Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Building Teacher Interculturality: Student Partnerships in University Classrooms

Academic journal article Teacher Education Quarterly

Building Teacher Interculturality: Student Partnerships in University Classrooms

Article excerpt

The "achievement gap" for English learners and those of marginalized groups has been documented for well over a decade (Banks, 1995; Gandara & Maxwell-Jolly, 2006; Gay, 2000; Sleeter, 2001, 2011). Culture is a critical factor in the learning process (Cazden & Mehan, 1989; Heath, 1983), and when teachers use knowledge about students' cultural, social, and linguistic backgrounds in planning and implementing instruction, students' academic achievement is strengthened (Gandara, 2002). It is widely recognized that socioeconomic status, language, and the fluid construct of culture play significant roles in school learning. However, despite the dismal academic progress of students learning English in U.S. classrooms and the rapidly diversifying student demographic, teachers who enter the profession continue to be predominantly White and monolingual with little or no intercultural experience (Gay, 2000; Sleeter, 2001). Such a critical lack of experience may lead teachers to view diversity as a problem rather than a resource. Teachers may have difficulty understanding or relating to those who do not benefit from the White, middle-class privilege that they themselves enjoy (Gomez, 1996; Villegas & Lucas, 2002). Therefore part of the desired preparation for teachers who will work with English learners (and, more broadly, all teachers working in public school classrooms) should include knowledge, skills, and experience that contribute to intercultural competence and the development of a teaching practice that is responsive to students of other linguistic and cultural backgrounds.

Building Teacher Interculturality

Scholars have outlined what teachers need to know to develop culturally responsive pedagogies (Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1995a, 1995b, 2006). Furthermore, institutional bodies concerned with teacher preparation have formulated explicit goals for teacher candidates to understand diversity and equity and to develop cultural competencies to work with diverse student populations (Darling-Hammond & Bransford, 2005; NCATE, 2008). Teachers (like all of us) tend to see the world from their own racial, gendered, and cultural locations. Teacher education should help teachers develop a reflective process, a goal that requires critical analysis of one's own culture and a consciousness of how human differences are used by people in power to rationalize inequities and maintain their position in society (Castro, 2010; Merryfield, 2000; Paris, 2012). Central to successful implementation of pedagogies for instruction of English learners is a capacity to recognize how cultural and linguistic background shape learning and to utilize cultural differences to develop meaningful learning experiences for all students. This capacity may be included in the notion of intercultural competence or interculturality, for which there exists a range of theoretical constructs, emerging from a variety of fields (Spitzberg & Changnon, 2009). Recent reviews of the literature on how to prepare all teachers to teach English learners (Lucas & Grinberg, 2008; Palmer & Martinez, 2013) have argued that teachers need to experience other cultures and have contact with people who speak languages other than English to develop "affirming views of linguistic diversity" and "an awareness of the sociopolitical dimensions of language use" (Lucas & Grinberg, 2008, pp. 612-613).

Teacher educators who have taken up the call to move teachers toward interculturality face a complex challenge. It can be especially daunting in a university that is predominantly White (situated within a mostly culturally and racially homogeneous community), in part because these conditions afford few openings to question one's own cultural, racial, and linguistic identity and the privilege that comes with it. To respond to this challenge, our university offers a cultural/language immersion program in another country for preservice teachers to study another language, immerse themselves in another culture, and engage in a field experience teaching bilingual learners. …

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