Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Self-Reflections, Teaching, and Learning in a Graduate Cultural Pluralism Course

Academic journal article International Journal of Action Research

Self-Reflections, Teaching, and Learning in a Graduate Cultural Pluralism Course

Article excerpt

Using symbolic interaction as an interpretive framework, our participatory action research (PAR) project challenged students in Cultural Pluralism, a 2009 graduate level summer course, to wrestle with identity issues pertinent to teaching in a pluralistic society. Specifically, we wanted to know: What, if any, personal and cultural identity evolutions evidenced an appreciation for the "other;" types of diverse curricula emerged from group collaborations; and re-planning strategies surfaced for the course and its successor the following summer? Our plans, observations, reflections, and actions during the course revolved around monitoring fledgling relationships between various students who were having difficulties communicating with each other, working more effectively with those who had the most trouble with introspection, altering a class lecture midstream when we sensed it fell on deaf ears, supporting students whose written and oral autobiographies caused them angst, and seeking out potential for social change through a breaking down of rigid, judgemental beliefs. Our end-of-class analysis (reflection) indicated that to varying degrees students came to understand and appreciate that their personal soul searching was inevitably culturally entangled. They also showed a keen ability to craft culturally diverse lessons and interact thoughtfully with course curricula. Yet, the class critiques and written autobiographies indicated that a few students required more one-on-one help with self-reflection, and remained unclear concerning the symbolic interactionist framework and other identity theories. Our successes and failures led to revamping (planning) parts of the ensuing summer course.

Key words: personal/cultural identity, cultural pluralism in education, symbolic interactionism, self-reflection, participatory action research

I teach in a typical higher educational building - imposing. One red-hot summer, in a first-floor hallway several metres down the hall from my first day of class, I stood head down looking through my notes for Cultural Pluralism, a graduate course that attracted student interns, veteran teachers and administrators, and higher educators. I looked up for a moment to see Dan, my doctoral student and co-instructor chatting with Rebecca just in front of the classroom door. The students had an advanced copy of the syllabus built around personal identity formation in cultural context. Having done her homework, Rebecca was vexed and shared her trepidation with Dan, whose annotated field notes later read:

Waiting in front of room 228, Rebecca, one of our students, approached me confessing, 'I am scared about this course. When I read the syllabus it said that we had to write an autobiography. I don't have anything to say.'

'Of course you do,' I reassured her. 'When I started teaching high school and began my graduate studies I felt the same way. As a white male who grew up in a middle class environment I had never had to self-reflect much about how I came to be who I am. But when I began my teaching career I walked into classrooms full of students who were very different from me. I eventually figured out that I had to understand myself in order to help them discover themselves (Banks, 2004). Once I began to do that I learned how to see the world, to the extent that it was possible, through their eyes. As a social studies teacher, this has helped me help them find their place in history and in the world.'

Looking at the ground, Rebecca sighed and said, "Will you guys help us?" 'Sure we will,' I promised.

At that point I turned to look down the hall and saw Courtney (co-teacher and author) marching toward us. 'Ready?" she asked. 'Ready,' I responded. At least I hoped we were. So we walked into an ordinary education classroom with medium sized tables and a few chairs positioned at each, took a deep breath, and hoped for the extraordinary.


The above vignette captures our problem statement: In the hustle and bustle of everyday life many future and current educators are never challenged to exhume the historical and cultural roots of the beliefs that define them. …

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