Kufundisha: an innovative teaching approach for student engagement and experiential learning.

Author:Hackett, Cedric D.


Traditional teaching approaches are not always effective pedagogical practices in engaging students to actively participate in their own learning. This is particularly true for African American students at predominantly white institutions (PWIs), as well as Hispanically Serving Institutions (HSIs). Scholars have questioned the use of the traditional lecture format (Paul, 2015). Paul concludes that the lecture format suggest "unfair" gains towards the dominant traditional student while forming barricades to underrepresented and marginalized groups (e.g. minority, low income and first generation). Since the existing teaching systems in public education remain Eurocentric (e.g. seeing the world based on European values and experiences), it is important to create models of racially engaging pedagogy that promote racial uplift, a sense of belonging, and self-empowerment for all students, particularly students of color (Paul, 2015; Vaught, 2013; De Lissovoy, 2010; White, 2003; Neville & Cha-Jua, 1998; Madhubuti & Madhubuti, 1994).

Pedagogies that are African-centered provide an alternative tool for addressing biases within the traditional teaching models, such as lecturing. Paul (2015) has speculated that lectures are "a specific cultural form that favors some people while discriminating against others, including women, minorities, and low-income and first generation college students" (para 2). However, active teaching models such as inquiry based learning aid in engaging students toward content knowledge both in and out of the classroom. Other teaching models that emphasize the positive contributions of a group's culture to the development of Western civilizations, such as an African centered pedagogy, are better suited for communities of color, particularly African Americans (Vaught, 2013; De Lissovoy, 2010; White, 2003; Neville & Cha-Jua, 1998; Madhubuti & Madhubuti, 1994).

Madhubuti and Madhubuti (1994) describe the goals of an African-centered model grounded in the particulars of general pedagogy. These attributes include the following:

  1. Legitimization of African stores of knowledge

  2. Positive exploitation and scaffolding of productive community and cultural practices

  3. Extension and construction of the indigenous language

  4. Reinforcement of community relationships and idealization of services to one's family, community, nation, race and world

  5. Promotion of positive relationships

  6. Positive worldview that promotes self-sufficient future for one's people without denying the self-worth and right to selfdetermination of others

  7. Supporting cultural continuity while promoting critical consciousness (p. 21).

With all these elements considered, White (2003) argued for effective teaching strategies for African Americans that emphasize structures that reflect one's lived experience, which ultimately promotes self-identity and social justice. To this end, an alternative approach to classroom praxis, a paradigm labeled Kufundisha helps to tailor a classroom to a specific student group. Kufundisha is a Swahili word and its meaning is "to teach" (Neville & Cha-Jua, 1998). The emphasis is on "encouraging educators to understand the social reality of students in ways that are relevant, meaningful, and applicable to the subject matter" (White, 2003, p. 387).


According to Vaught (2013), Black studies programs were conceived of in the late sixties to provide headship for tackling issues related to educational disparities and neighborhood calamities within the Black community. As a culturally responsive teaching model used in Black studies, Kufundisha allows a professor to observe the collective categories of learners in order to support and encourage students to explore their social experiences in ways that are racially inspiring and liberating. These categories include the visual learner, the auditory learner, and the tactile learner. The visual learner learns best by seeing, visualizing, and diagramming. The auditory learner learns best by listening, talking to others and talking to oneself. The tactile/ kinesthetic learner learns best by doing, through movement and physical activity. The Kufundisha model also encourages the construction of an emancipatory educational setting which permits students to become actively engaged in their own learning process.

Grounded in the attributes of the African-centered model mentioned above (Madhubuti and Madhubuti, 1994), Kufundisha is divided into eight components: a) teaching philosophy; b) goals and objectives; c) learning styles; d) Text and readings; e) method of instruction; f) creating a safe learning environment; g) evaluating learning objectives for students, and h) evaluating the course for revision (Neville & Cha-Jua, 1998). Table 1 illustrates the components of Kufundisha. These collective components provide a template that suggests a racially engaging connection between teacher and student. De Lissovoy (2010) contends that:

It is a relationship of solidarity between beings finding a commitment together against the social, institutional, and discursive violence that denies their shared humanness. To the extent that the classroom is both built from and shot through by dominative structure and processes, this is a journey through a difficult wilderness in which faith in and love for others takes precedence over the moral authority and certitude that educators have usually sought to appropriate for themselves (p. 212-213). Black studies programs provide this pedagogy of racial engagement by confronting the issues of being underrepresented and discriminated against in Western society.

Challenges for Faculty of Color

As a newly tenure-track faculty member, research was initiated to observe Black faculty experiences in the academy and began to develop a composite sketch of what life in my new role as a Black male faculty member would be comparable to. Many studies discussed that Black faculty members are faced with many unique challenges in the academy while trying to support minority student achievement, including oppositional reviews compared to White faculty (Reid, 2010); academic agency matters (Trower & Chait, 2002; Turner, Myers, & Creswell, 1999; Thompson & Dey, 1998; Aguirre, Martinez, & Hernandez, 1993; Frierson, 1990); issues of incorporation (Heggins, 2004; Dixon-Reeves, 2003; Turner, 2003; Weems, 2003); and dealing with institutional intolerance (Salazar, 2009; Constantine, Smith, Redington, & Owens, 2008; Williams & Williams, 2006).

Although obstacles are humdrum for Black faculty in arguably all institutions of higher education, Black faculty have been considered the primary sources for providing students of color with the academic and motivational support necessary to reverse the trend of poor performance for African American students (Strickland, 1975). Reversing negative retention and graduation rates for students of color, and in particular, Black male college students have been a topic of discourse for the past four decades.

Advising, guiding, and tutoring are among the ways in which faculty support this student population (Strickland, 1975). However, these roles of mentorship and modeling can arguably weaken African American faculty members' ability to honor the expectations of the academy if the proper support structures are not in place. All things considered, scholars have shown that proper support structures are not in place rendering a swell in African American faculty attrition (Turner, Gonzalez, & Wood, 2008). With attention to satisfaction, Turner, Gonzalez, and Wood determined that faculty of color love teaching: however, "undervaluation of their research interests, approaches, and theoretical frameworks and challenges to their credentials and intellect in the classroom contribute to their dissatisfaction with their professorial roles. In addition, isolation, perceived biases in the hiring process, unrealistic expectations of doing their work and being representatives of their racial/ethnic group, and accent discrimination are noted negatives described in the literature" (Turner, Gonzalez, & Wood, 2008, p. 143).

Challenges in College Completion & Retention

Contemporary research has revealed when comparing California State University, Northridge (CSUN) with its peer campuses, CSUN ranked 23rd in graduation rates in 2013 with 46% of students graduating in six years (http://collegecompletion.chronicle.com/institution/)....

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