LD1780 2014 ( lcc )


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© 2014 Cara A. Walsh


To Aline Brewer, my grandmother, who provided everlasting unconditional love, encouraged me to follow my heart and ta ug ht me to see beyond the obvious


4 ACKNOWLEDGMENTS My journey into doctoral studies and this research has been filled with many emotions ranging from devastation to joy. However, I was never alone when my world, as I knew it, dissolved and took a diffe rent form or when I walked with an extra bounce in my step at the realization of new knowledge being incorporated into my life and practice. There are many with whom I shared this experience and for whom I feel deep gratitude, for without them, I would no t have successfully navigated this journey. Foremost, I want to thank my chair, Dr. Elizabeth Bondy, whose mentoring, guidance, care and patience provided the learning atmosphere I needed to complete this journey. Her timing was impeccable, knowing exact ly what I needed at each turn. I also want to thank all my course professors, who pushed me outside my comfort zone and helped me understand and make connections with each course. Thank you to Dr. Vicki Vescio, who often encouraged me to push through the difficult times and reminded me of the rewards at the end. I must thank my other committee members, Dr. Nancy Dana, Dr. Rose Marie Pringle, and Dr. Bernie Oliver, for their guidance and shared perspectives that helped me expand the depth of my knowledge. I also could not have survived this journey without the support of many others. First, I thank my mentor, colleague and friend, Dr. Linda Wohl, who spent endless hours listening to, and guiding me in transi tioning my thoughts into words. Thank you to t he other members of my doctoral cohort. I received support at one time or another from each and every one of them. I have great gratitude for my students a nd staff members at school who unknowingly provided opportunities for me to deepen my understanding of the world in which we live. I would also like to express my deepest gratitude to my


5 boys, Brandon, Dante and Franklin, who freely shared their stories and helped me understand education through their lived experiences. I also thank my family and fri ends who have consistently encouraged me in all my pursuits and for forgiving the lost shared time and experiences. Finally, I thank Anne Helmick , who has made it her mission to make my journey easier through her unwavering encouragement and support.


6 T ABLE OF CONTENTS page ACKNOWLEDGMENTS ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 4 ABSTRACT ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 8 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION ................................ ................................ ................................ .... 10 Statement of the Problem ................................ ................................ ....................... 10 Significance of the Study ................................ ................................ ........................ 11 National Context ................................ ................................ ............................... 12 Local Context ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 13 Purpose of the Study ................................ ................................ .............................. 15 Research Questions ................................ ................................ ............................... 15 2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATU RE ................................ ................................ ............ 17 Brief Descriptions of Bodies of Literature ................................ ................................ 18 Identity ................................ ................................ ................................ .................... 18 Hidden Curriculum ................................ ................................ ................................ .. 21 3 METHODOLOGY ................................ ................................ ................................ ... 24 Questions ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 24 Rationale ................................ ................................ ................................ ................. 24 Setting ................................ ................................ ................................ ..................... 25 Criteria for Selection of Participants ................................ ................................ ........ 26 Description of Participants and my Relationship with Them ................................ ... 27 Brandon ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 27 Dante ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 27 Franklin ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 28 Data Collection ................................ ................................ ................................ ....... 29 Data Analysis ................................ ................................ ................................ .......... 33 Subjectivi ty Statement ................................ ................................ ............................ 34 4 FINDINGS ................................ ................................ ................................ ............... 36 Research Questions ................................ ................................ ............................... 36 RQ1. What Is the Trajectory of Academic Identity Development of Three Elementary School African American Boys? ................................ ....................... 37 Brandon ................................ ................................ ................................ ............ 38 Dante ................................ ................................ ................................ ................ 39 Franklin ................................ ................................ ................................ ............. 43 RQ2. What Factors Appear to Have Influenced Their Academic Identity? ............. 46


7 Classroom Supports ................................ ................................ ......................... 47 The Support of Family ................................ ................................ ...................... 52 Identity Factors ................................ ................................ ................................ . 54 5 CONCLUSION ................................ ................................ ................................ ........ 55 Summary of the Study ................................ ................................ ............................ 55 Contributions to the Literature ................................ ................................ ................. 57 Implications for Practice ................................ ................................ .......................... 59 Next Steps ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 64 Concluding Thoughts ................................ ................................ .............................. 68 AP PENDIX A INTERVIEW ONE: BACKGROUND, GENERAL SCHOOL EXPERIENCES ......... 70 B INTERVIEW TWO: KINDERGARTEN THROUGH SECOND GRADES ................ 71 C INTERVIEW THREE: THIRD AND FOURTH GRADES ................................ ......... 72 D FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION ABOUT THEMSELVES AS STUDENTS .......... 73 E EXCERPTS FROM INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS FOR EACH PARTICIPANT ......... 74 F EXCERPT FROM THE FOCUS GROUP INTERVIEW ................................ ........... 77 G EXCERPT FROM M ................................ ....................... 79 REFERENCES ................................ ................................ ................................ .............. 80 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH ................................ ................................ ............................ 84


8 Abstract of Dissertation Presente d to the Graduate School of the University of Florida in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Doctor of Education LIFE IN SCHOOL: THE ACADEMIC IDENTITY STORIES OF FIFTH GRADE AFRICAN AMERICAN BOYS By Cara A. Walsh August 2014 Chair: Elizabeth Bondy Major: Curriculum and Instruction The vexing edu cational phenomenon coined the achievement gap draws much attention in America and describes a significant negative performance discrepancy between Black and White student s. The e ffect of this phenomenon on the future of Black students, especially boys, is tremendous and can present lifelong difficulties . This research is an effort to understand that phenomenon within the localized context of one elementary school by exam ining academic identity through the educational experiences of three African American boys. Utilizing participan t interviews with three African American boys, the construction and trajectory of academic identity and factors that may have influenced it are examined. The perspective of the participants is considered invaluable in understanding academic identity and its connection to the achievement gap. In order to accomplish this connection, I began by reviewing literature related to academic identity and hidden curriculum. I then discussed my methodology, the findings and implications of this study.


9 The research found that the participants had internalized negative academic identities, beginning from their earliest years in elementary school. Suggestio ns were made about possible strategies for shifting these identities to positive and incorporating insights into a more supportive academic curriculum. In addition, suggestions to include various teaching methods, based on participant feedback, were explo red.


10 CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Statement of the Problem The biggest problem in education today is that children are not all educated in an equal manner. Despite the promise of equal educational opportunity, the United States education system has largely fa iled to provide Black children with a high quality education. In fact, Black students, especially in urban communities, are not achieving at the sam e levels as their White peers. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics in 2009, Black males in grades 4 through 8 who were ineligible for free and reduced lunch scored lower on m ath tests than their white male peers who were eligible for the free and reduced lunch ( as cited by Howard, 2014), indicating that socioeconomic status does not exp lain the achievement gap. These differences in academic performance have serious implications for the future life opportunities of Black students and for our society at large. The achievement gap between Black students and White students has remained des pite years of educational research and reform efforts targeting this phenomenon. s are among the subgroups 01 4, pg. 16). Closing the achievement gap has been a priority educational goal at the national, state and school levels for several years. There are many factors that contribute either positively or negatively to the academic achievement of all students. Ethnicity, culture, socio economic status and language are among a few. Integral to this issue, academic identity has been found to be significantly associated with the academic achievement of students (Pittman & Richmond, 2007; Roeser, Midgley, & Urdan, 1996).


11 Researchers claim that academic identities are constructed from perceived social and academic proficiencies and are constantly shaped, consigned, and reproduced in ongoing cycles that privilege some and marginalize others (Flores Gonzalez, 2002; Lin, 2008). The deve lopment of a positive academic identity is essential towards helping Black students sustain an interest in and develop perseverance with academics. Examining the perceptions of Black students is critical to identifying the significant factors that promote a positive connection with academics. Yet, based on my 23 years as an educator, site based educators do not explicitly learn about academic identity in teacher preparation programs or through professional development once their teaching careers begin. W academic iden tity and how educators can support the development of a positive student connection to learning, thus promoting higher academic achievement. Because the achievement and life chances of African America boys are, in particular, of great concern both locall y and nationally, there is a need to better understand how their academic identity is developed, altered and sustained. In this study, the school lives and educational experiences of three African American fifth grade boys was examined in order to better understand how academic identity is constructed and reconstructed in an educational setting. Significance of the Study This study will describe the experiences and academic identity development of African American male students through their elementary s chool years. Examining the educational stories of Black boys told from their own perspectives will add to current


12 research that characterizes the academic achievement gap between Black and White students and will assist in improving teaching and learning practices that guide current school curricula, pedagogy and classroom and school practices. Expanding the existing directly inform teaching strategies and interventions a imed at improving their academic identities. Educators need to recognize how intricately connected academic identity and academic achievement are and find ways to help students, specifically Black boys, develop a positive academic identity while still mai ntaining, and possibly even reinforcing, their other shifting identities. Certainly, a positive academic experience may help promote a strong academic identity. However, the unsaid and inverse relationship suggested here is that a negative academic envir onment, actual or supposed, may impede the development of a positive academic identity. Though some researchers have examined how a positive academic experience affects positive identity formation, research is lacking in how interventions may be used to p romote a strong academic identity in less positive environments (Berzonsky & Kuk, 2000). perceptions and academic ident ity. It may also identify possible interventions or best practices that could narrow the academic achievement gap between Black boys and their White peers. National Context The educational achievement gap between Black and White students is America's m ost vexing social problem and closing this gap is often considered the civil rights issue of our time ( Ladson Billings , 200 6 ) . At the national level, the fourth grade


