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Ramblings: Some Notes About My Current Research

I have so many thoughts and ideas about where my current project has come from, where it has been, and the direction it is going, and I just know I'm going to come across as a disorganized, absent-minded fool. But trust me when I say this is a topic I am passionate about. The current study came about after analyzing the data from the pilot study I did as part of my PhD studies.

My purpose statement from that research study:

The purpose of this case study was to discover how, if at all, pre-service teachers are preparing to use literature to address students from diverse backgrounds in their future classrooms. In this study, pre-service teachers (PSTs) are defined as masters-level students in a teaching methods course. Also, I am defining marginalized youth as students who would identify as a member of at least one minority group (based on race, sexuality, gender, disability, history, or economic status—to name a few). In the following section I will review the national accreditation guidelines for new PSTs, as well as discuss diversity training in teacher education and why multicultural literature is so important to this part of the field.

I remember working for so long trying to get that first sentence just right. It was my elevator speech. Any time anyone asked me about my research (and there were a lot!), this is what I would tell them.

The class in which I collected data, Teaching Multicultural Literature, was one of the only diversity courses offered to Secondary Education students in the department at the time (this has since changed). There were about 18 students enrolled who were split up by the professor into three discussion groups. I spent two hours a week sitting and listening to one of these groups: six master's-level pre-service teachers (3 men, 3 women; 3 working toward a Social Studies certification, 3 working toward an English/Language Arts certification). I was lucky because my group met in person--the other two groups held virtual meetings via Google Hangouts. All of my participants were White and in their mid- to late-20s.

This first study showed me a lot. The major themes that grew out of the data were that

  1. My participants were connecting their own lives to the multicultural literature that was assigned each week.

  2. Reading and discussing these poems, short stories, and novels gave them a chance to engage in multiple perspectives and see the danger of the single story.

  3. They were also able to position themselves as teachers and find ways to eventually teach this literature.

This last finding caused a bit of worry in me. At the completion of this class, many of my participants believed that they were prepared to teach in a diverse school district. Let me repeat that: After taking one multicultural course in which they read stories and poems and discussed them, they believed they knew who their future students were and could go right out and teach in urban and low socioeconomic schools. This stuck with me for a long time.

Two years later I was offered the chance to teach this same class. This was my opportunity to figure out a way to fix the mindset my participants had. How could I show them that simply reading some stories was not enough to truly understand marginalized folks? How could I show them that having a culturally relevant and culturally sustaining stance in their classroom was important?

Of course I knew that it was not my job to fix my pre-service teachers. Simply telling them they needed to be culturally relevant or that they need to use culturally sustaining pedagogies would not be enough for them to want to utilize these in their classrooms. Just as I did not want them to position themselves as the holder of all the knowledge in their classrooms, I knew I had to try to support my pre-service teachers in finding methods and strategies on their own rather than telling them what they were. I needed to find a way for them to see that these strategies and pedagogies are important. I wanted them to want to be culturally relevant and culturally sustaining.

But how could I do this? At first I thought that having them spend time with students who identify with a similar background as one or more of the authors of the multicultural literature in the course would be a way for them to see the need for culturally sustaining pedagogies. But that wasn't enough. That is when I found a project that one of my colleagues in the Commission on Social Justice in Teacher Education shared on our website. This project asked the student to find someone who identified differently than they did in at least one way and then interview them. This seemed like the perfect way to allow my students the space to find their way toward culturally relevant and sustaining pedagogies.

After revising it to fit the scope of my course, I felt that I was ready. I wanted this to be a tool for them to compose a living document that they could take with them and adapt for their own students and their own classroom, so the final section of it asked them to create a unit based on the things they learned from the individual they interviewed. I also asked them compose a fully-formed lesson that would be a part of that unit.

I decided to collect data in this first version of this new-to-me course so that I could discover how, if at all, my pre-service and in-service teachers developed into culturally relevant educators as well as how they negotiate and explore their identities while participating in this class. The project, which I broke up into three parts, worked really well in allowing my pre-service and in-service teachers to find their way to the strategies and methods needed to reach and teach students from diverse backgrounds. They (and I) also understand that this is a process and the more they learn, the more they'll need to learn to support their students.

I feel like I could write on this topic forever. This post is much longer than I originally expected it to be and I am no where near the end of this journey. A colleague of mine graciously agreed to help me collect data (IRB did not like the idea of me knowing who was in the study and grading everyone at the same time) and she and I are getting ready to present our data and early findings next week to a conference as a work-in-progress. That should mean that I will be ready to start writing this research up very soon!

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