Cultural Responsiveness, Music and Math  
In This Issue
Teaching Resources
Culturally Relevant Curriculum
Cultural Responsiveness
Math and Music

Teaching Resources

Here is this month's site for useful resources:

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Thinking about how culture impacts student learning



"Culturally responsive pedagogy is validating, comprehensive, multidimensional, empowering, transformative and emancipatory"  

(Gay, 2000).




Why we must find ways to help students remain encouraged -- for the right reasons:

Repeated academic failure produces fear and shame in many students. In turn, fear produces anxiety and anxiety can manifest in convoluted thinking patterns that impedes learning.  In essence, a downward spiral of failure is disheartening. Students can lose hope and focus, as stressful emotions affect the prefrontal cortex, thus affecting working memory and fostering disengagement, this would include related issues in early childhood trauma, (Davidson, 2010).


NAESP offers a new process for school improvement


The steps to school improvement are now eased by using the successful improvement initiative that has been employed by CEI, NAESP's new partner.



CEI and NAESP work with more than 1400 trained and certified mentors and school improvement experts, so we have a pool of experts available to respond to a school's needs.  


Read more here. 




Professional Development



CEI sponsors dozens of training modules on a wide range of categories: Common Core, Intervention Methods, Leadership, Learning Strategies, Planning for Improvement, School Culture, Tools for Teaching.  


Sessions range from one hour to two days, and several of them can be arranged for remote delivery.


Go here   and select a category.



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CEI remains committed to providing high-quality research based services, to questioning current strategies, and contemplating the future of education, nationally and globally.

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Dear Educator, 

This is the second edition of Wow!Ed since the Center for Educational Improvement (CEI) became NAESP's research center. WOW!Ed is a monthly topical theme-based newsletter available to NAESP members and others as a free subscription service. If you missed the first NAESP edition-- the topic was on school improvement-- or you would like to see our archive of newsletters that have focused on topics such as the Common Core, arts integration, STEM, autism, student engagement, and technology, visit  CEI Archives. In coming months we will continue to review exemplary practices, often with links to schools and districts where these practices have been implemented with outstanding results.
This month, "cultural responsiveness" is the focus of WOW!Ed. What does a culturally responsive school do well? Why is this critical to student learning, school culture, and how the school serves the local community? What do teachers and principals do differently in these schools and what are the recommendations for the future? We haven't addressed all of these issues here, but we have highlighted some important considerations and provided some interesting food for thought -- think of this as the appetizer for an international smorgasbord. Happy dining! 

A Culturally Relevant Curriculum and the Inclusive Classroom   

By  Christine Mason and Carolyn Lieberg  

 "Culture is central to learning. It plays a role not only in communicating and receiving information, but also in shaping the thinking process of groups and individuals. A pedagogy that acknowledges, responds to, and celebrates fundamental cultures offers full, equitable access to education for students from all cultures." (Ladson-Billings, 1994).


What do culturally relevant curricula look like, and why are they important? George Gay (2000) connects such a curricula to student success by noting that the relevance gives all students "the opportunity to have a voice and be the expert." Such a design can be "validating, comprehensive, multidimensional, empowering, transformative and emancipatory" (pp 29-35). Consider a student who may have recently arrived to the U.S. from overseas. Perhaps from Cambodia, Ghana, or Pakistan. What will this student need to be successful? How important is it that teachers and schools help the student feel welcomed?  What can schools do to engage parents from diverse cultures?  Will taking steps towards improving the fit between the student's individual needs and interest and the school curriculum accelerate student learning?

Ghanian Symbols 

An exemplary culturally relevant curriculum was developed in the Los Angeles Unified School District. It is called the Academic English Mastery Program (AEMP) and is composed of six pedagogical methods. They are:

(a) develop teachers' knowledge, understanding, and positive attitude toward SELs and the nonstandard languages they use;

(b) include linguistic knowledge about nonstandard language into instruction;

(c) use second language acquisition methodologies to bolster the acquisition of school language and literacy;

(d) utilize a balanced approach to literacy acquisition that integrates phonics;

(e) design instruction around the learning styles and strengths of SELs; and

(f) infuse the history and culture of SELs in the curriculum (AEMP, 1999). 


Carole Cobb, Administrative Coordinator of the LAUSD AEMP, reports that schools' API increased from 21 to 78 points in one year when the program was used faithfully. She noted that the initial challenge was to undo the negative attitudes and perceptions that educators held about SELs; with that completed, the changes in teaching practices could go forward. The strategies that she suggested beginning with, since they do not need special training, are making cultural connections and creating cooperative/communal learning environments (Cobb, 2010)'

Honoring the backgrounds of all students is key to teaching and practicing respect in the classroom, streets and school community. In essence, embracing pieces from everyone's culture is the way to build compassionate bridges that lead to deeper understanding.


