Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Understanding Diversity through Social and Community Inquiry: An Action-Research Study

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Understanding Diversity through Social and Community Inquiry: An Action-Research Study

Article excerpt

Our research investigates the ways in which preservice social studies methods students at two universities have come to understand group marginality and diversity through social and community inquiry assignments. These inquiry assignments have been, and continue to be, developed through a long-term action research on our own practice as teacher educators. Our focus is on improving three things: our understanding of our practice, the practice itself, and the situation in which that practice occurs (Kemmis & McTaggart, 1988). This research also aims to build upon the growing literature about how to better prepare teacher education students to successfully teach students from historically marginalized groups. Although our questions are, of necessity, centered on the experiences and learning of our students, it is not research on the students. The students' work, their class conversations, and focus-group interviews with them serve as data, not to find strengths and deficits in the students but to inform our work as teacher educators. Although we focus on such questions as "In what ways do the social and community inquiry assignments influence preservice teachers' understandings of marginality?" "How do students see themselves in relationship to the communities they investigate?" and "How do students understand their role as teachers of diverse students after engaging in social and community inquiry assignments?" our attention to student data sources is intended to inform questions about our practice. For example, when we focus on questions such as "In what ways might these assignments function to reify the marginality of certain groups?" and "What lessons have we learned from these assignments about what to consider when designing teacher education for liberatory ends?" the data inform central aspects of our "findings" about the role of field experiences in teacher education work, but they are also the seeds for changes implemented in practice and form the basis for a new cycle of research.

We begin by grounding our work in the literature on teacher education for diversity, in particular the literature related to community-based learning. After describing the context for and nature of our course assignments, we outline major aspects of the methodology. We then present results related to developing and supporting student understanding, including both conceptual and task-related aspects that emerged. Finally, we conclude by presenting some of the limitations of our approach and frame our ongoing agenda for action research on learning experiences designed to promote a political understanding that is rooted in the struggle for social justice.

SITUATING OUR WORK IN THE LITERATURE

A large and growing body of scholarship, as well as generations of practice, has clearly indicated that important characteristics of effective teachers of low-income students and of students of color are a respect for, a knowledge of, and a relationship with the home communities of the students (Gonzalez, Moll, et al., 1995; Ladson-Billings, 1994, 2001; Moll & Gonzalez, 1994). Based on this scholarship, teacher educators are beginning to investigate the practices that they use to prepare preservice teachers for diverse and historically marginalized students. Simply placing students in urban schools does not necessarily create opportunities for preservice teachers to develop new perceptions about historically marginalized communities and may, in fact, reify their existing deficit notions (Haberman & Post, 1992). In response, teacher educators are incorporating experiences in which preservice teachers have opportunities to learn from community members and develop relationships with members of historically marginalized communities. Such experiences are developed primarily to help future teachers develop a culturally relevant approach to teaching that values and respects low-income students, students of color, and their home communities. …

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