The Role of Principals and Teachers in the Engagement of

African American Students in Reading

A Dissertation
by
Porchaneeé A. White

Submitted to the Whitlowe R. Green College of Education
Prairie View A&M University
In partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of

Doctor of Philosophy
April 25, 2011

The Role of Principals and Teachers in the Engagement of
African American students in Reading

A Dissertation
By
Porchaneeé A. White

Approved for style and content by:
_________________________
Lisa D. Hobson, Ph.D.
(Dissertation Chair)
______________________
Clarissa Booker, Ed.D.
(Member)

________________________
William A. Kritsonis, Ph.D.
(Member)

______________________
Laxley Rodney, Ph.D.
(Member)

_________________________
David Monk,
(Outside Committee Member)

______________________
Lucian Yates III, Ph.D.
(Dean, W.R. Green College of Education)

_________________________
Willie F. Trotty, Ph.D.
(Dean, Graduate School)

April 25, 2011
Abstract
ii

The Role of Principals and Teachers in the Engagement of
African American Students in Reading

Porchaneeé A. White: B.S., Lamar University
M.Ed., Prairie View A & M University
Chair of Advisory Committee: Lisa Hobson Ph.D.
School personnel are confronted with the task of promoting reading in their
schools, which in turn contributes to success in other areas. African American students
are the subgroup that most often scores lowest on state mandated tests (NCES, 2009).
Their reading abilities and scores on tests, when compared to those of their
counterparts of other ethnicities, correspond with their attitudes and beliefs about
reading (NCES, 2009).
Relatively few studies have attempted to examine the reading engagement of
African American students, particularly elementary students (Wigfield, Guthrie,
Perencevich, Taboada, Klauda, Mcrae, & Barbosa, 2008). In this study, the researcher
examined classrooms to identify best engaging practices during reading instruction for
African American learners.
The following research questions guided this study:
1. Are there classroom indicators that demonstrate that students are engaged
during reading instruction?

2. Are there strategies that teachers use specifically to effectively engage
African American students during reading instruction?

iii

3. How do instructional leaders/principals view student engagement during
reading instruction?
4. How do instructional leaders monitor and evaluate student engagement
during reading instruction?
The researcher recognized the need for additional research and development of
strategies to support minority students, when afforded the opportunity to assist, and
serve as administrator, in the implementation of a pilot after school reading program
(PAISD, 2010). The researcher noticed the disparities in the reading abilities of
students, as well as the achievement gains which also helped to conceptualize the idea
of the proposal for a study of instructional leadership practices that facilitate reading
engagement.
The researcher proposed a conceptual framework that included instruction and
the role of the principal and teacher in student engagement and may be used at the
elementary level also, whereas most models are available for use with older students.
The need for an expanded model was based on the literature and attempted to convey
the relationship and importance of support from the principal, as the instructional leader,
and the teacher, as the instructor, in creating an engaging lesson and therefore an
engaged reader. The researcher’s model was built on Gambrell’s model and includes
the role of principal and teacher and shows how relationships also contribute to student
engagement.

iv

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Page
ABSTRACT…………………………………………………………………………………..….iii
DEDICATION……………………………………………………………………………………v
ACKNOWLEDGMENT…………………………………………………………………………vi
TABLE OF CONTENTS……………………………………………………………...............vii
CHAPTER 1: INTRODUCTION..……………………………………………….….........…...1
Background of Study..…….…………………………………………….………………....4
Statement of the Problem….……………………………………………………………....6
Purpose of Study..…………………………………………………...……….…….….......8
Research Questions…….………………………………………………….….……..........9
Rationale of Study.……………..………………………….…………………….…...…….9
Assumptions………...………………………………...……………………….…..……....10
Definition of Terms………………………....………………………..…….....……...…….12
Organization of Study……………….………………….……..…….……………….........13
CHAPTER: 2 REVIEW OF LITERATURE……………………………………...…………..14
Performance Data……………………………………………………………….……......14
Current Perspectives…………………………………………………………..……….....22
Engagement….……………………...……………………………..…….....………….....26
An Engaged Student……….…………………………………………….…….….......26
Significance of Engagement……………………………………………………...…...28
Strategies for Effective Student Engagement…………….……………………………………..31
Discussions………….………..……..…………………..……………………….......…...31
Classroom Management…………………………………...………………………….32
Positive Environment……………………………………………..…………….……...34
Teacher Efficacy………………………………………….…………………..….........38
Methods of Instruction……………….………..…………..…………………….…….….40
Role of Teachers………………………………..……...……………..……….…….......43
Role of Principals as Instructional Leaders…...………..….…………….….…….......43
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Conceptual Framework……….……………..……………………………….….…….…47
Gambrell’s Model……………………………………………………………………..47
Expansion of Gambrell’s Model……………………………………………………..50
CHAPTER 3: DESIGN OF THE STUDY……………………………………………………....51
Methods………………………………..…………………….………………………...….…51
Guiding Questions……………………………………………………………….....…........51
Participants……………………………..…………………………………………………….53
Instrumentation……………………………………………………………………….…......55
Procedures and Data Collection…………………………………………………….………55
CHAPTER 4: ANALYSIS OF FINDINGS………………………………………………………...57
Overview………………………………………………………………………………………..57
Socio-cultural context of school and community…….……………………………………..57
Beliefs About and Understandings of Engagement………………………………………..59
Beliefs About and Children and Learning……………………………………………………61
Practices that Affirm Engagement/Engage Students……………………………………..63
Practices that Prohibit Engagement and Disengage African American Students…….77
CHAPTER 5: SUMMARY, IMPLICATIONS, CONCLUSIONS……………………………….77
Summary of Findings………………………………………………….……………………..77
Implications for Research…………………………………………………………………...78
Implications for Practice………………………………………………………………..…...79
Conclusion…………………………………………………………………………………….80
Recommendations for Future Research…………………………………………………..81
REFERENCES…………………………………………………………………………………….82
APPENDIXES……………………………………………………………………………………..94
APPENDIX A………………………………...……………...……………………………….94
Teacher Interview Instrument # 1………………………………………………….94
APPENDIX B…………………………………………………………………………………99
Teacher Observation Instruments # 2 & 3………………………………………..99
APPENDIX C……………………………………………………………………………..…103
Principal/Instructional Leader Interview Instrument # 4………………………..103
APPENDIX D…………………………………………………………………………….………106
Principal/Instructional Leader Survey Instrument # 5…………………………..106
APPENDIX E……………………………………………………………………………………..110
Student Observation Instrument # 6…………………………………………….. 110
APPENDIX F……………………………………………………………………………………..118
Superintendent Approval Letter
APPENDIX G……………………………………………………………………………………..119
IRB approval………………………………………………………………………....119
APPENDIX H
Consent Form………………………………………………………………………..120

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Chapter 1
Introduction
Education is the impetus for change that provides the opportunity for participants
to be productive, skilled, knowledgeable, and contributing members of society.
Educational leaders have the task of providing educational consumers i.e. students the
resources and knowledge base to achieve academic excellence. An instructional leader
must promote strategic planning and comprehensible solutions to problems sometimes
in the face of resistance or reluctance. Educators must develop and employ innovative
and effective techniques to solve problems and to motivate and encourage all students
to achieve. American Educator Marva Collins said, “Don’t try to fix the students, fix
ourselves first. The good teacher makes the poor student good and the good student
superior. When our students fail, we as teachers too have failed” (1992, p. 9). This
challenge is all the more apropos given the 2010 Elementary Secondary Education Act
Reauthorization: A Blueprint for Reform.
Students who do not acquire life skills and academic competency can find
themselves at a serious disadvantage in social settings, as civil participants, and in the
working world. Reading is a necessary skill in all areas of study and there are a
plethora of definitions used to describe reading. Consequently, reading is often
considered as a separate entity apart from other subjects. Reading is a necessary and
vital “prior knowledge” component of any subject. Despite knowing this, approximately
eight million young people between fourth and twelfth grade struggle to read at grade
level (Biancarosa, & Snow, 2006).
What we know from an educational science point of view about the
correspondence between how well children learn to read, and the infrastructure of their
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cognitive abilities and their emotional development is that reading is a critical academic
task. It is critical, not only in the sense that language arts is a core component of the
curriculum for elementary school children, but also in the sense that every area of the
curriculum, starting in elementary school, depends on fluent reading (Whitehurst, 2009).
Therefore success in other academic subjects depends highly on the ability to read.
Another important component of literacy is the rate of reading fluency. If one
reads at an acceptable rate of fluency, more than likely he or she will become a
voracious reader due to his or her ability to read, and comprehend, vast quantities of
material within a shorter time span than most. Reading fluency is the rate of speed
that one reads. Fluency is important for the study of tests and reading large books or
amounts of materials for school, work, and community. Fluency grows as students
have opportunities, support, and encouragement to read text types about a large
range of topics (Cziko, 2000).
Although at first glance, reading may seem to be passive, solitary, and simple in
truth, it is active, populated by a rich mix of voices and views—those of the author, of
the reader, and of others the reader has heard, read about, and otherwise encountered
throughout life (Cziko, 2000). With this understanding in mind, it becomes essential for
instructional leaders to demonstrate that reading is not just a passive, solitary, and
simple act, but one that is active, engaging, and complex.
Most reading theorists agree that when readers encounter printed text, they
comprehend by retrieving prior experiences and concepts rooted in their culture and
their language. Reading is a personal experience that develops and expands one’s
knowledge and understanding of others. Those readers who develop a lifelong love of
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reading and read regularly are able to make connections to the text (Conners, 2000).
Despite what theorists have said about the nature of reading, many teachers and
assessment specialists in the field still measure comprehension by how well children
recall the details of what they have read. Many believe that children are proficient
readers because they can answer questions about the information included in the text.
However, test developers view comprehension in a different manner. In the past, wellpublicized changes in the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), Stanford
Achievement Tests (SAT-9), and numerous statewide assessments suggest a shift from
objective to more open-ended responses to text (Sarroub & Pearson, 1998). Objective
items measure recall and not thinking ability according to Allington (2001). Children’s
ability to think is measured more concisely by the use of open-ended items that allow
them to explain how they believe as they do about a particular question.
A combination of objective and open-ended questions is needed to accurately
test students to obtain information about whether they are successful readers. In years
past, students may have scored high in reading, but when the assessment focused on
critical reading and responding to the text, only a few children demonstrated even
minimal proficiency (Allington, 2001). Students who are able to think critically can
understand what they read and make connections between what they read and what
they already know and are more likely to be successful. However, students have
become adept at finding the information necessary to answer questions in the text,
recalling information, and answering questions (Allington, 2001).
Many students view reading as unnecessary, insignificant, boring, annoying, and
only initiate the act of reading when it is given as a school assignment. When children
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are asked to discuss the key issues or the significance of what they have read and to
support their responses with details and arguments, they are often unable to do so
(Foertsch, 1998). Many students are not able to identify or make connections with
characters or the story nor imagine themselves in a story or just imagine the story.
The term good reader is often defined differently by researchers and other
educators. Despite contention in many other areas of reading research and changes
throughout the years, when it comes to proficient readers, widespread agreement has
emerged and remains the same. The agreement comes in the form of a set of key
habits of proficient readers. This consensus is summarized as follows by Baumann &
Duffy (1997).
Good readers are . . . mentally engaged, motivated to read and to learn,
socially active around reading tasks, strategic in monitoring the interactive
processes that assist comprehension: setting goals that shape their reading
processes, monitoring their emerging understanding of a text, and coordinating a
variety of comprehension strategies to control the reading process (p.73).
Background of the Study
Research studies suggest that students, particularly African Americans, are not
mastering the skill of reading (NCES, 2009). Some educators and researchers conduct
studies for the purpose of discovering the reasons why students are not able to
successfully read and how best to teach them reading. Nevertheless, some classroom
teachers have not shown progress in educating students while billions of dollars have
been spent on K-12 education (Spellings, 2005).

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If what teachers have done in the past does not work effectively with the current
generation of students, educators should evaluate strategies for improvement and/or
make changes in instructional methods and materials (Whitney, 2009). If students are
not afforded a proper education, opportunities beyond the classroom walls will be
severely limited. Given the poverty and culturally unresponsive curriculum in some
areas, having adequate and exceptional reading skills is very important for African
American students (Hanley, 1999).
During a recent school year, the researcher saw the need for additional research
and development of strategies to assist minority students when she helped to
implement a pilot after school reading intervention program. The researcher served as
the program administrator of the Success and Promise Reading Academy, for a school
district in Southeast Texas (Reading Academy, 2010). One of the program goals was to
provide additional support and instruction for thirty-six fourth and fifth grade students
who were reading below grade level, did not pass the state mandated reading exam,
and lacked motivation to read. Another goal was to develop participants’ desire to
acquire more knowledge through high interest enrichment activities and to make text to
life connections through real-world applications.
Additionally, the Success and Promise Reading Academy was created to
research the impact of a non-traditional academic setting on the students’ level of
engagement. Some of the students had been retained and lacked motivation to read or
receive instruction in reading. All students who were enrolled received intensive literacy
instruction and were engaged in hands-on active learning in a small group setting.

xi

Enrichment activities were implemented to foster student interest in reading, learning,
and high achievement.
Students who were enrolled in the Reading Academy program gave positive
comments regarding the program’s effectiveness. One student said, “I love the
activities and the store. We don’t do a lot of worksheets. Here we learn differently.”
Another student stated, “My teacher doesn’t say do this or do that. She gives us an
example.” A third student said, “I learn more because I didn’t have good grades in
reading but now I have an A in reading and I love going to the library at the Reading
Academy.” Currently, there is a waiting list of students who are eager to enroll in the
program (Reading Academy, 2010). Results showed that twenty of the thirty-six
students, who previously did not master the state mandated test, passed and sixteen
made significant gains. The role of program administrator and recognizing the
disparities in the reading abilities of students, as well as the achievement gains I noted
when students were exposed to quality learning experiences, helped to lead me to
conceptualize the proposal for a study of instructional leadership and teacher practices
that facilitate reading engagement.
Statement of the Problem
Interest in reading is declining significantly and students often complain about the
boredom associated with reading. Technology often makes it difficult for educators and
parents to motivate students to read. For example, social networking websites are
causing frightening changes in the brains of young users. Derbyshire (2009) asserted
that social networking programs such as Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Bebo and other
forms of technology may shorten attention spans. Thus, parents and teachers complain
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that many youngsters lack the ability to communicate or concentrate beyond digital and
electronic forms of technology which lead to decreasing interest and engagement in
reading. Other factors that limit engagement include family instability, ignorance, and
overindulgence in TV, video games, and music. Without guidance, these actions usually
manifest when students advance to the second, third and fourth grades, yet read a
grade level or two behind (Abdul-Alim, 2007).
While communication by way of technology is becoming increasingly popular, a
growing number of psychologists and neuroscientists believe this may be doing more
harm than good. Derbyshire (2009) noted neuroscience beliefs state repeated
exposure to technologies could rewire and retrain brains to function at the level of young
children. Repeated usage of computer games, instant messaging, chat rooms, and
social networking sites could promote a whole generation of learners with poor attention
spans. These activities, used frequently by the current generation of k-12 students,
require much more movement and hands-on applications than does reading a book or
the traditional method of teaching reading.
Given the amount of literature on instruction, perhaps educators should look at
the method in which reading instruction is presented and ensure that lessons are first
taught in an engaging manner that keeps students of this generation interested and
involved. School personnel are confronted with the task of promoting reading in their
schools, which in turn contributes to success in other subject areas and on state
mandated tests. African American students are of particular concern. They are the
subgroup that most often score lowest on state mandated tests (NCES, 2009). Their
reading abilities and scores on tests, when compared to those of their counterparts, of
xiii

other ethnicities, correspond with their attitudes and beliefs about reading (NCES,
2009).
At a time when fewer than two in ten eighth graders are on target to be ready for
college-level coursework by the time they graduate from high school, it is crucial that
educators intervene in the upper elementary grades and middle school to ensure that
students enter high school ready to benefit from high school coursework (ACT, 2008).
Studies have further shown that African American students lag behind other subgroups
in reading skills, the frequency that they choose to read, rate of fluency, and also results
on reading assessments (NCES, 2009). Motivating African American students to read is
of paramount importance.
Relatively few studies have attempted to examine increasing reading engagement
of elementary students (Wigfield, Guthrie, Perencevich, Taboada, Klauda, Mcrae, &
Barbosa, 2008). In this study, I examined schools to identify best instructional practices
for African American learners to become successfully engaged during reading
instruction. Therefore, the purpose of this ethnographic case study was to examine how
educational leaders and teachers in an urban school district in Southeast Texas operate
in schools to engage students in reading instruction.
Purpose of the Study
The purpose of this ethnographic case study was to examine how principals and
teachers in an urban school district located in the southeastern area of Texas, operate
in elementary schools to engage African American students in reading instruction.

