Dance as dialog: A metaphor analysis on the development of interculturality through arts and community-based learning with preservice teachers and a local refugee community

August 2021

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education, Volume 104

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

Using the methodology of metaphor analysis, the authors explore two approaches as one: arts and community-based (ACB) education recognizing that often, the two are merged, as in this study.
The research was guided by the following questions:
1. How might ACB approaches aid in developing interculturality of preservice teachers (aka teacher learners)?
2. What can metaphor analysis contribute to the understanding of developing interculturality in teacher learners?
To answer their questions, the authors implemented a two-week ACB workshop in an undergraduate course for preservice secondary teachers in partnership with local Yazidi refugees in the midwestern United States.
The preservice teachers, research team, and Yazidi collaborators participated in all parts of the workshop including a museum exhibition activity, pre- and post-group discussions, and the creation of dance stories based on these experiences.
Data for the study included the pre- and post-group discussion recordings as well as oral and written reflections one week after the workshop.

Materials and methods

Preservice teachers
Twenty-four preservice teachers in an undergraduate course on teaching multilingual learners in the content areas in Fall 2019 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln participated in this study.
This course focused on preparing future teachers to work with students with immigrant backgrounds in their classes.
The preservice teachers took the course as part of their initial certification to teach grades 7-12 in various content areas including Business, Science, English, Special Education, Social Studies, and Spanish.
Students were required to participate in the ACB activities as part of regular course requirements, and all project participants gave consent to be part of the study

Yazidi community in the study
In addition to the students enrolled in the courses described above, five Yazidi community members took part in the study.
Through a partnership with Yazda (a local non-profit whose mission is to prevent future genocides against the Yazidi community and other minorities and to assist them in recovery from the 2014 genocide), professors and graduate students from the Department of Teaching, Learning and Teacher Education helped provided tutoring services, assisted with English and citizenship classes and other small requests from Yazda members.
In return, Yazda agreed to help recruit five community members (one to work with each group of 4e5 preservice teachers) to be part of this study.
Yazidi collaborators were informed of the study's goals of preparing teachers better to work with immigrant background students like their own children, and they were given a modest honorarium for their participation in the activities which was distributed one week after the workshops when Yazidi collaborators met with First Author to reflect orally on their experiences.

Data collection
Data for this study consisted of 12 hours of pre- and post-group discussion recordings as well as 2 hours of oral reflections from discussions with Yazidi collaborators one week after the workshops.
In addition, written reflections from 24 teacher learners which were uploaded by students to the course management system one week after the dance workshop were also used as data.

Findings and discussion
Findings from this study illustrate how ACB education pushes back against “test-based educational culture” (Oreck, 2004, p. 67) by creating spaces in which teacher learners can notice and learn from community wisdom (Calabrese-Barton et al., 2020).
In this way they are able to develop interculturality in “small, incremental moves” (Powers & Duffy, 2016, p. 71) such as when they realized that having some degree of discomfort in intercultural situations is not only normal, but desirable.
In addition, the findings showed how the body can be an important tool in intercultural communication and the importance of letting all participants have a voice and listen to each other.
Lastly, this study revealed how teacher learners realized the value of understanding experiences from the perspectives of others, which creates empathy, and leads them on a pathway to civil discourse about contentious topics.
The ACB approach in this paper allowed the researchers to create “safe enough spaces” where their students could grapple with the complexity of teaching and learning in order to be better prepared to work with students with immigrant/refugee backgrounds, like the children of their Yazidi collaborators.
The findings of this paper also show how metaphor analysis can contribute to the understanding of the experiences of preservice teachers and the way in which we can continue to improve their education by helping them “to acquire the breadth of knowledge that will enable them to stretch their disciplines from within” (Noddings, 2013, p. 73) and the skills needed for effectively teaching the diverse populations represented in today's classrooms.
In terms of limitations to this study, the authors wished they had had more time to truly develop further their relationships between the collaborators and preservice teachers (and researchers/teacher educators) and for project participants to ask more questions and learn more about each other.
Workshop time always felt rushed as they had so much they needed to do, but they could only do it in the set class time period.
On the other hand, they were mindful of taking up the time and resources of their community collaborators and so it is important for teacher educators to keep a balance between having enough time to interact and creating a project in which all participants can benefit and not asking community collaborators to sacrifice in terms of personal time.
Finally, it could be argued that a limitation of this study is the strong belief in the value of arts education that the research team held before creating and participating in the arts-based workshops, which could be interpreted as the positive findings being a foregone conclusion.
That is, they created the workshops already believing in their power, and knowing that something good would probably happen because of them.
However, they believe their findings were not a matter of course because the workshop yielded results they had not anticipated and this impact was greater than what they had imagined initially.
None of them predicted the intense emotional impact of the experience on teacher learners, the ways in which intercultural skills developed through the experience, or the rich understanding of refugee background students that the preservice teachers gained.
To conclude, the authors believe that aesthetic activities such as those in their workshop (regardless of what content area they are from) help teacher learners begin to see connections between research and practice and they agree with Zeichner et al. (2016) that as we move forward in teacher education, it is important to continue to explore how to “work in solidarity with local communities” (p. 288).
Furthermore, co-creation in arts-based projects where interdependence and cooperation are centered present a promising pathway toward contributing to social change and the creation or continuation of a democratic society.

Calabrese-Barton, A., Tan, E., & Birmingham, D. J. (2020). Rethinking high-leverage practices in justice-oriented ways. Journal of Teacher Education, 1, 18.
Noddings, N. (2013). Education and democracy in the 21st century. New York; London: Teachers College Press.
Oreck, B. (2004). The artistic and professional development of teachers: A study of teachers' attitudes toward and use of the arts in teaching. Journal of Teacher education, 55(1), 55-69.
Powers, B., & Duffy, P. B. (2016). Making invisible intersectionality visible through theater of the oppressed in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(1)
Zeichner, K., Bowman, M., Guillen, L., & Napolitan, K. (2016). Engaging and working in solidarity with local communities in preparing the teachers of their children. Journal of Teacher Education, 67(4)

Updated: Jan. 15, 2022