The civil rights movement in elementary classrooms: examining teacher practices and beliefs

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University of Alabama Libraries

This qualitative, collective case study investigated Alabama fourth-grade teachers’ practices and beliefs associated with teaching the US Civil Rights Movement. The problem guiding this work was the absence of comprehensively investigated current practices occurring within social studies instruction in elementary classrooms. The purpose was to add to available empirical studies related to teaching the movement in Kindergarten-6 education in light of the major deficit existing in this area of research. The research questions investigated teachers’ described and demonstrated instructional practices, their rationale for using those instructional practices, and beliefs about their instructional practices. The research methodology used a constructivist grounded theory approach to analyze data from lesson plans, interviews, and observations while applying within-case and across-case analysis. Findings of this case study of three, fourth-grade teachers described instructional practices of overreliance on a central text, teaching language arts skills in social studies, facilitating class discussions, and presenting information through outside resources. Insufficient time for teaching social studies and perceived student deficits were teachers’ rationales for their instructional practices. Difficulty was noted in teachers’ abilities to describe central beliefs guiding their specific instructional practices. Teachers’ demonstrated practices differed from described practices and primarily involved teacher-centered instruction. Recommendations for future research related to teaching the US Civil Rights Movement in Kindergarten-6 social studies could include work with varied participant populations, experimental research involving student-entered and culturally responsive pedagogy, and studies using methodologies centered in Critical Race Theory.

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Elementary education, Social sciences education, Education