Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Chapter 13: Connections, Constructions and Collages: Initiating Dialogues on Diversity in Teacher Education Courses

Academic journal article Curriculum and Teaching Dialogue

Chapter 13: Connections, Constructions and Collages: Initiating Dialogues on Diversity in Teacher Education Courses

Article excerpt

Currently, teacher preparation programs in the United States are not well prepared to deal with the range of unique needs associated with an increasing population of culturally diverse students (Gay, 2000). National demographics illustrate that nearly 50% of the children who will be in kindergarten within the next 5 years will be children of color from historically underrepresented groups. Data from the American Association for Employment in Education (2006) show that the prospective pool of teachers in bilingual, ESL (English as a Second Language) and the learners of diverse languages categories are all experiencing considerable shortages.

Garcia (2005) in his book, Teaching for Diversity, points out that one of the major challenges is the growing cultural gap between students and the teachers who are trained to teach them. Consequently, the ability to harness the strengths of diversity within teacher education programs remains underdeveloped (Biffle, 2006). This continues to be part of an ongoing national discussion and debate related to meeting these challenges. Nationally, teachers are typically not well prepared to deal with the unique needs, challenges and opportunities associated with student diversity (Biffle, 2006); therefore, the task of closing the cultural gap described by Garcia will involve teacher education programs advancing the cultural competence of preservice teachers.

For our purposes, diversity is a term that embraces a wide contextual meaning. Differences are recognized as racial, ethnic, and cultural; however, they are also identified in areas such as learning styles, preferences for the organization and management of classroom environments, teaching practices, and the learner's perspective. An apt definition of cultural competence is captured by Nuri-Robins, Lindsay, and Terrell (2003):

   For students to learn what their teachers have to offer, they must
   feel fully appreciated as individuals, within the context of their
   own distinctive ethnic, linguistic, and socio-economic backgrounds
   and with their own particular gender, sexual orientation, sensory
   and physical abilities. [Culturally competent] educators address
   the issues that arise in the midst of diversity and respond
   sensitively to the needs of students in ways that facilitate
   learning. (p. 15)

A culturally competent educator is a professional who embodies an ongoing commitment to acquiring the knowledge, skills, and attitudes that enable communication across cultural perceptions and experiences.

CONNECTIONS: INITIATING THE DIALOGUE

This article highlights selected instructional activities that we developed for our university level classes. The authors' collaborative interest in this topic grew out of a casual conversation where we discovered that we had common goals in our teacher education programs to nurture culturally competent practices in our students, who were soon to find themselves in diverse classrooms. The two graduate level courses in teacher education, which were taught by the authors at separate institutions, were titled Learning and Cognition and Diversity in Education. The purpose of the activities are twofold (1) to initiate meaningful dialogues related to diversity and (2) to offer avenues for our students to reflect upon culturally competent practice. It is our intent that students will begin to make connections between the cultural experiences of their learners and how as teachers, they might influence change in their own classrooms. We need to clarify that our activities are dialogic; their philosophic foundations lay in the concept of dialogue and active expression; therefore, before we describe the selected learning activities, we provide the reader with very brief descriptions from the work of Freire (1998, 2005), Banks (2002), Eisner (1994), and Gay (2000) that support our concept of dialogic learning activities.

Banks (2000) points out that there is often confusion about the term diversity as it relates to the dimensions of education, observing that in many cases privileged majority groups define the mainstream culture-behavior patterns, symbols, institutions and values. …

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