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Encountering the "Other": M.Ed. Preservice Teachers Explore Reading Strategies With English Language Learners.
Unformatted Document Text:  PROPOSAL, AACTE Annual Meeting, 2006 Encountering the “Other”: M.Ed. preservice teachers exploring reading strategies with English language learners I. Content Statement of the Issue It is a major challenge to help individuals understand the life-world of “an-other” with both mind and heart. This is especially difficult when they have had little direct contact with anyone outside their own social group, which in the case of our M.Ed. students is predominantly white, middle-class, and English only. It can be a daunting challenge for a school of education to incorporate an authentic experience that will enable an active and extended interaction for our monolingual students with a person from a different cultural and/or linguistic background. Another enormous challenge for teacher education programs is creating authentic links between real classroom experience and the theory that is discussed in university classrooms. Although there is communication between the university and the schools in which the students have their field experiences, these experiences can be relatively independent of what the students do at the university. Although every effort is made to ensure placements coherent with the vision of the teacher education program, the realities and day-to-day constraints of real classrooms are different to the necessarily idealized situations described in the literature that discusses “good” teaching. The difficulties of reaching these ideals are not always fully evident to new teachers. Literature Review An important responsibility for teacher educators is to prepare pre-service teachers for the diversity they will encounter in their classrooms, and there are a multitude of ways to do this, some successful, some less so (Sleeter, 2001). On a large scale, we can rewrite curriculum or restructure programs (Villegas & Lucas, 2002). But it is not enough that students only read about diversity. Might this even strengthen stereotypes? Within existing coursework, we can assign cultural portfolios or memoirs, albeit with caution lest the project allow students to celebrate their culture without interrogation (Allen & Hermann-Wilmarth, 2004; Lea, 2004). White students can explore the meaning of their “whiteness” (McIntyre, 1997), although some argue the place of this in multicultural education (Sheets, 2000). Given the central role of language in mediating classroom interactions, this issue takes on special importance with the growing number of English Language Learners (ELLs) in our classrooms. Language can be a tricky business. No language is neutral. When we speak, read, or write, we do so from a very specific socio-cultural frame; we all operate from inside a bounded perspectival horizon looking out towards the “other” (Bakhtin, 1986), who, in turn, participates in our definition of “self.” Research in multi-cultural education, and education in general, reports the importance of social, relational connections in promoting learning (Donaldson, 1978; Dyson, 1993; Garmon, 2004; Heath, 1983; Moll & Arnot-Hopffer, 2005). Gay (2000) points out, “Teaching is a contextual and situational process.” We can never remove ourselves from the culture we are in (Bakhtin, 1986; Bruner, 2004; Vygotsky, 1978). For these reasons, it is disconcerting that many teachers do not feel prepared to help ELLs learn (Townsend & Fu, 2001; Townsend & Harper, 1997). Contribution The experience I will describe in this paper addressed the challenges mentioned above. We created a natural situation in which pre-service secondary Language Arts teachers worked one-on-one with real learners whose first language is not Standard English. This gave them space and time to reflect, discuss, and explore solutions with the support of colleagues in various roles (e.g., university professor, intern colleagues, cooperating teachers). 1

Authors: Kiss, Katherine.
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PROPOSAL, AACTE Annual Meeting, 2006
Encountering the “Other”:
M.Ed. preservice teachers exploring reading strategies with English language learners
I.
Content
Statement of the Issue
It is a major challenge to help individuals understand the life-world of “an-other” with
both mind and heart. This is especially difficult when they have had little direct contact with
anyone outside their own social group, which in the case of our M.Ed. students is predominantly
white, middle-class, and English only. It can be a daunting challenge for a school of education to
incorporate an authentic experience that will enable an active and extended interaction for our
monolingual students with a person from a different cultural and/or linguistic background.
Another enormous challenge for teacher education programs is creating authentic links
between real classroom experience and the theory that is discussed in university classrooms.
Although there is communication between the university and the schools in which the students
have their field experiences, these experiences can be relatively independent of what the students
do at the university. Although every effort is made to ensure placements coherent with the vision
of the teacher education program, the realities and day-to-day constraints of real classrooms are
different to the necessarily idealized situations described in the literature that discusses “good”
teaching. The difficulties of reaching these ideals are not always fully evident to new teachers.
Literature Review
An important responsibility for teacher educators is to prepare pre-service teachers for the
diversity they will encounter in their classrooms, and there are a multitude of ways to do this,
some successful, some less so (Sleeter, 2001). On a large scale, we can rewrite curriculum or
restructure programs (Villegas & Lucas, 2002). But it is not enough that students only read about
diversity. Might this even strengthen stereotypes? Within existing coursework, we can assign
cultural portfolios or memoirs, albeit with caution lest the project allow students to celebrate
their culture without interrogation (Allen & Hermann-Wilmarth, 2004; Lea, 2004). White
students can explore the meaning of their “whiteness” (McIntyre, 1997), although some argue
the place of this in multicultural education (Sheets, 2000).
Given the central role of language in mediating classroom interactions, this issue takes on
special importance with the growing number of English Language Learners (ELLs) in our
classrooms. Language can be a tricky business. No language is neutral. When we speak, read, or
write, we do so from a very specific socio-cultural frame; we all operate from inside a bounded
perspectival horizon looking out towards the “other” (Bakhtin, 1986), who, in turn, participates
in our definition of “self.” Research in multi-cultural education, and education in general, reports
the importance of social, relational connections in promoting learning (Donaldson, 1978; Dyson,
1993; Garmon, 2004; Heath, 1983; Moll & Arnot-Hopffer, 2005). Gay (2000) points out,
“Teaching is a contextual and situational process.” We can never remove ourselves from the
culture we are in (Bakhtin, 1986; Bruner, 2004; Vygotsky, 1978). For these reasons, it is
disconcerting that many teachers do not feel prepared to help ELLs learn (Townsend & Fu, 2001;
Townsend & Harper, 1997).
Contribution
The experience I will describe in this paper addressed the challenges mentioned above.
We created a natural situation in which pre-service secondary Language Arts teachers worked
one-on-one with real learners whose first language is not Standard English. This gave them space
and time to reflect, discuss, and explore solutions with the support of colleagues in various roles
(e.g., university professor, intern colleagues, cooperating teachers).
1


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