Home Articles Reader Opinion Editorial Book Reviews Discussion Writers Guide About TCRecord
transparent 13

Examining the Role of Critical Inquiry for Transformative Practices: Two Joint Case Studies of Multicultural Teacher Education

by Louise Jennings & Cynthia Potter Smith - 2002

Multicultural teacher education is often conceptualized as a series of courses or in-service programs. However, research suggests that courses may influence teachersí attitudes but not their practices. By joining two related case studies, we examine how an emphasis on critical inquiry in a multicultural education course influenced one teacherís understandings and practices well beyond the class itself. The first case describes the pedagogy of critical inquiry used in the course and the shift in 14 European American studentsí understandings away from traditional ďtouristĒ approaches toward more comprehensive views of multicultural education. These understandings fell short of transformative multicultural approaches that emphasize education for a more democratic, just society. The second case explores one studentís evolution in developing transformative multicultural beliefs and practices during the 2 years following the course. We examine how particular processes of critical inquiry supported the teacherís evolving beliefs and practices through dialogue, reflection, and action. We summarize the tools and structures that supported this teacher in creating transformative multicultural practices across classrooms in her school district. These joint case studies suggest that multicultural teacher education needs to include but extend beyond particular courses to more expanded venues that provide opportunities for collaboration and critical reflection in action over time.

Multicultural teacher education is often conceptualized as a series of courses or in-service programs. However, research suggests that courses may influence teachers' attitudes but not their practices. By joining two related case studies, we examine how an emphasis on critical inquiry in a multicultural education course influenced one teacher's understandings and practices well beyond the class itself. The first case describes the pedagogy of critical inquiry used in the course and the shift in 14 European American students' understandings away from traditional "tourist" approaches toward more comprehensive views of multicultural education. These understandings fell short of transformative multicultural approaches that emphasize education for a more democratic, just society. The second case explores one student's evolution in developing transformative multicultural beliefs and practices during the 2 years following the course. We examine how particular processes of critical inquiry supported the teacher's evolving beliefs and practices through dialogue, reflection, and action. We summarize the tools and structures that supported this teacher in creating transformative multicultural practices across classrooms in her school district. These joint case studies suggest that multicultural teacher education needs to include but extend beyond particular courses to more expanded venues that provide opportunities for collaboration and critical reflection in action over time.


Responding to a critical need, multicultural education courses and in-service programs have proliferated across the country. As important as these opportunities are for developing teachers' attitudes about diversity and justice, some research suggests that single courses may have little lasting influence on their practices (Sleeter, 1992). What if we conceptualized multicultural teacher education more broadly than a set of courses or in-services? In this article, we bring together two related case studies to examine how a multicultural teacher education course fueled continuous transformation in one teacher's beliefs and practices beyond the course itself. We consider the educational structures and tools of critical inquiry that supported the teacher in her multicultural education long after her final grade was turned in.

Critical inquiry is related to Freire's (1970/1995; 1969/1998) notion of praxis: reflecting and acting on the world to transform it. Multicultural teacher education courses can plant the seeds for personal and professional transformation, but teachers need to be supported beyond any given course in implementing, reflecting on, and revising their practices. In the first case study, we will examine how the integration of critical inquiry, reflection, and action influenced students' understandings in a multicultural teacher education course taught by one author, Louise. We also consider the limitations of the course for transforming teachers' knowledge and practices. As Freire (1970/1995) wrote, "knowledge emerges only through invention and reinvention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other" (p. 53). The second case study, then, illustrates how the course served as a basis for one of the students, Cynthia, to restlessly and hopefully invent and reinvent her own personal beliefs, her instructional practices, and district curricula during the following 2 years.

The second case study also documents Cynthia's journey toward more transformative multicultural pedagogies—pedagogies that go beyond teaching about others to those that support students in thinking about and contributing to a more democratic, just society, where diversity is viewed as a strength and a resource (Allen, 1999; Beane & Apple, 1995; Edelsky, 1994; Greene, 1988, 1995; Jennings & Green, 1999; Shor, 1992). Through these case studies, we will consider the role that critical inquiry can play in developing transformative multicultural practices, both as a pedagogical tool and as a philosophical stance.

