Date of Award

Spring 5-13-2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Middle and Secondary Education

First Advisor

Chara H. Bohan

Second Advisor

Joesph Feinberg

Third Advisor

Chantee Earl

Fourth Advisor

Yali Zhao


The EL (English learner) population is rapidly growing in the United States. ELs most often are finding themselves placed in classrooms without ESOL trained teachers. In the social studies curriculum, United States History often is regarded as one of the hardest courses for newly arrived immigrants due to the unfamiliarity of the content (Dunne & Martell, 2013). The absence of culturally relevant instruction also contributes to the potentially overwhelming nature of the social studies curriculum for ELs. The purpose of this study is to determine the extent teachers’ and tutors’ use of culturally relevant biographies during social studies instruction fosters engagement in social studies instruction among Latino English language learners.

The research study was inspired by the work of Margaret Peters, retired Dayton, Ohio United States History teacher and author. In 1969 Peters wrote a book entitled, Striving to Overcome, Negro Achievers. The book featured twenty-one short biographies and pictures of African Americans who had impacted the history of the United States. Peters’ purpose for creating the book was to “free” young Americans from prejudice (Watras, 2012). In significance to this study, eight culturally relevant biographies were available to the participants.

The purpose of this research is to evaluate the value of incorporating culturally and linguistically relevant biographies into ESOL social studies instruction. The study answered two questions: (1) How do ESOL teachers and tutors perceive culturally relevant biography integration during United States History instruction? and (2) How does the use of culturally relevant biographies impact teacher and tutor reported student engagement with EL Latino students? The following research methods were employed: participant interviews, field notes, observations, and participant reported student engagement questionnaires. The findings of this study showed benefit for student engagement among Latino ELs. The participant base largely echoed that studying historical individuals relatable to students was better than studying historical events. Participants all said they would use culturally relevant biographies in future instruction.