Negotiating theory and practice with preservice English/language arts teachers : an examination of burgeoning understandings and practices of multicultural education

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Saunders, Jane Marie

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The purpose of this dissertation was to gain greater understanding about how preservice secondary English/language arts teachers made use of multicultural theory and practice in the context of urban classrooms. This qualitative case study examined preservice teachers’ employment of the multicultural knowledge and tools they gained in the university setting when placed in the far different reality of diverse, urban schools. Employing the frame of figured worlds, this research strove to tease out how preservice teachers negotiated the complex and varied worlds through which they traveled when learning to teach, and to document their movement from novices committed to equity to those capable of nurturing and enacting social justice. The resulting successes and struggles derived by data analysis yielded three themes. The first detailed the impact of figured worlds in positioning preservice teachers inside of the schools; the second explored the participants’ notions of multiculturalism and their capacity for enacting literacy events supportive of social justice; the third and final theme described the tentative successes of the preservice teachers as they relied on sociocultural tools inside the classroom, as well as their burgeoning advocacy stance regarding students. Findings focused on three areas of interest. First, that the fragmented understandings of multiculturalism inhibited the preservice teachers’ capacity to enact culturally relevant or responsive pedagogy; second, that the participants struggled with how to merge their notions of effective pedagogical practice given the rigid district-adopted curriculum they were expected to teach; and finally, that as the preservice teachers learned to author their own experiences inside the figured world of schools and create a space for students to do the same, they grew into more efficacious practitioners. Implications indicate that first, preservice teacher education programs should offer practicing teachers greater opportunities to consider figured world theory and funds of knowledge approaches early in their fieldwork experiences so that they might better contextualize the experience and develop a mindset that deflects deficit thinking. The second implication directly impacts teacher educators, calling on them to make the abstract theories studied in the university classroom more concrete and connected to the realities existing in schools. The third and final implication calls on teacher education programs to work diligently to foster a dialogue with preservice teachers that centers on issues of social justice.



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