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UEXXXX10.1177/0042085919877934Urban EducationKirmaci et al.

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Urban Education
1­–33
“Being on the Other © The Author(s) 2019
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DOI: 10.1177/0042085919877934
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Qualitative Study of journals.sagepub.com/home/uex

a Community-Based
Science Learning
Program With Latinx
Families

Mehtap Kirmaci1 , Cory A. Buxton2,


and Martha Allexsaht-Snider1

Abstract
Building upon a Freirean notion of dialogic education, the purpose of this
multi-case study was to explore what happened when secondary science
teachers came together with Latinx parents for their children’s science
learning in the context of a community-based science learning program.
Constant comparative analysis of data revealed similarities and differences
among the cases that were analyzed in three categories: recognition,
adaptation, and pro-action. Implications are that in-depth exposure to
content-based cultural immersion programs with parents can be beneficial
for teachers to cultivate a broader vision of science (and other content area)
teaching linked to students’ lives and communities.

Keywords
community-based science learning program, multi-case study, parent
involvement, science education, teacher professional development

1University of Georgia, Athens, USA


2Oregon State University, Corvallis, USA

Corresponding Author:
Mehtap Kirmaci, Univeristy of Georgia, 630 Aderhold Hall, Athens, GA 30602, USA.
Email: mkirmaci@uga.edu
2 Urban Education 00(0)

It was 7:30 am on a winter’s Saturday morning. The icy wind, forcing the tree
branches to dance in harmony, blew the cold straight into my face. As I
hurried toward the building through the howling wind, I placed several signs
on the brick walls of the building that read, “Steps to College through Science
Bilingual Family Workshop (Pasos Hacia la Universidad A Través de la
Ciencia Taller Familiar Bilingüe),” and “Bilingual Family Conversations
(Conversaciones Familiares Bilingües),” and “Take the Elevator (Toma el
Ascensor).” As soon as I finished this job, I came inside to warm up. I took
the elevator up to the second floor and entered the hall that was crowded with
people. I was surprised to see that there were more than a hundred-people
clustered in the hall despite the inclement weather conditions. I saw Latinx
middle and high school students, parents, siblings, secondary science and
ESOL teachers, and graduate assistants who worked as the project researchers.
Everyone was energetic and excited about the day and seemed genuinely
happy to be actively engaged in the event. The hall was filled with the noise
of families chatting, enjoying snacks and soft drinks, calling out, and lining
up for their turn to sign-in. On the far left, one tall male student wearing a red
hoodie was explaining something to his friends with animation. Next to him,
three groups of families sat on a bench eating their snacks. Further to the
right, four teachers were having a conversation and looking at the agenda that
was attached to their clipboards (Excerpt from field notes of the STC
workshop, February 28, 2015).

As we launched the Step to College through Science bilingual family work-


shops (STC workshops hereafter) in 2009, we have had the privilege to work
closely with groups of urban Latinx families and secondary English for
speakers of other languages (ESOL) and science teachers from five middle
and three high schools located in two small Southeastern cities that have
become new Latinx diaspora destinations. The STC workshops were one
component of a larger National Science Foundation (NSF)-funded research
project, aiming to enhance Latinx middle and high school students’ science
learning and college preparation (Buxton, Allexsaht-Snider, & Rivera, 2012).
In the course of these projects, we regularly heard from parents who shared
their thoughts and their gratitude for the learning opportunities that STC
workshops provided for their children. But what about the teachers? How did
being present in those workshops over several years influence their thinking
about their roles as urban educators and their relationships with Latinx emer-
gent bilingual students1 and their families? How can lessons learned from
these teachers be used to support other teachers who are seeking new
approaches to empower students and families?
Too often, family–school–community collaboration is viewed as a supple-
mentary activity that is secondary to the main characteristics of effective
Kirmaci et al. 3

schools (Mapp, 2012). However, as Freire (1998) argued, “the school cannot
abstract itself from the socio-cultural and economic conditions of its students,
their families, and their communities” (p. 62). The unfortunate reality is that
the American public school system often seems to function contrary to this
idea. The current climate of public schools in the United States operates
within a framework that insists on measurable and technical principles of
learning, such as standards-based instruction coupled to high-stakes assess-
ments (Nieto, 2014; Sleeter, 2012). Raising awareness of the fundamental
role that minoritized families and communities play in pathways to high-
quality education requires a reevaluation of current educational policy and
practices around family–school–community interactions.
With rapid and continuing cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic diversi-
fication in urban schools (Parker, Horowitz, Brown, Fry, & D’Vera Cohn,
2018), researchers have begun to reconsider how we prepare teachers to part-
ner with culturally and linguistically diverse families and to respond to the
evolving needs and strengths of our changing student population (e.g., Gallo,
Wortham, & Bennett, 2015; Johnson, 2014; Schecter & Sherri, 2009;
Zeichner, Bowman, Guillen, & Napolitan, 2016). However, studies that
examine family–school–community interactions through a content area
focus, such as science, continue to be limited (Hammond, 2001; Ramirez,
McCollough, & Diaz, 2016; Upadhyay, 2009). Building upon a Freirean
notion of dialogic education, in this qualitative multi-case study, we sought to
explore what happened when four in-service secondary science teachers
came together with Latinx parents/grandparents in support of their children’s
science learning in the context of STC bilingual family workshops. The over-
arching question guiding this study was as follows: How did urban secondary
science teachers conceptualize the ways in which their participation in the
workshops influenced their perspectives and practices about working with
their Latinx students and their families?
This study focuses on the understandings that we gained from the con-
stant comparative analysis and interpretation of interview and participant
observation data collected over the span of 3 years. Our aim was to apply
Freire’s (1998, 2005, 2013) notion of dialogic education to provide a real-
istic portrayal of how urban science teachers can facilitate dialogic science
learning interactions with their marginalized students and families while
functioning within a monocultural and monolinguistic oriented school cli-
mate. The experiences of these teachers highlight valuable lessons for edu-
cators working with immigrant families to support their adolescent
children’s content area learning while also contributing to the growing
body of literature examining how preservice and in-service teacher educa-
tion can better foster the skills needed for robust family engagement in
4 Urban Education 00(0)

today’s multicultural and multilingual urban schools. In the following sec-


tion, we provide a brief description of the conceptual framework that guided
this study, based on work by Freire (1998, 2005, 2013).

