Academic journal article English Education

Knotty Articulations: Professors and Preservice Teachers on Teaching Literacy in Urban Schools

Academic journal article English Education

Knotty Articulations: Professors and Preservice Teachers on Teaching Literacy in Urban Schools

Article excerpt

Each semester when we greet our preservice teachers in our methods courses, we welcome them into the ongoing journey of becoming a teacher. While we teach these preservice teachers in the content area of literacy and English education over several semesters and in two different depart- ments-elementary and secondary education-in all of our courses there are recurring themes: urban education, diversity, and continual learning. As professors of education in an urban research institution, we are committed to helping students become excellent teachers for students in urban and metropolitan schools; however, we find ourselves revisiting the concept urban in the context of our own practices as we teach future teachers. Indeed, in re- search meetings, we pondered our definitions for urban, surprising ourselves with how quickly in our talk the term could encompass disparate qualities: cosmopolitan, diverse, and enriched, as well as impoverished, crowded, and underfunded. The reality is that even as faculty we puzzle over the meaning of urban and question how the use of this word can lead to judgments that dismiss the value and potential of schools located in communities described as such. Articulations of urban are knotty, complex, and value-laden, resisting simple definitions to fit sound bite-length explanations. Thus we wondered: How as teacher educators are we fostering understandings of urban and what it means to be a teacher, specifically a teacher of literacy, in an urban school? With this question, we embarked on a project to explore how preser- vice teachers write about their ideas on teaching literacy in urban settings.

In our study, we asked preservice teachers in our classes to spend a semester observing, studying, and investigating the teaching and learning of literacy in their preK-12 field placements. At three times during the semes- ter (beginning, middle, and end), preservice teachers responded in writing to prompts that we developed around issues related to urban and literacy education. At the end of the semester, they constructed projects to represent their understandings of literacy in urban contexts. Our goal was to challenge them to "hold the mirror to the soul" (Palmer, 1998, p. 2) and to examine what they understood about teaching literacy in urban communities.

Two research questions framed our study:

1. What understandings of the terms urban , teacher , and literacy did preservice teachers articulate?

2. What roles did we, as university instructors, play in guiding preser- vice teachers' developing understandings of these terms related to teaching literacy to students in urban schools?

Literature Review

As teacher educators, we situate our instruction within a framework of criti- cal literacy (Edelsky, 1994, 2006; Harste, 2003; Janks, 2000; Morrell, 2008) and culturally relevant pedagogy (Ladson-Billings, 1995) in which we strive to engage in practices that encourage the exploration of literacy instruction as power-laden and requiring attention to the differing needs of individual students. But we also recognize that we and the preservice teachers with whom we work are part of larger discourses that construct and circulate common assumptions about what it means to live, teach, and learn in urban communities. Those discourses involve, among other elements, the words used in the context of education and its many settings.

We drew on two primary bodies of literature to inform our understand- ings of this research. First, we looked at scholarship focused on teacher education in universities and the preparation of preservice teachers for urban schools, specifically literacy teachers. Second, to closely examine the writing preservice teachers used to articulate their understandings of urban, teaching, and literacy, we relied on theories of metaphor developed by Lakoff and Johnson (1980), recognizing that preservice teachers' word choices might tell us something about the discourses influencing their think- ing about themselves and their work. …

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