By joining these case studies, we seek to address some gaps in a growing body of work. Much of the research available on multicultural teacher education examines the outcomes of multicultural courses in terms of pre-service student attitudes and knowledge (Grant & Tate, 1995). Few of these studies look closely at experienced teachers or at the processes pf teaching and learning multicultural education, both during a course and beyond it (McAlister & Irvine, 2000). We selected an ethnographic case study methodology to investigate both the processes and effects of critical inquiry practices in helping experienced and preservice teachers to transform their beliefs and practices in multicultural education. By examining the particular—a particular course and one particular teacher's subsequent transformation—we can better understand general practices in multicultural teacher education.


Multicultural education practices and principles vary greatly in the United States, Traditional multicultural education focuses on learning about and appreciating other cultures. Several educators have argued that by focusing on cultural commonalties and differences, such multiculturalism often skirts issues of racism and discrimination (e.g., King, 1991). Research has shown that the majority of teachers in the United States are European American and middle class (Kaelin, 1999) and that many of these teachers do not see the invisible yet profound social forces at work that bring about inequality among different cultural groups in society and in schools (Duesterberg, 1999; Fine, 1986; King, 1991). Louise's main goal for the multicultural course was for students, most of whom were experienced teachers, to be able to interrogate the ideological underpinnings of various approaches to multicultural education—to unpeel the surface layers to see whether different programs address issues of racism, inequity, and privilege in our multicultural society. In other words, she wanted them to develop conceptualizations of multicultural education more complex than the simplistic "tourist" approaches of teaching about others.

One way of viewing transformation is to look for a shift in learners' "repertoires of meanings, language, and actions" (Jennings & Pattenaude, 1998). It is important to see a shift in all three elements of this repertoire for multicultural education. Otherwise, educators may use a language of diversity that is not reflected in their understandings or their actions. For example, Christine Sleeter (1992) found that teachers who completed her multicultural course reported changes in their beliefs that were not evident in practice. Other times, the difficulty of articulating one's beliefs makes it difficult to effectively enact them. Thus, it is important that students not just talk the talk of transformative multicultural practices but develop an integrated repertoire of understandings, language, and actions.

Louise sought to support transformation of students' repertoires through critical inquiry in two interrelated ways: as a pedagogical structure and as a philosophical stance. First, she developed a pedagogical structure for critical inquiry. Freire's (1970/1995) problem-posing pedagogy enables students to interrogate problems that they define themselves, as illustrated by Shor (1992) in community college classrooms. Freire emphasized a critical mode of inquiry, whereby the participants, teachers and students alike, burrow into the foundations, ideologies, and deeper meanings of things otherwise taken for granted and unquestioned. Only by uncovering these foundations can we see how we have created our social world, schooling practices, and curricula and thus how we can consciously recreate them. Louise integrated the principles of a problem-posing approach with her experience of inquiry-based pedagogies in elementary schools (Jennings, O’Keefe, & Shamlin, 1999; Yeager, Pattenaude, Franquiz, & Jennings, 1999) Short, Harste, and Burke (1996) describe a curriculum inquiry cycle for K-12 classrooms. This cycle of inquiry was modified for the multicultural teacher education course to provide students with tools to critically interrogate multicultural programs and use insights from that analysis to develop a plan of action to be implemented in their own educational settings.

In addition to viewing inquiry as a pedagogical structure, it can also be viewed more broadly as a philosophical stance (Mills, 2001). Judith Lindfors (1999) views inquiry as a natural process of learning that children use from an early age to make sense of their lived world. She posits that children engage others in conversation in ways that help them inquire into and better understand their world. This stance of information seeking and wonder about the world propels all learners to engage in inquiry through-out their moment-to-moment, everyday lives. A stance of critical inquiry, then, compels learners to dig into the subtexts—the underlying meaning s of the phenomenon at hand (Duesterberg, 1999). Patrick Shannon (1993) argues that educators need to expand their reading of texts and symbols embedded in their social practices and institutions to uncover how they protect privilege and undermine democracy. Through a pedagogical structure of critical inquiry, Louise thus sought to lay a foundation for students to develop a critical inquiry stance toward multicultural education and learning in general.

