Education researchers receive grant to address race literacy in elementary schools

KENNESAW, Ga. | Oct 14, 2020

Kennesaw State University elementary teacher educators and researchers Sohyun An and Scott Ritchie of the Bagwell College of Education are working to help elementary school teachers conduct meaningful classroom discussions about social issues and the impact that racism can have on their students.

Sohyun An
Sohyun An
Through a $50,000 grant from the Spencer Foundation, a leading supporter of education research, An and Ritchie will conduct a case study analysis of three local elementary school teachers who successfully teach racial literacy. In this pilot study next year, they will address questions related to the teachers’ beliefs about race, teaching racial literacy, and their practices around race-related content.

“We want teachers to be able to have open and honest dialogue with their students on issues of race, racism, white supremacy, power and privilege when they arise during class discussions,” An explained. “From these experiences, students can learn how to become informed, engaged citizens and change makers for an anti-racist, anti-oppressive world.”

An, professor of social studies education, and Ritchie, associate professor of language and literacy education, have examined the relationship between language, power and identity as depicted in various texts such as social studies books and children’s picture books.

Their goal is to help better prepare teachers in engaging learners of a rapidly increasing multicultural world by incorporating more of the students’ backgrounds and experiences into the curriculum. The research team will study how elementary school teachers can effectively cultivate and facilitate powerful and meaningful conversations on race and racism during lessons, most prevalent in language arts, writing and social studies.

“Race and racism are considered taboo topics in elementary schools in the U.S.,” said Ritchie. “Yet, studies indicate that children recognize race and internalize racism at an early age, signifying that discussions of race in schools could help children learn how to combat racism.”

Scott Ritchie
Scott Ritchie
Ritchie further noted that, although teaching racial literacy has proven successful in the secondary, post-secondary, and community settings, almost no resources are available for elementary school settings.

“By gathering data on successful elementary teachers of racial literacy education, we will build theory and develop new foundational knowledge that may have a lasting impact on educational discourse on how to teach racial literacy to elementary students,” said Ritchie.

From this initial work on a conceptual framework for racial literacy education at the K-5 level, An and Ritchie plan to translate their project results into a larger study focused on elementary school teachers from around the country who also exhibit best practices for teaching racial literacy.

“The more concrete everyday stories and examples of anti-racist pedagogy at the elementary level that we can highlight through our research, the more powerful the impact will be on other elementary teachers who are willing to take the difficult, and too often less-traveled road, but are unsure where or how to start,” An said.

Joëlle Walls

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