Tools that Come from Within: Learning to Teach in a Cross-Cultural Adult Literacy Practicum

Jan. 02, 2012

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 28, Issue 1, (January, 2012) 66-77.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study follows 12 preservice teachers who tutored adult students learning English in a free evening class while simultaneously taking a course titled Community Literacy.
In particular, the authors examine how this context supported them in developing tools for teaching; and how those tools were shaped by and constructed these teachers’ identities.

They addressed to the following questions that explored individual cases of preservice teacher learning within a field experience.
- What were each preservice teacher’s ideas of language and literacy acquisition, pedagogy, and student learning as they participated in this particular cross-cultural field experience?
- What tools did the participants use and build to make sense of their practices over time?
- What did this experience contribute to preservice teachers’ learning to teach literacy?

The participants were 12 white, monolingual middle-class students who learned to teach literacy in a Southwestern U.S. city.
These elementary education preservice teachers follow a traditional three-semester program that results in both elementary education and ESL certifications.
They are enrolled in a reading specialization cohort that includes a focus on issues of race, culture, language, ethnicity, and multiple perspectives on knowledge.
The authors locate the practicum experiences in diverse, low-income neighborhood schools to encourage them to critically examine their own identity.

The adult students were first-generation immigrants from a variety of Latin American countries and ranged in age from 18 to 60.
Some were parents in the community and others came from a suburb.
Between 10 and 15 students were present on any given night.

Research methods
The research design was qualitative and drew on case study methods as well as critical ethnographic methods.

Data were collected through preservice teachers’ logs, class assignments and field notes.
The authors used discourse analysis to examine three preservice teachers’ cases and their ideas about language acquisition, literacy teaching and learning, and teacher/student roles in a cross-cultural teaching setting.


This study explored the discourses of language and literacy acquisition, pedagogy, and student learning that the preservice teachers drew upon in a cross-cultural, adult literacy practicum.
The study also explored the preservice teachers' tools and practices and how those became habitus, or patterns of talk and action that belong to a particular context.

Discourses and tools
The adult literacy context provided preservice teachers with an opportunity to build knowledge about language and literacy acquisition; to take responsibility for their students’ engagement and learning; and to begin to reflect on how social and political conditions and contexts shape literacy teaching and learning.

The authors found that relationships were integral to the teaching and learning that occurred. Relationships connected the preservice teachers to knowledge about the ways the adults learned as well as the topics that would be relevant to their lives.
The texts they drew on were artifacts of preservice teachers’ developing habitus as teachers.
There was clear evidence of engagement with dialogic practices where teacher and learner roles were blurred.
The preservice teachers discovered the utility of such practices in the tutorial, but also when writing these entries and final case studies outside of class.


The unique nature of adult tutorials
The preservice teachers left the familiarity of working in elementary classrooms to work with adults.
They also left the familiarity of an English dominant setting and worked in a space with challenging language barriers, trying on different identities as teachers.
They were able to show their students the ways they were learning at the same time.
The authors conclude that the preservice teachers in this study drew on the tools that come from mentor texts and their experiences, and also the tools that students brought, in unique ways.
The ways they drew on tools were culturally responsive but also responsive to community issues and the histories of the students.

Conclusion and implications for teacher education research

One implication of this study for research in teacher education is related to the use of discourse analysis in thinking about the Discourses of teaching and learning that were constructed, affirmed, and challenged in this setting.
As a result of this study, the authors are more likely to pull out passages from reading responses and students’ logs for inspection when addressing course topics such as generative teaching and funds of knowledge.
The authors have found that framing diversity as a resource and helping the preservice teachers to understand how to build on students’ tools that come from within, their funds of knowledge, is a much more productive pathway to creating an educated and diverse citizenry.

Updated: Mar. 30, 2014