13 Black White achievement gap in mathematics for 2007 was 26 points, while the fourth grad e reading gap was 27 points (Lee, Grigg & Donahue, 2007). Despite the promise of equal educational opportunity, the education system in the United States has fundamentally failed to provide Black children access to the high quality education they need to compete on a level playing field with their White peers. When we fail to educate all students to the same level, the result is predictable: underachieving elementary students become underachieving middle school students and eventually high school student s who are unprepared to succeed in college or to compete in today's economy. The results of this failure are disastrous: increased poverty, crime and incarceration, and decreased productivity and quality of life (Noguera, 2008). Indeed, the achievement g ap has serious implications for the life opportunities of students and for our society at large. Local Context According to the Florida Department of Education (DOE) , and as measured by the 2013 Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT) , the reading achievement gap between Black students and White non Hispanic students is 31 points. In the district in which this study is set, the gap is 39 points, the largest of all like size counties oints, still higher than the national average of 27 points. As a principal in an elementary school serving a diverse population, I have become aware of internal practices that serve to benefit some students while marginalizing others in my school. Devel oping critical consciousness begins with an awareness of the social, political and economic oppression that is present in our society and leads one to take action against those oppressive forces (Freire, 1970). Mirroring society, the educational


14 system is influenced by these oppressive forces. As a leader for social justice, I believe I have some control over many practices that are oppressive to our minority students and families. I often see students in my office due to behaviors that seem to portray a negative academic orientation or identity. Sometimes I see them once , and other times, I see them weekly. I began to wonder how some students seem to thrive in classrooms irrespective of race, ethnicity, or class, while others struggle. I became inter ested in studying the academic identity of Black boys when I was introduced to a new student at my school. He arrived at school early in his 4 th grade year. His mother explained that Keyonte did not like school and was often in trouble at the other two s chools he had attended. However, we did not experience this at our school. Although he spent some time testing us, we learned that Keyonte was able to excel academically and stay I then began to wonder what school and clas sroom practices support or negate a positive academic identity. I spent many hours thinking about this conundrum. What did Keyonte experience at other schools and our school that resulted in such different connections to academic learning? Realizing tha t my own perspective and even the perspective of other educators was limited, I began to wonder what students would tell us about their educational experiences and the effects of our school and classroom practices on their academic identity. As a White fe male, I cannot possibly comprehend the experiences of Black students in public school systems that mirror the values of the larger American society. Nonetheless, I understand that there is an impact from the experience and that impact plays a role in the c onstruction and deconstruction of academic identities. Perhaps by


15 support a positive academic identity for all students and minimize the oppressive powers in our s ociety that are reflected in and perpetuated by our schools. Purpose of the Study The purpose of this study is to investigate the school experiences of three fifth grade B lack boys. In particular, this study will focus on their views of themselves as stu dents by gaining insight into the development of their academic identity through out elementary school . The intention is that information gleaned from this investigation will provide educators with additional knowledge about more effective ways to engage B lack students in academics and thus increase their achievement to a level that allows them to participate effectively in higher education and society. Research Questions There are two main questions that will guide this study designed to examine the devel opment of academic identity in three Black male elementary school students: 1. What is the trajectory of academic identity development of three elementary school African American boys? 2. What factors appear to have influenced their academic identity? The exist ing body of research regarding Black student under achievement is vast. However, the body of knowledge on academic identity focused on elementary students is minimal. Furthermore, absent from this body of knowledge is the voice of the Black elementary st udent as it specifically relates to his or her schooling experiences and achievement. When the values, norms, and experiences of Black students are either overlooked or misconstrued, our schools may unwittingly be in direct


16 conflict with the democratic id eals of diversity and social justice on which our country was founded. From a broad perspective, the purpose of this study is to add to the body of existing literature and to build a conceptual framework surrounding academic identity, educational experien ce, and academic achievement of elementary level Black students. More specifically, this study will examine the educational experiences of African American elementary aged students and explore academic identity within the school context. Furthermore, suc h research, which expand s on current knowledge of the development and situational nature of academic identity based on the constructed reality of Black students , is warranted. Analyzing the personal narratives of Black elementary aged students may provide greater insight into their educational experiences.


17 CHAPTER 2 REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE This study will attempt to better understand the academic identity of elementary aged Black male students and the factors that shape that identity. These insights m ay help educators to support a persistently positive academic identity, thus perhaps closing the achievement gap between Black and White students. Miles and Huberman (1994) described theoretical orientation and conceptual framework as more than a su mmary of the current research. They describe d these two terms as a systemic approach that reveals the various assumptions, views, and theories of previous studies that guide the development and implementation of a study. For this particular study, I will draw from the literature in the areas of academic identity and hidden curriculum. A review of literature in both these areas will follow an introduction to the theoretical perspective that I bring to this study. The theoretical perspective of Critical Socia l Justice informs my study, as defined in the following section. It is my perspective that inequalities, which are deeply ingrained in American society, are reinforced and perpetuated in our school systems. In an effort to further social justice, I attem pt to identify, then eliminate or change practices that serve those in power and marginalize others. Locating a definition of social justice that encompasses the broad concept and provides enough detail to include concrete and practical value was challen ging. Upon reviewing three edited books about educating for social justice, Hytten (2006) determined that the wide variety of issues and perspectives presented in each of the books are reflective of the key challenges of social justice work. She further explained


18 to engage the very real struggles that exist in the world around us in classrooms and in the broader life of She further explains that the central goals of educational curriculum and practices must be democratic issues rather than efficiency and high stakes accountability. Sensoy and DiAngelo (2012) when they point out that society is stratified in significant and far reaching ways along social group lines that include race, class, gender, sexuality and ability. They assert, Critical social justice recognizes inequality as deeply embedded in the fa bric of society, and actively seeks to change this (p.xviii) . A social justice leader must recognize that unequal social powers are constantly at play in our society . E ducators need to think critically about how these power imbalances are perpetuated in the social interactions within the school, a nd how they can a ffect the development and deterioration of academic identity (Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2012) . Brief Descriptions of Bodies of Literature The bodies of literature I will draw upon for this study inclu de those in the areas of identity, academic identity, and the hidden curriculum. Identity Research on identity included in this study is based on the premise that identity is socially constructed (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Gee, 1999; 2000; 2002; McCarth ey, 2001). This meaning is important to the study because it supports the idea that there are things we can learn about our practices and social interaction with students that may promote or hinder the development of a positive academic identity. Identit y


19 development research is prevalent, especially as it pertains to minority or Black student populations. Academic identity. Many theories of academic achievement include the idea emic values, encourage academic supporting behaviors, and therefore play a role in academic success (e.g., Eccles, 2004; Finn, 1989). The development of a positive academic identity is highly correlated with academic success (Berzonsky & Kuk, 2000). Ther efore it is important for this study to review the current body of knowledge that supports this claim and any research that may provide insight into how educators can promote Academic identity has been described their academic environment (Anderman & Anderman, 1999; Goodenow & Grady, 1993). connected to their academic behaviors, academi c achievement, motivations and values (Anderman & Anderman, 1999; Goodenow & Grady, 1993, Pittman & Richmond, 2007; Roeser, Midgley, & Urdan, 1996). Understanding how academic identity is formed and transformed within a school setting will encourage teach ers to better understand Furthermore, understanding the behaviors and effectively increase student achievement. Establishing a strong academic identity that promotes academic achievement in elementary school is especially important because research indicates that motivation wanes as students enter adolescence (Green, Rhodes, Hirsch, Suarez Orozco, &


20 Camic, 2008). Furthermore, research f indings from early adolescence propose that students may become increasingly less connected to school over time. Significant differences between early and middle to late adolescence suggest that declines in school identity that occur in middle school may not continue into high school. Therefore, educators need to understand what behaviors and practices promote strong academic identity before students enter middle school, and especially bef ore compulsory education ends. The degree to which students sustai n a positive school identity may determine whether or not they drop out of high school before graduation, a decision that can have lifetime social and financial consequences (Finn, 1989; Rouse & Kemple, 2009). A positive academic identity greatly correla tes with self reflection, problem solving ability, cognitive complexity, vigilant decision making, and ope nness (Berzonsky & Kuk, 2000). Additionally, researchers conclude that the absence of a strong academic identity tends to correlate with avoiding wor k and problems, and poor approaches to decision making. Lack of academic identity also negatively correlates with reflective thinking, conscientiousness, and persistence in cognitively challenging tasks (Berzonsky & Neimeyer, 1988). Therefore, students w ith a weak sense of academic identity are far less likely to be academically successful than students with a positive sense of academic identity. Positive academic identity development is often a challenge for minority students due to the many barriers th ey encounter in schools (Phinney & Rotheram, 1987). Scholars have attempted to recognize the extent of these challenges by developing theories around the role of schools in the educational experiences of Black students


21 ( Lomotey , 1990 ; Watkins, Lewis, & Ch ou, 2001; Solomon, 1988 as cited in Hopki ns, 1997, p. 64) . Black children underperform in comparison to their White peers because there are structural factors within schools that place parameters on their opportunity for optimum grow th (Phinney & Rotheram , 1987). Black children face additional risks if they are not taught to understand and take pride in their culture. Ample studies examine the effects of culturally relevant curriculum on the achievement and connection to learning of African American stud ents ( Asante 1992; Gay 2000; Hale 2001; Ladson Billings 1994, 2006; Lynch 2006; Thompson 2004; Webster 2002 ). Apple and Weis (1983) contend that students living in poverty see schooling as implicitly teaching middle class values, norms and temperaments thr ough institutional expectations and the routines of day to day school life. The result is that those students living in lower income households and marginalized in society feel alienated and disconnected from learning (Phinney & Rotheram, 1987). To addre ss this disconnection, our educational system needs to recommit to promoting democracy and social justice in our schools and in our society. Hidden Curriculum School curriculum is generally accepted as an explicit, conscious, formally planned sequence of lessons with specific objectives. In addition to explicit curriculum, students receive a different set of lessons that are referred to as a hidden curriculum. socializ ation. This theory evolved from the work of various researchers such as Dreeben (1967), Jackson (1968), and Vallance (1973). The practice of using school as a socializing agent is well established in education, beginning with the inception of public educ ation in the1800s (Jackson, 1968) .


