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New faculty members team up to study Latino learning environment

Posted: 05/30/2012

By Laura Janota | From the Spring 2012 issue of Roosevelt Review

Tammy Oberg De La Garza and two of her Roosevelt colleagues, Alyson Lavigne and Amy Roberts, have a theory for what may work to create classrooms that support Latino children’s success in school.

It hinges on the idea that gaps in cultural norms hinder these students from experiencing an environment of care and acceptance in the classroom, thus diminishing their chances for academic success.

The three put their heads together and came up with the theory, and how to test it, recently during a meeting of a new group called Write Now, where junior Roosevelt faculty members can get together, discuss research and lend support to one another.

During the meeting, Oberg De La Garza, a second-year assistant education professor whose expertise is in identifying and removing obstacles that Latinos face in reading and writing, mentioned her concerns about these children falling behind. Lavigne, a second-year assistant professor of curriculum studies and an expert on student/teacher dynamics, raised a question about the importance of conveying care in the classroom and how different cultures demonstrate care. Roberts, a second-year assistant professor of psychology, noted that her research and expertise is in the various approaches that children of different cultures take as they learn and how learning is grounded in communities.

From there, a new research project called “Culture of Care” was born.

“Sometimes kids fluently use both verbal and non-verbal communication. We began wondering whether teachers take note of this nonverbal communication – or is it something they miss?” Roberts asked.

To find out, the developmental psychologist, with help from several Roosevelt graduate students, videotaped interviews with Latino children in Oberg De La Garza’s after-school tutoring program at McAuliffe Elementary School.

About 20 students were asked about the kind of care their teachers showed, what behaviors they liked and didn’t like from their teachers and whether their teachers respected language differences. The responses currently are being analyzed and will be the basis for more interviews with Latino children in Chicago, likely later this year.

“Kids this age sometimes have difficulty articulating ideas on how they conceptualize complicated concepts like care and culture. The videotapes we are collecting will help us capture their complete responses to our questions by including things like facial expressions, body movements and other non-verbal communication,” Roberts said.

The study could lead to recommendations on ways teachers can communicate care in the classroom. Ultimately, the project could pave the way for a teacher-training program on communicating care in diverse classrooms.

“Theory about care in the classroom was most notably developed during the 1980s, but it is now catching on as a hot topic as many in the education field are beginning to think about and create culturally responsive classroom communities,” said Lavigne.

“These issues are huge for Latinos, particularly since these students are falling behind. We need to find new ways to improve their educational outcomes and support their academic success,” she said.

Tammy Oberg De La Garza

Tammy Oberg De La Garza, assistant professor of elementary education, is an expert on social justice in urban education, educational equity and literacy access for all. She joined Roosevelt in 2009 following appointments at the University of Illinois at Chicago and Concordia University.

Oberg De La Garza earned a PhD from UIC in curriculum and instruction and a master’s in education from Northeastern Illinois University. She began her career as an elementary teacher in the Chicago Public Schools.

Last May, she was awarded a prestigious 2011-12 American Fellowship from the American Association of University Women. The eight-week fellowship included a $6,000 grant to complete a Latina literacy study that began as a service-learning project in her Teaching Reading in Elementary Schools class.

You can contact her at