Research Questions
xiv

The following questions guided this study:
1. Are there classroom indicators that demonstrate that students are engaged
during reading instruction?
2. Are there strategies that teachers use to effectively engage African American
students during reading instruction?
3. How do instructional leaders view student engagement?
4. How do instructional leaders monitor and evaluate student engagement
during reading instruction?
Rationale for the Research Study
The rationale for this study was the need to examine the role of principal and
teacher and explore instructional indicators that engage African American students
during reading. Given the paucity of literature on reading engagement, research is
needed that explores the techniques, best instructional practices, and behaviors that are
common to classrooms, schools, principals as instructional leaders, and teachers who
use student engagement as an effective instructional method.
I desired to conduct this study to determine effective strategies and practices to
be implemented by teachers with the goal in mind of improving, not only reading
instruction, but also the reading attitudes and behavior of African American students.
Furthermore, this study may serve as a guide to educational leaders as they support
teachers in the quest to improve instructional practices, to discover and use best
practices while increasing positive reading behavior and attitudes of African American
students, thus increasing the knowledge of the importance of education in all subject
areas.
xv

Assumptions
Creswell (2008) notes researchers must be reflexive about the work they do,
adding and identifying any biases or positions contributing to the design and
implementation of the research. In this section, I addressed the reflexive process by
identifying assumptions. The assumptions, which are embedded in the approach I used
to design my research study, stem from the following perspectives.
My family has a legacy of involvement in education dating back to at least the
1800’s. My relatives and I were reared understanding the importance of knowledge,
education, and reading. For example, Warren Hooks, my white maternal great, great,
great, great, great grandfather was a pioneer farmer, planter, and slave owner. He
came from Alabama in 1818 to an area of Texas now known as the town of Hooks which
was named in honor of him. Warren brought with him a son, named Forrest, whose
mother was Native American. Forrest was my great great great great grandfather.
Warren deeded two acres of land to Forrest to be used for a church, school, and
cemetery for Black residents which is now known as the Red Bank community (Hooks,
1984). In 2003, Red Bank Baptist Church, founded by Rev. Forrest Hooks, son of
Warren Hooks who is the founder of the town of Hooks, celebrated its 137th year
anniversary referenced in the Texarkana Gazette (Morrow, 2003).
Warren taught Forrest to read, write, and count. In 1866, Forrest organized
and taught the first School for African Americans in Bowie County, Texas. His life was
threatened for teaching blacks to read (Hooks, 1984). As a result of this legacy of the
fierce importance of reading, and consistently hearing stories of family members’
desires and enthusiasm for reading, l fervently began to pursue this study. Students
xvi

need to understand and take advantage of the opportunity to read and the privileges
afforded them that were unavailable for Blacks years ago. A voracious appetite for
reading, which began at an early age, is one that I and other educators should seek to
pass on, specifically to students. Once while teaching fourth grade students, I
discovered that discussing novels, current events, and other reading materials, helped
students to see that reading is more than mere words on pages. I also discovered that
hearing the enthusiasm in my voice, as I discussed my favorite books, was contagious.
The discussions and lessons that ensued were engaging by far, and produced much
critical thinking on the part of the students.
One of the goals of education should be to make a man thirst for knowledge.
By reading, one can acquire a thirst for knowledge. A teacher should strive to keep a
student engaged and a principal should monitor and support the teacher to ensure that
engagement occurs. If this is done, students will, more than likely, want to participate
and learn.
Given my family legacy and personal beliefs about reading, I espoused the
following assumptions. These assumptions undergirded the design of my study:
1. Interest in reading, among African American students, will most likely occur,
as a result of being taught by a teacher who engages students during
reading instruction, has a positive attitude towards reading, and positive
rapport with students.

2. African American students, on average, spend less time reading than
students of other ethnicities, but need reading as an important life skill.
xvii

3. Engagement, among African American students, occurs in schools and
classrooms where the principal is supportive and understanding of the need
to engage students.
4. In addition, the principal consistently monitors the classrooms to ensure
that student engagement, among African American students, is taking place
and provides effective instructional and literacy leadership.
Definition of Terms
The terms listed below were used throughout the study.
African American – pertaining to or characteristic of Americans of African ancestry; AfroAmerican Culture; many black people preferred to be called African-American or AfroAmerican. African Americans have origins in any of the Black racial groups of Africa
(Dictionary, 2003).
Best Practice - A best practice is a technique or methodology that, through experience
and research, has proven to reliably lead to a desired result. A commitment to using
best practices is a commitment to using all the knowledge and technology at one’s
disposal to ensure success (IBM, 2007).
Classroom Management - Classroom management is defined as the management of
content which includes space, materials, and lessons. It also includes the management
of student conduct, discipline problems, and covenant which is the social dynamics and
interpersonal relationships of those in the classroom (Froyen & Iverson, 1999).
Cooperative Learning – Cooperative learning is an approach to organizing classroom
activities into academic and social learning experiences. Students must work in groups

xviii

to complete tasks collectively. Everyone succeeds when the group succeeds
(Dictionary, 2010).
Cultural Relevancy - Culturally relevant teaching essentially means that teachers create
a bridge between students’ home and school lives, while still meeting the expectations
of the district and state curricular requirements. Culturally relevant teaching utilizes the
backgrounds, knowledge, and experiences of the students to enhance the teacher’s
lessons and methodology (Coffey, 2008).
Engagement - A substantially engaged student is one who not only attends to the builtin procedures of instruction but also interacts with the content of the lesson in a deep
and thoughtful manner. Engagement is the act of being engaged; of occupying the
attention or efforts of a person or persons; of attracting and holding fast; of pleasing; of
attaching or securing; of entangling or involving, of occupying; to become involved
(McLaughlin, McGrath, Burian-Fitzgerald, Lanahan, Scotchmer, Enyeart, and Salganik,
2005).
Organization of the Study
This study consisted of three chapters. In chapter one, I included the
introduction, background of the study, statement of the problem, purpose of the study,
research questions, rationale of the study, assumptions, and the definition of terms. In
chapter two I reviewed related literature and addressed the methodology in chapter
three. In chapter four I reported the findings and in chapter five I included the summary,
implications, conclusion, and recommendations.

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Chapter II
Review of Literature
Educational institutions, in which African Americans make up a large percentage
of the population, are often in crisis and the subject of much debate. The debate that
most often ensues is how best to solve the problem of effectively educating all African
American Students (Hammond, Hoover & McPhail, 2005). When a school fails to solve
a particular problem or educate students effectively, the school is said to have received
a failing grade. The perception that African American students are not interested in
learning threatens the very efficacy of the role of the classroom teacher. Increasingly
heard is the mantra that African American students have no interest in education, much
less reading (Hammond, Hoover & McPhail, 2005). It must be noted that there is a
paucity of literature on African American students and engagement, particularly in
reading at the elementary school level.
Data on the performance of African American students, current perspectives on
education, recognizing student engagement, the significance of engagement, strategies
for effective engaging instruction, and the role of the principal and teacher, are important
components of the literature review of this study.
Performance Data
Over the past four decades, the cost of running K-12 schools has more than
doubled per student but achievement has not improved for United States students while
other countries’ students have raced ahead (Gates, 2011). U.S. Secretary of Education
Arne Duncan issued a statement in The Nation's Report Card: Reading 2009, National
Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) for grades 4 and 8. He asserted the
xx

achievement of American students isn’t growing fast enough (Duncan, 2010). In spite of
all of the millions of dollars that have been poured into districts for new reading
programs since 1998, reading scores for some Texas districts (the state of the study)
have not improved (Ellis, 2009). The Nation’s Report Card results are taken from a
national representative sample of more than 178,000 fourth-graders and 160,000
eighth-graders who participated in the 2009 National Assessment of Educational
Progress (NAEP) in reading. At each grade, students respond to questions designed to
measure reading comprehension across two types of texts, literary and informational,
(NCES, 2009).
The 2009 Nation’s Reading Report Card showed that there has been no
significant change in African American fourth grade reading scores since 2007. It also
showed that there is no significant change in the gap between whites and blacks in
fourth and eighth grades. About two-thirds, 67 percent, of fourth-graders performed at
or above the Basic level in 2009, and one-third, which is 33 percent, perform at or
above Proficient. The percentages did not significantly change from 2007. Eight
percent of fourth-graders performed at the Advanced level, which is the same as in
2007 (NCES, 2009).
Reading levels showed that at the fourth grade level in 2007, 54 percent of black
children were below the basic level compared to only 22 percent of white children.
Fourth grade also showed that 35 percent of whites were at the basic level compared to
32 percent of black students. The gap at above proficiency level in reading is
astounding as it shows that white students were at 43 percent and blacks at only 14
percent (Tembo, 2011). According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the
xxi

scale score for Texas’ African American fourth graders was 25 points lower than that for
whites and 29 points less than that of Asians/Pacific Islanders on The Nation’s 2009
Report Card (NCES, 2009). Reasons cited for this gap in achievement include troubling
neighborhood social obstacles such as poverty, crime, children being raised by single
and or young mothers, gang violence, bullying, guns and drugs, and juvenile
delinquency which may not attract the best teachers (Tembo, 2011).
The proficient level is the goal for student performance as set by the National
Assessment Governing Board. At grade four in 1992, only 6 percent of students scored
at the advanced level, 22 percent scored at the proficient level, 34 percent at the basic
level, and 38 percent below basic. On the other hand, on the 2009 Nation’s Report
Card, 8 percent scored at the advanced level, 25 percent at the proficient level, 34
percent again scored at the basic level, and 33 percent below basic (NCES, 2009).
Five years into the 21st century, approximately 40 percent of American children
were not proficient readers i.e. they were unable to read fluently, comprehend, and
retain knowledge. In Texas that figure was an abysmal 77 percent. Findings in 2009
findings indicated that there was little or no significant change nationally (NCES, 2009).
Findings from the Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) are
released by the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics
(NCES). This report compares findings about U.S. fourth-grade reading literacy with
those from the 34 other countries that participated in PIRLS (United States Department
of Education, 2003). According to Grover "Russ" Whitehurst, former director of the U.S.
Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences in the United States, there
are significant gaps in the reading achievement between ethnicities, students in schools
xxii

where the demographics show high poverty and other public schools, and also between
girls and boys (Whitehurst, 2009).
There were several key findings from this study. Fourth-graders in U.S. public
schools with the highest poverty levels scored lower on reading literacy compared to
their counterparts in schools with lower poverty levels. Almost all (95 percent) of U.S.
fourth-graders attend schools with a curricular emphasis on reading. The percentage of
fourth-graders who attend schools with a curricular emphasis on reading is greater than
the international average of 78 percent. Sixty-five percent of U.S. fourth-graders
receive more than six hours of reading instruction per week, a higher percentage than
the international average of 28 percent (Whitehurst, 2009).
According to this study, two key points are critical and should be considered for
further study. (a) America is or is not a nation of readers. And (b) Americans read or do
not read daily and consistently. A report released by the National Endowment for the
Arts (NEA) in November 2007 would suggest most of us probably do not read. As
reported in an NEA (2007) study which gathers data from more than forty sources
studying reading habits and related reading testing, the number of people reading in the
United States has fallen steadily over the past twenty years. The study reported that,
on average, the typical 15 – 24 year old watches at least two hours of television per day,
while spending about seven minutes per day reading for leisure. Only about a third of
thirteen year olds read daily, and the percentage of non-readers among seventeen year
olds has doubled since 1984. Some experts gauged the literary reading rate in 2002
was ~47% of the public (NCES, 2009).