22 Education foundations scholars agree that a main goal of public school is to maintain social order by teaching certain behaviors, beliefs, and values. Hidden curriculum refers to that which is learned by implicit teachi ng. The term describes the non academic teaching that is systematic but not explicit, including the norms and beliefs of society that schools have traditionally been responsible for delivering (Vallance, 1973). For many years, hidden curriculum theorists have tended to focus on how students experience the unwritten curriculum. Hidden curriculum is embedded in the nature and organizational design of the school and is basically unknown to the learner. It is often unknown to the educator as well, especiall y if the educator is a member of the dominant group. It is important to the explicit curriculum learned in school (Vallance, 1973 ) . Hidden curriculum serves to mainta in the status quo, thus the current social order. The hidden curriculum has influenced and promoted inequities that remain in our society in regards to class, gender, race, and ethnicity. Students receive powerful messages about their ability, personali ty traits and behaviors through the hidden curriculum. Apple (1995) describes the hidden curriculum as a way to sanction hegemony. He argues that the concept of hegemony shapes the school in many respects and defines schools as not just suppliers but als o creators of culture that are vital for the socialization of students. In Ideology and Curriculum , Apple (2004) asserts that the hidden curriculum corresponds to the moral and political needs of those holding the power in society.


23 In conclusion, the hid den curriculum is always in play in schools and serves to transmit unspoken messages to students about values, attitudes, and their o wn self worth. Given that the hidden curriculum is shaped by the dominant culture, we must wonder about the messages commu nicated to Black students. How do young Black boys re spond to the hidden curriculum? Does it have an impact on their academic identity? Based upon my theoretical perspective of critical social justice and the current research on academic identity and h idden curriculum, there is clearly a need to better understand how we as educators can better support an academic identity that consistently promotes the academic achievement of Black male students. Through this rspectives, I intend to gain knowledge that will guide myself and personnel at my school toward diminishing the marginalization of Black boys and promoting a more just and equitable environment for our students and families. This research will honor the s seeks to provide equity for all students and actively pursues changing current injustices.


24 CHAPTER 3 METHODOLOGY The purpose of this research was to study the elementary school experiences of fifth grade African American boys and to provide insight into their academic identity development and the experiences that shaped it. The study was recollect ions of school life beginning in kindergarten and continuing through their current school grade. A deeper understanding of how African American boys respond to people, practices and structures in their school settings may suggest opportunities for reforms that have the potential for nurturing a strong and resilient academic identity in African American boys entering middle school. Questions This study seeks to answer the following research questions. 1) What is the trajectory of the academic identity dev elopment of three elementary school African American boys? 2) What factors appear to have influenced their academic identity? Rationale I selected a qualitative methodological design for this research because it was appropriate in linking the personal l ived experiences of African American students with the construct of academic identity in a way that that could not be investigated adequately with a quantitative approach. My approach was (1922) perspective that considers the associatio n between education, experience and life. I ground ed my approach to inquiry and research design within a qualitative research paradigm. I believe a qualitative approach is appropriate for this study because it will yield insight into how Black boys respo nd to the people, practices and events in their educational setting (Creswell, 2013). Interviews with the boys will enable


25 me to construct meaning from their educational narratives (Bogden & Biklen, 2007). amework of inquiry and design of qualitative research was appropriate because the research questions were centered in negative academic identities for these African American boys. This design will allow participants to explore their academic identities in the context of particular school environments in their elementary school years. Setting The setting for this inquiry was an urban elementary school located in a southern s tate within the U.S. The school was situated in a densely populated area where school districts are defined by county. The district was comprised of several communities that have merged to form a densely populated conglomeration with no distinguishable b oundaries. Located in a smaller city within the large district, the school had approximately 700 students in attendance at the beginning of the 2013 2014 school year in Pre K through 5 th grades. The student demographics are 50% White, 20% African American , 20% Latino, and 10% Asian. Approximately 75% of the school population are eligible for free and reduced lunch. School personnel consist of two administrators, 56 instructional members, six student services personnel, and 36 support staff members. Alth ough inclusive of minorities, the staff demographics are significantly different than that of the student population. Approximately 83% of the staff are White, 9% are Black, 5% Hispanic, 2% Asian and 1% American Indian. The turnover rate of instructional staff over the last 3 years has been minimal, with 2 retirements, 2 family leaves and 3 teachers relocating to other schools within the county. The school currently has two first y ear teachers and 24 teachers wit h more


26 than 20 years experience . The sch accountability system applied in the state. I am currently in my third year as principal at this school. Criteria for Selection of Participants When approaching this research, I especially wanted to focus on the academic identity of African American students and what they can tell us about their experience as learners in school. Creswell (2013) describes the selection of participants as a critical step in qualitative research, stating that the criteria for s election must be very clearly defined, and justifications for the choices should be explicitly explained. Therefore, the criteria for participants in this study were: (1) male students of African American origin who are currently in fifth grade, (2) age 1 0 12 years, (3) attendance at the school of at least two years including the year of the study, and (4) the ability to communicate freely, be reflective in nature and have the capability to tell the story of their educational experience in both individual and focus group interview situations. Evidence of the criteria would be determined in part through the review of student records. I chose male students who were currently in fifth grade in order to draw from the maximum years of elementary school experie nce. I included the criterion of being a student at the school for at least two years because I was particularly interested in the experiences of African American boys in the setting in which I am the principal. I ommunication skills through discussions with current and past teachers. My intention was to include three participants in the study to enable me to explore their school experiences and academic identities in depth.


27 Description of Participants and my Relat ionship with Them The boys selected to participate in this research are briefly described below. As previously stated, these boys were chosen based upon being African American, 10 12 years of age, having attended the site school for a minimum of two years , and having the ability to communicate personal experiences about their elementary school years. Brandon Brandon was a ten year old boy with a glint in his eyes and an excitability about him that portrays a passion for life and a deeply embedded sense of fairness. He lives with his father and sister and enjoys spending time with his family, going to church and playing basketball. When he grows up, he aspires to be a NBA player. I have known Brandon for the two years he attended this school. I have o ften had lunch with him, and I have interacted with him through h is work as a school safety patrol . Brandon and his friends sometimes stop me in the halls to let me know how they are doing with their sports teams. Brandon easily engaged in conversation w ith me and the other participants. He was quite talkative during the interviews and often provided examples to explain his thoughts and ideas. His words demo nstrated a thirst for knowledge . He stated hing He also demonstr ated a respect for teachers Brandon is academically an average student. Dante Dante was a twelve year old boy with an infectious smile who thrives on social interaction. He lives with his moth er, her boyfriend, one older sister and two younger brothers. He enjoys his family, saying they are all helpful to each other. He loves bei ng the big brother because he c an tell them what to do and teach them. His favorite


28 activities are playing Xbox an d sports with his family and friends. When he grows up he wants to be a NFL star. Dante has been at the school site for the past two years. I am familiar with Dante due to the fact that he has been in my office several times. He has learned to ask his teacher to be allowed to speak to me when he senses that he is becoming frustrated and angry. Thus, h e usually comes in to calm down without a discipline referral . Dante is easily frustrated with academics and often becomes upset if the teacher (usually a substitute) calls him out because he is socializing rather than completing his work. I listen to him, and we talk about ways in which he might manage his behavior. Before long , Dante lets me know that he is ready to return to class. Dante easily engag ed in conversation with me and enjoyed the attention he received in the one on one interviews. His responses to the interview questions were thorough and filled with optimism for his future. He clearly values education and believes that teachers help stude nts reach their goals. Dante is a below average student academically and was retained in Kindergarten and again in th ird grade. He began receiving Exceptional Student E ducational services in 2011 . Franklin Franklin was an eleven year old boy with a qui et personality and patient nature. He lives with his parents, grandmother and two sisters. Kind is how he describes his family, especially his mother, w watching movies with his family , playing video gam es , and riding bikes with his friends. Franklin originally wanted to be a soldier when he grew up, but changed his mind when be a game designer. Although Fran klin had been at the school for 3 years, I did not know him well before this study. He had never been in my office for a discipline referral


29 nor was he interested in working as a safety patrol. I did meet with him early in his fifth grade year to see what kind of service responsibility he would like to assume . The options were News Crew, Tech Assistant, Library Assistant, Pre K Assistant or Classroom Assistant. Franklin said that he really was not interested in working at any of these positions. Frankl in easily engaged in the interview process, yet struggled to remember his early educational years. His answers were consistently short, usually only a few words, and when prompted he offered additional short responses that lacked details. Franklin enjoys learning when it is fun. He readily describes school as boring and claims that most every day he would rather stay home to play games. Franklin is academically an above average student. Data Collection In order to add to the existing body of knowledge relating to the academic identity of African American boys, data collection for this research consist ed of a series of participant interviews. According to Dana and Yendol . Hatch (2002) expands on this by experiences and their interpretations of those experiences. There are several approaches to qualitative interviewing which include st ructured, semi structured and unstructured. For this study, I used semi structured interviews with the three participants. This approach allowed me to begin with a set of interview questions, but also allowed room to probe into areas that surfaced during the interviews (Hatch, 2002). In fact, I asked many probing questions that were not in my interview protocols. I engage d each participant in three individual semi structured interviews and br ought the


30 three participants together for a final semi structu red focus group interview. The decision to include a semi structured focus group interview was made in order to gather data about each student that could be stimulated through conversations with the other participants. Each interview lasted for approxima tely 45 minutes and occurred once a week for four weeks. As the researcher, my role was that of active listener who would choose when to probe and when to focus the dialogue on a particular area exploring for additional details (Rubin & Rubin, 2005). Bec ause the study participants were elementary aged students, I did not directly ask them to describe their academic identity. Instead, I asked a series of questions about their experiences as students and then interpreted their academic identities from thei r responses. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed. The boys were given a choice about when they wanted to be interviewed. They could choose times before school, during the lunch hour , or after school. Brandon and Franklin chose lunchtime , and Dante was eager to interview anytime I could see him. The three individual interviews and the focus group interview each had a particular emphasis that was purposefully planned to encourage students to retell their impactful experiences in elementary school. The interviews were sequenced as follows: 1. Building rapport and general thoughts about school and their educational experiences ( A ppendix A) , 2. Me mories from grades K, 1, 2 ( Appendix B) , 3. M emories from Grades 3, 4, 5 ( Appendix C) , 4. General thoughts a b out themselves as students ( Appendix D) . Data w ere collected from each participant over the course of four weeks. The first interviews with each participant covered not only rapport building and general


