BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Fresh from her memorable work with
life-changing but unconventional "maverick" teachers, University at
Buffalo education professor Catherine Cornbleth now turns to a
universal challenge in the secondary school arena: how to engage
students so they feel personally connected in class while teaching
them to excel in today's standardized test-driven academic
Cornbleth's newest book, "Teaching With Vision: Culturally
Responsive Teaching in Standards-based Classrooms," addresses what
is widely recognized as one of the central issues facing American
education: finding successful teaching methods that work in what is
known as standards-based classrooms, without losing the individual
touch that has been a timeless hallmark of inspirational
The book selects teachers from around the nation -- including
five from Western New York -- and asks them to explain how they are
able to navigate the demands of standards- and test-driven teaching
environments without losing their vision of what teaching can be.
It is the seventh book written or edited by Cornbleth, a professor
of learning and instruction in UB's Graduate School of
"This is, in my view, an important project," says Mary H.
Gresham, dean of UB's Graduate School of Education. "Not only are
teachers given a 'voice' through the lens of an experienced
researcher, but this collaboration and respect for teachers is
exactly what is needed to find the much-needed solutions for public
"I am very excited about this work, showcasing innovative
teachers," she says, "and have been for some time."
"Teaching With Vision," which Cornbleth edited with Christine E.
Sleeter, was published this month by Teachers College Press. In it,
elementary and secondary teachers chosen by Cornbleth and Sleeter
write about how they prepare students for the required state tests
and maintain their ability to inspire individual students.
Cornbleth, whose work on maverick teachers attracted national
attention and praise, uses the book to express her strong
objections to overly standardized and rigid teaching methods that
do not take into account the individual needs and backgrounds of
students. Instead, the book advocates "grassroots, culturally
responsive teaching" as opposed to a "top-down,
Culturally responsive teaching, according to Cornbleth, is
tailored toward specific students and groups of students to
"connect" and "engage" them where they are and then move them
toward meaningful academic learning goals.
"Culturally responsive teaching acknowledges and speaks to --
rather than ignores or tries to suppress -- one or more aspects of
students' culture such as language, religion, sexual orientation,
experience, race or ethnicity, ability and interests," Cornbleth
says. "It meets the students half-way rather than expecting them to
do all the changing."
By definition, teaching cannot be top-down because whoever is at
the top is not in touch with the students being taught, according
to Cornbleth. Meaningful learning cannot be by-the-numbers or
standardized either, she argues, because individual and groups of
"One of the things I find infuriating," Cornbleth says, "is that
many of the people who favor standardized approaches to teaching
and learning -- the people who talk about being all on the same
page, an expression I detest -- are often upper middle-class white
people who have experienced culturally relevant teaching
themselves, and like a fish in water, don't recognize it."
As was the case in Cornbleth's maverick teacher study, certain
patterns of teaching success emerged.
"Across the differences among the teachers we hear from here,
the students they teach, and the schools and communities in which
they teach, there are striking similarities," says Cornbleth.
Among the common practices displayed by those who have mastered
"culturally responsive teaching":
-- Getting to know students individually and as a group, and
then connecting academic learning with students' backgrounds and
-- Reorganizing subject matter in the textbook, syllabus or
other guidelines to make it more accessible and meaningful to
-- Viewing problems or constraints as challenges; being a
The five Western New York teachers, all of whom write about
their successful teaching, are: Stephen Stiller, a teacher,
new-teacher mentor, curriculum lead teacher and math department
chair at East High School in Buffalo; Eric Mohammed, a social
studies teacher and colleague of Stiller's at East High School;
Regina Forni, a retired secondary-school English teacher who taught
grades 7-12 in several Buffalo and suburban schools for 31 years;
Frank DiLeo, the English department chair at City Honors School who
previously taught English at Frank A. Sedita School #38, both in
Buffalo; and Joanne Rickard-Weinholtz, the culture teacher at the
Tuscarora Indian Elementary School within the territories of the
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public
university, a flagship institution in the State University of New
York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's
more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through
more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree
programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of
the Association of American Universities.