Case study of a creative writing program and the interaction of white instructors' and African American students' social and cultural backgrounds
This case study investigated the implementation of a non-scripted, creative writing program designed by two English Education instructors from a large university in the southeastern region of the United States with collaboration from the Screen Actors Guild from Los Angeles, California, and the National Council of Teachers (NCTE) of English Research Foundation. The main focus was to observe the implementation of the creative writing program, referred to as "We the Children: A Symphony of Lives," and the interaction of participants' social and cultural differences. Participants included ninth-grade African American students in an English Language Arts classroom directed by two white instructors and one white English teacher as they engaged in discussions, writing, and sharing of autobiographical writing. Data collection occurred during the spring semester of the 2007-2008 academic school year in a high school similar to many high schools across the United States struggling for higher achievement outcomes and dealing with a student population defined by factors such as segregation, high poverty, a high dropout rate, a low graduation rate, and low student achievement. The study analyzes the manner in which the creative writing program worked to achieve its goals and the resources used which included visiting experts, the instructors' expectations for students, and the incorporation of what was termed "culturally-central pedagogy" by the instructors. The reality of more and more white English educators teaching students from social and cultural backgrounds much different from their own is a challenge for the English classroom of the 21st century. In order to fulfill a need for examples of best practices for English teachers entering the classrooms, the study explored not only the specifics of the writing program but also the interplay of instructors' and students' social and cultural differences. Case study methodology guided the research, and a total of 14 weeks was spent in the field collecting data which included fieldnotes from observations, personal reflections, student artifacts, and interviews with students and the instructors. I used the constant-comparative method to generate frequent patterns and themes across the students, their teacher, and the instructors' interactions. I identified literacy events in which socio-cultural differences among the instructors and students occurred. However, the differences in the participants' backgrounds did not pose visible difficulties that could be linked to racial differences so much as the appearance of typical differences encountered by teachers and students from the same sociocultural backgrounds with regard to teacher expectations and student outcomes. With regard to the concept of culturally-relevant pedagogy, many instances were recorded when the instructional practices and instructional talk reflected tailored curricular selections for the dominant African American class population, but more research needs to be conducted on the successes of using these type of literary interventions compared to the standard curriculum of most ninth-grade English classrooms.