Conceptual Orientation of the Study


Freire (1998) maintained that “the education of women and men can never be
purely instrumental. It must also necessarily be ethical” (p. 57). He opposed
the Descartian view of scientific knowledge that sees education as a neutral
activity based on perfect certainty. In the Descartian view, true scientific
knowledge requires a complete absence of doubt and elimination of contin-
gency, resulting in Freire’s often discussed banking model of education, in
which the teacher’s role is transmitting unproblematized knowledge to stu-
dents and the student’s role is to receive and accumulate that knowledge
without questioning it. Rather, Freire (1970) recognized reality “as a process,
as transformation, rather than as a static entity” (p. 81). From this perspec-
tive, true science education includes the co-construction of knowledge
between teacher, students, and their communities, while also problematizing
that knowledge in terms of who it serves and benefits and who it does not. As
Freire (1998) stated, “If education were neutral, there could be no difference
between people in their individual or social contexts, whether that be their
style of politics or their value systems” (p. 101). Thus, it is impossible to
enact an ethical science education unless it is joined to the knowledge, skills,
and experiences that students bring from their homes and communities
(Aikenhead et al., 2014; Calabrese-Barton, Tan & Greenberg, 2017).
To counterbalance a false neutrality common in Western teaching and
learning, Freire (1998, 2005, 2013) emphasized certain aspects of dialogic
education: humility, critical consciousness, care, and hope. For Freire, humil-
ity situates oneself in a sustained openness to learning from others, thus creat-
ing an essential condition for dialogic education. Humility enables teachers
to listen to and learn from their students and communities so that knowledge
is constructed in ways that are meaningful to the student. Thus, teaching can-
not be separated from learning as teachers should be lifelong learners and
learners should have opportunities to be teachers.
Dialogic education also cannot exist without critical consciousness, which
Freire (1998, 2005, 2013) described as an ability to question the status quo
rather than accepting it as given. Developing critical consciousness among
teachers entails dialogic encounters with different ways of looking at knowl-
edge and truth across diverse communities and learning contexts, considering
that “reading the world always precedes reading the word, and reading the
word implies continually reading the world” (Freire & Macedo, 1987, p. 35).
Kirmaci et al. 5

The skill of critical thinking is what allows teachers to develop a more


nuanced understanding of their taken-for-granted assumptions about teaching
and learning, about who creates these assumptions, and about who benefits
from these assumptions within the system of education. This critical under-
standing can change the way teachers see themselves, their students, their
communities, and their abilities as teachers to provide richer learning oppor-
tunities for all students.
Another condition for dialogic education is care, which Freire (1998,
2005, 2013) described as being receptive and respectful toward individual
student needs without supposing to know what the students’ needs are. Thus,
caring in the context of dialogic education is not limited to a matter feeling
empathy toward students. Instead, caring is designing instructional strategies
based on the expressed needs, interests, and strengths of students rather than
scripted curricula. However, in the absence of hope, teachers often lack faith
in their self-capabilities to make a difference in their classrooms and beyond.
According to Freire (1970), “if the dialoguers expect nothing to come of their
efforts, their encounter will be empty and sterile, bureaucratic and tedious”
(p. 91). Hope is what keeps teachers going despite the conditions that con-
strain their potential to enact dialogic educational practices.
We believe that Freire’s (1998, 2005, 2013) model of dialogic education
provides a valuable framework for understanding how a community-based
science learning program, such as the STC workshops, could serve as a con-
text for teacher professional learning to support teachers in their work with
diverse students and families. That is, the notion of dialogic education may
help inspire a new generation of educators to envision and enact a science
education that disrupts the current deficit discourse governing public schools
in the United States (Giroux, 2014).

Literature Review
Development of Teacher Education on Family–School–
Community Relations
Low-income Latinx families continue to be positioned as unconcerned about
the education of their children and as unqualified to contribute academically
(Dabach, Suárez-Orozco, Hernandez, & Brooks, 2018; Gandara & Contreras,
2009; Valencia, 2015). These deficit views of Latinx families have often orig-
inated in narrow visions of family–school partnerships driven solely by the
schools’ agenda (Auerbach, 2007; Wassell, Hawrylak, & Scantlebury, 2017).
Rather than positioning Latinx families as being in need of intervention,
more critical studies have long invited teachers to identify and build on the
6 Urban Education 00(0)

knowledge, assets, and practices in immigrant and marginalized communities


that are also crucial in children’s academic and social well-being. For exam-
ple, Moll and colleagues’ (Gonzalez, Moll, & Amanti, 2005; Moll, Amanti,
Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992) work with experienced teachers invoked the notion
of funds of knowledge to shift away from remediation approaches to working
with parents and to demonstrate how teachers can utilize families’ experi-
ences to build a bridge between the school and home contexts of Latinx stu-
dents. Yosso’s (2005) model of community cultural wealth also made visible
many accumulated family assets, such as aspirational, navigational, social,
linguistic, familial, and resistant capital, that many Latinx families bring to
the school environment but that educators rarely notice or acknowledge.
These studies emphasized authentic relationship building between teach-
ers and families, and such perspectives have slowly been integrated into pre-
service and in-service teacher education programs (Evans, 2013). Related
research has similarly found that having deep understandings of students’
families and communities strengthens teachers’ positive views of family
diversity (e.g., Johnson, 2014) and further augments mutual trust between
teachers and Latinx communities (e.g., Gallo et al., 2015). However, the
majority of this intervention-based research on family–school–community
interactions focused on teachers’ general experiences and interactions with
families; studies with a particular focus on academic content, such as science
learning, continue to be scarce.

Teachers, Latinx Families, and Science


Researchers who study inclusive science education and Latinx students have
advocated for the development of alternative discourses about science learn-
ing within collaborative family–school–community interactions as a way to
provide accessible and meaningful science learning opportunities for Latinx
students who are severely underrepresented in science and science-related
careers (National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2018).
Feelings of alienation within predominantly monocultural and monolinguis-
tic science classrooms have been prevailing experiences among Latinx stu-
dents that negatively impact their participation and success in science (Flores,
2011; Yuen, Bonner, & Arregun-Anderson, 2018). Yuen et al. (2018), for
example, demonstrated how building strong and positive science identities
among Latinx students requires a multipronged approach in which differing
resources embedded in schools, family interactions, and community spaces
are amalgamated for a more dynamic and interactive science learning.
With regard to the science education and Latinx students, research on
teachers’ learning experiences with Latinx families is extremely limited. In
Kirmaci et al. 7

one study, Ramirez et al. (2016) worked with preservice science teachers to
prepare culturally relevant science activities to be implemented in a univer-
sity-based Family Science Learning Event (FSLE) that was designed for
Latinx families. The families and preservice teachers engaged together in the
scientific study of clay, distinguishing real clay from other sediments, finding
the impact of fire and water on clay, and discussing how clay differs geo-
graphically. The direct experiences these teacher candidates had with Latinx
parents in a specific science learning context changed these future teachers’
conceptions about Latinx parents’ ability to assist in their children’s science
learning while providing new ideas for how to integrate families’ knowledge
into their science instruction.
Similarly, Hammond’s (2001) study of elementary teachers and Mien
parents and children who collaborated on gardening and house building
projects offered insights into connecting community-based practices with
scientific knowledge. Hammond found that participation helped the Mien
students and families accommodate to American school science expecta-
tions while also helping the teachers adapt their view of science teaching
“from that of transmitting Western science to that of cultural broker” (p.
987) assisting students in crossing the borders between different ways of
knowing. Although not focused on Latinx families, Hammond’s study pro-
vided important context for understanding how building a cross-cultural
learning community can lead to mutual adaptations of practices, both in the
school and the community. Our STC workshops represent one of the few
substantive, long-term research projects that focused on teachers’ orienta-
tions to and preparation for working with Latinx families in the context of
science education at the secondary level.

