You are on page 1of 8

Using Culturally

Relevant Pedagogy
to Teach Ninth Grade
Social Studies

Wayne Scolpini

9th grade is arguably the most difficult grade to teach. It is the first year of high school,

puberty is in full effect and students are forming cliques. Trying to keep their attention for 40-

50 mins a day for five days a week is literally a full-time job. How to get the attention of 9th

grade students is job one, and keeping it for the entire period, week, month and year is the

next job. It our job as teachers to convince the student of the importance of our subject areas,

this essay will focus on social studies, to hook them in, make them buy in to what we are

teaching and buy in to why what they are learning is important. This essay will explore

scholarship written about social studies, about ninth graders and my experiences with both in

the classroom setting. The culmination of this essay will provide a plan on how to teach social

studies to ninth grade, urban, minorities, over a ten-week period and how to get them to buy in

and keep them bought in.

First, we will examine what we know about ninth graders. We know that this is their

freshman year in high school. Making the transformation from eight grade, where they were

the oldest back into the youngest is a difficult one. Ninth graders typically range in age from 13-

15 years old; right in the beginning stages of their raging hormone period known as puberty.

The combination of raging hormones, the formation of cliques and the insecurity of going from

children to teenager creates a whirlwind of a year for these freshmen. Next, we take a look at

social studies itself. In ninth grade social studies is World History and Geography I. The time

period starts at 10,000 BCE and covers until the Transcontinental Slave Trade, that’s roughly

11,500 years of history packed into one year of education. In some cases, high school students

learn to dislike social studies. They bring in an attitude of “why do we need to learn about a

bunch of dead, old, white people?” and to be honest, they aren’t wrong. A disdain of social


studies comes from the fact that the curriculum is written by white men from a white man’s

perspective, for students. This causes huge rift for non-white students. It creates a bias in favor

of white people. This can turn off many students in urban areas. Many, like myself see studying

history as a way to improve the future and not make the same mistakes as humans that we had

made in the past. Social studies are a difficult area to plan for as well. History is a living content

area. Every year that goes by, is added to the content area. If the first year we study is the year

10,000 BCE, we are up to 2018 now, that’s 12,018 years of history and counting. It is hard to

enter all that time and make it interesting for any grade, let alone the huge chunk just in World

History and Geography 1 in ninth grade.

I will now compare and contrast two different teachers, from two different schools that

have two very different teaching styles that I have observed during my time as an undergrad in

college. Both of these schools are in very different areas and have completely opposite

diverseness. The first school we will look at is in the Bronx, NY. This school consists mostly of

minorities. The teacher, who I will refer to as “Mr. X” for purposes of keeping it anonymous and

respectful, teaches ninth grade global 1 during third period of the day. The class consist of 18

female students and 2 male students. The student body is all considered minorities in the grand

scale of the country, but not in this school district. This teacher has very little control over the

class. Part of it may be because the students are not well behaved, another reason is that they

aren’t interested in the content. It is the teacher’s job to develop a way for the students to buy

in and make a connection with the subject. This teacher does mostly lecture the students. The

students just don’t care about lecture. It doesn’t spark any interest in them with the material.

Moving to the other school that is in a suburban area and is about 95% white students. This


teacher, “Mr. Z”, does a lot of group work and guided practice. He lectures for about 10

minutes of the class. The rest of the period is led by the students. They lead the discussion and

do a lot of group work together. This class has a lot of projects and moving around the class.

There is very little time spent sitting in the chair taking notes. Both teachers are white males in

their mid-forties. Students success in Mr. Z’s class is relevant because they are learning things

about people who look like them, from a man that looks like them. The lack of success and

control of the classroom is tied to Mr. X’s ethnicity and the lack of using culturally relevant

pedagogy in his classroom.

Brown v. Board of Education (1954), was 64 years ago and it can be argued that our

schools are just as segregated now as they were over sixty years ago (Lleras 2008). The decision

of Brown v. Board of Education legally ended segregation in the United States, however, the

achievement gap between white and black students has never been greater (Lleras 2008). This

is because African American students cannot connect with the material and teachers are not

helping them connect with it. According to research, African American children begin

elementary school approximately one year behind white students in vocabulary knowledge and

they finish high school four years behind white students (Lleras 2008). That statistic is mind

blowing. To think that African American students will be at a ninth-grade level while in the

twelfth grade is almost unfathomable. What are we saying about ourselves as teachers that this

is an acceptable thing in our country? One of the reasons this gap is so immense is that at

schools that are predominantly African American/minority based is that they do not offer

enough higher learning opportunities and in schools that are predominantly white, minorities

are not placed in those classes (Lleras 2008). Ninth grade is the first year of high school and if


we, as educators, are not providing the opportunity for students to succeed at higher levels

how are we to know if they can even learn at a higher level? Teachers are largely to blame for

