Shaw, Julia

“The Music I Was Meant To Sing”: Adolescent Choral Students’ Perceptions of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy

As rapid demographic change transforms American classrooms, incongruities between the ways culturally diverse students are accustomed to learning and those emphasized in educational institutions can present barriers to learning. This study investigated culturally responsive pedagogy (CRP), a teaching approach that seeks to ameliorate such incongruities by basing instruction upon students’ cultural knowledge, frames of reference, and preferred learning, communication, and performance styles (Gay, 2002). To complement studies that examine teachers’ perceptions of CRP, this study sought to illuminate student perspectives. Accordingly, the purpose of this study was to explore adolescent choral students’ perceptions of culturally responsive teaching in an urban community children’s choir. Research questions focused on how students perceived their choir experiences to be informed by cultural diversity, the barriers to CRP they identified, and how CRP influenced relationships between students’ musical and cultural identities.  A multiple embedded case study design was used to investigate students’ perceptions of CRP as practiced in three demographically contrasting choirs within an urban children’s choir organization. Within each choir site, one teacher and three student participants framed the analysis. Data generation methods included semi-structured interviews, ethnographic field notes, autobiographical notes, and collection of material culture. 4 students perceived their choral instruction to be culturally responsive in that their classroom experiences promoted understanding and appreciation of their own cultures while broadening their cultural, musical, and intellectual horizons. They identified three barriers to CRP: educators’ lack of comfort teaching diverse music, the complexity of students’ cultural identities, and the challenges involved in practicing CRP equitably given constraints on instructional time. In one site, experiences with diverse music were peripheral to a Eurocentric core curriculum and did not promote connections between students’ musical and cultural identities. There, the discourses associated with Western classical singing defined students’ identities and alienated some students from the belief that they were musicians. Two sites incorporated a greater range of discourse norms associated with singing diverse musics and featured greater responsiveness toward the cultural backgrounds of particular students. In those sites, CRP fostered intersections between students’ musical and cultural identities by meaningfully bridging their musical experiences inside and outside of the classroom.

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