Research showed that the indicator of student

success on college entrance exams is whether they are avid readers. If a teacher wants
xxiii

students to succeed, he or she must provide a rigorous, relevant reading classroom and
allow students to have a choice about what they want to read and encourage them to
read while thinking critically (Vanderjagt, 2011).
Reading patterns tend to follow education and economic status. An earlier NEA
report suggested that only 14% of American adults with grade school educations read
literature, while 74% of those with graduate school experience do. There have long
been recognizable correlations between reading and literacy rates and their impact on
educational and financial success (Leichliter, 2010). Therefore, our economy could be
at risk if we do not produce educated readers who are logical thinkers and problem
solvers.
The performance statistics for African American students in public schools are
alarming. Their suspension rates are twice that of other students, and 20 percent are
likely to drop out of school before graduation (Hanley, 1999). Educational researchers
repeatedly compare African American children to students of other ethnicities and find
that they score lower on achievement and IQ tests, creativity, writing, and reading
(Hanley, 1999). Often ignored is that lessons should teach to the knowledge base of
the learner. The deficiency possibly lies in the system that refuses to adapt to the
differences among students. Culturally relevant teaching supports and acknowledges
the culture of the learner. Students are not empowered to learn because the negative
self-image that often accompanies the content of the curriculum, either by teaching or
by not recognizing it at all, is eliminated (Hanley, 1999).
A 2006 study found that almost one-third of public high school students dropped
out in America and nearly one-half of all African Americans failed to graduate from
xxiv

public high school with their class. The findings were staggering. The report found that
60% of Urban School Children did not graduate from high school and the inability to
read accurately is a common factor of those who do not graduate from High school.
Out of all Americans who do read, 40% do so at only a 4 th grade level. In addition, out
of all Americans over 65 years old who read, 50% are functionally illiterate. The report
also found that the United States is 49th in the world in literacy (Ventura, 2007). NAEP
scores in reading have not improved over 30 years, despite billions of dollars spent in K12 education. Only 30% of 4th graders are proficient readers. The 2010 Census
reported 308,745,538 residents in the United States. People under the age of 20 make
up 27.3 5 of the population. Out of all US adults, 42 million are functionally literate,
meaning they can't read the front page of the newspaper. Dissatisfaction with public
school bureaucracy, teacher shortages, teachers teaching out of their fields and other
factors contribute to the failure of public education (Bridgeland, Dilulio, Burke Morison,
2006).
Suspension refers to an out-of-school suspension, during which a student is
excluded from school for disciplinary reasons for one day or longer and does not include
students who served their suspension in the school. In 2006, larger percentages of
African American students were suspended and expelled from school than their White,
Asian/Pacific Islander, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaskan Native peers. Across all
years in previous studies, a 2009 study found that greater percentages of African
American students were suspended and expelled from school than their White,
Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, and American Indian/Alaskan Native peers. For
example, in 2006, about 15 percent of African American students were suspended,
xxv

compared with 8 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native students, 7 percent of
Hispanic students, 5 percent of White students, and 3 percent of Asian/Pacific Islander
students. Student expulsion rates in 2006 show that about 0.5 percent of Blacks were
expelled from school, compared with 0.3 percent of American Indian/Alaska Native
students, 0.2 percent of Hispanic students, 0.1 percent of White students, and 0.1
percent of Asian/Pacific Islander students (NCES, 2009).
After climbing in most of the 20th century and peaking in the late 1960's, the
national graduation rate has steadily declined, settling around 70 percent in the last few
years. For black students, the numbers are worse. Data from 2002 indicates that only
about 55 percent of African American students graduate (Greene & Winters, 2006).
African American students make up only about 17 percent of the public school
population but 41 percent of the special-education population (Ladson-Billings, 2009).
African American students continue to score among the lowest of all racial
groups on standardized K-12 and college entrance exams. Standardized test scores are
used to determine which students are accepted into gifted programs, special education
and remedial programs, and colleges and or universities. Unless a change takes place
African American students may be excluded from educational programs that could help
them reach their potential (Jairrels, 2010).
There are several models that exist pertaining to cultural relevancy but there is a
paucity of literature related to student engagement. One such model is the cultural
deficit model. The philosophy behind the cultural deficit model resembles that of the
compensatory educational models of the 1960s and 1970s in that the children's

xxvi

academic problems are seen to be rooted in the pathology of their homes, communities,
and cultures.
The cultural relevancy model uses student culture in order to maintain and
transcend the negative effects of the dominant culture as well as the ignoring of the
culture by the mainstream. The aim is to assist in the development of a culturally
relevant personality that allows African American students to choose academic
excellence yet still identify with African American culture. It empowers students by using
cultural references to impart knowledge. (Ladson-Billings, 2009). Teacher perceptions
of students have a significant impact on student learning. Negative perceptions of
African American students can lead to negative associations with African American
culture and low expectations; teachers may only value students that demonstrate
mainstream behavior. A culturally relevant teacher believes that all students can
succeed, is a part of the learning community, and helps students make connections
between the subject matter and their world (Ladson-Bilings, 2009).
A teacher who is an Assimilationist sees herself as an individual who may or may
not be a part of the community. This type of teacher believes failure is inevitable for
some students. The teacher is detached from students and expects all students to have
prior knowledge (Ladson-Billings, 2009),
One of the most researched areas on student success, which may assist in the
instruction of African American students and student engagement is the "field
independence" (FI) or "field dependence" (FD) learning style. FI/FD refers to how
people perceive and memorize information. The FI learner excels in classroom

xxvii

learning. The FD learner seems to achieve a higher degree of success in everyday
language situations beyond the classroom (Wys, 2002).
Current Perspectives
The original purpose of education included literacy, citizenship, and external
development. Literacy originally meant teaching reading, but later expanded to include
writing and math (Kritsonis, 2002). The original definition of literacy, teaching reading, is
now again the current definition. Schools have changed immensely from the days when
the original purpose of education was defined. Black Americans have always used
education as the chief weapon in their struggle for equal access to American society
and civil rights (Cosby & Poussaint, 2007).
African American students often experience a low-level, watered-down
curriculum, negative perceptions about their ability, and low expectations regarding their
achievement (Russel, 2005). Furthermore, many times teachers are not able to reach
African American students. In other words, they are not able to ensure that they learn
and retain the information presented by the classroom teacher.
Gloria Ladson-Billings (2009) believes that there are teachers who are capable of
teaching African American students to high levels of proficiency. Scholarly literature
positions African American students as problems and seeks to determine what is wrong
with their education, their families, their culture, and their minds. It is important to
examine the way instruction is presently being presented to ascertain why African
American students are lagging behind other ethnicities, particularly in reading. One
reason that is often overlooked is negative peer influence. Bill Cosby has been
criticized for saying that African American students who want to learn and who make
xxviii

good grades are often ostracized or intimidated by their peers for their efforts and great
achievement (Tembo, 2011).
During the many centuries of oppression, unlike many other ethnic groups,
African Americans were prevented from developing any strong meaningful culture of
reading or educational excellence. Despite this oppression and exclusion, many African
Americans such as Lucy Simms and Booker T. Washington were determined to
persevere and therefore were educated. No one today likely questions why African
American students lag behind other ethnicities in view of the fact that this racial group
has had a troubled history of oppression in every facet of life including education
(Tembo, 2011).
According to the 2007 U.S. Education Department Nationwide Report, 73% of
12th grade students achieved a basic reading score in 2005, down from 80% in 1992, as
the NAEP sampling test records, which the government calls the Nation's Report Card
(Ellis, 2009). One assertion that is often raised is the use of invalid, ineffectively,
inaccurately, and costly developed tests from the companies who publish them.
Businesses are capitalizing on educational institutions that are in need of materials
created to prepare students for standardized and state mandated tests. These
companies create programs, books, guides, professional development workshops, and
lessons to assist educational institutions and instructional leaders with the task of
ensuring that their students meet the standards.
Surprising to some is the fact that the number of jail cells that a prison facility will
build in the future is based on how many children are not reading on grade level by third
grade (Whitehurst, 2009). With this in mind, one must search for answers to the
xxix

problem of students not being able to read successfully. The African American
population is the group that is of grave concern. The Texas Education Agency’s
Academic Excellence Indicator System of 2009 reports that African Americans score
lower than any other subgroup in reading (TEA, 2009).
The percentage of fourth grade students who met Texas’ state expectations in
2009 was 86%. The percentage of African American students who met expectations
was 79%, 3 percentage points less than Hispanics and 10 percentage points less than
Whites and below the state average. In fifth grade, 85% of students met state
expectations. The percentage of African American students who met expectations was
79%, the same percentage as Hispanics and 14 percentage points less than Whites
(Texas Education Agency, 2009). Students, specifically African Americans, still cannot
read at acceptable rates (NCES, 2009).
The Nation’s Report Card shows that 68% of the nation’s 4 th graders are reading
below proficiency level and that 64% of 12 th graders never make it to the proficiency
level. Statistics for African American students are even more disturbing. The report
shows that 88% of 4th graders and 84% of 12th grade students are below the proficient
level in reading. This study also finds that 60% of 4 th grade students and 46% of 12th
grade students are below the basic level (Ellis, 2009). Someone who is reading at the
basic level can understand the words, can answer simple questions about the factual
information presented in the written text, and can read with enough fluency to get
through the material on time and answer questions. Students who are performing at the
proficient level can go beyond that to make reasonable inferences from the material
they read (Whitehurst, 2009). On average, African American 12 th graders read at the
xxx

same level as White 8th graders. Many studies have found that dropping out of high
school and prison incarceration begins with ongoing difficulties in reading and writing
(Jairrels, 2010).
Although two-thirds of high-growth, high-wage jobs requires a college degree,
only one-third of Americans have one. Also, while 90% of the fastest-growing jobs in
the economy will require higher education, more than 60% of Americans ages 25-64
have postsecondary education credentials. As a result, a U.S. worker with only a high
school diploma makes almost 40% less than one with a bachelor’s degree (Ellis, 2009).
Changes must be made in instruction to ensure that high-school graduates are
better prepared for higher education or jobs. Nevertheless, these changes must be
made before students enter high school. Forty percent of students at four-year
institutions and 63% at two-year colleges require remedial education, according to a
study cited in an educational report (Thompson & Barnes, 2006). Millions of African
American students have achieved at the highest levels in all occupations and
professions. Reading and writing opened doors for them, long shut, as they developed a
love for learning that was passed on to others (Cosby & Poussaint).
Over 40 percent of high school graduates are not sufficiently prepared for jobs
after high school. A detailed survey of 431 human resource professionals conducted by
members of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) indicated a skills
shortage which could impact the country’s economic competitiveness (Wise, 2006).
Table 1 shows that employer respondents report that new employees with a high school
diploma are deficient in their overall preparation for entry-level jobs. Almost no
employers rate their new employees’ preparation as excellent.
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Table 1: Skill & Successful Job Performance
Subject Area

Rating by Employers
Deficient

Adequate Excellent

“Very important” for
successful job
performance

Writing in English

72.0%

27.1%

0.8%

49.4%

Mathematics
Reading Comprehension

53.5%

45.1%

1.5%

38.4%

58.2%

3.4%

30.4%
62.5%

(Wise, 2006)
The table shows that most employees are adequate at best in the area of reading
comprehension which was rated as most important for successful job performance by
62.5% of employers (Wise, 2006). This study indicates that reading is crucial to
successful job performance according to employers. It is rated as the subject area that
is vitally important to perform job duties successfully. The increasing concerns over how
much students are learning are fueled by a U.S. Labor Department report saying that
over the next decade, more than 87 percent of new high-wage jobs will require more
than a high-school diploma (Ellis, 2009).
Engagement
An Engaged Student
A substantially engaged student is one who not only attends to the built-in
procedures of instruction, but also interacts with the content of the lesson in a deep and
thoughtful manner. Studies showed that reading engagement and comprehension are
related (Wigfield, Guthrie, Barbosa, et. al., 2008). A highly engaged reader uses
comprehension strategies such as questioning and summarizing to connect meaning
xxxii

with the text. A highly engaged reader is also motivated to read and reads frequently
and deeply (Wigfield, Guthrie, Barbosa, et. al., 2008). Engagement is the act of being
engaged; of occupying the attention or efforts of a person or persons; of attracting and
holding fast; of pleasing; of attaching or securing; of entangling or involving, of
occupying oneself; becoming involved (McLaughlin, et al., 2005). Collins (1992, p. 20)
stated, “We have created an attitude that puts joy back into learning, that creates
satisfaction at doing something correctly.”
Students are engaged when they are involved in their work, persist despite
challenges and obstacles, and take visible delight in accomplishing their work. Student
engagement also refers to a student's willingness, need, desire and compulsion to
participate in, and be successful in, the learning process, promoting higher level thinking
for enduring understanding. A defining characteristic of successful classrooms is high
student engagement (Dolezal, Welsh, Pressley, & Vincent, 2003).
An engaged reader is therefore thoroughly immersed in the reading task at hand.
He or she is completely involved and is able to concentrate intently. Engaged readers
also will read not just because the reading has been assigned, but for their own
personal purposes as well. Shaywitz (2003) examines the relationship between the
numbers of words read by students to reading test scores. She found that students,
who read approximately 20 minutes a day, read about 1.8 million words per year and
score in the 90th to 100th percentile on reading tests. Students who read on average
about 4 minutes a day, read about 282,000 words per year and score in the 50 th
percentile on reading tests and students who read about 1 minute a day, read about
8,000 words per year and score in the 10 th percentile on reading tests (Shaywitz, 2003).
xxxiii

Jairrels (2010) discovered a simple remedy that was enjoyed by families long
before television and the Internet began to monopolize students’ time. She believes
that African American students must increase the time they spend reading for pleasure.
A significant body of research found that there is a difference between the reading
habits of African American students and students of other ethnicities. Jairrels (2010)
found that some African American students have not engaged in long-term pleasure
reading since birth, that is since their parent read to them when they were infants.
According to the federal government, 68 percent of White children read every day
compared with 50 percent of African American children. Some African American
parents underestimate the amount of reading time that is needed for children to be
successful and do not understand or know that test scores can be improved by the
simple act of reading (Jairrels, 2010).
Significance of Engagement
The definition of student engagement suggests that the student is motivated and
wants to learn the material that is presented. Therefore, it is critical that educators find
the solution to the problem of keeping African American students engaged. It is
possible that the presentation of the subject manner would be of interest to any student
when presented in an engaging manner. Studies showed that engaged students are
more successful in school than non-engaged students (Wang & Holcombe, 2010).
Currently, around 70 percent of fourth-graders are expected to graduate on time.
"We know that the success of every American will be tied more closely than ever before
to the level of education they achieve," stated President Obama. The president
announced that $900 million in government grants will be distributed to help transform
xxxiv

underperforming schools. President Obama’s Administration has committed $3.5 billion
to fund transformational changes in America’s persistently low-performing schools.
President Obama also emphasized the importance of investing in dropout prevention
and recovery strategies to help make learning more engaging and relevant for students
(Obama, 2010).
On a 2007-2008 survey of student engagement of those students who claimed
they have been bored in class, more than four out of five state that a reason for their
boredom as material is not interesting (83% in 2007, 82% in 2008) and about two out of
five students claimed, that the lack of relevance of the material (41% in each year)
creates boredom. The level of difficulty of the work is a source of boredom for about
one-third of students (33% in 2007, 32% in 2008) and students are also bored because
the work is not challenging enough, while just over one-fourth of the respondents are
bored because the work is too difficult (27% in each year). Interaction during classroom
instruction plays a role in students’ boredom as well: more than one-third (35% in each
year) are bored due to not having any interaction with the teacher (Yazzie-Mintz, 2008).
Improving the quality of instruction in a classroom is vitally important (Leslie and
Caldwell, 2008) if we are to consistently and significantly improve literacy for all
students. The consequences for children who do not learn to read in the early grades
are well documented. It has been reported that 88% of the children who score in the
lowest quartile in reading comprehension at the end of first grade remain below the 50
percentile at the end of fourth grade (Allen and Leslie, 1999).
The President recognizes the importance of relevancy and keeping students
engaged. The notion of engagement has attracted increased educational attention
xxxv

because it is seen as a potential means for combating on-going problems such as
academic failure, student disinterest and high dropout rates (Fredericks, Blumenfeld, &
Paris, 2004). Fredricks et al. (2004) identified three types of engagement: cognitive;
emotional; and behavioral.
Students who are cognitively engaged have different ways to master a concept.
They willingly participate and work extra hard to accomplish a task and many times go
beyond what is required. They have a positive attitude whether successful or
unsuccessful. On the other hand, students who are emotionally engaged refer to
students’ reaction to the classroom, the lesson, the teacher, and other students. In
addition, it is related to students’ emotions and attitudes. Behavioral engagement
involves students’ adherence to rules as well as their effort, concentration, and
participation (Fredericks et al., 2004). Engagement can be increased and enhanced if
teachers increase their efforts to ensure that instruction is presented in an engaging
manner.
It is almost impossible for some to fathom how reading could be exciting, how
students can be engaged during reading instruction. Many, especially students, would
not want to imagine the movie while reading, when they could just as easily, see it on
the big screen. Some students do not understand how the catalytic action of reading
could produce the images, in the mind, that are shown on the movie scene. It is
imperative that instructors transfer the skill of reading with a purpose to students, which
leads to engagement during reading. They must teach students the process of thinking
while reading. A reader’s habits are likely created in response to engaging instruction

xxxvi

that he or she receives, the enthusiasm of the instructor, and the feedback that is
generated from the reader’s products or responses (Trelease, 2006).