Context for the Project Schools


The STC workshops took place in two communities with dense populations
and persistent generational poverty (we will call them Stonybrook and
Woodstone school districts) within two small cities in the Southeastern
United States that have seen rapid increases of Latinx students, chiefly from
México and Central America, over the past decade (Hamann & Harklau,
2015). Latinx emergent bilingual students account for 43% of students in
Stonybrook and 25% of students in Woodstone district (Georgia Department
of Education [GADOE], 2017). Ninety-two percent of the students in the
Woodstone district and 57% of the students in the Stonybrook district qualify
for free or reduced-price school lunch (GADOE, 2016). Despite the fact that
a majority of the Latinx students in these districts speak Spanish as their
home language, school policy advocates English-only instruction. Typical of
8 Urban Education 00(0)

many urban school districts, such policies were driven in part by poor fund-
ing for Stonybrook and Woodstone schools, resulting in limited bilingual
resources and services available to non-English speakers (National Academies
of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, 2017).

Setting for the STC Workshops


Frustrated by the state of affairs in Stonybrook and Woodstone schools, in
2009 we began to invite secondary science teachers, ESOL teachers, their
Latinx students, and their accompanying families to participate in STC
bilingual workshops as a part of a design-based research project. The latest
iteration of this project, called Language-Rich Inquiry Science with
English Language Learners through Biotechnology (LISELL-B), started
in Fall 2014 and ended in Spring 2018. The project was a dynamic collabo-
ration among the research team, approximately 50 teachers, their students,
and their accompanying families in five urban middle schools and three
urban high schools (Buxton et al., 2015). Each year, we offered five STC
bilingual family workshops, with approximately 100 participants, com-
posed of students, parents, and teachers participating in each workshop.
During the STC workshops, participants rotated through three different
sessions.
In Science investigation sessions, students engaged in bilingual language-
rich science investigations with their families and their teachers. The group
was provided with bilingual science activity materials available both in
English and Spanish. Small and whole group discussions were conducted
eliciting families’ ideas and experiences about the science concepts. In
Science careers sessions, participants visited science labs and discussed
careers and studies in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics
(STEM)-related fields with university faculty and college students. In Family
conversation sessions, teachers, students, families, and researchers engaged
in bilingual conversations on a broad range of topics including academic suc-
cess, postsecondary education, and the immigrant experience. Each work-
shop concluded with a community lunch to further support relationship
building and informal conversation.

Research Design
Research Question
Building upon the Freirean notion of dialogic education, the purpose of
this multi-case study (Merriam, 2009) was to explore what happened when
Kirmaci et al. 9

secondary science teachers came together with Latinx parents/grandpar-


ents for their children’s science learning in the context of STC bilingual
family workshops. The overarching question guiding this study was as
follows: How did urban secondary science teachers conceptualize the
ways in which their participation in the STC workshops influenced their
perspectives and practices about working with Latinx students and their
families?

Participants
In this multi-case study, we focused on a subset of the teacher participants
who experienced the STC workshops and were able to give a rich account of
their experience (Merriam, 2009). We recruited four teachers, each of whom
had extensive experience in working with Latinx students and their families
in the workshops (see Table 1). We purposefully selected these teachers from
a large number of teachers who attended workshops because these four teach-
ers had at least 3 years of consistent attendance at the workshops in a regular
fashion and agreed to participate in the present study.

Data Collection
To generate a profound understanding of how teachers’ participation
affected their perspectives and practices about working with Latinx stu-
dents and their families, we relied on multiple sources of data (Merriam,
2009): four focus-group teacher interviews collected during the annual
LISELL-B teacher professional development sessions, 16 hr of participa-
tion observation with field notes from the STC workshops, and eight indi-
vidual teacher interviews.
The first author conducted two individual semi-structured interviews with
each teacher participant during Summer 2017. We developed an interview
guide for both of the individual interviews based on Patton’s (2002) matrix of
interview questions. The first individual interview provided contextual infor-
mation about the teachers that supported an understanding of their experi-
ences in the STC workshops in relation to their own social, cultural, and
historical locations. The second individual interview focused particularly on
teachers’ experiences in the STC workshops, their learning across the years,
and how their participation informed their practices in working with their
Latinx students and families. Interviews lasted between 1½ and 2 hr and were
transcribed verbatim.
The teacher focus-group interviews were facilitated by the second and
third authors and other members of the research team during the annual
10
Table 1.  Summary of Participants.

Percentage Total years


Teacher of Latinx Status of School of workshop
name Race School students the school district Major and grade participation
Donald European American Creek Middle School 53a Title 1b Stonybrook 8th grade physical science 3
Jennifer European American Fall High School 48a Not Title 1b Stonybrook 11th-12th grade forensics/ 3
oceanography science
Julie European American Oak Middle School 39 a Title 1b Woodstone 6th grade earth science 7
teacher
Allyson European American Spring Middle School 40a Title 1b Woodstone 7th-8th grade ESOL/ 3
science co-teacher

Source. Data are derived from aGADOE (2017) and bGADOE (2016).
Note. ESOL = English for speakers of other languages; GADOE = Georgia Department of Education.
Kirmaci et al. 11

LISELL-B Summer Professional Learning Institutes in 2015 and 2016. The


purpose of the focus-group interviews was to generate information relating to
experiences in the LISELL-B project more broadly, including some questions
about the family engagement component of the project. Again, a semi-struc-
tured interview protocol was followed while encouraging participants to
comment on each other’s experiences and viewpoints. Field notes from par-
ticipant observations that the first author conducted in the STC workshops
during the 2014-2015 and 2016-2017 academic years were used to develop a
better understanding of what the teachers experienced during the STC work-
shops. The content of the extended field notes included physical descriptions
of the settings, learning activities, and interactions of the four focal teachers
with students, families, and the facilitators.

Analytical Approach
For this multi-case study, we incorporated Charmaz’s (2014) constant com-
parative method (CCM), using a data-driven inductive strategy with several
coding strategies. The types of coding included initial coding, focused cod-
ing, and theoretical coding. We used the Qualitative Data Analysis Software
(QDAS) program, ATLAS.ti 8.0, to navigate the analysis process. As a first
step, we performed initial coding, labeling segments of data by incident
(coding events) using the open code component of ATLAS.ti 8.0 program.
While coding, we made an effort to preserve the actions, using the gerund
form as much as possible so that our initial codes better captured the data
(see Table 2).
As the next step, we used focused coding to refine our initial codes.
Charmaz (2014) called this process “coding initial codes” to synthesize and
analyze the coded segments of data. We merged our overlapping codes into
single codes to generate exhaustive and mutually exclusive codes. Next, we
grouped our focused codes to develop categories related to the studied phe-
nomenon. For this purpose, we used the code groups component of ATLAS.
ti to organize all related codes into a code group that we deemed as a cate-
gory. Ten categories were generated as a result of this process. Appendix A
provides an example of analysis for the category of pro-action using the
network component of the program. Following the focused coding process,
we performed theoretical coding to connect the categories to generate
themes regarding the studied phenomenon. The ATLAS.ti program does not
have a component to show the link between categories. We used prefixes in
a way that the name of each category began with a prefix indicating the
corresponding theme. Using the same prefix for the interrelated categories
allowed the ATLAS.ti program to sort these categories together as a group
12 Urban Education 00(0)

Table 2.  An Example of Incident by Incident Coding.