31 information, but also let me know how comfortable the boys were with the interview process. I immediately recognized that Brandon was very comfortable and expressed interested in the recording process. From the first interview forward, Brandon did not spend much time thinking about his responses. They c ame easily to his mind and were quickly and at times elaborately put into words. He would often use examples to further explain his answers , and he reminded me several times that they were just examples. Dante was also very comfortable during the intervi ew session although he took a little more time to think before responding. He also asked for the questions to be repeated several times. Dante tended to repeat his responses, especially about how all his teachers were there to help him reach his goals. Franklin was the one participant who did not appear to be comfortab le during the initial interview . I spent more time with him talking about his life and family than I did with the other boys , because I kn ew the least about Franklin prior to the research. Franklin did not appear to take time to think about the answers he gave during the individual interviews. In response to many questions, h e said that he did not remember. I repeated and rephrased questions, thinking this might give him time to think or might jog a memory if he heard the question differently. However, he generally did not respond differently or elaborate more when probed. The exception to this was during the focus group interview with all three boys. Franklin appeared more comfortable with the other boys present , or perhaps his memory was responses . Once the other boys joined the interview, Franklin was much more talkative and expressive with his responses. In fact, all three boys elaborated more during the f ocus group, adding to the responses of others (Appendix E) .


32 Upon reviewing the da ta collecte d in the interviews, I believe there w ere sufficient data collected to answer the research questions. The semi structured interviews allowed me to probe when more information was needed to understand what the participant was sharing. Also, instituting multiple interviews querying the same topics w ith different questions helped to provide validation of the responses. Throughout the process of data collection, I ma which I recorded observations and interpretations about the boys and their stories. The log helped me to keep track of my insights in I especially tried to capture my thoughts and feelings about what the participants disclosed that surprised me. This allowed me to examine any assumptions and biases that I brought to this research. For example, after asking about a time he felt really smart, Brandon described a day in third grade when he beat o ther students at a math fact game. He remembered , After this interview I recorded a journal entry that described how surprised I was that Brandon did not feel smart a bout knowing his math facts. It was not until he was able to in a game that he felt smart. Why was this surprising to me? Did I assume that all kids felt sma rt just because they learned? Do some students only fe el smart when th ey beat others? After Dante answered the question in a similar way (Appendix G), I realized that This insight served as a warning to me to monitor assumpt ions I might be imposing on the data.


33 Data Analysis The data analysis for this inquiry followed the process of typological analysis as described by Hatch (2002). This process allowed me to organize a large data set derived from my interviews and research notes. My goal was to describe each ed to have shaped their identities. The data analysis began by determining typologies, which Hatch (2002) describe d (p.152). He further explain ed that the typologies should be easy to determine if this method is useful for the study. For example, typologies within the data are likely to include evidence of positive academic identit y, evidence of negative academic identity, factors that shaped positive identity, and factors that shaped negative identity. I read the data and record ed entries associated wit h the typologies. Hatch (2002) recommend ed proceeding with this part of the an alysis by focusing on one topology at a time. The level of analysis at this point merely determines if the data are related to the typology and if so, recording those entries. The next step wa s determining the main ideas of the entries for each typology by looking for patterns, ideas or associations with in the typologies. Then I determine d if my data support ed the patterns, and as s uggested by Hatch (2002), I ed the data for non examples of . . . I continue d the analysis by sea rching for relationships among the patterns identified and wro te succinct generalizations for each. The last step was to select data to su pport the generalizations . I conduct ed the analysis for each of the three participants and then look ed for patterns a cross the three cases.


34 Subjectivity Statement I am a white middle class female who has worked in the educational field for over 20 years. I grew up in a small Mid western town comprised of middle to low socio economic white families who primarily worked in farming or manufacturing. My first interaction with a person of color was when I entered college. Since early childhood, I remember having an affinity for the underdog. I was the one who played with neighbor kids who had no other friends and the one wh o stood up for the kids being teased at school. When I began my teaching career, my desire was to work with a minority population in an inner city because I felt an unwavering dedication to those whom I understood to be disadvantaged. However, my first teaching job was in one of the higher socio economic schools in the district. Being a special educator, I found myself teaching primarily the Black children who were bused in from a project several miles away. It was not until six years later when I becam e an administrator that I began working in the school setting I had first envisioned. I spent eight years in that setting and felt that every day was another opportunity to serve the unseen children in my world. When I began my doctoral studies, I quickl y learned that what I felt since childhood had a name , as supported by movements and even theories, all classified as Social Justice. Currently I am the principal of the school in which this research w as conducted. To avoid confusing the boys and other s tudents who may have noticed that I was spending additional time with them, I work ed diligently to maintain boundaries between my role as the school leader and my role as a researcher. I carefully explained to the boys at the beginning and end of each int erview session that as a researcher I wanted their help to answer some important questions. I was especially cognizant of reinforcing


35 my role as researcher during our interviews. For example, I kept us focused on the interviews and did not venture into ot her conversations about school. Similarly, outside of our interview sessions, I made it a poin t not to discuss the interviews, only discussing our work together during our interview time. The boys appeared to understand the two roles I held at school and did not venture into school topics during the interviews. I also maintained in order to note concerns about how my role as princip al might be affecting the data. In addition, I reviewed the data and my data analysis with my advisor who has considerable experience conducting qualitative research.


36 CHAPTER 4 FINDINGS Research Questions In this study, I examined the educational experiences of three Black boys for the purpose of better understanding the construction and trajector y of their academic identities. I also wanted to determine factors that might influence academic identity connection to learning in school. In fact, scholars explain academic iden psychological attachment to their academic environment (Anderman & Anderman, 1999; Goodenow & Grady, 1993). Increasing my knowledge of effective educational practices and instructional strategies which foster positive academic identities , particularly in Black boys, was important to me as a principal of a school who consistently strives to provide equitable educational opportunities to all students. I believe the key to eliminating the achievement gap between our Black and White students lies in providing equitable educational opportunities. Equally important is to understand what educational practices and instructional strategies adversely affect the academic identities of t he participants in this study. I sought to answer two question s through this research: 1. What is the trajectory of academic identity development of three elementary school African American boys? 2. What factors appear to have influenced their academic identity? ental in understanding their school experiences, I collected data in a series of semi structured individual interviews and concluded with a focus group format. As mentioned earlier,


37 my used during data analysis to help me manage my assumptions and biases. I chose to organize this chapter by research questions. The first question is followed by an individual analysis of each of the three participants. However, the second question calle d for a cross case analysis in order to present the factors that RQ1. What Is the Trajectory o f Academic Identity Development o f Three Elementary School African American Boys? Originally, I anticipated that changing over time. However, this was not the case. Instead there was evidence that ed early and remained constant. It appeared th at early school experiences shaped their views of themselves as students. Data analysis revealed a consistency among the responses in relation to the kindergarten was a go od experience for several reasons. They enjoyed the playground games, taking naps, good snacks and the nice teachers. As the interviews continued, the boys began to mention the parts of school they did not like. When asked about the school years after k indergarten, the boys mentioned issues such as less time for play, having to take tests, and getting in trouble. Actually, all three participants measured their own identity as a student based on how often they got in trouble. Specifically, the participa identification as students was based on behavior criteria: Brandon as hyper, Dante as talkative, and Franklin as one who goofs around.


38 each participant had a unique story . The following individual stories reveal how the Brandon Brandon entered kindergarten and immediately perceived school as fun, primarily due to the amount of what afternoon. His memories are filled with accounts of play, beginning and ending the day on the playground, playing games on the computer, and playing with props in the classroom. He especially enjoyed the daily nap, stating that it made the rest of the day when asked if he felt smar He indicates having a strong connection with school due to the fun he expe rienced but does not associate this fun with learning. As he pointed out, he knew much of what was taught in his kindergarten year. When asked to describe himself as smar t even though he entered school having already mastered much of the curriculum. Furthermore, when asked numerous times throughout the interviews to describe He receive d this message beginning in kindergarten, explaining that his teacher would


39 nveyed that Although Brandon communicated that he liked school and his teachers throughout his elementary nued to be how he described himself as a student. This was evident via his response to a horrible person. hurt more of a calm person, because they think I'm hyper, so I'm cr azy. But I can be calm, When asked why this was important for his teacher to know, he explained that he is hyper most of the time, and she probably does not know. He also acknowledged a fear of being put into a lower grade because he is hyper. Brandon made no a ssociation to his class work or grades when describing himself as a student. Rather, his identity as Dante Dante remembers liking school from the very first day in kindergarten. He remembers nice teachers who bought things for the classroom like books and videos, and he remembers playing with friends and playing at the playground. When asked like to keep going to i the naptime, and drawing pictures with his friends. He also remembers being able to go outside to play when all the students finished their work. He does not remember disliking anything


40 draw pictures and you gott a pay attention to the teacher because she will give you describe how he felt in kindergarten. cou Dante understood as early as kindergarten that the purpose of education is to reach your goals. He relates how his kindergarten teacher, as well as a ll his teachers through elementary school, talked to him often and helped him to reach his goals. When asked to describe something about kindergarten, first or second grade that he most remembered, Dante related moving to another school for second grade a nd being nervous because he did not know anybody. Dante self reports as thriving on social interaction. academic and social connections. ng before starting second grade gave him the knowledge to understand change and the confidence to know how to successfully navigate change. When I asked if he made and w ause we keep on moving. It doesn't matter anymore, so I won't be scared anymore. Like when I go to middle school or h igh When asked to describe a great experience in his primary grades, Dante described how his teacher in second grade told him why his education is important for me dropping out or living on the


