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Exploring culturally responsive pedagogy in a selected choral music setting: A naturalistic inquiry

Kwanza, Evelyn
Some choral music educators have tapped into the power of their discipline and used its cultural ties to embrace diverse learners and communities (Lehmberg, 2009; Shaw, 2015). Others have struggled with releasing themselves from hegemonic traditions that prioritize certain styles, music ensemble types and genres thus marginalizing or disengaging students in their classes and programs in the process (Gurgel, 2015; Palkki, 2015). One reason for this discrepancy can be explained through the framework of Culturally Responsive Pedagogy (CRP). Brown-Jeffy and Cooper's (2011) theory uses five principles found in Gay (1997), Ladson-Billing (1994) and Nieto's (1999) principles of culturally relevant teaching: identity and achievement, equity and excellence, developmental appropriateness, teaching the whole child, and student-teacher relationships. CRP theorists recognize culture as an intercepting societal construct that affects learning. Music educators who practice CRP are in a position to meet the needs of diverse student populations (Dekaney & Robinson, 2014) and cultivate cultural literacy during the learning process (Hess, 2015). Howard (2013) concluded that culturally situated pedagogy enriches student engagement and increases positive outcomes. This may be demonstrated in effective music classrooms. This qualitative study uses naturalistic inquiry design to explore how the natural setting of selected choral classes meet the needs of a diverse student population, enhances student engagement and fosters cultural literacy. It explores the paradigms and practices of two music educators in the context of the COVID-19 global pandemic. A finding in this study was that four elements of practice: the use of relevant content, a student-centered paradigm, a balance of rigor with fun, and cultural congruency utilized all of the principles of CRP. An additional finding was that the COVID-19 pandemic compelled the choral music instructors to teach in a manner that focused on these two principles of CRP: teaching the whole child and teacher student relationships. This study reinforces the concept that culture is inextricably linked to learning. Cultural perspective informs how educators teach and students learn. The more educators understand this concept, the more they can empower students be citizens, communicators, and innovators in an increasingly diverse and globally connected society (Bradley, 2015).