Strategies for Effective Student Engagement
According to research, several concepts contribute to successful student
engagement. Some of these concepts include discussions, classroom management, a
positive environment, method of instruction, and the role of teachers and principals.
Discussion
Trelease (2006) believes in the importance of discussion after reading a story.
This discussion is of critical importance. Students from classrooms where there are
more book discussions tend to score higher on national reading assessments and read
more than the required classroom reading assignments (Trelease, 2006). The most
effective schools provide a positive climate, model positive relationships, and have
programs in place that give students opportunities to participate in discussions. Adults
take the time to talk and listen to students (Conners, 2000). Children and teenagers are
reading fewer books and playing more video games (Derbyshire, 2009). Students need
opportunities to articulate ideas, discuss findings, and examine new knowledge to help
them internalize content information. Computer-based programs, which tend to isolate
students, are not enough (America’s Choice, 2010).
When considering instruction, educators should remember that learning does not
have to take place in a completely quiet classroom. As Kasten (1997) stated, educators
often invest considerable energy into maintaining classroom quiet, mistakenly believing
that student silence equates with student productivity. Although adults usually work
xxxvii

alongside of others in their work environment, many teachers insist that students work
alone instead of cooperatively. Educators should know that participation in
conversations can be engaging. It is learning at its best when students can discuss the
text, which increases interest in reading. Discussions of this kind help students to
understand the importance of the printed word (Kasten, 1997). Educator Ron Clark
(2003) stated we do not set the climate that will allow students to speak freely and voice
their thoughts and opinions. He said he imagines that there are many times when the
best ideas are not heard or ever voiced.
Engaging lessons are lessons in which students have a high level of
involvement. The lesson plan is organized so that the class proceeds smoothly and
with high student involvement and expectations specifically in engaging discussions
(Harmin, 2006). In this type of lesson students naturally get involved without the need
of threats or rewards due to the high level of interaction. The use of quick pacing during
the lesson or activity is a strategy that keeps students engaged. The pace should be
fast enough to keep students involved and prevent them from focusing their attention on
other less important matters (Harmin, 2006).
An additional strategy is to teach in layers, which means that the lessons are
reinforced and reviewed, during discussions, from time to time (Harmin, 2006). A
teacher who teaches in layers realizes that instant learning should not always be
expected and rarely does it occur the first time the lesson is presented. Another
strategy is using variety (Harmin, 2006). Variety should be a consistent part of the class
lessons, but not so much variety that it becomes confusing to students. Variety keeps

xxxviii

students engaged oftentimes because they never know what to expect which keeps
them from being bored.
Classroom Management
One aspect of effective student engagement is the ability to properly manage the
classroom. An instructor must be able to effectively manage his or her classroom in
order for learning to take place. Teachers must deliver the curriculum as well as help to
create a positive classroom learning environment, by developing rules for student
behavior and giving messages and non-verbal cues regarding students’ interactions
with their classmates (Ryan & Patrick, 2001). Likewise, effective classroom
management must occur if student engagement is to be successful. Marzano, Marzano
& Pickering (2003), emphasize that a positive learning environment must be established
in order for learning to occur and be maximized.
Marzano, et. al. (2009) also believe that managing the classroom has been
identified as the greatest concern of teachers and listed as one of the top reasons for
leaving the profession. Research supports the argument that the social environment of
the classroom is important to student motivation and engagement (Ryan & Patrick,
2001). Successful teachers are often teachers who are successful at managing the
classroom which includes students of varying gifts, talents, skills, and abilities. This
includes students who may or may not be socially adept at working with others,
including the teacher.
Effective teachers have clear and high expectations, procedures, and routines in
place. The students are aware of them as evident when one first walks in to observe a
classroom. Marzano, Marzano, & Pickering (2003) and Harris (2005) noted the
xxxix

importance of teachers clearly defining their expectations for students. Clear
expectations for behavior are established during the first few weeks of school. Students
are not only aware of what is expected of them, but are aware of the consequences for
not following the expectations that also includes the rules of the classroom. Research
found that acknowledgement of behavior is important in an actively engaged classroom
(Stage and Quiroz (1997). Appropriate behaviors must be reinforced and inappropriate
behaviors should receive consequences (Stage and Quiroz, 1997). Students should be
aware of behavioral expectations.
Another specific technique, related to student engagement, is that of
demonstrating a wide variety of verbal and physical responses to students’ misbehavior,
such as proximity, eye contact, finger to mouth to indicate inappropriate behavior. Also,
many teachers establish a warning through signals, such as holding up the index finger
to indicate one minute to organize belongings. In addition, teachers and principals
provide physical rewards or recognition of appropriate behavior and group or class
rewards or recognitions contingent on responsible group behaviors. Furthermore, these
educators involve parents or guardians in home contingency rewards and
consequences (Stage & Quiroz, 1997).
Student engagement is contingent upon a system of routines and rules
established in the classroom which is based on a system of classroom management. A
classroom management system should include a clearly defined purpose, measures to
ensure autonomy, the ability to adapt or adjust according to the circumstance,
developmental appropriateness, student-friendly presentation and implementation, and
student involvement for ownership and sense of democracy (Kohn, 1996). Accordingly,
xl

when these indicators are in place, students are more likely to participate in an
engaging manner.
Positive Environment
A positive learning environment is essential to not only teacher retention, but also
for effective instruction and for keeping students engaged. Emmer, Evertson, and
Worsham (2003), argued that teachers must begin the year teaching management in a
positive manner; they must design and arrange the room to maximize classroom
management; and they must establish and implement rules and operating procedures
that support student success. This is contrary to what many new teachers are told to do
when they first enter the classroom, and that is to be strict and mean and never let their
guard down. If this persona continues, it is almost impossible to build positive rapport
with students.
Positive relationships foster productivity in the learning environment. One of an
instructor’s goals should be to build strong communication bridges with their students
which leads to reading discussions in which students are not afraid to communicate with
their teachers and peers. For optimal learning outcomes to occur, the relationship
between the learning environment and learning outcomes must be recognized.
Furthermore, the learning environment must provide opportunities for students to
develop a sense of personal competence and autonomy and positive relationships
(Reeve, 2002). Ginott (1975, p. 10) wrote,

xli

I've come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in
the classroom. It's my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I
possess a tremendous power to make a child's life miserable or joyous. I can be
a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or humor, hurt or
heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be
escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or de-humanized.
In such an environment, students feel as though there is order which assists them
in the development of organizational skills as well as with the ability to reason and think.
Also, according to Kohn (1996) the engaging classroom and school, should be a caring
community where students feel that others care about them and they care about others.
Qualities of a caring community include a clear sense of value and respect, a feeling
that students are important to one another and to the teacher, a focus on collectiveness
and what is best for the group, and a connectedness through which students feel they
belong to each other (Kohn, 1996). Research has further indicated that a sense of
connectedness to teachers and classmates in school is associated with academic
motivation and engagement (Wang & Holcombe, 2010). In this type of community,
students feel as though they belong and are a part of the group. They also may feel
protected within the classroom family.
Harris (2005) mentioned several studies in which only about one-third of the
students believe they have a teacher who really cares about them. Stipek (2006) stated
that even the most challenging students perform better for teachers who show that they
care about them as individuals and are committed to their success and interests. When
students believe that a teacher cares and will listen to them, they are more likely to
xlii

become engaged in the lesson. Students’ perceptions of teacher support and the
teacher’s promotion of interaction and mutual respect in the classroom are related to
positive advances in student motivation and engagement (Ryan & Patrick, 2001).
Similarly, students, in a supportive and caring environment, have more positive
attitudes toward academics, and they identify themselves and feel that they belong in
the school and classroom because they can freely express themselves and count on
teachers for support with a range of problems (Furrer & Skinner, 2003). Therefore, they
are able to immerse themselves in the lesson are activity. In such a classroom, one is
able to observe that students are engaged in the learning process.
Stronge (2007) believes that effective teachers focus on specific classroom
activities. These activities include the management of routines and discipline for an
effective learning environment, organization of lesson and research-based instructional
strategies for engaged learning, and the assessment of student performance to meet
the needs of individual students. His research emphasized the teacher’s affective
characteristics as playing the most important role in effectiveness. Showing a personal
interest in a student is encouraging, motivational, and leads to a relationship with that
student that increases their chances of learning (Marzano et al., 2003). This
relationship increases the likelihood of student engagement.
Marzano and Marzano (2003) believe effective teachers take a personal interest
in each student and employ a variety of strategies to meet the needs of the individual
student. They build strong teacher-student relationships that set the stage for a positive
classroom dynamic to support student learning and each other. Students are more apt
to do their best and immerse themselves in an engaging lesson, when they believe that
xliii

they belong, are needed, and will be held in high-esteem. This type of relationship
makes the classroom most effective when it is developed between the student and
teacher. McCombs and Whisler (1997) emphasized the need for all students to receive
personal attention from the teacher. Interactions, they concluded, may be small and
can include actions such as a personal greeting, handshake, calling them by name, pat
on the back, note, smile, comment about student interest or performance and or
conversation before or after class.
Marzano, Marzano & Pickering (2003) noted the significance of making each
student feel important and recommends specific positive teacher behaviors for
equitability. They conclude that teachers and principals should look into the face of
each student and call him or her by name, learn the specific interests of each student
and relate the curriculum to interest when possible, maintain the integrity, establish
proximity, stand close to each student during class and ensure classroom arrangement
provides for movement by students and teacher.
Marzano et.al (2003) further concluded that the teacher should acknowledge
contributions and ideas of all students and build on them, encourage and enable all
students to participate, allow ample wait time for all students to think and respond,
emphasize what is right with the response, encourage collaboration, rephrase or restate
the question, if needed, provide hints or clues, and allow students to pass, if appropriate
(Marzano et. al., 2003). Gibson (2002), shared that teachers are most effective when
they care, not only about the curriculum, but about students and share their lives with
them.
Teacher Efficacy
xliv

Teacher efficacy is a teacher’s belief in his or her ability to make a difference in
student learning (Collier, 2005). Collier further reported that teacher efficacy has been
determined to have the greatest impact on teacher behavior and student learning. If a
teacher does not believe that he or she can make a difference in a student’s life, that
teacher, more than likely, will not put forth the best effort when planning, rehearsing, and
executing instructional lessons. Therefore, in all likelihood, the lesson will not be
engaging or effective. Alderman (2004) stated that teachers with a high level of efficacy
tend to recognize the importance of the role of the teacher, set high expectations for
student performance, take personal responsibility for student learning, engage in goal
setting for all stakeholders, exhibit confidence in their ability to affect student learning,
view themselves and their students as partners in the learning process, expend greater
effort, and persist longer in assisting student learning.
Teacher efficacy is linked with educational innovativeness and willingness to take
risks (Alliinder, 1994; Cousins & Walker, 2000). This innovativeness and willingness
has an immense outcome on the preparation and presentation of engaging instruction.
Risks are taken when educators allow students to make choices about academic goals
while teachers should make sure that these goals are focused on learning (Holliday,
2001). Teachers’ attitudes towards reading and the students’ abilities to succeed, and
their view of the students themselves, play a major role in students’ willingness to learn.
For example, to avoid negative comments from a classroom teacher or peers, a student
said, many of his classmates would rather say nothing than risk embarrassment, by the
teachers negative criticism, during reading instruction. These students’ teachers had
inadvertently pushed them away from reading and had constructed barriers to their own
xlv

students’ progress states Tatum (2005). The efficacy of the students’ teacher would
indicate that the classroom is one in which most students are not engaged due to the
teacher’s negative comments and fear of embarrassment by the teacher. As one
African-American teacher with high-efficacy beliefs shared that students must know that
they can succeed if they set goals and that is a teacher’s job to help them meet those
goals. Teachers and schools can offset the effect of negative influences by their beliefs
about their ability to teach these students and by using challenging and effective
teaching techniques (Alderman, 2004). The single most important factor for student
success is excellent teaching (Gates, 2011).
Methods of Instruction
Studies showed that reading instruction improves achievement if engagement is
increased during reading instruction (Wigfield, Guthrie, & Barbosa, 2008). Therefore, it
is important to study instructional practices that influence student engagement.
Conceptions that educators form about reading, from their own experiences, determines
their chosen method of reading instruction. If teachers believe that their reading
comprehension instruction is not engaging, then they also have reason to believe that it
will not increase student comprehension levels (Wigfield, Guthrie, & Barbosa, 2008).
An example of a type of instruction that is engaging but is not used readily, due to
lack of knowledge, is cooperative learning. Cohen (1998) defined cooperative learning
as students working together in a group small enough that everyone can participate on
a collective task that has been clearly assigned. Moreover, students are expected to
carry out their task without the direct and immediate supervision of the teacher.
Teachers sometimes encourage and even allow students to interact with one another
xlvi

during academic activities such as small group activities. However, some teachers
discourage interaction, sharing of ideas, and implement seatwork as the standard (Ryan
& Patrick, 2001).
In a cooperative learning environment, students take responsibility for their
learning and for their actions which promotes and enhances the student engagement
process. They are aware of the consequences and are given choices. These choices
do not impede the learning process of the students nor does it relinquish control to the
students. Furthermore, they are not choices that allow the child to decide if he or she
wants to be a part of the education process, but rather choices that lead to a more wellrounded education (Kasten, 1997).
In cooperative learning, students help and encourage one another. They cheer
their team on to success. Members make up a group, community or partnership. They
communicate, make decisions, solve problems, organize, and manage group duties.
Each one is responsible for the operation of the group, much like adults when they are
at their places of employment (Cohen, 1998).
Organizing students in heterogeneous cooperative learning groups at least once
a week has a significant effect on learning (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). The
amount of research on cooperative learning is expansive. Cooperative learning, when
implemented and monitored consistently, has tremendous effects on students’
motivation, transfer of learning, and other benefits (Cohen, 1998). Therefore, it is one
of the instructional methods in which students are willingly engaged while learning.
When students work collaboratively and cooperatively, there are many benefits
for the learners. Principals who are supportive of teachers, who implement the
xlvii

cooperative learning instructional method, are often more knowledgeable of the
extensive research that has been done and of the benefits of engaging students.
Teachers who are successful at facilitating cooperative learning employ research based
strategies, such as creating the right type of group for the need, keeping group sizes
small and using ability grouping sparingly. These teachers also do not use cooperative
grouping for all instructional goals.
They use a variety of strategies when choosing students for groups and facilitate
the success of group dynamics. They develop organizational tools, forms, learning
journals, and other documents to foster a smooth process for group work (Northwest
Regional Educational Laboratory, 2005). Most importantly, these principals and
teachers support, monitor and adjust. They teach specific skills before grouping
students, define success, and develop rubrics for key expectations. They further meet
with group members to support their success (Northwest Regional Educational
Laboratory, 2005).
There are different methods in which teachers may choose to instruct students,
some engaging while others are not. One of the less popular ones with students is the
lecture method. During this style of instruction, students listen to the teacher talk and
there is no student engagement. There is usually little or no communication or
interaction between the teacher and student or between students. Hence, the
opportunity to build a positive-student relationship with and among students is almost
non-existent. Teacher-student relationships begin when teachers decide to make the
time and effort to show interest in students and communicate appropriate levels of
cooperation (Marzano, Marzano, Pickering, 2003).
xlviii