41 remembers her stating that she wanted to see him on TV or in the movies. According to Dante, those words were the key to a deeper c onnection between his choices and his what I have to do in school. I have to listen, w Hearing the teacher talk about his future h elped him to dream and plan for his own success. When asked why the memory of this teacher was such a great experience in his primary confident in myself. And like I sa Dante does not recall a bad experience in all of his elementary years. When He believes that teachers are always on his side and want the best for him. Beginning in kindergarten and continuing throughout his elementary school years, Dante exhibits a strong connection to school and learning. He feels confident that all teachers are there to help him reach his goals and, therefore, he will be successful at school, college and whatever he wants to be when he grows up. t he gets in trouble sometimes for talking, but he teacher] tells us what to do, I like to go back and talk. She tells us to stay in our writing, but I like to talk to my When asked how his friends would describe him as a student, he claims that they would say he is a great student because he is funny and makes them laugh. Interestingly, he also asserts his teacher would describe h


42 we do reading, nobody can get me out of the book and sometimes when she calls on me, I can barely hear her because I stay there like I'm in the book, like a character in the ing descriptions of himself as a student, how his friends would describe him and how his teachers would describe him were unlike the other participants in this study. They described themselves using the same words as they felt their friends and teachers w ould. Dante appears to perceive that his friends and teacher would describe him more favorably than he would describe himself. Is this a reflection of his self esteem when it comes to learning? Dante demonstrates enthusiasm and a motivation for learning . He professes to be confident in reaching his life goals. He also states that he does not always listen to the teacher and would rather talk to his friends. There appears to be a disconnection between how Dante believes his friends and teacher would de scribe him as a student and his actions. Dante is a struggling student who has been retained twice in elementary school. In contrast, Dante would be considered high performing in the social world. He was selected for this study based partially on his co mmunication skills, described by the teacher as very sociable. He maintains respectful and positive relationships with his classmates. Could Dante be using his social strengths as a measure of his status as a student? He knows he is well liked by his fr iends, explaining that he makes them laugh. would describe him as a great student because he creates fun at school and makes them laugh. This could also apply to D


43 conversations with his teachers about how he can reach his goals through education. To predict that his teachers would describe him as an outstanding student indicates his criterion is based more on social behaviors than academic behaviors. Franklin Franklin, the quietest of the participants, had the least to say abo ut his elementary school days. His first inclination i n answering many questions was to However, sometimes after probing, he would provide a brief response. Franklin appears to be nonchalant about school and teachers, having no favorites or least favorites. When asked if he remem bered his teachers, he explained that he did remember them, but he still had no favorite or least favorite. He interjected that kindergarten was his fav orite grade because it was easy, and there were a lot of games to play. He also did not share any good or bad experiences from his elementary would like school much better if there were more projects and games to play. Franklin enjoyed the playtime and naptime in k indergarten, but he does not recall the teacher or any academic tasks. of student he was in kindergarten, Franklin student he was in kindergarten made me realize that Franklin assesses himself as a student based on behavioral criteria. When asked about first grade Franklin remembers nothing again, except that his mother told him he used to get in trouble a lot when he was hanging around with a particular boy. Franklin states that he does not remember much of school life up


44 through his second grade year. He became a student at the research site school in third grade. He does state that his family moved around a lot and that may be why he does not remember. elementary schools before third grade. This frequency in changing schools could be a factor in the absence of memories from his early school years. Upon enrolling at the school research site in third grade, Franklin describes field day, a physical education celebration da everybody was get This experience with field day, however, did not change the way he felt about school. He still described school as boring. He states that he cannot remember a time An interesting exchange with Franklin occurred when I asked him if there was a t ime in third or fourth grade when he felt really smart. Franklin does not remember a question, asking him to try to go back to third or fourth grade and describe a time when s try to obey the rules, When I asked if being a good student meant being rationalized that being a good student is about trying, and bein g a smart student means


45 Was Franklin referring to the ability to answer academic questions in class? Does he not feel like a smart student because he has trouble remembering things? Then according to Franklin, being smart is about having a good me mory. Self described as lacking a good memory, he could not possibly feel like a smart student. I wondered what impact this thought process had on his academic identity. Could he have a strong psychological connection to learning if he did not believe he was smart? Also, could his view of himself as a student who is not smart be a reason for describing school as boring? This is possible. What was unclear in the data originat ed. Was it because he could not answer the questions during his early school years? goofs arou nd. When probed for his thoughts about how students and teachers viewed him, he stated that they may conclude that he works hard as well. With his original description of goofing around and secondarily of trying hard, Franklin is describing himself as a student based on behaviors rather than achievement. Because he does not feel smart, is he creating a niche for himself in the classroom, one of being the class clown? a good memory. His connection to learning is limited based on his idea that smart is


46 knowing a lot of things. Perhaps his love of games and having fun is really how he learns best, and school would be much more interesting to him if more learning occurred in a game format. The trajectory of academic identity of the three participants in this study seemed to have been set early in their elementary years and remained constant regardless of schools or teachers. Brandon, the participant who described himself as h yper each time he was asked, first heard that he was hyper from his kindergarten teacher. Dante, the participant who counts on his social relationships to function successfully at school, recounts playing with his friends as a favorite kindergarten memory . Franklin, a high performing student, says he does not feel smart because he does not have a good memory. He described school as boring, beginning in first grade. RQ2 . What Factors Appear t o Have Influenced Their Academic Identity? After finding th relatively stable throughout the elementary school years, I questioned whether I would find many factors that appeared to have influenced their academic identities. After all, their psych ological connection to school appeared to have been set early and to remain persistent . Nevertheless, I identified factors that increased the connection to learning for these students and others that reinforced the identities that were established early i n their school years. I separated the factors that appeared to have influenced academic identity into two categories, classroom support s and family supports. Classroom supports included several sub categories that consisted of those factors that occurre d within the practices. The second type of supports that appeared to affect academic identity was


47 the influence of family. These supports were much narrower in scope and may or may not influence what occur s in the classroom. However, the data indicate that these Classroom S upports The boys all reported memories of classroom practices and how those practices mad e them feel. One such practice might be referred to as instructional design. The boys expressed a strong connection to learning through hands on projects, games and the use of technology. Formal assessments appeared to have a negative influence on the p They did not see them as learning opportunities, but rather as difficult tasks and perhaps even evidence of their failure as students. Additionally, important to all three participants was being recogn ized and rewarded within the classroom. The students gave several examples of these methods of reward including teacher praise, completion incentives and using technology with built in rewards. Instructional design . Instructional design encompasses the consideration of learning needs and goals and the development of a deliv ery method to meet those needs. In other words, it includes h ow students will interact with content and how they will relate to the process for the purpose of learning. In this secti description of three preferred delivery methods are discussed as related to their academic identities. They described hands on projects, the use of games, and technology as not only engaging, but also as the way they learn best. Proj ects/hands on activities. All three of the study participants mentioned the projects or hands on activities in which they participated in school. They revealed the


48 extent to which they connected to this approach to learning by sharing their memories of p rojects that spanned the elementary school years. When asked to describe a great experience from kindergarten, first or second house. We did lots of special things and s o I liked that. And more than the gingerbread for him? When asked why it felt s discover something about his capabilities and led to a positive personal and academic identity. It was a powerful teaching method for him. the first interview when asked about what he did not do w ell in school. His answer was, figure out how to turn on the lights with a battery. The kindergarten project, likely an individual effort, required assembly, an activity that is difficult for him. However, when given a project where he works i n collaboration with others and that does not require assembly from part to whole, Dante found enjoyment in learning and success. Thus, projects remain important vehicles in delivering academic connection, but their power increases when the student experi ences success with them.


49 Franklin conveyed his enthusiasm for project based learning when asked about on hands on activities were how they learned best. I asked Franklin, who states that school is boring, what about school, all three boys commented that they would include more projects. All three participants also reported being more engaged in learning when they were a ctively involved with projects. In addition, they felt even more excited about learning whe n their social needs were met through project learning in cooperative groups. One example Dante enthusiastically shared was working with classmates on historical plays in 4th grade. The impact of participating in such hands on projects on academic ide ntit y appears to be important. Unfortunately, these activities were not a described them as occurring only sporadically. Games for academic learning. The earliest memor ies of school for all three participants included play, both outside on the playground and in the classroom. They talked of basketball games, center play, and computer games. Each participant reported that one thing he liked best about kindergarten and e very grade thereafter were the games that were played in school. When asked what he remembered most from kindergarten, first or second grade, play stuff like Simon Says.


50 directions. He also shared a memory about winning a math fact game in 3 rd grade. He ng his math facts did not make him feel smart, but beating the smart students in a math fact game did. Brandon referred to the other students as smart, even though he beat them in the math fact game. However, feeling smart was temporary and did not have a lasting effect on his description of himself as a student. It appears that first impressions, even in reference to oneself, are important. Other academic games were also considered to be engaging and promoted a connection to learning. Dante shared this story of a game he remembered: It was a smart board game. It was a math question. So we have our teams. If you got it right, you just put a check mark. You got to draw it on your white board. When you hold it up and show it to them (teachers), say yes or no? If she say yes, we just put a check mark right there next to the question. Again, Dante recollected the use of the collaborative structure of this game. The social factor, as well as the game format, appeared to increase his engagement wi th the content. Finally, Brandon and Franklin mentioned academic games on the computer. In and then shared that using the computer for ST (Spatial and Temporal) Math helped him r emember and learn more in math. This computer program teaches mathematical concepts using only visual input. Clearly, all the participants viewed games as a motivating and engaging way to spend time at school.