Excerpt from First individual interview of Allyson  


When I came out to West Georgia, West Georgia was at that Being exposed
time a very strong Ku Klux Klan area, and there was a very to racial
definite distinction between white people and black people divide
and they didn’t mix and all of that.
In the military, there wasn’t any of that. So, that kind of set me Having cultural
on a path, kind of set my mind for I didn’t really care where immersion
you came from or whatever and we just all had a lot of fun. experience
We’d run coffee can string phones across the parking lot, and in the past
we actually ran some all the way across the parking lot from
my upstairs window to my friends which lived two hundred
feet away, and so we were always coming up with things to
play with having a good time. The neighborhood where I
lived was all white. At that time in Georgia, there were white
neighborhoods, and there were black neighborhoods, and
they didn’t really mix together. So, at my house, the only kids
that were around me were white, and so they were the kids
I knew I was playing with and actually none of the kids that
lived around me went to school with me with the exception
of a couple. The ones that lived immediately around me they
all either went to . . . they went to the city school which you
had to pay an extra tuition to go to.
Linguistically, I wasn’t really thinking about it, and I didn’t really Questioning
think about until I started teaching. I didn’t really have any
friends . . . I did when I was young in the military, but . . .
everybody also spoke English. So, even though I had some
friends who were Vietnamese and I had Indian friends and
they may have spoken that language in their home, but we
all commonly spoke English. So, when we were together
it was just always just English, and I never thought about
linguistically until I started teaching.

based on the prefixes. In this way, we were able to consolidate 10 categories


into four themes (see Table 3). During this analytic process, we constantly
returned to our data with new questions and ideas until recurring themes
emerged.
Finally, we examined how our analytic categories and themes were rele-
vant to our research question and how they aligned with Freire’s (1998, 2005,
2013) notion of dialogic education. We isolated categories that explicitly pro-
vided insights into teachers’ changing orientations toward essential ingredi-
ents of dialogic education—humility, critical consciousness, care, and hope,
Table 3.  Connection Between Themes, Categories, and Codes.
Themes Categories/code groups Codes

Internal Factors 1. Family background 1.1. Being exposed to racial divide


1.2. Having community service experience in the past
1.3. Having cultural immersion experience in the past
1.4. Living church-oriented life
1.5. Separating self-home-experience from Latinx students’
2. Educational background 2.1. Concerning about educational support for families interactions
2.2. Concerning about educational support for teaching immigrant students
2.3. Exposing students and parents with in-depth community
2.4. Taking ESOL endorsement
3. Goals attending the 3.1. Becoming involved in the STCWs
STCWs 3.2. Coming to STCWs for community involvement
3.3. Coming to STCWs for learning teaching techniques
External factors 1. Barriers to family–school 1.1. Being not appreciated for doing LISELL framework
interactions 1.2. Experiencing pressure on text scores
1.3. Feeling school far from changing dynamics of classrooms
1.4. Feeling school not welcoming for immigrant families
1.5. Having lack of time for family interactions
1.6. Having parents don’t know the education system
1.7. Providing parents English classes
1.8. Seeing funding as a barrier
1.9. feeling school as depersonalized
1.10. Separating students’ home and school language
2. School practices for 2.1. School practices for family–school interactions
family–school interactions 2.2. School’s requirement for teachers on f-s interactions
Learning experience 1. Dialogue 1.1. Assisting in the STCWs
1.2. Building personal connections with students
1.3. Engaging with different networks

13
(continued)
Table 3. (continued)

14
Themes Categories/code groups Codes

1.4. Learning about families in the STCWs


1.5. Observing in the STCWs
1.6. The time period involved in the STCWs
2. The essence of the 2.1. Working together
program 2.2. Observing bilingual interactions
2.3. Participating regularly in this long-term program
Outcomes 1. Recognition 1.1. Becoming more sensitive to immigrant students
1.2. Developing empathy for students and families
1.3. Feeling the need for learning Spanish
1.4. Questioning
1.5. Understanding language/culture differences as not barrier
1.6. Understanding the value of designing authentic lessons
1.7. Understanding the value of building students’ prior knowledge
1.8. Understanding the value of recognizing families’ linguistic resources
1.9. Understanding the value of building a relationship with families
1.10. Working with students more easily in the classroom
2. Adaptation 2.1. Adapting STCWs in school events
2.2. Communicating families with educational resources
2.3. Helping students use their skills and resources
2.4. Making reflection time in the classroom
2.5. Using LISELL resources
3. Pro-action 3.1. Building community in school
3.2. Finding alternative ways to support students and families
3.3. Visiting students’ families
3.4. Working with parents based on their needs

Note. ESOL = English for speakers of other languages; STCW = step to college workshop; LISELL = Language-rich inquiry science with English
language learners.
Kirmaci et al. 15

Figure 1.  Visual representation of findings.

as related to the teachers’ work with their Latinx students and families (see
Figure 1 for visual representation of research findings).
We employed triangulation and member checking techniques to enhance
trustworthiness of our research findings (Merriam, 2009). We constantly
compared and cross-checked the data that were collected through individual
and focus-group interviews and participant observations to develop better
understanding of and provide multiple sources of evidence of how teachers’
participation in the program influenced their perspectives and practices. In
addition, we incorporated the strategy of member checking by sharing our
findings with our research participants and asking them to comment on our
interpretations of them. All four participants approved our findings except
one participant who pointed out our mistake regarding the location where she
started teaching.
16 Urban Education 00(0)

Findings
In this first portion of the findings section, we present details from two of the
four case study teachers to provide additional context for our categorical
description of teacher learning in the STC workshops. In the second portion
of the findings section, we present a cross-case analysis of the four teachers’
evolving pedagogical perspectives and practices in light of Freire’s (1998,
2005, 2013) principles of dialogic education.

Donald
Donald’s background.  Donald defined himself as “living a military life” trav-
eling around to different states in the country and living a few years in Japan
during his childhood. His early experience of living in another country
seemed to give Donald an interest in learning about other cultures and how
this might influence his approach to culturally diverse students.
Teaching in Creek Middle School for 10 years, Donald enjoyed working
with Latinx emergent bilingual students. However, linguistic and cultural dif-
ference remained the most challenging factor he had to face in his science
classroom. Donald had Latinx students in the previous schools where he
taught, but it was the first time for him teaching Latinx students whom he
perceived to speak fluent conversational English but who seemed to struggle
with reading and writing ability, which he felt made it hard for them to make
sense of academic science. Donald had no formal preparation for working
with emergent bilingual students and families. He typically had little personal
communication with most of his Latinx students’ parents as they spoke
Spanish and little English, and he spoke little Spanish, making teacher–par-
ent communication a challenge.