References and Suggested Resources

Aud, S., Haussar, W., Kena, G., Bianco, K., Frohlich, L.,(2011, May) The condition of education 2011. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics.

Aud, S., Fox, M.A. & KewalRamani, A. (2010). Status and trends in education of racial and ethnic groups (NCES-2010-015). Washington DC: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Educational Statistics.

Cobb, C.A. (2010, December) The truth about Standard English Learners. Leadscape.

Ford, D.,(2012) Culturally different students in special education: Looking back to move forward, TEACHING Exceptional Children. Council for Exceptional Children, Vol 78, #4, Summer 2012 pages 391-403

Gay, G. (2000). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research and practice. New York, NY: Teachers College Press.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1994). The Dreamkeepers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishing Co. 


Cultural Responsiveness: A School Shows Ways to Be Accountable 

By Carolyn Lieberg


Cordova Middle School in Phoenix, Arizona, offers an example of initiating culturally responsive programs at both the school-wide and student level to bring about more positive results in a school with plenty of challenges.


Located in an older, lower-income neighborhood of Phoenix, Cordova's 900 4th-8th graders are mostly Latino, with white, African-American, Native American and Asian/Pacific Islander students comprising less than 20%. Nearly half the student population is ELL. The school's concerns are multiple; yet Cordova has received recognition in Arizona and nationally for raising achievement, and for lowering behavioral and attendance problems. Since traditionally reactive punishments have been shown to exclude students from classrooms and increase target behaviors (Turnbull, et al., 2002), Cordova aimed to blend programs that would reduce behavior issues, thereby elevating both learning opportunities and the positive educational tone of the school.  


One of the keys to being culturally responsive at Cordova is the use of parent volunteers in every class. Cordova also operates a GEAR UP Mentoring program, which matches students with adults, many of whom had been students at the schools. After-school and Saturday classes are offered in English and in academic enrichment subjects. In addition, the school started a CHA CHA-RR program: Choose High Achievement, Citizenship, Homework, and Attendance - and Rights and Responsibilities. These touchstones help the educators attend to behavioral problems by using positive intervention. Cordova's programs aim to alleviate cultural conflicts that can occur when students' cultures are not integrated into the classrooms.


Members of PEER, an after-school program in Phoenix 

These students are part of the PEER program,  

an after-school program in Phoenix.   


New Directions is a proactive program at Cordova designed to reduce the number of culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) students who are  referred to special education. With New Directions, students with minor behavior difficulties are assigned to small social skills training/conflict resolution groups that are led by trained staff members (King, et al., p. 6).  


New Directions is based on the findings of David Osher, et al. (2004) as well as Skiba (2001), who has documented disproportionately higher rates of punishment of students who are CLD. At Cordova, since New Directions was implemented, the number of office referrals decreased from 5 to 1 per day.Shrinking the number of students exhibiting behavioral issues is a desirable decline for any Middle School.  


Achievement at Cordova has risen. In reading, the percent of improvement has climbed for every grade, every year, from 2007 to 2011. Arizona uses the AZ LEARNS Achievement exams and the state's department of education rated the school at "Performing Plus" for the 2009-2010 school year. That designation is third from the top on a scale of six descriptors (Great Schools, 2011).



Great Schools. (2011)  Cordoba Middle School-Test Scores & Stats.

King, K.A., Harris-Murri, N.J., Artiles, A.J. (2006) Proactive culturally responsive discipline. National Center for Culturally Responsive Educational Systems.

Osher, D., Cartledge, G., Oswald, D., Sutherland, K., Artiles, A. J., & Coutinho, M. (2004). Cultural and linguistic competency and disproportionate representation. In R. B. Rutherford, M. M. Quinn, & S. R. Mathur (Eds.), Handbook of research in emotional and behavioral disorders (pp. 54-77). New York: Guilford Press.

Skiba, R. (2001). When is disproportionality discrimination? The overrepresentation of Black students in school suspension. In W. Ayers, B. Dohrn, & R. Ayers (Eds.), Zero tolerance: Resisting the drive for punishment in schools (pp. 165-176). New York: New Press.

Turnbull, A., Edmonson, H., Griggs, P., Wickham, D., Sailor, W., Freeman, et al. (2002). A blueprint for school wide positive behavior support. Exceptional Children, 68, 377-402.


Math and Music: Engaging Students from Fractions to Algebra, with Simple  

Rhythm and Harmony

By Suzan Mullane   

In this age of school improvement and Common Core State Standards, schools might consider fresh new ways to teach pivotal concepts like fractions or graphing a Y intercept. Keeping students engaged, especially those who have struggled with math, while they learn new and challenging math units can prevent skill gaps that may later lead to more complex challenges. The question is, how?


