Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Preservice Teacher Learning in an Unfamiliar Setting

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Preservice Teacher Learning in an Unfamiliar Setting

Article excerpt

Although field experiences are considered an important component of multicultural teacher education (Fox & Gay, 1995; Grant & Secada, 1990; Holmes Group, 1995), especially community-based experience (Sleeter, 1995a, 2001), some have raised questions about their impact on preservice teachers' (PSTs') long-held beliefs in general (Kennedy, 1997; Melnick & Zeichner, 1995) and racial stereotypes in particular (Ford, 1999; Goodwin, 2001; O'Loughlin, 2001). Evidence from recent studies indicates that course content and pedagogy need to be linked to field experience and "interwoven with multicultural course work to foster the aims of culturally responsive teaching" (Vavrus, 2002, p. 96). Both time to reflect and connections to course work give PSTs in field experiences opportunities to construct new understandings that directly affect their personal and professional beliefs about others and their own self-conceptions.

The focus of this study is the first field experience in a teacher education program developed around themes of equity and social justice within a larger framework of inclusive education. The community-based field experience entails one-on-one mentoring in which elementary PSTs work with African American children in local public housing neighborhoods. This field experience challenges PSTs to work with and get to know children, families, and communities that are unfamiliar to them. The courses students take concurrently emphasize multicultural themes, as do courses and field experiences that they take in the next two-and-a-half years in the program. How do the PSTs respond to this unfamiliar experience? In particular, how do they respond at different points in time following completion of the community field experience, and what factors influence their responses? Our findings, we believed, would have implications for how field experiences are structured and for the kinds of scaffolding PSTs require throughout a teacher education program to promote the skills and dispositions of culturally responsive teaching.

Theoretical Framework

In this study we approached preservice teacher learning in an early field experience from a social constructivist perspective, recognizing that learning is shaped by a variety of factors and forces that come before and that exist in and around the activities in which people engage (Lampert, 1997). This framework of learning provides a backdrop for investigating why PSTs respond as they do and what factors influence their responses. In particular, we drew on the social constructivist perspective known as Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) as articulated by Wells (2002) and Wells and Claxton (2002).

Based on the work of Vygotsky (1934/1987, 1978) and Leont'ev (1981), CHAT has been influenced by the work of scholars such as Brown, Collins and Duguid (1989), Cole (1996), Lave (1988), Lave and Wenger (1991), Tharp and Gallimore (1988), and Wells (1999). From the perspective of CHAT, cognition is shaped by the settings in which learners participate and the activities that take place in those settings (Brown, Collins & Duguid, 1989; Lave, 1988). As Lave and Wenger (1991) have explained, the setting is not another term for "physical context." Rather, it is composed of people and events that have social and historical meaning. This explains why "two people in a room are not inevitably identically situated" (Brown & Duguid, 1996, p. 53); their histories and the interaction of their histories with the other elements of the setting may be dramatically different.

All elements of the setting--the activities, the forms of assistance from instructors or peers, the participants--are interdependently involved in a change process. Wells (2002) explained that an individual's learning depends not only on the "nature and quality of the assistance provided but also on his or her learning dispositions and potential" (p. 4). This explains the differential impact on learners involved in the "same" lesson or activity. …

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