What Donald learned from the STC workshops.  The STC workshops were a
space for Donald to conceptualize science teaching in new ways:

I’m a white male, middle class, whatever it is . . . so it’s rare, that experience
[of] not being the predominant one. So, I think that, more than anything, is
what I get out of the workshops, is that being on the other side of the table.
It gives you a different sense of just what the entire environment is. It gives
you a feeling that we don’t all see everything the same way. We don’t
always experience everything the same way. (Individual interview, August
13, 2017)

In the STC workshops, Donald observed students working on projects with


their families as they were allowed to approach science investigations
Kirmaci et al. 17

in different ways. He observed the families situating themselves as users of


scientific language while they engaged with and helped each other complete
science tasks. Donald was glad that his consistent participation in the STC
workshops acted as a constant reminder to critique his own teaching practices
as mostly representing a dominant cultural paradigm typical of science in the
classroom.
The STC workshops also became an arena for Donald to learn about his
Latinx students and families, as the families were rarely seen in Creek Middle
School. Even though most of the conversations occurred in Spanish, seeing
parents’ excitement to learn with their kids was an eye-opening experience
for Donald. For example,

During the Bottle Car Derby Activity Donald worked with a family at a table
as they were designing racecars using everyday recycled materials. The aim
of the activity was to design the fastest possible racecar by experimenting
with different weights and wheel sizes. While Donald was making holes in
the center of bottle caps that would be used as the wheels of the bottle
racecar, a father was filling the bottle with beans and rice, planning its
weight to run it down the ramp fastest. (Field note from the STC workshop,
February 25, 2017)

Reflecting on this experience, Donald commented the following:

I like watching the students taking the leading role. It wasn’t that parents were
sitting back and waiting for their kids to do it but they were actually getting in
there and working together—a couple of fathers in there that wanted to have
the winning cars. So, it was just fun to watch the interaction between the
students and the parents. That, to me, is the most revealing and rewarding part
of it that we provided some kind of an environment for them to interact on an
academic level. (Individual interview, June 6, 2017)

Donald was encouraged by his heightened awareness of the Latinx par-


ents’ potential to help their children in scientific investigations contrary
to his previous pessimism over parents’ abilities to help their children
because of their limited English language proficiency, educational back-
ground, and financial challenges. Questioning his own perspectives,
Donald became aware that families could be lifelong advocates for their
children in their engagement with science, given sufficient support and
opportunity. He also started to perceive benefits from working with fami-
lies outside of the school environment as those Latinx students engaged
more meaningfully in his classroom, both in terms of their behavior and
their motivation.
18 Urban Education 00(0)

Donald’s changing practices.  Reflecting on the advantages he now saw in


working with families, Donald began planning and preparing home sci-
ence kits that students could use over the weekend to experiment with their
families. His aim was to periodically design small science activities with a
set of instructions that could create more family interactions around sci-
ence as a follow-up activity for the science investigations he taught to the
students in his classroom. Donald also influenced the Creek Middle School
community to change the structure of their “Latino Nights” to engage stu-
dents, parents, and siblings together in hands-on science investigations in
place of the previous programs that mostly just informed parents about
learning activities available for their children. For example, Donald uti-
lized the STC Making Slushies science investigation and had students and
parents make their own slushies using rock salt and Hawaiian punch to
explore the effect of salt on the freezing temperature of water. As Donald
related it,

I think it worked very well and our administration saw that, and they brought
that up in one of the overall school meetings that we had at the end of the year.
He’d walked in, and the kids were making slushies and saw that there were a
lot of people involved and having a good time, and so he made a point of
bringing that up. (Individual interview, August 13, 2017)

As the family program had a pretty good turnout, Creek Middle School
decided to keep the new format of the Latinx night that Donald restruc-
tured. Donald also noted a marked improvement in his ability to give stu-
dents more autonomy when carrying out science experiments in his
classroom. Observing his students’ efforts working together while he inter-
vened less was a difficult experience for Donald, partly because he was
accustomed to providing students with direct instruction on how to carry
out science experiments. Observing the project researchers facilitating the
science investigations with families in the STC workshops provided
Donald with an alternative model for how to give students more control in
his classroom.

Jennifer
Jennifer’s background.  Jennifer, a mother of two children, was born and
raised in a small town a 1-hr drive from the Stonybrook School District
where she now resided and taught. She grew up in a European American,
middle-class, two-parent household with extended family nearby. Jenni-
fer’s strong sense of family-oriented life was also centered around the
Kirmaci et al. 19

Southern Baptist church. She regularly attended church activities, taking


her children to Sunday schools and mid-week events and serving the com-
munity by teaching at vacation Bible schools during summers. She believed
that her deep involvement with the church shaped her identity, making her
more sensitive to the needs of the students she taught. Despite teaching at
Fall High School her whole career, Jennifer still knew little about the lives
of her Latinx students and had received no formal teacher preparation to
work with emergent bilingual students and families. As the student demo-
graphics at Fall High had changed dramatically in the past few years with
a large influx of Latinx students, Jennifer felt frustrated that the school
administration was doing little to support teachers in meeting the evolving
needs of students.

What Jennifer learned from the STC workshops.  Reflecting on her experiences
in the STC workshops, Jennifer claimed that the workshops contributed to
her own professional growth in a number of ways. For example, she found
that Latinx parents had strong interest in their children’s science learning that
Jennifer had not previously grasped due to her limited interactions with
Latinx families. Jennifer observed that her Latinx students had strong family
dynamics, which were rooted in a foundation of unity, that mirrored her own.
She observed that the Latinx students were highly engaged in science activi-
ties when they got to make collective decisions, and that they were interested
in exploring and utilizing their parents’ knowledge about the science con-
cepts they were studying. As she described it,

I kind of already knew a little bit but not from a true, emotional connection.
It’s not just head knowledge; it’s personal now. Someone can tell you
something all day long, but until you experience it, it’s not the same. They
can tell you “That’s cold” but until you touch and you see, it’s not cold.
That was huge because, from my personal background, I didn’t have a lot
of that interaction with people different from me. (Individual interview,
June 16, 2017)

As Jennifer articulated, it was an eye-opening experience for her to see how


her students could use their multicultural and multilingual identities draw-
ing from school science and their everyday science experiences, when
given the opportunity. She observed that it was beneficial for students to
use multiple ways to express how they made meaning in the context of
solving problems, such as drawing pictures or using their everyday lan-
guage to document their observations during the science investigations in
collaboration with their family members.
20 Urban Education 00(0)

Another crucial personal dimension emerged as Jennifer reflected on her


experiences in one of the STC workshops that was conducted as a part of an
annual statewide Latinx Science Festival in the state capital:

Jennifer was taking a tour across the science demonstrations along with her son
and one of her students, and that student’s mother. They stopped in front of one
science booth where Jennifer’s son and her student were interacting with the
college students and burning an old penny with 95 percent copper versus a new
penny that is mostly zinc with only 2.5 percent copper. They used a torch to
explore reactions of these two different materials to heat. Jennifer and the
mother stood back and smiled at each other as they watched their children
engaged with the science activity. The mother held a smart phone and recorded
every moment of the experiment that her daughter and Jennifer’s son conducted.
Then she leaned toward Jennifer and showed her the video. (Field note from
the STC workshop, March 18, 2017)

According to Jennifer, language was not a barrier in that particular


moment when she was able to communicate with another mother by mak-
ing eye contact and watching their children conduct the science experi-
ment. Jennifer reflected that Latinx parents are part of their children’s
science learning, and the language barriers created by English-only school-
ing would not change that reality. However, Jennifer remained concerned
that language still plays a crucial role in preventing parents from forming
a full partnership around their children’s science learning and broader
school participation. This included Jennifer’s frustration with her own lack
of language skills in Spanish, which might otherwise allow her to better
guide parents to work with their children. Nonetheless, Jennifer seemed to
learn the value of communicating with her students’ families in ways that
extended beyond parent–teacher conferences or phone calls to resolve
problematic situations. Indeed, Jennifer noticed positive changes in her
classroom dynamics that she attributed to her participation in the STC
workshops. Like Donald, Jennifer observed that her Latinx students who
attended the workshops started to come to her classroom with a more posi-
tive attitude, with greater interest and with more confidence in their abili-
ties to conduct science experiments. Jennifer utilized the students’ science
experiences from the workshops by providing opportunities for them to
share with their peers during classroom discussions.