Some methods of instruction involve interaction between students and students
and teacher and others do not. Students are more readily engaged when allowed an
opportunity to interact with other students and the teacher. Research showed that
Instructional presentation and external contexts exhibit a war over students’
engagement and alienation from instruction. Progressive instructional strategies and
methods are better able to insulate students from alienating environments. Boring and
non-relevant instruction allows students to turn their attention towards external
preoccupations, especially among Hispanic and African American students, and those
who are at risk of alienation from instruction (Yair, 2000).
Role of Teachers
Educational philosophers and others differ in their opinion of an effective teacher
but believe that effective teachers engage students. Wong and Wong (1998) defined
the effective teacher as the teacher capable of affecting lives. One could assume that
Wong would be a proponent of the school of thought in which the student-teacher
relationship is the most important entity that affords a student success in school and
therefore the teacher/student relationship leads to student engagement.
Marzano (2003) said that to be an effective teacher, one must cultivate and
implement effective instructional strategies, classroom management, and classroom
curriculum design in a seamless fashion that will produce significant student gains in
achievement. These instructional strategies should be those that have been recognized
as being best practices and contribute to student engagement. A best practice is a
technique or methodology that, through experience and research, has proven to reliably
lead to a desired result. A commitment to using best practices is a commitment to using
xlix

all the knowledge and technology at one’s disposal to ensure success (IBM, 2007).
These best practices are most successful when used consistently and repeatedly.
Role of Principals as Instructional Leaders
Stage and Quiroz (1997) also conducted research that shows that teachers and
principals build effective relationships with students through specific techniques which
further contributes to students’ willingness to participate in the learning process thus
leading to student engagement. This suggests that training for teachers and principals
should be revised to include techniques that lead to student engagement. An example
of training that has been initiated for principals and teachers is that of America’s Choice
program. Borthwick, who oversees America's Choice program in New York, said she
had seen no evidence of widespread discontent in the training sessions, which
sometimes involve 1,400 teachers and administrators (America’s Choice, 2010).
Principals, who serve as supervisors, are the key to the success of the school
organization. It is important that they are knowledgeable and aware of current research
and methods that engage students.

Engaging instruction is synonymous with effective

instruction. Schlechty (2002) concluded that an effective teacher is one who is
competent, committed, and confident. He reported that they have a disciplined
approach to creating and designing engaging and meaningful work for students.
Principals and other instructional leaders must be able to monitor and assess student
engagement.
Principals are aware that preparing engaging lessons takes much preparation on
the part of educators. They know that effective teachers spend hours beyond the
regular school day preparing, adjusting, analyzing, and reflecting. These teachers
l

reflect, not just on their students’ errors and successes, but also on their own errors and
successes as well (Dufour, 2004). Furthermore, principals and teachers know their
students academically and socially and are usually somewhat knowledgeable about
their home life as well (Mintz, 2008). Principals, as leaders, are an integral part
financial, curriculum, discipline, organizational, atmospheric, and other key decisions
that are made with the goal in mind of educating students successfully.
In addition, Schlechty (2002) reported that these effective principals and teachers
have a framework in place to determine if the students have learned what is expected of
them to be successful and what will take place if the students have not been successful.
He argued that to be effective, principals and teachers must ensure that students not
only have opportunities to have their personal needs met, but also those that are
essential for the functioning of a democratic society.
Boredom is an obstacle to student engagement and addressing student boredom
is of great importance and should be one of a principal’s highest priorities and teachers
whose classrooms are not engaging should adjust their lessons accordingly (YazzieMintz, 2008). The principal must monitor classrooms and observe students to see if
teachers are teaching effectively to prevent boredom or other issues that impeded
learning. Solving the problem begins with understanding the scope of the problem and
the reasons why students are bored in class. Boredom is a common and recognizable
sign of a lack of engagement with school and learning. However, students tend to be
better able to describe responses to boredom than to define boredom (Farrell, 1988).
It is important that principals consistently support and monitor student
engagement. Compared to other countries that outperform us, we do very little to
li

measure, develop, and reward excellence. We expect teachers to be effective without
giving them proper feedback and training (Gates, 2011). One of a principal’s goals
should be to ensure that a positive environment is in place which will lead to teachers’
successful instruction of students which in turn assists in student engagement. Collins
(2001), in Good to Great, shared four basic practices for creating a climate of success.
Principals have the responsibility of establishing a positive and successful climate.
The four basic practices of creating a climate of truth involves leading with
questions, not answers, engaging in dialogue and debate, but not coercion, conducting
autopsies without blame, and building red flag mechanisms that turn information into
information that cannot be ignored (Collins, 2001). Leading with questions simply
means instead of coming up with all the answers, lead with questions. Engaging in
dialogue and debate is a process for scientific debate with people engaged in a search
for the best answers. Conducting autopsies without blame means creating a climate
where the truth is heard without assigning blame, but only searching for understanding
and learning. These four basic practices, along with principal support, lead to a climate
of success, a climate in which students are engaged.
Some principals ensure that they observe and monitor classrooms on a regular
basis, even if it is for a quick observation and follow-up. Other principals never find time
to get into classrooms until the deadline for completing evaluations is at hand (Hopkins,
2006). Education World asked principals to share their thoughts on what they look for
when evaluating teachers. Some used a snapshot approach, that is a snapshot of the
learning, not necessarily the teaching (Dufour, 2004).

lii

Dufour's (2004) work in the area of transforming schools into professional
learning communities focused on three essential questions: (a) What do we want
students to learn?; (b) How do we know students are learning?; and (c) what do we do
when we find out students are not learning? One area in which principals evaluate
teachers infrequently is the area in which teachers engage students. A reason for this
infrequent evaluation of engagement may be that importance is placed on the teaching
and not the learning (Hopkins, 2006).
The key is that the more we engage teachers as learners, the better their
classroom practices will become. The better their practices become, the higher degrees
of learning we see (Hopkins, 2006). Principals also look for good use of time.
Teachers with effective time management skills are usually organized and efficient so
much so that classroom management takes care of itself (Hopkins, 2006). Principals
observe students’ enthusiasm for learning if the lesson is engaging. During an
engaging lesson, teachers are full of energy and constantly moving about the room.
They are almost never observed sitting down or even standing behind their desks
(Hopkins, 2006).
Conceptual Framework
Gambrell (1996) provided a diagram of engaged readers. The diagram
illustrated that motivation, knowledge, strategy and social interaction combine to
develop or produce an engaged reader. The diagram helped to frame this study. It
clearly indicated that there is a distinction between engagement and motivation. It also
showed that one must be motivated in order to be engaged. Motivation occurs before
engagement (Gambrell, 1996).
liii

Figure 1. Gambrell’s diagram of the engaged reader. (International Reading
Association, 1996).

Motivate

Knowledgeable
The
Engaged
Reader

Socially
Interactive

Strategic

The researcher proposed a conceptual framework that includes instruction and
the role of the principal and teacher in student engagement and can be used at the
elementary level also, whereas most models are available for use with older students.
The need for an expanded model is based on the literature and attempted to convey the
relationship and importance of support from the principal, as the instructional leader,
and the teacher, as the instructor, in creating an engaging lesson and therefore an
engaged reader. Gambrell’s model contributed to the literature by including the
necessary components of motivation, knowledge, strategy, and social interactions as
they pertain to the student. The model showed that these should be in place to
effectively produce an engaged reader.
liv

As the researcher, I built on Gambrell’s model to include the role of principal and
teacher and to show how relationships also contribute to student engagement. The
manner in which instruction is presented and the level of support from the principal is of
importance when motivating students to be engaged in the reading process.
Engagement and a love of reading do not necessarily come without effort on the part of
the instructor. The love of reading is a habit which must be cultivated (Lesesne, 2006).
Unfortunately some parents who did not have role models for reading might not be able
to serve as models for their own children. So it falls to us educators to provide the
models students need. No work emerges from within without a lot of encouragement
and assistance (Lesesne, 2006). Instructors and instruction play a critical role in the
cultivation of good reading habits and the development of an avid reader.
The roles of the principal and teacher, visualized in the conceptual framework,
represented the effect of their increasing involvement that is required to move students
to become engaged readers. These considerations framed the reviewing of the existing
literature on student engagement and contributed to the development of the model
which includes the principal and teacher as well as instruction. As the researcher of this
study, on student engagement in reading among African American students, I adapted
Gambrell’s model to include specific roles of key educators. These educators could
significantly impact the effectiveness of student engagement. The proposed model is
not necessarily a finished product, but a model to be adjusted and used as a starting
point for discussion. When teachers present instruction in an engaging manner, this
creates students who are motivated, strategic problem solvers, socially interactive,
knowledgeable and most importantly engaged in the learning process.
lv

This conceptual framework, built on relationships and instruction which are
addressed in the literature, could be of great benefit to education. It addresses the
supportive relationships that characterize successful educational institutions. The
conceptual framework presented, differentiates between the role of principal and
teacher in creating an engaged reader, particularly of African American descent. These
relationships are not presented in Gambrell’s model. Although the researcher’s model is
based on Gambrell’s model, it is distinguishable in that it is intended to provide a
conceptual framework that contains the facets of educational leadership and instruction
and the relationships that are used to connect students and create engaged readers.
Trelease (2006), posited, “It is time to stop fooling ourselves. Teaching children
how to read is not enough; we must teach them to want to read” (p. 205). Indeed, some
consider it to be necessary for students to be engaged in order for them to learn and to
maintain long-term achievement (Rosenshine, 2008). Based on research on the
importance of instruction, an alternative model on student engagement is listed as figure
2. The model includes engaging instruction as a component of creating engaged
readers. It also lists, as important, the relationships of principals and teachers which
results in engaged readers who are motivated, knowledgeable, able to plan
strategically, and socially interactive. The framework was used to guide the design of
the study. The components that are included were used when analyzing data.

lvi

Figure 2. Expansion of Gambrell’s Framework, 2010.

Principal
Supports and Monitors

Motivated

Teacher
Provides Engaging
Instruction
Knowledgeable

The
Engaged
Reader
Strategic

Socially
Interactive

lvii

Chapter III
Design of the Study
Methods
This ethnographic case study was designed to examine how principals and
teachers in a small urban school district operate in schools to engage African American
Students in reading instruction. Student engagement has been shown to be a
necessary component of a successful classroom (Dolezal, Welsh, Pressley, & Vincent,
2003). In this study, I sought to identify what student engagement looks like, how it is
observed and evaluated, and how principals and teachers are the catalysts to improving
student learning by ensuring that engagement takes place during the learning process.
The framework that guided this study was an adaptation of Gambrell’s model and was
used to design the study and analyze data.
Guiding Questions
The following qualitative questions guided this study:
1. Are there classroom indicators that demonstrate that students are engaged
during reading instruction?
2. Are there strategies that teachers use to effectively engage African American
students during reading instruction?
3. How do instructional leaders view student engagement?
4. How do instructional leaders monitor and evaluate student engagement
during reading instruction?
I triangulated the data in an effort to acquire as much information as possible that
could be further used to understand the importance and effect of student engagement in
reading, for African American Students, and the need for more research.
lviii

Table # 2
Data Table
Guiding Research
Question
What does a
classroom in which
students are
engaged look like?

Data Source – Type of
Information
Observation of reading
lessons in which African
American students are
engaged/not engaged

Participant
Types
Teachers &
students

Instrument
Initial and final teacher
observations and student
observation based on the
literature and veteran
reading coaches’ information
and documentation
(Teacher Observation Protocol
Instruments #2 and 3)

What techniques do
teachers who
effectively engage
African American
students, during
reading instruction,
have in common?
How do instructional
leaders view student
engagement?

Information from teachers to
discover techniques used to
engage African American
students during reading
instruction and also
documentation

Teachers

Information from
instructional leaders on
student engagement before
observation by the
researcher

Principals

How do instructional
leaders evaluate
student
engagement?