lack of success of the students. White teachers, mostly unknowingly, undermine the learning of

minority students. (Tyson 2003). Minority students are forced to leave their home culture at

home and when they come to school, they are forced to learn and adapt to a culture that fits

middle-class, white culture (Tyson 2003). These students not only have to go through the

stressful rigor of the school curriculum, but now they have to learn an entirely different way of

life, not to mention dodge the landmines of social status and puberty. Why should these

students have to completely change their culture at the door, essentially leaving their ethnicity

at the door and be painted white? Adding these pressures to conform are detrimental to the

psyche of students, especially those of ninth graders. African American students are held to a

higher, stricter standard when it comes to behavior as well. There are heavy demands placed

on black students to conform to the highest standards of behavior so that they do not confirm

the stereotype of uncivilized black person (Tyson 2003). Adding behavioral consequences

hinders African American learning as well. If the students are consistently out of class for

punishment, they cannot learn what is being taught inside the classroom. All the statistics in the

world can help form a theory of how to help the minority students, but what can actually be

done to help them? Gloria Ladson-Billings is known as the creator of “culturally relevant

pedagogy”. It is essential for connecting with students based on differences in culture, language

and materials. The theory behind culturally relevant pedagogy is to have cultural competence,

which is the ability to interact effectively with people of different cultures, critical

consciousness which the ability is to question yourself and your environment and purposeful


classroom choices, which means do not choose to do things in your classroom just for the sake

of doing them. Culturally relevant teachers do not need to come from the same ethnic

background as the students they teach (Osborne 1996). It is desirable to involve the parents

and families of children from marginalized and normalized groups (Osborne 1996). It is

desirable to include students’ first languages in the school program and in classrooms

interactions (Osborne 1996). These three assertions are critical in culturally relevant pedagogy

in today’s classrooms.

Taking into consideration the scholarly work done on the subjects of teaching ninth

grade minorities, teaching social studies to those minorities and combining that with my

experiences in classroom observations, I have developed a plan to help teach social studies to

minorities. Taking into consideration that I am a white male that will teach social studies, it can

be off-putting to minorities. I am just another white guy, teaching them about dead white guys.

Well step one is to be confident in what I am teaching. Teaching ninth graders means Global

History 1. Every area of history that is covered in the standard will include people of different

minorities. In every aspect there are minorities involved in historical context. It is imperative to

include these figures in teaching. I will introduce these figures with historical context of their

lives, if available, and primary sources for those minorities as well. Teaching the students to

understand the perspective from which these primary sources are written, spoken, pictured or

painted. By being able to see things through the perspective of their ancestors and teaching the

history of their culture, it will engage them in the curriculum. Step two is involving their

parents. This can be somewhat difficult to do sometimes. Every students home situation is

different but if I can get the parents involved, they can reinforce the things being taught in the


classroom and be involved with their children’s learning can help them engage in the material

even more. Step three is including students first or native languages into the class. Mostly this

language will be some version of a Hispanic language. Admittedly I can understand Spanish

much more than I can speak it. But I can speak enough to hold my own in a conversation. By

either greeting the students in Spanish or joking with them in Spanish during the lessons, this

will create a stronger bond with the students and further their engagement. Doing all these

things over the course of ten weeks will help the students to buy in to what I’m teaching them.

Introducing culturally relevant pedagogy into classrooms dominated by minorities, as ironic as

that sounds, because students learn what they know. Instead of shedding their cultural and

ethnical skin at the door and putting on white skin, they get to experience heir history, along

with pairing it with the curriculum. I will also use paired texts to help teach the curriculum.

Using music and film to accompany the lessons and help the students become more engaged in

learning will help them succeed in my class, future classes and on their standardized tests.

In conclusion, teaching ninth graders is difficult. Teaching social studies is difficult

because history is ever evolving. Teaching social studies to ninth grade minorities is a

monstrous task. I believe that being completely involved and into culturally relevant pedagogy

is the proper way to teach ninth grade minorities. By using the tactics, I have outlined in this

study, engaging minorities in learning social studies should help them be successful, and the

teacher is only successful if the students succeed.



Lleras, C. (2008). Race, Racial Concentration, and the Dynamics of Educational Inequality
Across Urban and Suburban Schools. American Educational Research Journal,45(4),
886-912. doi:10.3102/0002831208316323

Osborne, A. B. (1996). Practice into Theory into Practice: Culturally Relevant Pedagogy for
Students We Have Marginalized and Normalized. Anthropology & Education
Quarterly,27(3), 285-314. doi:10.1525/aeq.1996.27.3.04x0351m

Tyson, K. (2003). Notes from the Back of the Room: Problems and Paradoxes in the Schooling
of Young Black Students. Sociology of Education,76(4), 326. doi:10.2307/1519869