51 Technology. All three participants discussed technology as a preferred method of learning. Each participant wanted to have ac cess to a variety of technologies including academic games such as Ticket to Read, ST Math, You Tube videos, and computers. Brandon recalled using technology in kindergarten and being especially motivated by compliments he received when his answers were c Tube videos for math and science tell you how to do things before you go try it. So you go back to your seat like you Thus, technology not onl y provides the content of a particular subject, but also stimulates a connection to the learning process by providing instant positive reinforcement. Instructional design as exemplified in hands on projects, games and technology appeared to be an importa became more engaged, had fun and felt positive about their abilities. It would be interesting to see if the positive effects would become more permanent if these types of instructional del Assessment strategies . identity: At first I wou ldn't get the subject but I would get mad because I would understand it so easily after she told me about it. Then I was thinking that she, (teacher) could've told us before we started it (pre tests), but she good because I don't know


52 that much about math. I'm not showing what I know. Well, I am showing what I know, but what I know is not that good. It doesn't make me feel like I can't do it, but it's saying that I don't know it, and I want to know everythi ng. Brandon clearly revealed vulnerability when discussing his experience with pretests. He expressed confidence in his learning ability, believing that he could learn anything, if taught first. The pretest process, however, appeared to feel risky to hi m in that it provided evidence of what he did not know. The repeated experience of not feeling smart may have had a significant influence on his academic identity. Dante also expressed an aversion to these types of assessments. Asked to discuss a bad expe rience in 3 rd or 4 th fourth, we had to do a test. We had to do a test , explained that this test was to see what students knew from third grade and earlier. Being tested be fore explicit teaching appears to affect the academic identi ty of both these participants. Both boys were uncomfortable showing what they knew before explicit teaching occurred. While pre tests may be useful to the teachers, it is possible that they are . The Support of Family All three participants discussed how their families have provided support in their education. As mentioned earlier, Brandon remembers kindergarten was easy, claiming that's what you are supposed to learn in 6th grade so he is giving me a jump start in The support from his family has been more than academic as evidenced by


53 grade when he did not like scho ol. A teacher would say I did something, and I did not do it. I felt like people just wanted to get me in trouble, but my dad said his is not operation get Brandon in trouble. By re helped Brandon re focus his previous school affiliation. Dante explains how his family supports his education by helping him with his up on the computer, and eve n his sister helps when he needs to make things. Dante remembers when he first went to school, his teacher in kindergarten would tell his ll him what a good job he was doing. Positive feedback from both the teacher and his mother about his behaviors in the process of learning had a significant impact that Dante recalled years later. Since the praise was about behavior (i.e., staying on task ), not his academic progress, it may have reinforced his association of his academic identity with behavior rather than academics, an association that continues today. Franklin talked about the support his parents gave him with his homework and behavior. He remembers his mother talking to him when he was young, and the teacher would write about h is behavior in his agenda book. Franklin remembers his mother telling him about a time when he was hanging out with a boy who was not good for him. His mother s aid he was always in trouble that year. Again, it was behavior that identity around his behavior, rather than his academic accomplishments.


54 As mentioned earlier in this chapter, the boys in this study appeared to describe themselves as students based on how often they got in trouble at school. After reinforce this thinking. Identity Fact ors quite stable. The most important factor in forming their initial academic identities was the hidden curriculum of the first two years of school. In particular, teach er comments about the boys appeared to shape their views of themselves as students. The factors that appear to have influenced the stabilization of these academic identities were found both inside and outside of the classroom. Classroom and family suppor ts served to solidify and sometimes modify academic identities. Factors that may have influenced a specifically projects, games and technology were not prevalent enough in the instructional design to e ffect a permanent change. However, it is an exciting prospect that these instructional design methods could have a significant effect on academic identity by being featured more prominently in instructional design. This could represent between Black and White students.


55 CHAPTER 5 CONCLUSION Summary of the S tudy The purpose of this research was to study the elementary school experience s of three fifth grade African American boys and to provide insight into the development of their academic identity and the factors that influenced it. By analyzing the personal narratives , I sought a deeper understanding of how African American boy s respond to people, practices and structu res within the school setting. The knowledge I have gained will be used to evaluate practices at my school site that are found to either strengthen or weaken African American student learning. It is critical to identify factors that promote a positive connection to learning because the outlook for African American boys has been dismal. This study was conducted at the elementary school of which I am the principal. The school, as well as the distri ct and state, presents an achievement gap between Black students and their White peers in both reading and math. As the leader of the school, I advocate for equitable educational opportunities for all students, especially those marginalized in society. A cademic identity is found to be associated with student achievement, so I wanted to investigate how the academic identity of three fifth grade African American boys was formed and shaped during elementary school. To do this, I collected data through a ser ies of four interviews, three individual and one focus group. The participants ranged in age from ten to twelve years old and had attended the school for a minimum of two years. The interviews were recorded and transcribed. I analyzed the data collected f throughout the study.


56 The findings of this research revealed that the academic identities of African American boys were established within the first year or two of school. The study parti cipants developed academic identities based on descriptions of the behavior of teachers and students rather than their connection with learning. That is, one described himself as the hyper student, another one as the talkative student and the third partic ipant, as one who goofs off in class. Not one participant associated his academic identity with achievement or grades. I found that once set, the academic identity of all three boys did not change throughout elementary school. In fact, all the participa nts identified as students in the same way, using the same words, each time they were asked to describe themselves as students. Their identification as students remained unwavering from kindergarten or first grade and into fifth grade regardless of how mu ch I probed for more information. In answer to my second question that sought to discover factors that influenced academic identity, the findings were primarily related to classroom supports, especially instructional design. All three participants reporte d they felt more connected to learning when physical movement and social interaction were a part of the lesson delivery methods. These included hands on and project based learning, game formats and the use of technology for learning. However, even though the boys felt successful and enthusiastic with these lesson delivery methods, their positive response did not appear to alter their academic identities as students who did not behave well in school. tities was family support. In relating family support, the participants told of the emphasis on the learning or academic aspect of school, more than the behavioral aspect. However, this focus did


57 behavior . For e xample, Dante explained, I Again , the boys continued to describe themselves based on their behaviors regardless of posit ive or negative academic success. Contributions to the Literature The findings of this study were consistent with the literature on academic identity and hidden curriculum. As noted in C hapter 2 psychological con nection to the learning environment, and this connection is related to the identities that studen ts construct through the hidden curriculum (Anderman & Anderman, 1999; Goodenow & Grady, 1993). The findings indicated that the study d their sense of themselves as students fro m what appeared to be the hidden curriculum in the ir classroom s . The hidden curriculum refers to that which is taught implicitly and is shaped by the dominant culture ( Apple, 2004 ). Previous research indicates that the hidden curriculum is always in play in schools , and it serves to transmit unspoken messages to students about values, attitudes, and their own self worth (Dreeben, 1967; Jackson, 1968; Vallance , 1973). Students receive powerful messages about the ir ability, personality traits and behaviors through the hidden curriculum. For example, Brandon learned in his kindergarten year that physical activity was not a positive attribute in school. Brandon, a physically active boy, internalized the idea that the label of hyper was not good. His academic identity became that of a hyper student. His teacher did not explicitly teach this, but Brandon picked it up through five words that were often


58 Brandon incorporated All three of the study participants identified as stude nts based on behavior criteria. This identity was neither positive nor connected to learning. This finding is consist ent with previous research that found the development of positive academic identities to be challenging for African American student s due to barriers in school (Phinney & Rotheram, 1987). These barriers mirror those in society and are based on societal ex pectations determined by the dominant class. For example, Fr anklin, an above average student as measured by state testing, chooses not to do his homework, and regularly goofs off in class. He also describes school as boring. It would not be unusual for an above average student who is able to excel without doing his homework to be considered for an accelerated curriculum. However, Franklin has not been considered for an accelerated program. Perhaps his status as an African American male is a barrier to certain opportunities and the development of a positive academic identity. As previously mentioned, it is important to establish a strong academic identity that promotes academic achievement in the elementary school years because a decrease in motivation often occurs during adolescence (Green, et al. , 2008). The boys in the present study have not developed a connection to learning and perhaps as a result, do not associate achievement with their identity as students. This is consistent with the body of res earch that finds that students who are marginalized in our society feel disconnected from learning (Phinney & Rotheram, 1987). The participants in my study did not base their academic identities on the explicit teachings in the classroom,


59 but rather the i mplicit ones. The ir identities appear to have derived from the hidden curriculum, possibly by repeated correction and redirection in the classroom. The results of the present study are consistent with the previous research finding that suggest a hidden a genda to maintain social order exists in schools and influences academic identities (Apple, 2004; Dreeben, 1967; Jackson, 1968; Vallance ; 1973). The than learning, w as nonetheless strong and stable. Implications for P ractice The primary purpose of this research was to answer two questions about academic identity and African American boys. I wanted to determine the trajectory of academic identity and also the factor s that influenced that identity throughout the elementary school years. In answering these questions, several findings emerged as key implications of this research. With respect to the trajectory of academic identity, I found th at all participants descri bed themselves as students early in their school history, and that identity remained static throughout the elementary school years. I also learned that the identity adopted by each of the three participants was based on behavioral criteria rather than aca demic criteria and was learned through the hidden curriculum. learning, although they did not alter their academic identities over time. Determining that the aca demic identities of the participants were developed early and remained constant throughout the elementary school years made me realize that the first few years of schooling are the most important in preparing a student for continued success. This implicat ion is critical because the identity developed during the first few years of school may very well determine the educational outcome for students


