Examining how early childhood preservice teacher funds of knowledge shapes pedagogical decision making

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Published: 
October 2021

Source: Teaching and Teacher Education Volume 106

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The purpose of this study was to explore the ways preservice teachers (PSTs) draw on their funds of knowledge (FoK), including personal and prior professional experiences, to construct a socially just pedagogy with the following research questions:
1. What FoK are leveraged to transform perspectives on professional knowledge and skills?
2. In what ways do PSTs think critically and act to reframe, reimagine, or abolish historically held notions of pedagogy and curriculum?

Methodology and methods
This paper draws on a study that investigated subjectivities of and conceptualization of culture held by PSTs in rural Midwest of the United States.
Specifically, this work focuses on the ways PSTs’ informal learning experiences and cultural knowledge directly impacts the ways they critically think about teaching and design learning experiences for young children in prekindergarten-3rd grade (children 4-8 years of age).
This instrumental case study (Stake, 1995) examines the experiences and perspectives of PSTs enrolled in a required, introductory course that embeds social justice, equitable education, and cultural competence in coursework.

Context
The study took place in a sixteen-week, general teaching methods course at a metropolitan university in a Midwestern state of USA.
Students enrolled in the introductory course are in their first year of the degree program.
The six-credit course, focused on planning for effective teaching, is designed to address topics such as special education, English Language Learners, race, those living in difficult circumstances, and gender representation.
Cultural competence and social justice topics were integrated into what was formerly a more traditional lesson plan writing course.
The course aimed to integrate diversity and culturally responsive teaching theory concurrently with foundational planning.
The six-credit class included 60 hours of community- and school-based field experiences.
This provided exposure to and application of theory and topics discussed on campus.
All PSTs completed this practicum experience in an urban, public elementary school.

Participants
Of the 24 students enrolled in the course, 18 participants provided consent for their course assignments and discussions to be collected only after the course grades were posted.
All participants were in the first year of their degree program.
Participants completed an open-ended self-disclosure questionnaire about their cultural framing, background experiences, and identities.
The directions emphasized only answering questions they were comfortable sharing.
Each item allowed for the participant to write in the answer (such as self-reported race/ethnicity) to allow all interpretations of the prompt.
The instructor of the course acknowledges the varied ideologies and entry points of PSTs related to cultural competency.
Her aim was to challenge their thinking in individual ways.
She offered variety of experiences for PSTs to engage in critical dialogue and reflective activities to better understand their individual FoK.
The diverse range and development over time of PSTs' cultural competency also informed the analysis to avoid a static categorization of their awareness.

Data sources and analysis
The key data sources for this research were written assignments in which PSTs conveyed their understanding and perceptions of culture and their personal experiences. Discussions and assignments occurred on campus, online, in the community, and in the local urban schools.
Dialogic reflection of readings and cultural experiences were led by the instructor during each in-person class session and happened online during the field to weigh different situational perspectives (Whipp, 2013).
PSTs were assigned practitioner articles about early childhood topics, such as curriculum, family/parent involvement, and heterogeneous groupings of students.
For the most part, the instructor did not respond directly in the discussion to allow a student-centered community of learning.
She drew from the online conversations to inform weekly class discussions of general practices in the field.
In addition to discussions, PSTs in this course wrote cultural reflection papers focused on two main areas:
(a) meeting the needs of all learners through inclusive classroom practice and
(b) meeting the needs of individual learners based on their unique learning styles and needs.
The reflection papers included analysis of their practicum learning environments, instructional techniques, accommodations and modifications for exceptional learners, and a mini-case study documenting a particular student's academic and behavioral needs.
Data analysis was an ongoing, recursive process of examining, interpreting and reinterpreting the data (Richards, 2009).
Multiple coding cycles and queries were run in NVivo to understand the relationships between themes and to figure out underlying ideas (Saldana, 2013 ).

