07 SES 07 B, Languages, Teaching and Diversity
This presentation draws on data from an interview study conducted in seven countries (Spain, England, United States, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, Taiwan) to explore the discourses used by teachers and teacher educators to explain how student diversity affects the teaching of reading and writing to students from diverse backgrounds. The goal is to understand how teachers and professors of reading/literacy conceptualize student diversity and how it might affect their teaching of literacy.
Diversity is a critical issue around the world. Students diversity can take many forms (e.g., race, social class, nationality, religion, ethnicity). How teachers understand diversity can have significant effects on how they teach and the assumptions they make about their students. As Nieto (1996) explained, educators use various theories to explain the poor school achievement of children from diverse cultures and communities. Nieto describes deficit theories as “blaming parents of children for their perceived deficiencies” (Nieto, 1996, p. 232). Educators who ascribe to deficit theories view the experiences, languages, literacy abilities, and/or behaviors of children and their families as inferior to those of successful students. Dantas and Manyak (2010) challenge educators and researchers to consider the “depth of difference” (p. 1) that exists “between families and across cultures and the significant discontinuity that children from diverse cultural groups often experience as they enter school” (p. 1). Other family literacy researchers challenge educators to confront deficit assumptions about children and families from diverse communities (i.e., Auerbach, 1989, 1995; Cairney, 1994, 2003; Gadsden, 1995, 2004; Hannon, 1994).
Many scholars (Cross, 2003; Ford & Grantham, 2003; Ladson-Billings, 2000; Milner, 2003) have argued for focused, sustained, and critical attention to the ways teachers make sense of student diversity. Some researchers (Ladson-Billings, 2000; Cross, 2003) highlight the critical role pre-service teacher education plays in systematically helping teachers to confront their assumptions about students from diverse backgrounds. Cross (2003) notes the absence of meaningful dialogue among pre-service teachers about diversity. She worries that in too many colleges and universities coursework for pre-service teachers promotes passivity towards issues of culture and diversity rather than expecting pre-service teachers to actively interact and engage with diverse students. Cross notes that field experiences generally privilege observing students over expecting pre-service teachers to make connections with students. Cross (2003) maintains that this emphasis on exposure is “flawed and obviously dangerous” (p. 208). For example, Cross argues that the development of cultural competence involves more than introducing multicultural literature to students. It entails engaging teachers in reflecting on their views about children and communities. In terms of policy, she argues that pre-service experiences must provide opportunities for novice educators to revisit their own thinking and that the “teacher education curricula needs to be examined to unmask its hidden assumptions and practices to sustain education’s role in maintaining inequity” (p. 209).
Milner (2003) presents a similar argument but places his focus on the need for practicing teachers to have opportunities to reflect on their attitudes about diverse populations of students. He argues that “race reflection can be seen as way to uncover inconspicuous beliefs, perceptions, and experiences, specifically where race is concerned” (p. 175). For Milner, this is not a short-term project. Milner believes that teachers must continuously and persistently reflect on who they are as racial beings by exploring their own racial positioning and identities as well as challenging pervasive beliefs and stereotypes about people from diverse racial and linguistic communities.
While building on these concerns about the deficit assumptions, this paper explores the assumptions made about diversity by teachers from seven countries by asking teachers and teacher educators whether/how diversity matters to them as teachers in literacy classrooms.
Auerbach, E. R. (1995). Which way for family literacy intervention or empowerment. In L. M. Morrow (Ed.) Family literacy: Connections in schools and communities. Newark, Delaware: IRA. Cairney, T. (2009). Home literacy practices and mainstream schooling. In G. Li (Ed.) Multicultural families, home literacies, and mainstream schooling. (pp. 3-29). Charlotte NC: Information Age Publishing. Cross, B. (2003). Learning or unlearning racism: Transferring teacher education curriculum to classroom practices. Theory into Practice, 42(3), pp. 203-209. Dantas, M.L. & Manyak, P.C. (Eds.) (2010). Home-school connections in a multicultural society: Learning from and within culturally and linguistically diverse families. Gadsden, V. (2005). Intergenerational discourses. In J. Flood, S.B. Heath, & D. Lapp, D. (Eds.) The handbook of research on teaching literacy through communicative and visual arts. Mahwah, New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Gregory, E. (2008). Using the same cues differently. In Learning to read in a new language (pp. 122-152). London: Sage. Hannon, P. (1994) Literacy, Home and School: Research and Practice in Teaching Literacy with Parents. London: Falmer Press. Ladson-Billings, G. (2000). Fighting for our lives: Preparing teachers to teach African American students. Journal of Teacher Education, 51(3), pp. 206-214. Milner, H.R. (2003). Teacher reflection and race in cultural contexts: History, meanings, and methods in teaching. Theory into Practice, 42(3), pp. 173-180) Nieto, S. (1996). Affirming diversity: The sociopolitical context of multicultural education. 2nd Edition. White Plains, NY: Longman Publishers.
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