Music and fractions? Absolutely! It is a fun metacognitive approach that can teach students the "why and how" of applied math through basic rhythm and harmonic devices. Even teachers with little to no musical training can join this "band wagon."

Using notes to represent fractional parts

Notes representing fractional portions


Composer Igor Stravinsky said: "Musical form is close to mathematics - not perhaps to mathematics itself, but certainly to something like mathematical thinking and relationship" (Math becomes music, 2011). When teaching students new mathematical concepts, schools can use music to make math come alive through wakening students' senses and their brains. Music and rhythm plays a strong role in every culture.


Allen Elementary School in San Bruno, California, is one school that is having remarkable results with the help of Academic Music, a program created by Susan Courey, working with Endre Balogh. Academic Music is a hands-on curriculum that uses music notation, clapping, drumming, and chanting to introduce 3rd graders to fractions. The program is composed of 12 lessons that can be taught by teachers with no musical training. Courey explains: " We have designed a method that uses gestures and symbols to help children understand parts of a whole and learn the academic language of math" (Getting in rhythm, 2012).


 A recent study of Academic Music's effectiveness found that students who participated in the six-week fraction curriculum, studying notes and meter, did twice as well as students who had not had the training. Student comments validated that music works: "So, like two-eighths plus six-eighths, you have eight-eighths. But, since it's in the music, it equals a whole note," explains 9-year old Donte Arevalo. Eric Bogren says: "It's really easy when it's music (fractions) but it's harder to do it while you're doing math" (Esch, 2012).  


Courey's program needs to be tested more widely by those not involved in the program's development in order to be fully endorsed by the Institute of Education Science (WWC Review, 2012). However, the findings of the study show that students were thinking critically and low-performing students were improving; such results are promising. 


Cross-cultural Links

Academic improvement is part of the vision of metacognitive teaching: that fine balance between excellent instruction, student application and student self-analysis to enhance memory. Metamemory is one component of the metacognitive process and musical mnemonic devices are useful cross-cultural strategies to help students grasp concepts and retain them to memory.


Review the links on Mexican folk songs and teaching three concepts in algebra.


Here's the teen-composed slope song on Y intercept on that can assist with a very analytical concept.


Warning- students may find themselves singing these catchy tunes over and over again.


Other links:


This link has four short raps that describe how decimals are linked to fractions. 

This teen-produced video explains how to use fractions for mathematical computations.    

Listen to NPR's story about Allen Elementary (above) and its use of music. 

On a reciprocal note, here is an article on how learning fractions
improves the ability to play music.
Finally -- remembering that music is joy, dancing, juggling, and delight -- where smiles in every country remind us that we should all be making more music -- check out "Where's Matt?"


Getting in rhythm helps children grasp fractions, study finds (2012, March 22) SF State News (University Communications) San Francisco State University.

Esch, C. (2012, April 7) Fractions curriculum strikes right note in California . KQED. San Francisco.

Math becomes music: What pi sounds like (2011, March 12). Good.

What Works Clearinghouse (2011). Academic music: Music instruction to engage third-grade students in learning basic fractions concepts" (2012) Institute of Education Sciences' What Works Clearinghouse.






Waivers: Now at 38


The U.S.Department of Education has approved flexibility on the No Child Left Behind Act for the District of Columbia and thirty-seven additional states: Arkansas, Arizona, Connecticut, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. The approvals bring the number to 37 of states opting for flexibility and the District of Columbia. These decisions relieve the governments from the mandated deadline in NCLB. The approval gives states permission to take steps on their own to raise standards, increase teacher effectiveness, and undertake other needed reforms. 


The department has made public the requests for flexibility, states' plans, peer reviewer notes, and the letters regarding the reviews and approvals.  

Creating International Harmony


I once taught in a middle school with students from over 80 countries, speaking over 50 languages. A mini-United Nations. Certainly a culturally rich school, even in the midst of poverty. I came to treasure the diversity, to marvel at the resourceful of the ESL teachers, and to rely on students to help each other with translations. A few years ago I found myself, this time as a consultant, in another economically poor, but culturally rich school. I remember a few classes where students entered into stimulating dialogues, comparing practices across cultures, examining history through different cultural lenses. To me this offered one of the most exciting opportunities to advance cultural understanding and increase cultural awareness, and I have come to consider some schools, in comparison, as culturally impoverished and to lament the lack of opportunity in some environments to give students first hand experiences in crossing cultural divides.



 Chris signature  

Christine Mason

Director, Center for Educational Improvement

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