Results and discussion
Well-intentioned PSTs may embrace a socially just pedagogy, while at the same time experience professional disempowerment and fear of interrogating the hegemonic structures of schooling (Freire, 1970/2018).
Two key factors of PSTs' FoK deeply influenced their desire to be compliant with the mentor teachers' approach and content suggestions.
One is their own personal experiences in the early school years (4-8 years old) (such as holiday celebrations and memories of family involvement) that is deeply rooted with a traditional early childhood emphasis on skill development and thematic learning.
The second is the entanglement of epistemological and practical knowledge around notions of schooling, ‘what a teacher is’, and ‘how learning happens’.
Previous teaching experiences (such as childcare, babysitting, or coaching), knowledge of early childhood theory and development, and instructional strategies all influence how PSTs made sense of curriculum.
Less obvious, were PSTs' dispositions and willingness to teach a diverse student population.
PSTs’ pedagogical decisions in the field were filtered, at times unconsciously, through these experiences and understandings (Hammersley, 2005; Hedges, 2012).
Consistent with previous literature, PSTs were successful in critical thinking and reflection in written coursework yet had not internalized some of the concepts and behaviors to be able to demonstrate them in the field (Beavers et al., 2017; Navarro et al., 2020).
This suggests that PSTs may conclude familiar pedagogical practices and curriculum that they experienced as young children as “good” or a “correct way to teach”.
Questions and challenges persist regarding how to address and apply PSTs' FoK into teacher preparation.
As Kim and Kim (2017) highlight, assessment and accountability for teaching licensing and certification requires PSTs to reflect on certain content areas and ‘what works’.
This is often at the expense of critical engaging with socio-political contexts and power relations within early childhood classrooms.
The dominant focus on theoretical knowledge and strategies over dispositions and cultural influences potentially shapes an unbalanced and unrealistic professional identity.
Just as Hammersley (2005) and Hedges (2012) argue, this study found that PSTs do not ‘turn off’ their lived experience filter when making pedagogical and curricular decisions.
This paper argues that their FoK plays a key role in shaping professional practice.
Early childhood teacher educators may struggle to embed opportunities for PSTs to explore their own cultural lens and subjectivities within course work and field experiences. Additionally, the narrative PSTs share may be selective based on what they believe will be accepted by peers and the instructor of the course.
The desire for PSTs to learn best-practice instructional strategies in a quick and efficient manner to be ‘ready for the field’ can lead teacher educators to sacrifice actively listening to how PSTs are processing new professional knowledge with their already established FoK.
Yet this very practice of PSTs analyzing the integral role of FoK on their epistemological framing of children and learning benefits not only their pedagogy but also teacher educators to expand recognition for the power of disposition in construction of a socially just professional epistemology.

References
Beavers, E., Orange, A., & Kirkwood, D. (2017). Fostering critical reflective thinking in an authentic learning situation. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 38(1), 3-18.
Freire, P. (1970/2018). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Inc. (Original work published 1970).
Hammersley, M. (2005). The myth of research-based practice: The critical case of educational inquiry. International Journal of Social Research Methodology, 8(4), 317-330.
Hedges, H. (2012). Teachers' funds of knowledge: A challenge to evidence-based practice. Teachers and Teaching, 18(1), 7-24.
Kim, K., & Kim, J. (2017). Going beyond the gap between theory and practice: Rethinking teacher reflection with poststructural insights. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 38(4), 293-307.
Navarro, O., Shah, J. K., Valdez, C., Dover, A. G., & Henning, N. (2020). Fighting on all fronts: The push, pull, and persistence of social justice educators and the move to reimagine teacher preparation. Teacher Education Quarterly, 47(3), 9-31.
Richards, L. (2009). Handling qualitative data: A practical guide (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications.
Saldana, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers. SAGE Publications.
Stake, R. E. (1995). The art of case study research. SAGE Publications.
Whipp, J. L. (2013). Developing socially just teachers: The interaction of experiences before, during, and after teacher preparation in beginning urban teachers. Journal of Teacher Education, 64(5), 454-467. 

Updated: Feb. 06, 2022
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