“So We Have to Teach Them or What?”: Introducing Preservice Teachers to the Figured Worlds of Urban Youth Through Digital Conversation

Mar. 01, 2015

Source: Teachers College Record, Volume 117, No.3, March 2015
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Using a figured world framework, the authors explore how social interaction made possible through digital tools shaped the actions and identities of 16 preservice teachers. This case study focuses on three preservice teachers from Illinois to illustrate the cumulative and different process of change that each went through during his or her interactions with 10th-grade students from Los Angeles.

The authors used three key data sources to look at preservice teacher growth. These data included eight
weeks of chat transcripts between the preservice and high school students’ online interactions and preservice teacher reflections written midway through the project and at its conclusion. In addition to these materials, two preservice participants each shared three additional 3- to 5-page reflections they had completed as a writing assignment for an additional class.


The findings reveal that providing preservice teachers with virtual access to urban youth’s figured worlds allowed the preservice teachers to better understand the cultural artifacts of these students’ worlds. In doing so, they were forced to acknowledge the importance of maintaining the belief that all students, including those from urban backgrounds, can and want to engage in rigorous learning. The project also provided the preservice teachers with an opportunity to learn more about the discourse of these students, giving preservice teachers insights about how to navigate the language of their students’ cultures, to evaluate their students’ academic language needs, and to instruct their students about shifting their language use to communicate across settings and purposes.

Implications and conclusions

In particular, teacher education programs can benefit strongly from looking at these differences in positionality and understanding the surrounding world as rich inquiry-based learning opportunities. This study points to the opportunities that careful integration of digital tools can yield. This work expands the culturally relevant literature as a result, demanding that teacher educators seek out and develop university–practitioner partnerships that, when enacted with careful deliberation, offer empowered learning experiences for both high school and college students alike.

The results highlight the potential that virtual spaces offer for developing constructive dialogue between urban youth and preservice teachers, which can lead to reflective, culturally relevant teachers.

Updated: Mar. 08, 2017