Jennifer’s changing practices. According to Jennifer, she developed a greater


sense of responsibility for attending to the needs of her Latinx students since
the inception of the STC workshops. Learning about her students’ strong
family ties and observing parents’ strong interest in their children’s science
Kirmaci et al. 21

learning and college preparation, Jennifer indicated that she started to hold
higher expectations for her Latinx students to achieve more in science:

Working with the kids just becomes more valuable. And like I had this one
child, and he’s very smart, but he was lazy. And his parents showed up to the
family workshops a few times with his siblings, and he didn’t get away with
being lazy anymore in my class, there was no way. When he’d try to sit back
and not do his work, I’d look at him and say, “I know where your value system
is” and I wouldn’t have to say much and he’d get back to doing it. (Individual
interview, August 18, 2017)

According to Jennifer, she also gained new insights from the STC work-
shops that led to changes in her broader teaching practices, such as providing
more time for peer discussions and addressing problem-solving skills that she
noticed were critical components of science learning. “Watching the LISELL
staff do it and implement it and watching how different it could be than what
I was taught, that’s what changed my lesson plans” (Focus-group interview,
June 9, 2016). As she articulated, readings and lectures might be valuable in
some ways, but having facilitators modeling for the teachers was the most
important element that supported her enactment of new practices.

Bringing it All Together


After considering the individual cases of Donald and Jennifer, we now wish
to illustrate cross-case patterns across the four focus teachers in light of
Freire’s (1998, 2005, 2013) principles of dialogic education. Looking across
the cases of these four secondary science teachers, we found characteristics
that made each teacher’s practices unique, as well as similarities in the teach-
ers’ developing understandings of their work with Latinx emergent bilingual
students and families. Similarities and differences among the cases were
scrutinized with respect to categories of (a) recognition of student resources
outside of the classroom, (b) adaptation of the STC practices in working with
Latinx emergent bilingual students and families, and (c) proactive teaching
practices that focal teachers developed to extend their work with Latinx fam-
ilies in the context of science education (see Figure 1).

Recognition
We have seen evidence that all four teachers developed a critical conscious-
ness and broadened view of science education and their own responsibility to
do more in their work with Latinx students and families as they recognized:
22 Urban Education 00(0)

(a) subsequent benefits of working with the community in terms of student


behavior and motivation for learning in the classroom; (b) parents as co-
learners of science after observing parents as active participants who engaged
in science inquiry activities with their children in the program; (c) themselves
as learners of multiple ways to engage students in science, as they reexam-
ined their prior teaching styles in contrast to the science inquiry model they
observed and engaged with during the STC workshops.
According to Freire (2013), teachers can develop a critical consciousness
about their teaching practices only when they have direct involvement with
contexts and experiences that challenge conventional wisdom about educa-
tion. Such an awareness must lead to questioning education as a neutral activ-
ity that is based on reliable foundations and perfect certainty and challenge
whether this type of education, focused on standardized curricula and stan-
dardized performances, can support serious dialogue about the true goals of
education. Freire argued that teachers can only reflect upon their long-held
assumptions about what actions constitute meaningful teaching and learning
when they involve themselves in consciousness-raising dialogues in diverse
communities and learning contexts.

The value of working with the community.  Through participation in the STC
workshops with Latinx emergent bilingual students and families, the focal
teachers began to question their views of teaching that had previously
focused on the student within the boundaries of classroom, ignoring the
importance of making connections with their families and communities.
For example, Donald recognized that “You focus [only] on the student, you
ignore the influences the family has or in a lot of ways the support that the
family could give” (Individual interview, August 13, 2017). Jennifer real-
ized the need for “understanding their [students’] family dynamics, which
helps a lot [in] how to best be with them in the educational setting” (Indi-
vidual interview, June 16, 2017). Julie stated that “the workshops really
taught me to go beyond what I think of a student and what I think of a fam-
ily” (Focus-group interview, June 4, 2015). Allyson changed her thinking
on the role of teachers “to build community with our students and their
families to be a safe space for a student to come to when they’re troubled or
need guidance” (Focus-group interview, June 9, 2016). The teachers under-
stood that “it takes building a relationship with those kids and families on
an individual basis to give them [students] the confidence to make learning
attempts in the classroom” (Julie, Individual interview, June 12, 2017).
Teachers came to see working with families as key to improving their work
with individual students. As they started to work more effectively with stu-
dents who attended the program, the focal teachers recognized that
Kirmaci et al. 23

students’ science learning is always part of broader social relations and


arrangements, including their families and communities.

Parents are learners with their children.  Another way the teachers demonstrated
critical consciousness was through their recognition of Latinx parents’ poten-
tial for involvement in their children’s school science learning and in the
broader school community. Before their involvement in this project, all four
teachers had doubts about Latinx parents’ abilities to help their children with
school science because of what they perceived to be the parents’ limited edu-
cational backgrounds, language difficulties, and financial challenges.
Although Donald, Julie, and Allyson continued to articulate concerns about
parental limitations by the end of the project, they all recognized the possi-
bilities for parents’ involvement in their middle-aged and high school–aged
children’s learning, given sufficient opportunities and resources.
For example, Donald was intrigued by “watching students work with
their younger siblings or with their parents trying to figure out and solve the
science problems. It makes me think about [how] we should have [more]
available for them” (Individual interview, June 6, 2017). For Julie,
“LISELL-B helps me understand that it’s my job to make sure that parents
are comfortable to interact with their child academically or I need to give
them the resources” (Focus-group interview, June 4, 2015). Each focal
teacher reported the value of providing an environment for students and
family members to interact on an academic level in their schools. Observing
the parents joyfully practice science inquiry activities with their children in
the STC workshops was a catalyst in their thinking about their abilities as
teachers to establish a more supportive approach for parents to be lifelong
learners of science with their children.

