Christian Dallavis, director of the Notre Dame ACE Academies
initiative, has been honored for best dissertation by the Catholic Education special interest group (SIG) of theAmerican Educational Research Association (AERA).
The SIG, which brings together scholars from around the world who conduct research in the field of Catholic education, bestowed the award on Dallavis as the group gathered at the AERA annual conference, held April 13-17, 2012, in Vancouver, Canada.Dallavis'
s dissertation, titled "Extending theories of culturally responsive pedagogy: An ethnographic examination of Catholic schooling in an immigrant community in Chicago," explored the capacity for Catholic schools to be culturally responsive to their students as ethnicity in a community changed over time.
He studied a particular Chicago-area Catholic school during two time periods—its early days after its founding in 1903 to serve the local Polish immigrant community and its recent days serving a community that has become virtually all Hispanic.
His ethnographic and historical research showed that the key tenets of what scholars now call "culturally responsive pedagogy" were present in the school during its early days. "Polish culture, literature, language, and history were at the heart of the school, right alongside American history and literature, English, and religion," Dallavis commented in a recent interview. But contemporary teachers don't emphasize the home culture of their students in the classroom in the same ways today.
This shift is symptomatic of a broader trend in American classrooms in recent years, as the minority composition of student bodies has increased dramatically but the teaching force has not. Dallavis said his study "identifies missed opportunities" for teachers and principals in Catholic schools to enrich cultural connections with students, because a growing body of research suggests that culturally responsive teaching is an effective approach to improving minority student achievement. Dallavis contends that faith-based schools have a unique opportunity to be culturally responsive, because faith is a critical part of the home culture for families who choose Catholic schools.
"Many Catholic schools were extraordinarily culturally responsive to the immigrant communities from Europe that founded the schools a century ago. Today, Catholic schools ought to look to that legacy to prepare teachers and principals to be culturally responsive to today's children in similar ways," Dallavis said, summarizing the take-away points from the dissertation. The research was part of his graduate work at the University of Michigan, where he earned a joint Ph.D. in English and Education.
The study received the SIG's inaugural dissertation award; the SIG was authorized by the AERA only in 2010, an act affirming the validity of Catholic education as a field of scholarly research. The SIG is chaired by Shane Martin, professor and dean of the Loyola Marymount University School of Education.
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