Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Reading the World While Learning to Teach: Critical Perspectives on Literacy Methods

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Reading the World While Learning to Teach: Critical Perspectives on Literacy Methods

Article excerpt

Since the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) was formally signed into law more than a decade ago, school reform efforts in the United States have been shaped by a neoliberal ideology that has exacted a tremendous toll on students, teachers, and teacher educators. Apple (2013) defined the neoliberal initiative as "a vision that sees every sector of society as subject to the logics of commodification, marketization, competition, and cost-benefit analysis" (p. 6). According to this definition, the reforms NCLB has perpetuated, including high-stakes accountability measures, a focus on privatization and corporatization, and the advent of alternative routes to teacher licensure, typify neoliberal approaches to school reform and suggest a large-scale, bipartisan disinvestment from public education. Although critiques of NCLB and other neoliberal reform efforts are pervasive (Sleeter, 2007; Zeichner, 2010), little has been written about those arguably most affected by these initiatives: preservice teachers just now entering college whose schooling was shaped by high-stakes accountability.

Because the majority of the preservice teachers currently entering the profession came of age during the era of NCLB, teacher education programs and instructors who take sociocritical perspectives face unique challenges. For example, as we built relationships with preservice teachers in our respective contexts, we began to notice how profoundly their perspectives on education, and reading instruction in particular, had been shaped by the neoliberal reform environment they experienced as elementary students. Thus, as we shared across our contexts and discussed our practice as teacher educators in an era of accountability, we posed the following questions as part of an ongoing inquiry into our teaching: How might we, as teacher educators, offer preservice teachers opportunities to imagine school as a place where students explore their own interests, question the status quo, and use literacy for social change? How do the preservice teachers respond to these invitations? What questions, tensions, and insights arise? How and when do they draw on and/or problematize their previous experiences with schooling?

In an effort to engage these questions, we consider how preservice teachers in two distinct regional contexts within the United States respond to literacy methods courses that utilize the framework of critical literacy as a lens through which to problematize past experiences, consider new possibilities for schooling, and interrupt dominant conceptions of teaching and learning as neutral, technical endeavors.

Theoretical Background

To better frame our research questions, we situate our work within the theories of feminist pedagogies and critical literacy. These theoretical perspectives work together to establish literacy as political, social, and cultural and knowledge as collaboratively constructed through accounting for affective dimensions, multiple perspectives, and systems of power.

Feminist Pedagogies

Rather than assuming a single universal truth, feminist pedagogies assume that students' experience of the world is based on social location (e.g., Evans, 1979; Richardson, 1997; Weiler, 1991). Additionally, feminist pedagogies attend to the affective dimension of teaching and learning (hooks, 1994; Lorde, 1984). This perspective has led to practices that foreground the role of feelings and personal experience in classroom contexts, such as poetry (Richardson, 1997), narrative (Hesford, 1999), and art (Ellsworth, 2005). On the basis of the assumption that students bring multiple, sometimes conflicting, life experiences to the classroom from their unique social and cultural experiences, feminist pedagogues aim to create contexts for students to question their own experiences through the creation of contact zones (Pratt, 1991) that allow for different cultural experiences to be put in productive dialogue. …

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