Teachers are learners of multiple ways to engage science. Another change in


critical consciousness came in the form of teachers examining their own
teaching practices by comparing them with what they observed during the
science investigation sessions in the STC workshops. The four teachers began
to question their own views of science instruction and how they had been
failing to include cultural values and experiences in their classrooms. How-
ever, the process of working together through dialogic-based science inqui-
ries seemed to broaden the teachers’ view of science teaching and learning
and connections to students’ and families’ language and cultural practices.
For example, Donald realized that “We don’t all see everything the same way.
We don’t always experience everything the same way” (Individual interview,
August 13, 2017). Allyson was impressed that in the STC workshops the
facilitators “gave them [students and families] time to dialogue, gave them
24 Urban Education 00(0)

time to reflect so that they can hopefully have more truer science learning that
will be long standing” (Individual interview, August 26, 2017). Jennifer
observed “a huge spark in a lot of students. The drawing and then writing it
and describing their drawing using their vocabulary cards [written in English
and Spanish with an illustration] seem to help a lot” (Focus-group interview,
June 4, 2015).
This critical consciousness offered focal teachers new views of science
teaching, situating students at the center of their teaching practices. Learning
from and with students and families seem to widen teachers’ views of possi-
bilities for making instructional decisions in their science classrooms. As
Freire (2013) indicated, critical consciousness leads to action, and in the fol-
lowing sections we present how teachers’ recognition of new possibilities in
their work with their Latinx students and families turned into caring practices
or/and proactive actions.

Adaptation
We view teachers’ openness to new instructional strategies they saw modeled
in the STC workshops as a demonstration of their humility and their adapta-
tion of these strategies that they observed in the program as a testimony of
their caring for their Latinx students. Freire’s caring principle of dialogic
education became visible in the four focal teachers’ practices as they put
aside the view of science as an isolated system of knowledge that is free of
cultural values. Creating spaces for debriefing sessions, providing increased
student agency and freedom when implementing labs, and connecting school
science with students’ real-life science experiences are evidence of the focal
teachers’ caring for their Latinx students and families. According to Freire
(2005), caring is not about “coddling” (p. 25), reducing teaching to a therapy
process. Caring in education entails teaching practices based on the assets
and learning needs students bring to the classroom. In this sense, caring is
about designing learning environments based on the context in which learn-
ing takes place, and students’ articulations of their needs and interests, rather
than standardized instruction.
Donald’s adaptation of STC workshops’ science inquiry format in his
school’s Latinx night eventually influencing the school community, Jennifer’s
heightened expectations for her Latinx students as she pushed them harder in
the classroom, Allyson’s efforts to help her Latinx students use their multi-
cultural and multicultural resources, and Julie’s strong ties with Latinx par-
ents including her voluntary participation in conversations between Latinx
parents and other teachers, are each examples of teachers’ adapting practices
from the STC workshops to care for their students and families in their
Kirmaci et al. 25

schools in new ways. We argue that these teachers’ willingness to listen to


and learn from their students, families, and the facilitators in the STC work-
shops represents an instantiation of Freire’s humility principle of dialogic
education. Without that humility, focal teachers would not have learned and
adapted these practices to their work with their students and families.

Pro-Action
Although Donald, Jennifer, Julie, and Allyson embodied some practices that
they observed in the STC workshops, they differed in terms of proactive
practices that they developed to extend their work with families in the context
of science education. These differences may be due, in part, by divergences
in the contexts of their individual schools. For example, Donald and Julie
were most encouraged by their heightened awareness of the possibilities for
creating a dialogue-based science learning community by including their stu-
dents’ families in their children’s science learning. Donald personally began
sending take-home science kits for students to practice science inquiries with
their family members. Julie was working with families around dinner discus-
sion questions and science word games for family members to learn science
concepts with their children. These two teachers also received support from
their school administration for their enactment of these proactive practices
and were able to influence their school communities in this regard.
Even though Julie and Donald had conflicts in their schools due to pres-
sure regarding state-mandated standardized assessments and lack of time
for family engagement, they were able to align dialogic family engagement
practices with the relevant science standards in ways that made these prac-
tices acceptable in their school contexts. We view Julie’s and Donald’s pur-
suits of proactive practices with their students’ families as demonstrations
of hope in their abilities as teachers to make a difference for their Latinx
students. Hope, Freire (1998) wrote, is an essential asset in human beings
in that we can intervene in the world to the extent we believe that change is
possible. It was hope that mobilized these two teachers, despite a range of
pressures that they could not control. They were hopeful about the roles
they could play in their students’ pursuit of science education and science-
related career pathways and their role in supporting parents to become
active participants in those pathways.
In contrast, Jennifer and Allyson received little school administrative sup-
port for their work with Latinx families. Allyson was not appreciated for her
proactive adaptations, such as teaching science and English through garden-
ing, as these approaches were seen as being outside of her school’s focus on
improving assessment results. After receiving a poor end of year evaluation
26 Urban Education 00(0)

from the school administration Allyson quit her job and found a teaching
position in a different school with more like-minded school leadership. She
remained hopeful in her capacity to make a difference with her students,
seeking out new community-based science learning programs after the STC
workshops ended. Jennifer was the least optimistic of the four focal teachers
in terms of the potential she saw for continued work with Latinx parents at
the school level. She came to believe that her individual engagement with the
families of her students was the most that she would be able to accomplish.
In addition to the lack of resources to overcome what she saw as the language
barrier, the lack of time, and the lack of administrative support, she felt that
the grade level she taught (11th and 12th grade) was an additional obstacle to
parental engagement. Thus, Jennifer felt little optimism in her potential to
implement and sustain work with her students’ families through community-
based science programs or schoolwide family science events.

Discussion and Conclusion


Although Donald, Jennifer, Julie, and Allyson functioned differently in terms
of proactive practices to sustain their work with Latinx families in their cor-
responding urban schools, there is clear evidence that all four teachers devel-
oped the following: (a) broader views of science education and responsibility
for their work with Latinx students; (b) critical consciousness about parents’
potential to help their children with school science regardless of their linguis-
tic, educational, and financial standing; and (c) recognition of their potential
as teachers to support parents to be lifelong learners with their children. In
turn, each teacher adopted more caring practices related to what they experi-
enced and saw modeled in the STC workshops. It is interesting to note that
these four European American teachers had certain similarities in their back-
grounds. They all grew up in middle-class families, had previously known
little about the lives of their Latinx students and families, and had insufficient
pedagogical preparation in working with immigrant students and families.
However, they had each engaged in prior cultural immersion or community
service experiences before their participation in the STC workshops and they
each participated in the STC workshops on a regular basis, which provided
them with fertile ground to cultivate their vision and enactment of more cul-
turally relevant science teaching. Thus, the STC workshops may have had a
more transformative effect for these four teachers than on some other partici-
pants who had not been exposed to such a range of diverse experiences
beforehand and who did not regularly attend the STC workshops.
Still, the experiences of these four focal teachers have some specific
implications for preservice and in-service teacher professional development
Kirmaci et al. 27