60 by setting the course they will follow throughout their education. After all, research indicates that a positi ve academic identity is highly correlated to academic success (Berzonsky & Kuk, 2000). Thus, the formation of a negative academic identity could lead to long term failure in school. As I think about pre school and kindergarten classes, I understand how t he participants in this study developed negative academic identities, ones connected to behavior rather than learning. During those early years in school, students are indoctrinated with procedures. For example, walking in line, taking turns, sitting sti ll and quietly listening are all a big part of early education, for the purpose of providing order in the learning environment. Because all these activities fall under the behavioral aspect of school, it is not difficult to see how students would identify themselves based on behavioral criteria, particularly when they are repeatedly participants in this study identified themselves as students based on behaviors that deterr ed them from feeling success as students. When students gauge their success based on behavioral criteria rather than academic criteria, they only need to meet behavioral expectations to feel like a great student. Regardless of their academic achievement, these students may leave elementary school feeling like good students because they have learned how they are expected to behave in class. If students already feel like good students based on behavior, their motivation to achieve academically may be dimin ished. This may work for them in elementary school because academic competition is not emphasized. However, it does not work in middle school and high school where students become competitive in preparation for their futures. Without an academic identit y based on


61 academic achievement, students begin to miss opportunities that may affect their futures in and out of school. In order to support the academic success of African American students, it is imperative that elementary school teachers learn how to foster academic identities based on a positive connection with academic achievement. Further research in this area could determine if academic identities based on behavior are relate d to ethnicity, gender or race. It would be important to understand the roles that these features play in the formation and evolution of academic identity. As we understand the social construction of academic identity better, we will be in a better position to cultivate the development of positive academic identities that are based on achievement among the diverse students in our classrooms. they were constructed through the hidden curriculum in the classroom. The teachers did not explicitly te message. Similarly, teachers did not explicitly teach Dante that talking with friends was a negative behavior. However, each boy described his connection to school based first on these behaviors and interpreted them as negative. All three participants determined their status as students based on how often they were in trouble. They focused on the negative messages and maintained this focus for years. In other words, they incorporated the negati ve hidden curriculum and did not change their self perceptions regardless of whether their grades were good or poor. Hidden curriculum was more powerful than explicit curriculum for these African American boys. The implication of this finding lies in th e power of the hidden curriculum. This is an important implication, suggesting that educators must attend as closely to the hidden


62 curriculum as the explicit curriculum. In particular, educators must first recognize and acknowledge hidden curriculum as a force that serves t he values and interests of those who have established it, that is, white, middle class, and often female educators. Thus, the hidden curriculum may serve to reinforce inequities related to class, gender, race, and ethnicity. Once under stood, educators would recognize the power of the hidden curriculum and use it to diminish the marginalization of non dominant group members. Perhaps they would also begin to recognize the impact of negative attention to student traits and judgmental lang uage with very young students. If the study participants learned that their specific traits were negative in the classroom, then the hidden curriculum could also teach the participants to identify their unique traits in a positive manner. I propose that the study participants could have embraced a school identity associated with their individual behaviors that encouraged academic success, had the teacher promoted their attributes as positive rather than negative. That is, the participants might have emb them that way. In this manner, early in their school experience, the attention to student behaviors would be interpreted as assets r ather than deficits, thus cultivating a positive would have helped the boys to understand when and how to use their individual traits to enhance their learning experien ces. Further research in this area could well lead to changes in the curriculum for teacher preparation and continuing education programs. identities, I found that these African A merican boys favored a certain type of


63 instructional design. They wanted to be physically active and socially engaged during the learning proces s . Given the way the boys described themselves as socially and physically active, it was not surprising that t heir preferred learning mode would encompass these two characteristics. The more active/interactive delivery method could be accomplished by pairing cooperative grouping with project based learning opportunities, as well as having students interact with g ames and technology. These methods would address the social needs in a cooperative way while maintaining an academic focus. The participants all explained that projects were their favorite way to learn. However, opportunities for this type of instructio nal design were infrequent, described as occurring only on special occasions. The participants in this study were given a message that their preferred method of learning was not a priority in school, thus continuing to marginalize them. What if the boys were engaged in their preferred learning activities on a daily basis? Would the influence be enough to strengthen their connection to learning or even shift their academic identities from a be havioral to an academic focus? Would Dante, the participant wh o would rather talk than complete his had the opportunity to do so on a regular basis? Perhaps by designing instruction to ucators might help them see themselves as successful learners and identify enthusiastically with academic learning. An area of future study I believe is important to examine is racial identity as it relates to academic identity. This will help me to furt her understand how to support the education of Black boys. Another area of future study would be to examine the use of


64 the preferred instructional designs over time. A study of the effects on academic identity and achievement of instructional desig ns consisting primarily of projects, games and technology would be helpful to educators. Although I have interviewed children before, this was the first time I conducted interviews for research purposes . Next Steps My next step as a practitioner scholar is to take action based upon the knowledge gained from conducting this research. As the principal of an elementary school with a professional mission of promoting equitable educational opportunities for all students, I feel that my newly found knowledge has created a direction that will help focus my thoughts and actions. I hope to use the knowledge gained through this research to increase my capacity to influence the academic achievement of African American students,


65 particularly boys in the school I lead. What strikes me most is that the three participants all identifie d as students based on behavior, specifically behavior their teachers viewed as negative. I am concerned that this is counterproductive to their academic success and may even help explain the achievement gap between Black and White students. That is, if African American boys base their identity as students on behavior, it may become challenging for them to excel in a system that measures success based on academic achievement. To address this problem, we as educators must explicitly and implicitly promot e an academic identity attached to academic learning. My first action will be to share my Learning Community (PLC). Understanding how the participants identified as students and what factors influenced their connection to learning is important for the staff to know if we are truly committed to facilitating the success of all of our students. The Professional Learning Community is a regularly scheduled weekly meeting in which we study our practice. This will be the venue in which my research is shared. After explaining the research and findings, follow up activities will be scheduled on a monthly basis. One will be to examine interview transcripts for implications. I usually have cross grade level teams working together on this type of activity to promote inclusivity of perspectives. All groups report back to the large group in a variety of ways. This could be by verbal sharing, or via written work passed through the groups, or by drawings that depict the particular scenario. I would ask each group to identify a specific part of the transcript that may have important implications for their work, our school or our community. All groups would share their PLC work at the end o f the


66 session. This process will continue monthly throughout the school year. Additional discussions might focus on the preferred learning styles of students, alternative instructional design s , and how to foster a connection to learning based on academic progress. I believe there is enough information that can be gleaned from this research to guide our PLC throughout the year. In addition to sharing the knowledge learned about the academic identities of the African American boys in this study, I propos some students while providin g an advantage to others. I intend to include in my monthly team leader agenda an item that explores ways to include more hands on/project based instruction. This will help to meet the needs of African American boys as well as other populations who may b enefit from such active hands on and project based learning opportunities. Rethinking instructional methods in this manner will require that educators shift their understanding of learning environments from teacher centered and passive to student centered and active. I believe this is a natural consequence of project based learning. Teachers structure the projects, but student learning is derived from hands on experience rather than being told and shown. Similarly, we must shift our understanding of st udent behavioral attributes from deficits that interfere with learning to assets that promote learning . Examining the lenses from which we as educators view our students and families as well as their behaviors is important if we are going to teach all chi ldren with equal emphasis. Being a white, middle class female working with primarily white, middle class female


67 educators, we must understand that our values and beliefs can inadvertently be imposed upon the students and families we serve. One method we can use to improve understanding is to facilitate discussions regarding these lenses and how they can lead to practices that marginalize some students and provide an advantage to others. These collegial discussions will serve to deepen my own understandin g and that of others, with the goal of improving academic success for African American students and other students who may feel marginalized. Conducting this research has provided me the procedural framework to expand upon my findings and develop other are as of research that can be explored less formally within my school setting. I believe the experience with this research has motivated me to systematically work with educators to better understand how children identify as students and how we as educators im pact this identification. This may lead to studying the educational experiences of other student groups whose academic success lags behind the dominant group as well . I have access to educators who work with a diverse group of students on a daily basis. We discuss student achievement regularly and know that there are particular groups of students who perform better than others. I plan to use this research to expand the discussion about how to meet the educational needs of African American student s as wel l a s students with disabilities and English Language Learners. By sharing what I have learned in reference to academic identity, how it was formed and remained constant throughout the elementary school years and the fact ors that may have influenced it, I move forward with a deeper understanding. S haring the finding s of this research with my staff would allow us to better understand our influences on


68 students and to provide more choices in planning how our students connect to learning and possibly improvin g how the students perceive their own abilities. Concluding T houghts In closing, I believe what I learned most from this investigation about academic identity is that I and other educators have the capacity to identify factors that shape the education of African Ameri can elementary school students. By understanding the students in learning that supports achievement. What struck me from this research was insight the study participants sh ared about the types of ac tivities that most engage them. They know how they learn best and what they needed their teachers to do to help them learn. Is this not the knowledge educators are seeking? The process of this inquiry has helped me learn to research current bodies of literature in order to become better informed about significant issues of teaching and learning, to question my own assumptions and beliefs about how educators teach and students learn, and finally, to expand my perc eptions of educational practices that marginalize some students. I do not believe I would have gained this knowledge had I not completed this research. The challenge before us is to take the steps necessary to intervene in the academic identity developmen t of young African American boys. As stated earlier, the theoretical perspective of Critical Social Justice informed my study. As a Principal and leader for social justice, I feel a tremendous responsibility to continue growing in my practice and leadi ng others to an awareness of the practices that are found to marginalize students. Through this work, we may all become promote rs of social justice. As Hytten (2006) states, the central goals of educational curriculum and practices must be democratic issu es. It is imperative that we serve the


69 needs of all learners, in order to empower those who may currently feel marginalized. By doing so, we can promote the equality of educational experiences for all students.


70 APPENDIX A INTERVIEW ONE: BACKGROUN D, GENERAL SCHOOL EXPERIENCES (45 MIN.) 1. How old are you? 2. Who do you live with? Tell me about them. 3. What do you like to do outside of school? When do you do that? With whom? 4. When you grow up what do you want to do? Have you always wanted to do this? Why this? 5. How long have you been attending this school? Where were you before this? 6. What is something in school that you do well? Tell me about it. 7. What is something in school that you not do well? Tell me about that. 8. How would you describe yourself as a s tudent? Tell me more about that. 9. How would your friends describe you as a student? 10. How would your teacher describe you as a student? 11. What was your favorite grade? Why? Least favorite? Why? 12. Who was your favorite teacher? Why? Least favorite? Why?