Information from
instructional leaders relative
to observation and
evaluation of student
engagement

Principals

(Student Observation
Protocol Instrument # 6)
Initial interview questions
based on the literature and
veteran reading coaches
information
(Teacher Interview Protocol #1)

Interview questions based on
the literature and veteran
reading coaches’ information
(Interview Questions for
Principals Protocol
Instrument #4)
Survey questions based on
the literature and veteran
reading coaches’ information
(Survey Questions for
Principals Protocol
Instrument # 5)

I used observations, interviews, documentation, and a survey, based on the
literature and a national veteran literacy coach’s and reading supervisor’s feedback, to
gather qualitative data on African American student engagement in reading. I observd
and documented, in the four schools, the relationship between interest in reading and

lix

student engagement. In addition, I documented the attitude of the teacher towards
reading and its effect on students’ attitudes towards reading.
Participants
I observed, for one full day, reading classes in which African American students
were enrolled for the purpose of collecting qualitative data. The research sites for this
ethnographic case study consisted of all the grade four reading classes in four
elementary schools in an urban school district in Southeast Texas. According to the
National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP) Report Card, grade four is used to
generate key data, for federal purposes, related to how students perform (NCES, 2009).
NAEP results serve as a common metric for all states and provide a clear picture of
student academic progress over time. This grade was chosen because, according to
NAEP, it represents a critical juncture in academic achievement (NCES, 2010).
All grade four reading classrooms, teachers, and principals, who serve as
instructional leaders at four elementary schools were selected to participate in the study.
The classrooms selected to participate consisted of African American students and
students of varying abilities.
All of the schools in the study are named after females who impacted history. To
mask the identity of the schools, pseudonyms of famous women who contributed to the
improvement of education in the state were used. Table # 3 provides the information
about participants and the percentage of African American students attending the
schools. To protect the identity of the schools, only the percentage of African American
students is provided. To protect the identity of the principals only the gender is provided.
Revealing the racial identity of the principal may identify the principal.
lx

Table # 3
Participant and School Demographic Data
School
African
Number of Teacher
Pseudonym American Teachers Demographics
Population
Leonor
47 %
5
African American
Villegas de
Woman
Magnón
African American
Elementary
Woman
School
Caucasian
Woman
Caucasian
Woman
Caucasian
Woman
Mary
97 %
3
Caucasian Woman
Elizabeth
Caucasian
Branch
Woman
Elementary
African American
School
Woman
Wilhelmina
29 %
3
African American
Fitzgerald
Woman
Delco
African American
Elementary
Woman
School
Caucasian
Woman
Miriam A.
40 %
5
Caucasian Woman
Ferguson
Caucasian
Elementary
Woman
Caucasian
Woman
Caucasian
Woman
Caucasian
Woman

Number of Principal
Principals Demographics
1

Woman

1

Woman

1

Woman

1

Woman

Instrumentation
The researcher developed the instruments that were used in the study. The
instruments were based on the literature, as well as information from a national veteran
lxi

literacy coach, an English language arts supervisor, and a campus reading coach.
Cresswell (2007) recommends that the researcher design the interview questions by
narrowing the central research questions. Also, researchers are to refine the questions
based on pilot testing. The research of Marzano, Pickering and Polluck (2001), Dufour
(2004), and Trelease (2006) among others helped to form the instrument questions and
survey. The instruments were crafted based on the model by Gambrell (1996) which
was adapted and used to build the model that was formed to assist in gathering
information about engagement practices. This model was developed to include
information from principals and teachers as discussed previously. The triangular
methods are shown in Figure # 2. This data table also shows the type of instrument
needed to obtain the data necessary to complete the study.
Procedures and Data Collection
I contacted the superintendent initially, school principals, and classroom teachers
to obtain permission to conduct the study. I also discussed the nature of the study with
the principals and teachers. A deadline was given for the completion of the survey for
principals. The principals and classroom teachers signed the consent forms indicating
their willingness to allow the research to be conducted in the classrooms and to be
interviewed regarding the project.
After all consent forms were signed and permission granted, I conducted
interviews with principals and teachers (Appendices A & C). Next, observations of
teachers and students, in each classroom, took place (Appendices B & E). During the
initial data collection I observed and documented literacy practices in classrooms. I also
conducted final observations of specific teacher practices. I then recorded observations
lxii

from visiting the four schools designated for the study. These observations were
transferred and coded. I collected data from documentation of observations
(Appendices B & E), interviews (Appendices A & C), and from a principal’s survey
(Appendix D).
Data Analysis
This ethnographic case study was designed to examine how principals and
teachers in a small urban school district operate in schools to engage African American
students in reading instruction. Student engagement has been shown to be a
necessary component of a successful classroom (Dolezal, Welsh, Pressley, & Vincent,
2003). In this study I identified perceptions of student engagement; how it is observed
and evaluated, and how principals and teachers are the catalysts to improving student
learning by ensuring that engagement takes place during the learning process,
specifically during reading instruction.
I coded the data and examined the information to identify themes that emerged in
the study. I triangulated the data from the six different types of data sources i.e.
surveys, interviews, and participant observation as well as from different participant
types (principals & leaders).
There were a total of 4 principal interviews, 4 principal surveys, 16 teacher
interviews, 16 observations of teacher behaviors, 16 observations of student behaviors.
When there was a question and I wanted to gain a greater understanding of the
teacher’s work, I conducted one additional observation. I conducted this process for a
total of 9 teachers (56 %).

lxiii

CHAPTER IV
Analysis of Findings
Overview
lxiv

I completed this research study to determine the role of the principals and
teachers in African American student engagement during reading instruction. The data
is coded along themes which emerged during the analysis of information from
pariticipants. The data sources included interviews, a survey, non-participant
observation. A likert type scale was also used to gather data on student engagement.
These sources of data were triangulated to provide further clarification on the findings.
Five number of themes emerged from the analysis of the section.
A total of five themes emerged from analyzing the data. The themes are: (a)
Theme 1: Beliefs about and Understandings of Engagement, (b) Themes 2: Beliefs
about Children and Learning, (c) Theme 3: Practices that Affirm Engagement/Engage
Students (Classroom indicators, Teaching Strategies, Instructional Leadership
Practices), (d) Theme 4: Practices that Prohibit Engagement/Disengage Students
African American Students, and (e) Theme 5: Instructional Leadership and
Engagement.
Before I describe the findings, I will explain the context of the schools and community of
the school district.
Socio-cultural Context of Schools and the Community
The purpose of this section is to provide a context for which the schools operate
that may be shaped and/or impacted by the greater environment. In 2008, 85 %
percent of students in the district were on free and reduced lunch when a former school
administrator, reported that 25 percent of students in a neighboring district were
categorized as economically disadvantaged, 29 percent in another nearby district and
lxv

66 in another. Out of 13 districts surveyed in Texas, only one had 97 percent, a higher
percentage of economically disadvantaged students (Ball, 2008).
The communities surrounding the four schools include dilapidated houses,
government-assisted apartment complexes, and smaller, older frame and brick homes.
Some homes have been abandoned and when homes have been destroyed by natural
tragedies, they tend to remain vacant and unrepaired. The city said that they had
received numerous complaints from residents worried about the dangerous buildings in
neighborhoods with many children (Koonce, 2010). As a result of the poverty and social
conditions, the students have varying social needs that are present in the school
environment.
I share these conditions not to label the children or families or make excuses for
ineffective schools, but to provide a background for which to discuss the backdrop of the
schools as well as emphasize the importance of the concepts I initially referred to in the
background of the study, problem, and literature review. Family instability prohibits
engagement and this factor manifests as students matriculate through elementary
school reading at a grade or two lower than the actual level .
For African American students who are economically disadvantaged and are
exposed to a curriculum that is not culturally responsive, Hanley (1999) noted these
students greatly need adequate and exceptional reading abilities. Although students
may come from a variety of ability, socioeconomic, and exposure levels, teachers must
understand the children and connect with them. Ladson-Billings (2009) asserted that
culturally relevant teachers believe all students can achieve and connect the learning

lxvi

environment with the students’ worlds. Teachers have differing opinions about student
engagement as shown in Table # 5.
Beliefs about and Understandings of Engagement
Under the theme of beliefs and understanding of engagement, nine teachers did not
have a clear understanding of what engagement means and implies. On the other
hand, the four principals had a much clearer understanding of the term. See Table # 6.
One teacher, coded 1C, stated that engagement is anything that gets their attention
such as drawing, singing, and dancing. Teacher 3C said that engagement means to
have the child participate as much as possible in the lesson using note taking, graphic
organizers, journals, grouping, and cooperative grouping. Teacher 3A stated that
engagement means that students are focused and on the same task, on the same
page, and all are participating and teacher 3B stated that engagement is when all of the
students are following the lesson. Teacher 1C believes that student engagement is
when every child understands. One teacher, coded 4C, stated that engagement is when
all students are not laying down and want to know what is next. One teacher, coded 2A,
said when students are engaged there is noise, students are communicating with one
another, they are happy about doing their jobs, and comfortable with their partners
during cooperative grouping. Teacher 2A went on to explain that she knows when her
students are engaged when she meets with them for conferences and they can explain
and show where they found the work and really understand. She said she was not sure
if that was understanding engagement or not. According to research, a substantially
engaged student is one who not only attends to the built in procedures in instruction but

lxvii

also interacts with the content of the lesson in a deep and thoughtful manner (Wigfield,
Guthrie, Barbosa, et. al. (2008).
All teachers and principals, included in the study, believe that student
engagement is very important. Ten teachers said that it is hard to engage African
American students. Teachers 1B said that it is hard because it takes advanced planning.
Teacher 3A said that it is hard to engage students in a whole group setting because
there are so many of them. She said that it is not that hard to engage them in a small
group setting. One teacher, coded 3D, said that it is hard because every activity doesn’t
gain everyone’s interest. Teachers 4C and 1E said that engaging students is hard due
to discipline issues such as fighting, arguing, and extra talking. They said it takes
preparation and dedication. Educators should consider if their practices are consistent
with the research of Yazzie-Mintz (2008). Research stated that interaction during
classroom instruction plays a role in students’ boredom as well. More than one-third (35
% in each year of research) said that they were bored due to not having any interaction
with the teacher. Four out of five said that the material is not interesting and two out of
five students claimed that the lack of relevance of the material is the reason they are
bored.
Teacher 1C said that engaging students depends on their receptiveness, not on
the teacher’s instruction. One teacher, coded 3C, stated that with experience it is easy
to engage students but new teachers will find it difficult. Teacher 4A said that
engagement depends on the topic and activity and if the students are interested.
Teacher 2A said that it is harder to engage African American students. One teacher,
coded 4C, said that lecturing definitely does not work. All teachers reported that they
lxviii

use strategies such as discussions, cooperative grouping, and student centered
instruction sometimes but very few teachers were observed using these strategies.
Most stated that they were just doing TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge and
Skills) and when that was over they would do more of the ‘other’ kind of instruction.

Beliefs about Children and Learning
Teachers, coded 1D and 1B, stated that educators must really work on vocabulary with
African American students. They emphasized that vocabulary is the biggest thing, the
biggest stumbling block to reading. African American students do not have a large
vocabulary and are very limited they noted. Teacher 1D stated that she knows that she
does use learning styles to address the needs of her students but she does not know
how. She also said that she is beginning to use novels now that it is almost the end of
the year. She used to use at least three novels a years but said that she now limits it to
one. She thinks it is due to students not being prepared and not comprehending. She
believes that African American students do not have what others have so she has to do
more concrete activities and cannot be creative. This view is consistent with research.
According to Russel (2005), African American students often experience a low-level,
watered-down curriculum due to negative perceptions about their ability and low
perceptions regarding their ability. Teacher 1D also believes that African American
students do not know how to communicate well and do not know how to stay on the
topic when they write. She also stated that they do not know how to ignore negative
comments. Teacher 2A stated that when teachers do not take action to help students,
lxix

some students shut down. In other words these students will stop working. Teacher 1D
said that she has to teach African American students manners and how to have a
conversation and listen instead of doing the talking. She also stated that having good
relationships with students is very important and that African American students are very
loyal and appreciative. This teachers statement is related to the research of McCombs
and Whisler (1997) which emphasized that students need to receive personal attention
from the teacher. They also said that interactions that are personal may include a
personal greeting, handshake, calling student by name, a pat on the back, note smile,
comment about interest or performance and or conversation with the student before or
after class. Teacher 1C reported that African American students are livelier when
working in cooperative groups. Although considered livelier by some educators, Stipeck
(2006) stated that even the most challenging students perform better for teachers who
show that they care about them as individualas and are committed to their success and
interests. Teacher 1B believes that African American students need to work more
kinesthetically in math than reading. She said she does use foldables, writing, drawing,
written plays, and poems to assist students in learning reading skills. Teacher 1B stated
that African American students like to answer questions. Three teachers, coded 1B, 2B,
and 3B said African American students are very verbal. One teacher, coded 1E, stated
that African American students have more difficulty when working with others during
cooperative grouping. She also believes that they are less interested in reading, read at
a lower level, and have lower reading skills than students of other ethnicities. However,
a 2007 report released by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) stated that most
of us probably do not read. The study reported that the number of people reading in the
lxx

United States has fallen over the past twenty years. Research showed that an indicator
of student success on college entrance exams is whether or not students are avid
readers. Teacher 2A said that her African American students often blurt out, are louder,
do not value good grades, and many times do not make an effort to complete
assignments. Teacher 2A also noted that many African American students are weaker
on TAKS objectives and less motivated to learn. Consideration must be given to the
research of Alderman (2004) on teacher efficacy. He found that teachers with a high
level of efficacy tend to recognize the importance of the role of the teacher, set high
expectations for student performance, take personal responsibility for student learning,
engage in goal setting for all statkeholders, exhibit confidence in their ability to affect
student learning, view themselves and their students as partners in the learning
process, expend greater effort, and persist longer in assisting student learning.

