Community, Difference, and Voice in Teacher Education

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Published: 
Feb. 15, 2012

Source: Teacher Education Quarterly, Vol. 39, No. 1, Winter 2012

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article explores the ethical, methodological, and practical issues of translating critical theory and research into praxis through a case study analysis of a graduate capstone seminar that explored the familiar, and seemingly benign, concepts common to educational discourses.

The author and her graduate students deconstructed “community” to consider its composition of forces that simultaneously include and exclude.
Focusing on the tensions between the inclusionary and exclusionary forces within community was the entry point for examining how difference, equity, and access operate within classroom and school communities.

Methods
The students participated in a graduate Masters in Education Program administered summer semester 2008 in an American Midwestern metropolitan area.
The author collected data throughout the seminar, including documenting student work and taking field notes from a participant observant of the gallery walks/talks and seminar meetings. The analysis in this paper focuses on content analysis of students’ final curriculum products.
The author used content analysis to analyze my students’ final assignments and examine the extent to which the goals of the course were achieved.

Discussion

The author argues that while the data demonstrated that the teachers positioned their students as active, engaged, and thoughtful participants in their own learning process, three important points that speak to the seminar’s pedagogical objectives can be pulled from the data analysis:
- K-12 learners would have limited opportunities to engage with a community outside their classrooms.
- K-12 learners would have very little opportunity to engage in critical reflection on issues related to community, difference, or equity.
- A refreshing view of, yet still simplistic in light of course content, “student voice” informed the curriculum projects.

The three themes from the analysis of data stand in contrast to the seminar experience.

First, only three of 14 projects asked learners to engage with or within external communities.
Second, a surprisingly low number of projects incorporated a treatment of community consistent with the seminar’s emphasis on deconstructing community and examining the active role that learners can play in reading, naming, and changing a community.
In sum, participants ultimately extracted ideas from their seminar experiences to develop projects that fit their perceptions of a classroom-as-is as opposed to conceptualizing a classroom-as-it-might be.
Finally, all projects asked learners to be creative, to express themselves, to make individual connections to the content and to articulate and share their thoughts.
The results were disappointing yet ripe for exploring the practicalities of translating critical pedagogy into praxis.

Conclusions and Implications

This study holds several implications for studying teacher professional development broadly and ways teachers resist or incorporate critical themes into their practice more specifically.
The scholarship of teaching and learning contributes to the broader pedagogical knowledge base while also directly impacting and enhancing the instructional practices of the professoriate.
Next, the case study holds specific implications for instructional strategies and approaches that may support teachers in their efforts to critically examine community, difference, and student voice.

The author would repeat several aspects of the seminar’s design and further strengthen them, including:
• The use of a spiraled approach to “teaching” the curriculum that juxtaposed critical theory, issues of professional practice, and applications.
•Exploring community, difference, and equity through experiential activities, including art, image, or performance-based, maybe promising ways to think differently about how these issues manifest in the classroom, as well as a way to juxtapose a consideration of the abstract with the concrete.
• Classroom discussions and readings were supported by discussion guides I designed asking participants to summarize key themes, compose individual reflections, and brainstorm possible applications or extensions into the classrooms.

Recommendations for change or adaptation include asking participants for feedback on the reading and discussion guides.
The author estimates them to have been successful, based on the quality of the discussions, however, it would be helpful to explore participant perceptions directly to better understand the impact of the guides as instructional tools and how they could be more effectively utilized.
A second recommendation would be to build more steps into the final assignment.
While the seminar participants engaged in many collective experiences, each teacher designed his or her own project largely in isolation.

The author concludes that voice is an important feature of community because of its link to power and authority, and I hope to further develop my ability to support teachers’ efforts to critically examine student voice in their classrooms and to more critically explore, define, and create communities in their classrooms.
Communities require hard work, and their likelihood of thriving is diminished without exploring how difference, equity, and voice operate within them.

Updated: May. 10, 2017
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