Teacher Candidates Learning from English Learners: Constructing Concepts of Language and Culture in Tuesday's Tutors After-School Program

By Fitts, Shanan; Gross, Lisa A. | Teacher Education Quarterly, Fall 2012 | Go to article overview
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Teacher Candidates Learning from English Learners: Constructing Concepts of Language and Culture in Tuesday's Tutors After-School Program


Fitts, Shanan, Gross, Lisa A., Teacher Education Quarterly


In teacher preparation programs across the United States, early field experiences are considered to be an effective method of providing teacher candidates with opportunities to observe and interact with children (National Council for Accreditation for Teacher Education (NCATE, 2010). These practicum arrangements assist candidates in developing pedagogical skills, a sense of self as teacher, and positive dispositions towards different groups of children (NCATE, 2008). With the changing demographics of the U.S. population, many state certification agencies require candidates to work with children from culturally diverse populations. Such formative opportunities are designed to broaden candidates' socio-cultural understanding and shape their ability to address the needs of diverse learners. Lucas and Grinberg (2008) note that research conducted on teacher preparation for diversity often treats ethnic, cultural, and linguistic diversity "as one largely undifferentiated set of factors" (p. 606). These authors propose an examination of the specific types of knowledge, attitudes, and skills necessary for teaching children who are bilingual and English learners (ELs). This study examines the growth of preservice teacher candidates' beliefs, attitudes, and knowledge about school-age ELs in the context of an early field experience.

Developing Culturally and Linguistically Competent Teachers

The need to prepare mainstream, general education teachers to instruct language minority students has been thoroughly documented by a number of researchers (Fillmore & Snow, 2000; Garcia, Arias, Harris Murri, & Serna, 2010; Lucas & Grinberg, 2008). Recommendations for preservice candidates include the need to: study a second language; develop knowledge of language learning and linguistics; understand the socio-political aspects of language use; and interact with children, families, and communities with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds (Lucas & Grinberg, 2008). The present study addresses these recommendations with particular emphasis on the need for interactions with linguistically diverse individuals.

Most studies that explore teacher beliefs towards bilingual students and ELs show that teacher candidates hold negative, simplistic, and often erroneous views of linguistic diversity (Byrnes, Kiger, & Manning, 1997; de Courcy, 2007; Katz, Scott, & Hadjioannou, 2009; Marx, 2000; Pappamihiel, 2007). Katz and her colleagues surveyed 306 preservice teachers in the United States and Cyprus and found that participants had negative beliefs about bilingualism and non-standard dialects. Interestingly, they noted no significant difference between bilingual and monolingual respondents. Other studies have demonstrated that proficiency in a second language can mediate teacher attitudes (Youngs & Youngs, 2001). Katz et al. (2009) concluded that training in diversity issues and exposure to non-dominant language varieties had a positive effect on teacher candidates' attitudes towards linguistic difference. Developing positive attitudes towards linguistic diversity is a foundational pre-requisite for developing effective and appropriate teaching practices (Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Ethnographic research has documented the damaging consequences that negative attitudes and low expectations have on the teaching of bilingual and bicultural Latino/a students (Shannon & Escamilla, 1999; Valdes, 2001; Valenzuela, 1999). Teachers who have positive attitudes about linguistic diversity are more likely to see their students as capable of academic success (Burant & Kirby, 2002; Marx, 2000) and express higher levels of teaching efficacy with ELs (Karabenick & Noda, 2004).

In many teacher education programs, a common approach to providing exposure to linguistic diversity is through internships and service learning. Studies reveal the benefits of service learning and partnerships between universities and schools in helping candidates develop positive attitudes towards ELs (Bollin, 2007; Pappamihiel, 2007; Riojas-Cortez & Flores, 2009).

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