Practices that Affirm Engagement/Engage Students
Teacher 1B said that she builds background knowledge and does a literary workshop
that is centered around a theme of the week. She also uses books, discussions, and
pictures from the Internet. She said she buys high interest books geared toward
student interests such as world records, animals, and drawing. She buys books at
different reading levels and models reading, and share an intense interest in reading
with her students. This is consistent with the research of Vanderjag (2011) in which it
was found that if he a teacher wants her students to be successful he or she must
provide a rigorous, relevant reading classroom and allow students to have a choice
about what they want to read and encourage them to read while thinking critically.
lxxi

Teacher 2A said she moves students with behavior problems closer to her, has
materials available on her students’ desks so that there is no excuse, and does not draw
attention to the misbehavior. She says that her students know that they cannot fail.
Teacher 4A uses choral reading to address the difficulties of meeting the needs of her
African American students. Teacher 4C uses games and power point videos. She said
that partner reading and teaching using Tiers works. Using Tiers is a method in which
students are taught in groups based on ability or assessment results. Teacher 4B said
that building self-esteem, using small groups, and getting parents involved is very
important. She said she is appreciative of her school district for the training that she
received. This training helped her to implement and use small groups effectively. She
shared that she always has a parent breakfast at the beginning of the school year in
order build rapport with parents at the beginning of the school year. This is relevant to
the research on parental involvement. Research found that educators who are able to
engage students often involve parents or guardians (Stage & Quiroz, 1997). She
reported that one of her students came to her fourth grade classroom at kindergarten
level and is now on the end of second grade level in reading. She stated that she also
uses small grouping, does one on one conferences, teaches during her conference,
does a quote of the week, and has students complete self-assessments. Teacher 2A
stated during conferences, that her students set individual goals and are responsible for
keeping up with their goals. Teacher 1E said that manipulatives work well with African
American students. Teacher 1D believes that if the teacher is excited about reading the
students will be as well. She stated that it is important that teachers speak to students in
a respectful manner. One teacher, coded 1B, stated that she has her students read
lxxii

fluently with inflection, and expression. She also makes sure that her students
understand the lessons during weekly conferences. Teacher 2A uses novels, book talk,
Time magazine articles which are embedded in the reading curriculum, and other
current event articles. To engage students, she uses technology such as the computer,
visualizer and Ipad. Teacher 2A uses the ipad during student conferences. Teacher 2A
wants students to feel at home in her classroom. They helped to set up the classroom
with music, lamps, and a snack center. She and the students decorated the classroom,
at the beginning of the school year, one wall at a time. Everyone has a coordinating job
in her classroom. This practice is consistent with research that was reported by Kohn
(1996). The researcher stated that a classroom management system should include a
clearly defined purpose, measures to ensure autonomy, the ability to adapt or adjust
according to the circumstance, developmental appropriateness, student-friendly
presentation and implementation, and student involvement for ownership and sense of
democracy. Teacher 2A implemented what she calls “double dipping”. Double dipping is
when students return to her for extra tutoring. The students in her classroom help clean
up and organize. Research found that for optimal learning outcomes to occur, the
relationship between the learning environment and learning outcomes must be
recognized. The learning environment must provide opportunities for students to
develop a sense of personal competence and autonomy and positive relationships
(Reeve, 2002). Teacher 2A engages students during TAKS by using ideas such as
cutting apart objectives on a TAKS test and creating cards and having the students work
with partners or cooperatively to complete tasks instead of just doing worksheets every
day.
lxxiii

Practices that Prohibit Engagement and Disengage African American Students
In terms of practices that prohibit engagement, many teachers expressed the need to
focus on the state standardized test requirements to meet federal guidelines. Teachers
3A, 3B, 1C, 3D mentioned that until after the testing cycle was completed, they could
not spend much time on engaging practices such as novel reading and discussions,
lessons and discussions about current events, cooperative grouping, and the use of
newspaper articles. Gibson (2002) shared that teachers are most effective when they
care, not only about the curriculum but about students and share their lives with them.
This practice is quite detrimental because if students are not engaged during the test
preparation process or reading instruction, they will not benefit from either of these
practices. One grade four (Participant 1C) stated “I’m weak in the area of providing
challenging work.” She consistently stated she would “wait until after TAKS” which is
the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills. Although teachers asserted their
practices were relevant for African American Students, evidence was not present during
observations. Given the African American students in the classroom and the vast
research on cultural relavance this is critically important.

See Table # 4.

During

observations, most teachers did not have any multicultural displays or include children
of different backgrounds in the decoration of the rooms or materials. Research on the
importance of cultural relevance is a key factor. Edcators sometimes ignore the fact that
lessons should teach to the knowledge base of the learner. The deficiency possibly lies
in the system that refuses to accept differences among students. Culturally relevant
teaching supports and acknowledges the culture of the learner.

Students are not

empowered to learn because the negative self-image that often accompanies the
lxxiv

content of the curriculum, either by teaching or not recognizing it at all is eliminated
(Hanley, 1999). Only one teacher had displays of diverse children. Teacher 4A stated
that ensuring the curriculum and classroom displays, etc. are relevant is a big problem.
She said trying to figure it out is a problem. A culturally relevant teacher believes that all
students can succeed and is a part of the learning community and helps students make
connections between the subject matter and their world (Ladson-Billings, 2009). She
also said she tries to use the Internet and Encyclopedias to assist her with relevancy. A
few teachers had multicultural book selections. One teacher, coded 1E, stated that
relationships between student and teacher are very important. She also believes that
students hear negative comments about racism and teachers of other ethnicities at
home and this can be detrimental and prevent students from developing positive
relationships with teachers. Teacher 2A stated that the negative attitudes of students,
prevents good relationships from occurring. Teacher 1C stated that many students do
not read at home because they are too busy playing games.

At another school, there was no librarian and the students were not allowed to check
out books. Although there was a teacher facilitator and teachers can check out books
for the students, but very few teachers in the school utilized these options. Some
teachers actually asserted they could not check out books, but they did have the option.
If a teacher wants students to succeed, he or she must provide a rigorous, relevant
reading classroom and allow students to have a choice about what they want to read
and encourage them to read while thinking critically (Vanderjagt, 2011).

lxxv

Instructional Leadership and Engagement
Teacher 3C said having a supportive principal helps with student engagement.
Instructional leader 1F stated that African American data is always lower than other
subgroups. Instructional leader 3F stated that very few teachers hold conferences with
students. Instructional leader 2D said that students definitely show an improvement in
reading skills, particularly comprehension, when teachers use engaging techniques
during reading instruction. She said that they have an opportunity to extend their
knowledge and skills which is commensurate with research that a highly engaged
reader is also motivated to read and reads frequently and deeply (Wigfield, Guthrie,
Barbosa, et. al., 2008). Instructional leader 4D stated that very few teacher use
cooperative learning groups in the classroom. Instructional leader, coded 1F, shared
that teachers are not allowing time during their reading instruction to have discussions
with students about reading, books, and the importance of reading. Trelease (2006) did
research that showed that students from classrooms where there are more book
discussion tend to score higher on national reading assessments and read more than
the required classroom assignments. In addition, Conners (2000) found that reading
increases when adults take time to talk and listen to students about different ideas but
especially literary materials. Instructional leader 1F said that she notice that African
American students appear bored when a teacher is not using engagement to deliver his
or her lessons. All principals in the study believe that student engagement is important.

I once spoke to a student about his low reading scores. The teacher was concerned
because his grades had been dropping and she knew he was capable and previously
lxxvi

had grades higher than any other student in the classroom. He was once the best
student in the class according to the teacher. The student said he did not mind the
teacher or his mother sharing his great scores with each other or other adults. He said
that he typically is proud of his accomplishments. However, he did share with me that
the students often made fun of him because of his accomplishments and high grades.
He told me that it was not cool to be smart. This is consistent with Bill Cosby’s
statement. Cosby has been criticized for saying that African American students who
want to learn and who make good grades are often ostracized or intimidated by their
peers for their efforts and great achievement (Tembo, 2011).

Table # 4, participant observation classroom information, shows data from teacher
observation protocols. Observations were made in the classrooms of 16 teachers. The
total number of students enrolled in those classrooms was 318. The classes were made
up of 164 boys, 160 girls, and 186 African American students. The Likert type scales
lxxvii

were used to measure responses to questions related to student engagement. See
Table 4 below.
Table # 4
Participant Information

Nam
e

# of
Students

# of
African
American
Students

Total #
of Girls

Total #
of
Boys

1A

22

13

8

14

1B

20

10

13

7

1C

22

12

4

18

1D

18

4

10

8

1E

23

9

11

12

2A

14

4

7

7

2B

20

15

10

10

2C

21

17

13

4

3A

21

9

11

10

3B

22

11

11

11

3C

23

9

16

7

3D

20

9

11

9

3E

23

14

12

11

4A

15

15

7

8

4B
4C

18
16

15
16

8
8

10
8

Table # 5, teacher observation protocol, shows data from the 14 teacher participant
observations with A representing always, O often, S sometimes, R rarely, N never, and
NO meaning not observed.

Table # 5
Teacher Observation Protocol
Particip
ant

Q1 Strategie
s

Q2 Pacing

1A

R

S

Q3 Help

Q4 Introducti
on

Q5 Cooperati
ve

Q6
-Teaching
Style

A

S

O

R

lxxviii

1B

R

S

A

O

N

NO

1C

S

A

S

O

R

R

1D

R

O

S

S

N

R

1E

S

S

N

R

R

R

2A

A

A

A

N

A

N

2B

R

S

S

N

N

N

2C

A

A

A

O

A

A

3A

R

S

S

R

S

S

3B

NO

S

NO

R

NO

N

3C

A

A

A

A

NO

A

3D

A

A

A

N

N

S

3E

S

S

O

O

N

S

4A

A

A

A

S

A

A

4B

A

A

A

A

N

A

4C

S

S

S

R

S

S

Table # 5
Teacher
observation
Protocol
Participa
nt
1A
1B
1C
1D
1E
2A
2B
2C
3A
3B
3C
3D
3E
4A
4B
4C

Q7 Participa
tion
R
N
S
N
S
N
N
A
S
N
A
N
N
A
N
N

Q8Confiden
tial
R
O
S
R
S
A
R
S
R
S
A
S
N
A
A
S

Q9Cultural
Relevan
ce
R
R
R
R
R
A
N
S
R
N
N
N
A
N
N
N

lxxix

Q10 Read
Aloud
s
O
A
O
N
N
N
N
O
N
N
N
N
N
N
N
N

Q11 Discussi
ons
S
S
O
O
N
N
N
O
N
N
N
N
N
A
A
S

Q12
Stude
nt
Center
ed
S
O
O
S
N
A
R
A
N
N
A
N
O
A
A
S

Table # 5
Teacher observation Protocol

Particip
ant
1A
1B
1C
1D
1E
2A
2B
2C
3A
3B
3C
3D
3E
4A
4B
4C

Q12
Stude
nt
Center
ed
S
O
O
S
N
A
R
A
N
N
A
N
O
A
A
S

Q13 Technol
ogy
A
A
A
A
S
A
S
A
N
N
O
N
A
A
A
S

Q14 Encourage
ment
A
A
R
S
R
A
R
A
N
N
A
A
A
A
N
R

Q15 Transiti
ons
A
A
A
A
S
A
S
A
R
S
A
N
N
A
A
A

Q16 Interacti
ons
A
A
S
O
R
A
R
A
R
N
A
A
A
A
A
S

Q17 Resp
ect
A
A
S
O
S
A
R
A
R
N
A
A
O
A
A
S

Table # 5
Teacher observation Protocol
Particip
ant

Q18 Willingn

Q19Challe

Q20Inter

Q21 Organi

lxxx

Q22 Managem

Q23 AA

Q24 Enthusi

1A
1B
1C
1D
1E
2A
2B
2C
3A
3B
3C
3D
3E
4A
4B
4C

ess
S
O
S
S
S
A
R
A
S
N
A
N
N
A
A
S

nge
S
O
R
S
S
A
R
A
R
S
A
A
S
A
A
A

est
R
S
O
S
S
A
S
A
N
N
A
S
S
A
A
A

zed
O
A
A
A
O
A
A
A
R
A
A
A
O
A
A
N

Table # 5
Teacher observation Protocol

Particip
ant
1A
1B
1C
1D
1E
2A
2B
2C
3A
3B

Q25 T
Attitu
des
A
A
A
A
S
A
S
A
N
N

lxxxi

ent
S
A
A
A
S
A
S
A
S
S
A
A
A
A
A
S

Attitu
des
R
S
S
S
S
A
S
A
N
R
A
S
S
A
A
S

asm
S
A
O
O
S
A
N
A
N
A
A
N
S
A
A
S

3C
3D
3E
4A
4B
4C

A
A
A
A
A
S

Table # 6, student observation protocol, shows data from student observations from the
classrooms of participating teachers. Observations were made of students reactions to
the curriculum, presentation of instruction, activities, strategies and objectives.

Table # 6
Student Observation
Protocol

Particip
ant
1A
1B
1C
1D
2A
3A
3B
3C
3D
3E
4A
4B
4C

Q1 Strategie
s
S
O
O
S
A
S
R
A
A
S
A
A
R

Q2 Pacing
A
O
O
A
A
S
R
A
A
S
A
A
S

Q3 Help
R
O
R
S
A
S
R
A
NO
S
S
A
S

lxxxii

Q4 Introduc
tion
S
S
S
A
A
S
N
A
O
S
S
A
S

Q5 Coopera
tive
O
S
NO
NO
A
O
NO
A
NO
NO
A
NO
O

Table # 6
Student Observation Protocol

Particip
ant

Q6
-Teachin
g Style

Q7 Participa
tion

Q8Confiden
tial

Q9Cultural
Relevan
ce

Q10 - Read
Alouds

1A
1B
1C
1D
2A
3A
3B
3C
3D
3E
4A
4B
4C

O
A
S
O
A
S
R
A
S
O
A
A
S

A
O
S
NO
NO
NO
NO
A
NO
NO
S
NO
S

R
S
S
A
A
O
NO
A
NO
A
NO
NO
NO

R
R
R
S
A
NO
NO
NO
N
S
N
N
NO

S
O
O
A
NO
S
S
NO
NO
S
NO
NO
NO

See Table # 7. Instructional leader 2D said that African American students do not
always ask for assistance and she does not see many teachers who offer confidential
assistance. Instructional leader 3F said that culturally relevant material is available but
they tries to address the needs of the specific culture that has a celebration each month
lxxxiii

so they decorate their school based on the holiday. Instructional leader 2D said that
African American students enjoy learning through songs, movement activities, skits, and
projects, but very few teachers teach in this manner due to TAKS testing.

Table # 7
principal/instructional leader survey

Particip
ant
1F
2D
3F
4D

Q1- score
lower
A
O
S
O

Q2respond
positivel
y
O
A
S
S

Q3improvem
ent
O
S
O
A

Q4conferen
ces
R
S
S
O

Q5Choose
books
S
R
A
S

Table # 7
principal/instructional leader survey

Particip
ant
1F
2D
3F

O
A
S

Q7-AA
engage
d
during
reading
S
S
S

Q8coopera
tive
learning
S
A
S

lxxxiv

Q9:disc
ussions,
novels, etc.
R
A
S

Q10-student
centered learning
S
A
S

4D

S

S

O

S

O

CHAPTER V[]]]]
Summary, Implications, Conclusion,
At one school students were gathered together one morning listening to another
student laugh about his cousin being a nerd. She said that she went to her cousin’s
house and all he did was read the dictionary. Then she and the other students laughed
uproariously at her comment. They then told me about the comment and I told them
that I was a nerd. They said I did not look like a nerd and I told them that all nerds do
not look the same. I then told them that the cousin was working on his vocabulary. We
started discussing different words when the music teacher walked by and asked what
lxxxv

we were doing. I told him that we were working on our vocabulary and he said oh you
mean you are working on your vernacular. The students tried to pronounce the word
and eventually, with practice, were successful. We told them to practice learning a word
a week or a day and use it consistently throughout the day. They did go back and tell
their teachers that they were working on their vernacular. The next morning they came
up to me with excited grins and asked for a new word.