programs that prepare teachers to interact with urban immigrant families


from a diverse range of cultural and linguistic backgrounds, regardless of
teaching context, grade level, or subject areas. This study strengthens claims
in recent literature that teachers who have in-depth understanding of the com-
munities in which they teach have a greater potential to create opportunities
for learning science that is integrated with the cultural knowledge of students
and families (e.g., Chinn, 2015; Hammond, 2001; Ramirez et al., 2016).
Although recruiting and retaining teachers who themselves share immi-
grant experiences with their students is another important component for
building more critical and dialogic educational spaces, our findings showed
that teachers who do not personally share that background with their students
can still learn to support immigrant students and families in powerful, caring,
and hopeful ways. However, when family–school–community relations are
superficially mediated, such as in many typical family engagement activities
in secondary schools, they often produce negative effects on the teachers,
including reinforcement of stereotypes about urban immigrant families and
communities common in anti-immigrant policies (e.g., The White House
Office of the Press Secretary, 2017) and mass media (e.g., Dixon & Williams,
2015). We suggest that preservice and in-service professional development
programs should give teachers in-depth exposure to content-based cultural
immersion programs that can cultivate a broader vision of teaching linked to
students’ lives and communities.
This study also showed that the power of learning through dialogic edu-
cation was enhanced by our content area focus, as science inquiry prac-
tices served to connect family members who have often been excluded
from active participation in school academic contexts. In typical family-
oriented after-school programs, such as Latinx science nights or curricu-
lum nights, parents are usually positioned as passive actors who watch
their children engage in learning activities or who simply listen to school
agendas. We reaffirmed Hammond’s (2001), Upadhyay’s (2009), and
Flecha and Soler’s (2013) findings that a working together process can
create common ground among teachers, students, parents, and other mem-
bers of the community. This is especially crucial in newly established
communities for newer immigrants like that of Stonybrook and Woodstone
school districts where the unwelcoming sentiment perceived by immigrant
families (Hamann & Harklau, 2015) might negatively influence their
socialization into the school and broader community. The parents who
came to the STC learning spaces began to understand the school culture
and academic expectations that were placed upon their children. We sug-
gest that urban schools construct evening or weekend family programs that
require active involvement of students, family members, and teachers who
28 Urban Education 00(0)

can work together as co-learners and engage in interactions and dialogues


around specific subject areas to enable each party to gain new insights
academically and socially.
Finally, this study contributes to more nuanced understandings that the
possibility of transformation in teachers’ orientations and practices with
culturally and linguistically diverse students and families is influenced by
powerful discourses beyond the teachers’ own actions, such as those of
educational accountability systems and individual school administrators.
Our analysis of urban teachers’ experiences in the STC workshops pointed
out frustrations but also changes in their actions that are only possible
when teachers are provided with sustained support and guidance. While
teachers in the STC project, like most urban teachers, were under constant
pressure from high-stakes testing and accountability that controlled how
they used their time and space, they felt a pressing need for ongoing pro-
fessional learning opportunities, so as not to lose awareness of these
important ideas. Such professional development programs should be
meaningful for teachers by connecting academic content to knowledge
about students and families.
This multi-case study has obvious limitations. We did not focus on stu-
dents coming from non-Hispanic backgrounds. We cannot, therefore, dis-
cuss the teachers’ experiences and practices regarding their work with
student population other than Latinx. Another limitation of this study is that
we did not interview teachers at the very start of their participation in the
STC workshops. Thus, we relied on their accounts of how their perspectives
changed over the course of 3 years as they worked with their Latinx students
and families in the program. Future research could build on the present study
to explore what (and how) changes in the focal teachers’ perceptions and
practices were sustained and maintained over a period of time after the proj-
ect ended to assess the sustainability of the impact of their attendance at the
STC workshops. Our work also suggests the importance of conducting more
research with teachers of color and bilingual teachers, with new teachers as
well as experienced teachers, and with teachers across the grade levels and
subject areas. Each of these variations in teaching context influences how
teachers engage with families, yet each will also benefit from more holistic
approaches to K-12 education that legitimize the critical role of family and
community engagement to promote student success.
Our STC workshops challenged the notion that urban schools are places of
businesses where students are filled with information and deficiencies are
fixed but with no intention of understanding who the students are or where
they come from (Nieto, 2013). In this article we have advocated for the wis-
dom of learning and teaching as embedded in social relationships, built upon
Kirmaci et al. 29

students’ interests, and grounded in students’ lives and communities. Our


findings suggest the critical role of learning interactions occurring not just
between teachers and students, but among students, teachers, parents, and
other members of the community to unite the school, community resources,
and curricula.
The experiences of teachers in this study demonstrated that Freire’s
(1998, 2005, 2013) principles of dialogic education—humility, critical con-
sciousness, care, and hope—are helpful for imagining alternative contexts
for preservice and in-service teacher education. The dialogic learning inter-
actions in the STC workshops opened a space for new meaning making,
new discourse, and a growing critical consciousness for teachers who
engaged in science inquiries with their students and families. This critical
consciousness, then, evolved into caring practices as teachers adapted ideas
from the workshops into their own work with students and families. Without
humility, the teachers would not be open to learning from their students and
families and building their work upon what energized their students and
parents in the program. Without hope in their capabilities as teachers they
would not have developed ways to extend their work with Latinx families
in their own schools and classrooms.
As Nieto (2013) said, it is easy for teachers to lose hope in their capabili-
ties to work in the best interest of their students and families as their agency
is continually narrowed by increasing demands for testing and accountability.
Yet it is essential for teachers to remain hopeful in the face of these chal-
lenges. The words of Freire (2007) articulated this powerfully:

The educator’s biggest problem is not to discuss whether education can or


cannot accomplish, but to discuss where it can, how it can, with whom it can,
when it can; it is to recognize the limits his or her practice imposes. (Freire,
2007, p. 64)

Learning to persevere together within these contradictions, though burden-


some, is an indispensable asset for teachers, students, and families.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests


The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article.

Funding
The author(s) disclosed receipt of the following financial support for the research,
authorship, and/or publication of this article: This work was supported by the National
Science Foundation under Grant No. 1316398.
30 Urban Education 00(0)

ORCID iD
Mehtap Kirmaci https://orcid.org/0000-0002-9409-5068

Supplemental Material
Supplemental material for this article is available online.

Note
1. In this article, we use García, Kleifgen, and Falchi’s (2008) term emergent
bilingual students to refer to learners whose home language is not English and
who are in a dynamic process of developing competencies to be able to func-
tion in their home language and that of school to emphasize the learners’ bilin-
gual identity and positive characteristic of bilingualism as potential resource to
be used at schools.

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Author Biographies
Mehtap Kirmaci is a post-doctoral fellow in the Department of Educational Theory
and Practice at the University of Georgia and a former elementary school teacher. Her
current research interests include empirical explorations of teacher learning in work-
ing with culturally and linguistically diverse families, content-based and cross-cul-
tural family learning programs, and dialogue-based pedagogies. Mehtap supervised
field placements for preservice early childhood educators and worked as a research
assistant on a NSF funded research project, which focused on science and ESOL
teachers, their middle and high school Latinx students and their families.
Cory A. Buxton is a professor in the College of Education at Oregon State University
and a former high school science and ESOL teacher. His most recent work is on creat-
ing spaces where students, parents, teachers, and researchers can engage together as
co-learners while strengthening their academic relationships, their knowledge of sci-
ence and engineering practices and careers, and their ownership of the language of
science. His research has been funded by the National Science Foundation, the U.S.
Department of Education, and several private foundations.
Martha Allexsaht-Snider is an associate professor in the Department of Educational
Theory and Practice at the University of Georgia. Her research interests include: fam-
ily-school-community interactions in diverse settings including Latinx communities
and rural México; professional development and equity in mathematics and science
education; and creative approaches to teacher education in diverse contexts. She has
worked with national and international grants in the areas of science and math educa-
tion for immigrant students and families and teacher education for rural and indige-
nous teachers in México.