Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Teaching Alternative Licensed Literacy Teachers to Learn from Practice: A Critical Reflection Model

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Teaching Alternative Licensed Literacy Teachers to Learn from Practice: A Critical Reflection Model

Article excerpt

Introduction

The need to better prepare teachers for classroom realities is a goal shared by many teacher education programs. Hence, an important issue in teacher education is the need to explore the processes that candidates go through as they learn to teach. A view of learning to teach as a process suggests teacher education programs should provide candidates with a framework for developing more complex understandings of teaching. In essence, teacher education approaches should encapsulate "the complex, analytical, and inquiring nature of teaching" (Harford & MacRuairc, 2008, p. 1885). Hoffman, Roller, Maloch, Sailors, Duffy, and Beretvas (2005) argue for programs that emphasize "reflective thinking as central to learning and understanding teaching" (p. 269).

However, while reflective practice has been generally embraced by teacher education programs, there is hardly a consensus about effective approaches to teaching it in the specific field of literacy education. In some programs, reflection is another means of transferring knowledge of how to implement good strategies to candidates (Jones & Enriquez, 2009). In many other programs, candidates are not required to engage in "structural critiques of the arrangements and policies of schooling" (Cochran-Smith, Shakman, Jong, Terrell, Barnatt, & McQuillan, 2009, p. 372). In such programs, reflection does not emphasize the need for candidates to make connections between their pedagogy and "economic structures, social and cultural conditions, and the way schooling works" (Smyth, 1989, p. 4). Indeed, rarely do discussions of reflective literacy teaching involve the competing perspectives about literacy education, what counts as effective reflective approaches, or what constitutes "scientific" reflective research. Roskos, Vukelich, and Risko (2001) put this problem bluntly: "How to help aspiring teachers become more reflective about their literacy teaching across the preparatory years is not clear, and proven strategies for improving reflection through professional education are lacking" (p. 595).

For reflection to be meaningful and relevant to the practice of alternative licensed literacy teachers (ALLTs), its conceptualization and practice has to pay more attention to how they uncover the tension between teaching and the complex social and cultural contexts in which they teach. Unlike student teachers, ALLTs engage in active teaching because they have their own classrooms. In addition, many of them have been teaching in the same school for two years. This unique situation suggests that ALLTs have practical experiences of school policies and practices that may "reinforce existing inequalities and systems of power and privilege" (Cochran-Smith, 2008, p.2), including accountability tests, mandated curriculum, scripted programs, tracking, and textbooks. Therefore, a critical literacy approach has the potential to help ALLTs develop skills and knowledge to analyze and critique practice in ways that deepen understanding of teaching in relation to the broader social and cultural factors that shape instructional practices (Jones & Enriquez, 2009; Smyth, 1989). For the purpose of this study, critical reflection is defined as an educational imagination that allows candidates to look at themselves and their situations with new eyes, and in the process, become conscious of the multiple ways they can interpret, critique, challenge, confront, and reconstruct teaching.

The research objective of this study is to examine the effectiveness of using explicit instruction in methods courses to increase the capacity of ALLTs to develop critical reflective practice. The following research questions guided the study:

(a) In what ways do ALLTs critique and question their own practice?

(b) What connections do they make between learning to teach literacy and the wider society?

(c) In what ways do the participants articulate literacy teaching and learning principles that inform their specific situations and contexts of practice? …

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