Invitations and Negotiations: Preservice Teacher Education

By Marie LeJeune & Tracy Smiles, Western Oregon University

As teacher educators we believe we must engage future teachers in the important work of finding quality children’s and adolescent literature students they or their students might not find otherwise. We encourage students to read a wide variety of recent texts and discourage students from using overly popularized texts, not because we necessarily dismiss the quality of these texts, but because we believe that often texts with the richest possibility for critical, social, and intellectual richness may not be a part of the popular mainstream. Furthermore, we want to expose preservice teachers to texts that portray diverse groups that mirror the students with whom they will eventually work.

This week, following our theme of “Invitations and Negotiations,” we use the framework we created week 1 to discuss our beliefs, challenges, and tensions around sharing international and multicultural texts with preservice teachers.

INVITATION:

The theory: We have been deeply influenced by educational researchers and teacher educators who are increasingly concerned with how to create reflective practitioners, practice characterized by teachers taking responsibility for their own professional development through engaging in the study of their teaching, including awareness and attention given to: practice, personal values, institutional and cultural contexts, curriculum development and school change efforts (Zeichner & Liston, 1996). Consistent with our work with children, in our work preparing future teachers, we draw upon Inquiry (Harste, Short, with Burke, 1996), Critical Literacy ( Lewison, etc.,20xx ) and Reader Response Theory (Rosenblatt, 19XX & Cai, 20XX).

The Texts: The texts we use in our work with preservice teachers are intended to broaden their understanding of and appreciation for the genres of both children’s and young adult literature. We both find that many preservice teachers have little background knowledge in children’s and young adult literature prior to beginning a teacher preparation program and especially have limited exposure to texts that feature international, multicultural, diverse, critical, and postmodern themes. Similarly to when we both taught public school, literature is at the center of our literacy curriculum at the university as well; literature inspires us to read, write, inquire, and discuss the nature of literacy and its implications for children in K-12 classrooms.

The Pedagogy: To engage the preservice teachers with which we work in reading and discussing diverse texts, we have employed a variety of instructional engagements that we feel are familiar to readers of this blog. We read aloud to our classes, demonstrate instructional engagements that facilitate personal responses and collaborative interpretations of texts, set aside time for students to engage in purposeful browsing, assign projects whereby students compile text sets, plan instructional experiences utilizing these texts, and critique texts on the basis of their quality, cultural representations, accuracy of content, and possibility for use in the classroom. Again, we draw upon our theoretical groundings in reader response theory, critical literacy, and inquiry based curriculum as we create these classroom spaces for interaction with literature.

MEDIATION:

We have found that preservice teachers, after years of reading assigned texts and “classical” literature in high school and college, are often transformed when reacquainted with their love of reading through opportunities to engage with high interest children’s and adolescent literature, as the following excerpt illustrates,

    “I didn’t really become a reader until I started becoming a teacher. In grade school, in high school, in college, I wasn’t a reader. Then I started realizing how many wonderful books there are written for children and young people and reading these books made me want to keep reading and be a reader—not just for my students, but for me.” -A.B.

Furthermore, reading texts about critical, social, and political issues, often informs and inspires inquiries into how these issues will impact their future work with children and youth. The following excerpt is from a class discussion after a read-a-loud of Paula Yoo’s, Sixteen Years in Sixteen Seconds: The Sammy Lee Story, which details the discrimination Lee faced during the 1930s when public pools were closed to “people of color.”

    “I never knew there were children’s books about topics like this and actually, I never even really knew that public pools were closed to children who weren’t white. This is an amazing story and it really makes me think about the stories we should be sharing with kids that broaden their understandings of the world as well.” -N.A.

However, we also experience resistance to these same texts.

For instance, upon reading aloud the The Librarian of Basra., both Tracy and Marie have been accused of being anti-American, perpetuating a liberal agenda because the book portrays American troops as “oppressive invaders” (even though, ironically, the soldiers portrayed in the text are actually British).

Similarly, Marie was accused of ruining a future high school science teacher of ever enjoying a book again when she assigned her content area literacy class Sold.

After reading aloud Jacqueline Woodson’s Visiting Day, which details a young girl’s journey to visit her father who is incarcerated, a student responded that the book wasn’t critical enough of criminal behavior and didn’t offer a “frightening enough picture of prison” to serve as a warning to young children.

These are just a few examples of the surprising readings we’ve encountered when sharing multicultural and critical literature with preservice teachers. Both Tracy and Marie found themselves in moments of professional quandary when initially confronted with these resistant responses to literature selected to promote a more culturally critical viewpoint.

PERSPECTIVES ON CULTURALLY RESPONSIVE PRACTICE AND REFLECTION:

We are concerned with how to facilitate reflection on moral and ethical aspects of teaching, compassion and social justice, and the roles of schools in a democratic society when working with preservice teachers. We use international and multicultural literature in ways we hope will fulfill these goals. But when texts are interpreted through limited perspectives laden with political, social, and religious worldviews, we wonder:

  • How, as teacher educators, do we position preservice teachers and texts in light of our personal agendas?
  • Can teacher education courses adequately prepare preservice teachers for the diversity of experience, language, and culture they will encounter in public schools?
  • How do we, as teacher educators, confront our tensions with preservice teachers who demonstrate a lack of responsiveness to issues of difference, inequity, and diversity?
  • What influence do our personal and social histories and perspectives have on what we believe and value in relation to how we listen to and evaluate preservice teachers’ responses to and participation with the texts and engagements?
  • When we criticize counter-responses to texts are we modeling what we teach to students?

We invite you to reflect on and share past experiences with teacher education programs and/or what informs your work with preservice teacher educators in the texts you choose to share with students, your agendas for doing so, and the challenges you’ve faced and what was learned as you work to prepare teachers for sharing texts with their future students.

Lewison, M., Flint, M.S. & Van Sluys, K. (2002). Taking on critical literacy: Journey of newcomers and novices. Language Arts, 79, 383-393.

McCormick, P. (2006). Sold. New York: Hyperion.

Short, K. & Harste, J. w/Burke, C. (1996). Creating classrooms for authors and inquirers. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Winter, J. (2005). The Librarian of Basra. New York: Harcourt.

Woodson, J. (2002). Visiting Day. New York. Scholastic.

Yoo, P. (2010). Sixteen Years and Sixteen Seconds. New York, Lee & Low.

Zeichner, K. & Liston, D. (1996). Reflective practice: An introduction. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

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3 thoughts on “Invitations and Negotiations: Preservice Teacher Education

  1. Janine Schall says:

    I have had very similar reactions from students in my children’s literature courses. For many of them, it is the first course that has really helped them become readers, yet there is always resistance of some sort. I find, however, that for my students the resistance focuses on using these texts in the schools. While they enjoy reading the books themselves, even the books with a more critical edge, they question whether the books are appropriate for kids. Sometimes their concerns center on whether or not the children can handle the books. In other cases (and perhaps more commonly) they worry about how the principal and parents will react to them.

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