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Study: Kids Learn Better When Taught By Teachers Of Same Ethnicity

Researchers have found that teachers of color are more likely to provide culturally relevant pedagogy to other color students

Young children develop better learning skills when taught by teachers of the same ethnicity, a new study reveals in Early Education and Development.

Children who shared their ethnicity with their teacher were more likely to go on to develop better working memory by the age of seven.

A teacher collaborating with her students. The students may also respond better to a role model of their ethnicity at the front of their class. KATERINA HOLMES/SWNS TALKER

By improving their working memory, children can get better at learning and problem-solving

The US study was found to be particularly profound in Black and Latin American children, showing that diversifying the teaching workforce could be critical in the development of children.

There are many factors that could contribute to these results.

According to the authors, it may be that Latin American and Black teachers are better able to support their students’ development.

The students may also respond better to a role model of their ethnicity at the front of their class.

They could even have an unconscious bias to teachers they can relate to.

Lead author Professor Michael Gottfried, from the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, said: “Researchers have found that teachers of color are more likely to provide culturally relevant pedagogy, and when they do, they are able to better connect with students whose culture and experiences are often not reflected in standard school curricula and approaches.”

Gottfried added: “Diversifying the educator workforce represents a key step toward promoting greater equity in schools across the United States.

“Our results add to the substantive evidence that ethno-racial representation among American educators matters by underscoring a key way in which students’ developmental skills are developed in schools.

“This is a critical step forward as students’ working memory, a core component of executive function, has been consistently linked to improvements in student achievement and is most malleable in early childhood.”

The researchers analyzed data from 18,170 children from the US who were in kindergarten in 2011.

A teacher helps a student in a second grade classroom. Education is encouraged from people of all backgrounds. DAVID BUTOW/SWNS TALKER

Kindergarten children are aged between three and six.

Each child was followed until they were either six or seven.

The study explored the impact having a teacher of matching ethnicity had on two measures of brain power.

One measure was working memory, which is the ability to hold and process information in our minds.

The other was so-called cognitive flexibility, which is the ability to change your attention and perspectives.

To measure cognitive flexibility, they explored how well children could switch between thinking about different concepts.

To do this they had to sort cards by shape, color and border.

Working memory was assessed by the researchers asking children to repeat a dictated series of numbers, with one extra digit added to the series every time the child remembered the previous series correctly.

The study also looked at the effect of teachers and students matched by ethnicity on children’s reading and math scores.

All groups were compared with a control group taught by a teacher from a different ethno-racial background.

When students had an ethno-racial match with their teacher, their reading and math scores were higher.

The size of the effect was greatest in Black and Latin American students. Ethno-racial matching also improved children’s working memory.

However, it did not influence cognitive flexibility.

These findings held true regardless of differences in standards of teaching and whether children were taught for one year or two by a matched ethnicity teacher.

It also did not matter if a child had attended a public or private school.

According to the authors, while the effect size is relatively small, when scaled up to population level and across multiple years of schooling, the effects could make a big difference.

Gottfried said: “What a teacher believes about certain groups of students can alter how they deliver instruction, interact with parents, and grade papers, for example.

“This perspective could play out with a non-matched teacher not accurately recognizing the skill or developmental level of a student of color and thus not providing appropriate levels of scaffolded instruction, which has been linked to improvements in executive functions in addition to academic achievement.”

The authors now hope that future research unpicks the reasons why ethno-racial matching of students and teachers has this positive effect on attainment and development.

Produced in association with SWNS Talker

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