Summary of Findings
As a whole, I found that reading engagement is important to educators but few
understand its meaning nor or they aware of how to implement it into their daily lessons,
particularly while preparing students for TAKS. One prominent piece from the principals
is that African American students are engaged when teachers use songs, games,
movement activities, and other non-traditional means of instruction but few teachers
instruct in this manner. Prominent goals and issues from the teachers of the four
schools include the importance of building a relationship with students, connections with
the subject matter, and not being able to engage students due to behavior. Teachers are
not always aware when students are engaged. One critical observation by educators is
that African American students are very verbal but do not have a large vocabulary and
therefore are weak in vocabulary skills in reading. Many educators believe that
vocabulary hinders African American students’ interest and success in reading.
Vocabulary is critical to reading success.
Teachers limit novels, current events, games, instruction using learning styles,
cooperative grouping, activities, nor allow students to participate in discussions due to
lxxxvi

the state assessment. Teachers also stated that they African American students do not
like to read and are not motivated to do well in school. Some teachers have perceptions
about African American students that lead to low expectations for progress.
Educators are not clear about the indicators that demonstrate student
engagement. A simple indicator of engagement is an observation of a student who is
totally immersed in the activity, lesson, discussion, book, etc. There are consistent
strategies that teachers use to effectively engage African American students during
reading strategies. Some teachers reported that all students are the same and that they
see no color. Research indicates that different students have different needs and those
needs will not be met if a teacher believes that all children are the same. She will
therefore teach as though all children are the same.

Implications
In this section, I include the implications for research in terms of additional
information to enhance the body of knowledge about engagement of African American
students. Subsequently, I include recommendations for how to improve the work done
in schools to actively engage African American students.
Implications for Research
Additional research is needed in the areas of professional development for
teachers and instructional leaders, the engagement process, assessment of engaging
lxxxvii

practices in the classroom, and curriculum that works. Additional research is also
needed in the area of teacher perception of African American students, motivating
African American students to read, building vocabulary and positive student teacher
relationships, cultural relevancy and literacy discussions.
Research is also needed on reading instruction. Teachers often teach reading
only with a textbook, workbook, pencil, paper, and often a test on recall. This does not
allow students to think critically and most times students are not allowed to talk or
discuss the material that is presented. This does not set the atmosphere to develop
positive relationships with teachers. If students are taught in an engaging manner, it
may be possible that they may learn to enjoy reading. This research is necessary
because positive relationships foster productivity in the learning environment. One of an
educator’s goals should be to build strong communication bridges with their students
which leads to reading discussions in which students are not afraid to communicate with
their teachers and peers (Reeve, 2002).
Implications for Practice
To improve the instruction, leadership, and curriculum for African American
students to be engaged in reading, I recommend that professional development in the
areas of student engagement and reading instruction should be a priority to student
success. This work is important because as the framework shows support from the
principal and relationships are important to success. Engagement produces students
who are motivated, strategic, knowledgeable, and socially interactive. As principals
supports and monitors students engagement, the teacher provides engaging instruction
(Expansion of Grambrell’s model, 2010).
lxxxviii

Results of the survey, observations, and interviews, all based on literature, a
veteran literacy coach’s feedback, and a school district reading supervisor were
compiled with the purpose of generating instructional implications that will have an
impact on current educational methods involving African American student engagement
in reading. Results of the study could provide an instructional basis for the
improvement of reading for African American students and educators. Improvement in
reading could also be of benefit to students in other subject areas. Research could
provide pertinent information as to how best instruct African American students in
reading and it could also determine best classroom practices that lead to African
American student engagement in reading.
Furthermore, it could determine common techniques used by teachers who
effectively engage African American students during reading instruction. It could lead to
additional research on observing, monitoring and evaluating engagement of African
American students in reading which would assist principals as they seek to be
successful instructional leaders. This additional research in reading instruction for
African American students will be valuable to parents, educators, and the community at
large.

Conclusions
In conclusion, educators understand the importance of engaging African
American students during reading instruction but are not sure how to accomplish this
task. They offer a wide array of definitions for student engagement. It is important that
the word engagement is made clear to all educators. Some teachers are not sure how
lxxxix

to implement it during reading instruction. They only see these practices as the ‘other’
curriculum to be done after TAKS.
I conducted this research to examine the role of the principal and teacher in
engaging African American students in reading. Reading instruction in schools is critical
to success in areas. Teachers often complain about student low math scores due to the
inability of students to read the problem. In order to get African American students
interested in reading we must model the excitement of reading and show them what we
do while reading. We must develop programs that motivate students to read, programs
that engage children during reading instruction. Teachers must understand that teaching
reading can be enjoyable for the students as well as the teacher. The student teacher
relationship is important to African American student success. Teacher perception of
students is also important to success. A positive relationship must develop in order to
ensure success. Teacher efficacy plays a major role in student behavior. Reading is
active not passive and we must teach children to enjoy reading actively.
Recommendation for Future Research
There are many more steps we need to take to ensure success for African American
students in reading. We must get them interested in reading. Research is needed on
students perceptions of effective reading instruction, motivating reading programs,
teacher efficacy, relevancy, engagement, and support from teachers and administrators.
Research is recommended on student teacher relationships and instructional practices
that enhance reading instruction. One recommendation is that research be conducted
on cultural relevance in curriculum, language, school environment, and other areas of
life. It is vitally important that we find out why students do not read. We need to consult
xc

the students to ascertain their needs and then move on to do as much as possible to
help them reach their highest potential and give them a thirst for knowledge. That’s the
goal of education.

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Appendix A
The Role of Principals and Teachers in the Engagement of
African American Students in Reading
Researcher: Porchaneé A. White
Major Professor: Lisa Hobson, Ph. D.
Teacher Interview Protocol Instrument #1
The following instrument will be used as the interview protocol for classroom teachers.
Demographic Information
ciii

Name

#
1

2

3

4

5

6

Date

total # of
students

Questions
INSTRUCTION
Which of the following
strategies do you employ to
facilitate student engagement
for all ethnicities, particularly
African American students
during reading instruction:
a) Discussions
b) Cooperative grouping
c) Student centered
learning
What consistent practices do
you use to ensure that
engagement among African
American students during
reading instruction occurs?

total # of African
American
students

total # of
girls

Comments
INSTRUCTION

How do you address
difficulties in meeting the
needs of African American
students during reading
instruction?
How do you address the
different learning styles of
African American students
during reading instruction?
How many hours of reading
instruction do you provide for
students each week and how
do you provide additional
instruction for African
American students as
needed?
What is your view on student
engagement in the following
areas:
a) Definition
b) Importance
c) Implementation
civ

total # of
boys

7

8

9

How do you know when your
students are engaged? How
do you know when your
African American students
are engaged? Discuss the
similarities and differences
between African American
students and students of
other ethnicities as it relates
to reading instruction and
engagement.
What do you do to ensure
that the following practices
occur regularly in your
classroom for all students,
particularly African American
students?
a) Discussions about
novels, articles,
magazines, current
events in newspapers,
etc.
b) Challenging work
c) Relevant Material
d) Student Centered
Learning

LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
How do you structure the
physical classroom
environment to engage
students, specifically African
American students during
reading instruction?
Describe your classroom
management system?

LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

cv

10 What indicators suggest to
you that your students are
engaged in the classroom
during reading instruction?
What indicators suggest to
you that your African
American students are
engaged during reading
instruction?
11 How do you monitor and use
cooperative
grouping/learning?
12 What differences/similarities
have you observed in African
American students when
compared to students of other
ethnicities during the
following types of instruction:
a) Cooperative learning
b) Discussions pertaining to
reading
c) Other instructional
practices
13 What differences/similarities
have you observed in African
American students compared
to students of other ethnicities
in their attitudes towards
reading and reading
instruction?
14 How do you view the
relationships between you
and your students,
particularly your African
American students? How
important is building a
positive relationship with your
students?
STUDENT SKILLS & DATA

STUDENT SKILLS & DATA

cvi

15 How do you use existing data
to make decisions that impact
the reading engagement of
students? How do you use
existing data to make
decisions that impact the
reading engagement of
African American students?
16 Describe your students’
abilities, weaknesses,
strengths, skills, and levels?
A) All students
B) African American
students
17 How does the Internet,
games, television, cell phone
or other electronic devices
affect students’ ability to
concentrate and be engaged
in reading instruction?
18 Describe the methods used to
motivate and encourage
students, particularly African
Americans who may have
poor skills and lack selfesteem, to read, including
incentives and the frequency
that students choose to read.
How do you think incentives
to read affect student
progress and reading skills?

19 How does teacher attitude
towards reading affect
students’ attitude towards
reading? How does this
affect student progress in
reading?
20 Describe the procedures and
dialogue used when
conferencing about students’
reading progress.
cvii

Appendix B
The Role of Principals and Teachers in the Engagement of
African American Students in Reading
Researcher: Porchaneé A. White
Major Professor: Lisa Hobson, Ph. D.
Initial Teacher Observation Protocol Instruments # 2 and # 3
cviii

The following instrument will be used as the initial and final observation for teachers.

1

INSTRUCTION
Teacher uses specific
strategies or techniques to
keep African American students
engaged

2

Pacing of lesson is effective to
prevent boredom

3

Teacher monitors, facilitates,
and assists when needed while
African American students are
working.

4

Introduction of lesson provokes
interest in new content for
African American students.

5

Cooperative Grouping is
evident and used effectively
and African American students
respond positively.
Different strategies are used to
address the different learning

6

cix

Never

total # of African
American students

Rarely

Sometimes

Observation Items

Often

#

Total # of
students

Always

Demographic Information
Name
Date

total # of
girls

total # of
boys

styles and abilities of African
American students.
7

African American students
participate in movement
activities, songs, skits or
projects to enhance reading
instruction.

8

Teacher uses many checks to
determine if students,
specifically, African American
students are attending to the
lesson. Different types of
assessments determine
mastery.

9

Culturally relevant materials are
evident to meet the needs of
African American students.

10

Teacher implements
read alouds.

11

Discussions are evident and
African American students
participate willingly.

12

Student-centered learning is
evident and African American
students participate willingly.

13

Technology is used to enhance
instruction and African
American students respond
positively.
LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
cx

14

Teacher positively encourages
African American students in
their efforts to seek answers.

15

Transitions occur smoothly.

16

Positive interactions occur
between African American
students and the teacher and
students of other ethnicities.

17

African American students’
approaches, problems, and
strategies are treated
respectfully by the teacher and
other students.

18

Student centered learning is
evident and African American
students participate willingly.
African American students
show signs of being challenged
but not overwhelmed.

19

20

African American students
show signs of interest and not
boredom during reading
instruction.

21

The physical environment is
organized and clutter free.

cxi

22

African American students are
aware of the classroom
management system, routines,
and procedures and adhere to
the system of management.

23

African American students
show positive attitudes towards
reading and reading instruction.

24

African American students
show positive attitudes and are
enthusiastic towards instruction
that is enhanced by the use of
technology.

25

Teacher displays positive
attitude towards reading and
reading instruction.

cxii

Appendix C
The Role of Principals and Teachers in the Engagement of
African American Students in Reading
Researcher: Porchaneé A. White
Major Professor: Lisa Hobson, Ph. D.
Interview Questions for Principals/Instructional Leaders Protocol Instrument # 4
The following instrument will be used as the interview questions for
principals/instructional leaders.
Demographic Information
Name
Date

#
1

Total # of
students

total # of African
American
students

Questions
Instruction
Describe conferences with
teachers related to African
American students,
engagement, and reading
instruction.

2

How do you know when African
American students are
engaged?

3

How do you evaluate student
engagement in classrooms,
specifically where African
American students are present?

4

Describe the frequency of
classroom visits and techniques
you use to monitor and observe
student engagement among
African Americans during
reading instruction.

total # of
girls

Comments
INSTRUCTION

cxiii

total # of
boys

5

6

7

What techniques and strategies
have you observed teachers
using to keep African American
students engaged during
reading instruction? How does
technology affect reading
instruction for African American
students?
Describe your observations of
the following as it relates to
African American student
engagement.
a) discussions
b) challenging assignments
c) relevancy
d) student centered learning
e) cooperative grouping
LEARNING ENVIRONMENT
Describe the importance of your
relationship with teachers and
teachers’ relationship with
students.

LEARNING ENVIRONMENT

8

Describe reading incentives and
programs currently in place to
promote independent reading
and that allow students,
including African Americans, to
read at their independent
reading levels.
9 Describe the differences and
similarities in the relationship
between staff members’
attitudes and African American
students’, as well as students of
other ethnicities, attitudes
towards reading.
10 Describe how classroom
management, routines, and
procedures affect African
American students’
engagement.
STUDENT SKILLS AND DATA

STUDENT SKILLS AND DATA
cxiv

11 Describe the reading levels,
abilities, and progress of your
African American students.
12 How do you use existing data to
make decisions about reading
instruction and student
engagement that affects African
American learners?

cxv

Appendix D
The Role of Principals and Teachers in the Engagement of
African American Students in Reading
Researcher: Porchaneé A. White
Major Professor: Lisa Hobson, Ph. D.
Survey Questions for Principals/Instructional Leaders Protocol Instrument # 5
The following instrument will be used as survey questions for principals/instructional
leaders.
Demographic Information

1

Do African American
students score lower on
reading assessments
than students of other
ethnicities?

2

Do African American
students respond
positively to engaging
reading instruction?

3

Do African American
students show
improvement in reading
scores when the teacher
uses engaging
techniques during
reading instruction?

total # of African
American
students

Never

Rarely

Sometimes

Questions

Total # of
students

Often

#

Date

Always

Name

cxvi

total # of
girls

Comments

total # of
boys

4

5

Do teachers hold
conferences with African
American students about
reading progress and
their weaknesses and
strengths?
Is time allotted for African
American students to
choose books that are of
interest to them and at
their independent reading
levels?

6

Do you regularly monitor
and evaluate student
engagement during
classroom reading
instruction?

7

Are African American
students usually engaged
during reading
instruction?

8

Is cooperative grouping
used as a method to
engage African American
students during reading
instruction?

9

Are discussions centered
on articles, novels,
newspapers, current
events, and other reading
resources used to
engage African American
students in reading?
Does student centered
learning occur regularly in
classrooms that provide
reading instruction for
African American
students?

10

cxvii

Appendix E
The Role of Principals and Teachers in the Engagement of
African American Students in Reading
Researcher: Porchaneé A. White
Major Professor: Lisa Hobson, Ph. D.
Student Observation Protocol Instrument # 6
The following instrument will be used as the observation protocol for students.

1

African American students
are engaged when the
teacher uses specific
strategies or techniques.

2

African American students
do not appear bored. Pacing
of lesson is effective to
prevent boredom

3

Students are engaged while
working individually or in
groups. African American
students ask for help as
needed.

4

Introduction of lesson

total # of African
American
students

Rarely

Sometimes

Often

Observation Items

Always

#

Total # of
students

Never

Demographic Information
Name
Date

cxviii

total # of
girls

total # of
boys

Comments

5

provokes interest in new
content for African American
students.
African American students
respond positively to
cooperative grouping.

6

African American students
are receptive to the teacher’s
style of teaching. Is the style
of teaching one or more
styles?

7

African American students
participate willingly in
movement activities, songs,
skits or projects to enhance
reading instruction.

8

African American students
are able to receive
confidential assistance if
necessary.

9

Culturally relevant materials
are evident to meet the
needs of African American
students. African American
students are interested in
culturally relevant materials.

10

African American students
respond positively to
read alouds.

cxix