Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Teacher Candidates' Critical Conversations the Online Forum as an Alternative Pedagogical Space

Academic journal article Human Architecture: Journal of the Sociology of Self-Knowledge

Teacher Candidates' Critical Conversations the Online Forum as an Alternative Pedagogical Space

Article excerpt

Our [cooperating] teacher does an amazing job. I just can't understand why someone with such talent and passion for her students wouldn't want to use it in [a] community that could really benefit from it, y'know? The [suburban] kids are going to do super well whether our teacher is there or not.

(Christine, teacher candidate)

This post to an online discussion forum represents Christine's struggles to under stand why a superb teacher would not want to use her talents with underserved students. Christine is implicitly arguing that students in suburban schools have enough resources to succeed, whether or not they have a great teacher. Here, she is demonstrating both her commitment to teaching underserved populations and her assumption, echoed by several of her peers, that kids in suburban schools are "going to do super well," simply by virtue of living in a particular area. These two themes run through a semester's worth of posts in an online discussion forum as teacher candidates move back and forth between reifying generalizations and challenging dominant narratives about schooling, teaching, and students.

In this article, I analyze how teacher candidates in an English Education practicum course utilize an online forum to discuss issues of school equity and teaching for social justice. Throughout the discussions of their field experiences in an urban high school and a suburban middle school, the candidates offered descriptions and reflections, told stories, generated questions, and critically analyzed differences in equity, teaching, and students between the two settings. My research suggests that an online discussion forum can provide an alternative pedagogical space, or "second classroom" (Campano, 2007), for candidates to access, question, and revise dominant discourses about schooling and the systemic forces that impact it.

I. Theoretical Framework

I ground this work in theories of discourse, research on the efficacy of online discussions for teacher candidates, and how understandings of systemic inequities can lead to social justice teaching. While these perspectives emanate from separate bodies of knowledge, when they are brought together, they create a conceptual frame for valuing the funds of knowledge that students--in this case teacher candidates--have to offer each other within a learning community.

As candidates move back and forth between the college classroom and the public school classroom during their teacher training, they are required to master new and occasionally conflicting discourses (Alsup, 2006). Discourses include ways of behaving, interacting, thinking, believing, and speaking, and a person's ability to understand and appropriate the given discourses of a particular social world which in turn demonstrates his/her belonging--or not--within that discourse community (Gee, 1996). Teacher candidates, because they are essentially guests in teachers' classrooms, are expected to take up the discourses the teacher has put into place and enact them in their roles as apprentices of teaching. Those discourses, which in most cases echo the dominant narratives based on white male middle class paradigms, may or may not jibe with what they learned in their teacher education program or their own personal and pedagogical values.

Online discussions can provide candidates opportunities to work through the tensions apparent in these layered and often conflicting discourses, and several studies document these benefits for candidates and beginning teachers. DeWert, Babinski, and & Jones (2003) suggest that online discussion groups offered first year teachers emotional support, increased confidence, enhanced reflection, improved problem-solving skills, and the ability to adapt adopt a more critical perspective. Im and & Lee (2003) found that online discussions allow students more time to reflect as well as reference resources, so that some who might be uncomfortable speaking in class were more apt to participate online. …

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