71 APPENDIX B INTERVIEW TWO: KINDERGARTEN THROUGH SECOND GRADES (45 MIN.) 1. Tell me about your earliest school memory. How did that make you feel about school? 2. What did you like about kindergarten? Tell me about that. 3. What did you not like about kindergart en? Tell me more about that. How did you feel as a kindergartener? 4. Tell me about something that happened in kindergarten, first or second grade that you most remember. 5. Why do you think you remember this so well? 6. Tell me about a great experience from ki ndergarten, first or second grade. What made the experience so good? Why do you think it felt good? 7. Tell me about a bad experience from kindergarten, first or second grade. What made the experience a bad one? 8. Tell me about your teacher in kindergarten; first grade; second grade? What do you remember most about each of them? 9. Were you a good student in kindergarten? How do you know? How about first How do you know? 10. What did you lik e best about school in kindergarten? In first grade? In second grade? Tell me about these things you liked.


72 APPENDIX C INTERVIEW THREE: THIRD AND FOURTH GRADES (45 MIN.) 1. Tell me about a good experience from third or fourth grade. How did this make you feel about school? 2. Tell me about a bad experience from third or fourth grade. How did this make you feel about school? 3. In which subjects did you get the best grades? Why did you make the best grades in this/these subject/s? 4. Which subjects did you not d o so well in? Why do you think this happens? 5. Can you remember a time in third or fourth grade when you felt really smart? Tell me about this. What happened that made you feel so smart? 6. e school? Why do you think this happened? What could someone have done to help you feel better about school? 7. Did you like your teachers in third and fourth grade? Tell me about them. 8. Who or what has helped you feel successful in school? 9. What was the be st thing that happened in third or fourth grade? Tell me more about it. 10. Tell me about a teacher that helped you feel like a good student.


73 APPENDIX D FOCUS GROUP DISCUSSION ABOUT THEMSELVES AS STUDENTS ( 45 MIN.) 1. How would you describe a great teacher ? 2. How would you describe a great student? 3. How would you describe yourself as a student? 4. What could we do differently here to be sure that all kids like school? 5. How would these changes help kids like school? How would the changes help you? 6. If you could ch ange one thing about school, what would it be? 7. Can you think of something you have learned in school that you got really excited about? What was it and why was it exciting for you? 8. Can you think of something you learned about or worked on in school that you 9. Describe how you like to learn new things. What can the teacher do to help you learn? What can you do to help yourself learn? 10. What do you think teachers need to do to help you feel great abo ut school? Do you think teachers will do that? Why or Why not? 11. What do you wish your teachers knew about you? Why this?


74 APPENDIX E EXCERPTS FROM INDIVIDUAL INTERVIEWS FOR EACH PARTICIPANT From interview with Brandon: Interviewer : That felt cool, yea h, I bet it did. Why do you think something like that felt good? Brandon: really fun to see what you can do, because like when you decide tracing something and then when you get to loo k at the whole picture and then you can really see the shape. If I nterview er: 50/50. What does that mean? Brandon: Yeah, she would show us how to do first still cool because I could do it. Interviewer : Brandon: Yeah. Interviewer: And that made you feel good? Brandon: I never built anything. Interviewer : Ok. Can you tell me about a bad experience from kindergarten first or second? Brandon: Interviewer : What grade was that? Brandon: Maybe second or first. Interviewer : What did you remember about that? From interview with Dante: Interviewer: Okay. Tell me something that happened in kinderg arten, first, or second grade, that you remember most. Dante: I'd say second, because when I first went to second, um I was nervous, other we got to be friends and not fi ght each other. Interviewer: A nd you were nervous because?


75 Dante: I didn't know anybody in the class. Interviewer: Because you didn't know anybody. And did you get to know people? Dante: Yeah like I got to know everybody in the class, and what's the ir name and what's their favorite sport. Interviewer: Okay. So out of all of your memories when you think about it, that's the one that you really remember, being scared to go to second grade ? Dante: Yeah. Interviewer: Okay. Good. Why do you t hink you remember that so well? Dante: Well, because like right now, I'm not nervous anymore, because we keep on moving. It doesn't matter anymore, so I won't be scared anymore. Like when I go to middle school or high school or college, I won't be scared. Interv iewer: Because you already did that in second grade, right? Dante: Yes. From interview with Franklin: Interviewer : Can you remember a time in 3rd or 4th grade when you felt really, really smart? Franklin: No, not really. Interviewer : Stop a minute and th ink about that a little more. Think about a time where you felt like you did a good job in 3rd or 4th grade. Franklin: Well I don't really even remember if I felt really smart or anything like that. Interviewer : Do you feel smart now? Franklin: Probably, I don't really know. Interviewer : Franklin, do you think you're a good student? Franklin: Yes. Interviewer : Why do you think you're a good student? Franklin: Because I always try to obey the rules and I always try to do my work. Interviewer : Okay, if you're a good student, does that mean you're smart?


76 Franklin: Not technically. Interviewer : Can you tell me more about that? Franklin: If you're good it doesn't mean your smart. Interviewer : Okay. What does good mean? Franklin: It's when you do good behavior. I nterviewer : Okay, and what does smart mean? Franklin: It means that you know a lot of things.


77 APPENDIX F EXCERPT FROM THE FOCUS GROUP INTERVIEW Interviewer : This is our focus group interview. I've got Brandon, Franklin, and Dante with me today. Intervi ewer: Our first question, boys, is "Ho w would you describe a great teacher?" Brandon: They're fun. And they really will do the right thing. Well they, well they're kind of strict too. They're fun and strict but they can be fun and strict. Franklin: They do fun things like if they do a science experiment about helium, we could have balloons and we could suck up the helium, something like that. Do fun experiments. Dante: A fun teacher is how they like to play with you. Like go outside and play and anothe r teacher will help you with your goal. Interviewer : OK. So you all agree that a great teacher is fun? Brandon: Yes. Franklin: Oh I thought we were talking about a fun teacher. Interviewer : No, the question was how do you describe a great teacher ? Frankli n: A great teacher could help you with your work too. And explain things slowly for you if you need it. Brandon: And if you, like what he said, and if you don't understand still, you can, she'll still explain it to me and you can ask a student to help you if they understand. Dante: Like Franklin said, how she could help you read and do stuff that you don't understand. Interviewer : OK so great teachers help you and they're fun. Brandon: Yes. Interviewer : One of you also said they're strict, what does that mean? Brandon? Brandon: I said that and well because they're, you can learn better from that. Interviewer : Tell me more about that. Brandon: Because strict teachers are teachers that makes you do work and then you have to, and then they get a little gru mpy when you don't do what you're supposed to do but still a fun teacher can be that way, but if you don't do


78 anything wrong then they won't be so mean and they can, they would just be nice. Dante: Like what Brandon just said how she'd be a little grumpy if you don't do your work. If you keep playing and talking, if you go back playing and talking she'll come make you get out of the room or something. If that happen, the next day you can still respect her because she's your teacher and an adult. Interview er : OK. So when you say get out of the room, she sends you to timeout or something? Brandon: Yeah, like a chill pill. Interviewer : And that's OK? Franklin: Yes because it gets the other kids off task. Interviewer : OK, so a great teacher might send you out to keep other kids on task? Brandon: action to make yourself go outside the room to another classroom. Interviewer : OK, so a great teacher is fun, makes you accountable or keeps you on track, and sometimes is strict with you. Next question, "How would you describe a great student?" Dante: How I can describe a great student is how they get their work done. Like how they stare into their book, pay attention to the teacher. Franklin: A great student, they always turn in their work. They don't back sass the teacher. They don't play around when they're not supposed to and they do their work. Brandon: I'd say what Dante and Franklin say and also they give their best effort in what they alw ays do. They don't get in trouble that much because they're respecting the teacher and doing what they say to do. And also, they're really more than that. That's what a great student is to me. Interviewer : OK. So I heard several things. They do their work, their behavior is good, they are, put a lot of effort into their work so they do their best work. Franklin: That's probably how they can do better in school. Because you're good well your habits, that habit gets bigger and bigger so your best is getting better and better so you can be awesome.


79 APPENDIX G February 12, 2014 the question about being smart. I asked him to describe a time he felt reall y smart in school. Brandon thought for a second and then told me felt smart because he beat the smart kids! It surprised that he did not feel smart just from knowing his facts so well. Why did this surprise me? I wonder if this is the only time he felt smart? Does he have to beat other kids to feel smart? I need to see what Dante and Brandon day about this February 14, 2014 an A on a test and the other students got Bs or Cs. This is the same feeling Brandon described about being smart. I know there is something to this, but I have not figured it out yet. Questions in my mind pertain to grading and the competitiveness of that. Would it make a difference if we only graded as students met criterion. I do not see how this would be less competitive? Do all students only f eel smart when they beat others? Am I forgetting the barriers that Black students face in the classroom? What


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84 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH Cara Walsh was born in Greenfield, Indiana and spent her childhood in the nearby small town of Fo rtville, Indiana. After graduating high school, she moved to Indianapolis, Indiana where she began working and pursuing a business degree in accounting. In 1987 she moved to Florida and continued her education , earning a degree in exceptional student e ducation. She taught students with learning disabilities for seven years a eadership before becoming a school administrator in 2000. Currently she is a school principal in Pinellas County Florida, havin g lead three different Title I schools over the past 14 years. In 2010, she continued her studies at the University of Florida, in pursuit of a Doctor of Education. Cara currently resides in Saint Petersburg, Florida and is dedicated to improving life opp ortunities for the underprivileged of this world.