Through the description of two case studies, we will examine how a critical inquiry-based pedagogy may have supported students’ transformation of meanings, language, and actions for multicultural education, with an in-depth look at one student’s continuing transformation beyond the course itself. We will then consider together the significance, limitations, and implications of our joint case for educational theory and practice.


The doctoral course Education for Diversity: Foundation of Multicultural Education was offered for 5 weeks in July, 1998, at the University of South Carolina. The composition of the class, 9 women and 5 men who were all European Americans, including one international student, led to a common dynamic in multicultural teacher education programs where white professors and students explore issues of diversity and equity. Eleven students were experienced teachers getting postmaster’s credit and the remaining three students were enrolled in the teacher education program as preservice teachers.

Data for the course implementation were collected and analyzed through ethnographic methods from traditions of anthropology (e.g., Collins & Green, 1992; Goodenough, 1963; Spradley, 1980). A European American male graduate assistant collaborated with Louise to collect data. They sought to reduce bias by triangulating their perspectives and through the collection of multiple sources of data. As a participant-observer, the graduate assistant documented all class events (42 hours) through videotape and field notes. He also photocopied student writings, including a statement of their perspectives of multicultural education written on the first and last days of class, weekly entries in journals, and their final written projects. Louise wrote daily field notes and recorded her reflections on her instructional decisions. Student artifacts were coded for indicators of student beliefs and understandings.

Inquiring Into the Foundations of Multicultural Education

Throughout this intensive 5-week course, we engaged in a cycle of critical inquiry modified from Short, Harste, and Burke's (1996) cycle of inquiry and influenced by Freire's problem-posing pedagogy (1970/1995; 1969/ 1998). Each phase of the cycle may overlap, repeat, or occur out of sequence, rather than follow a linear fashion.

1.) Examining existing assumptions, knowledge, and questions. The participating teachers made explicit their assumptions and questions about multicultural education by writing and then discussing their definitions of multicultural education and its purpose in schools and society. They also wrote a letter to Louise outlining their assumptions and questions.

2.) Gaining (and creating) new information. Guest speakers, videos, and writings representing multiple viewpoints along with various interactive activities allowed students to gain new information and create new knowledge. For example, on the 2nd day, the class conceptualized culture by sharing personal artifacts that represented their membership in various cultural groups. This activity not only allowed participants to see that culture can be broadly defined to include group differences such as religion, sexual identity, and gender, but it also provided an opportunity to share personal information and build community, which is particularly important in courses where sensitive, challenging issues are discussed.

3.) Gaming new perspectives. Over the next several class sessions, students gained new perspectives by studying two analytic frameworks that illustrated differences among types of multicultural education programs. Sleeter and Grant (1994; 1999) describe the goals and theoretical foundations of five types of multicultural education programs, summarized in Table 1. The two most common approaches are teaching the culturally different and a human relations approach. The next two approaches are less typical in K-12 settings but are more often recommended by scholars of multicultural education: the single group studies approach (e.g., African American studies) and a comprehensive multicultural education approach that seeks to create a school culture that celebrates human diversity and equitable opportunities. Finally, education that is multicultural and social reconstructionist combines the latter approach with a critical pedagogy that prepares students to challenge and transform the status quo toward a more equitable, humane, democratic society. The second analytic framework is offered by Banks (1997). Whereas Sleeter and Grant characterized multicultural programs that are described in the literature, Banks developed an ideal model to work toward. Banks offers five dimensions to multicultural education: 1) content integration; 2) prejudice reduction; 3) an empowering school culture; 4) an equity pedagogy, which facilitates equitable opportunities for all students; and 5) student interrogation of how domains of knowledge are socially constructed (labeled by Banks as knowledge construction).

4.) Critical analysis. Using the two frameworks as analytic tools, teams of three to four students interrogated the assumptions, goals, and practices of an approach to multicultural education represented by large sets of curriculum guides and K-12 student materials (text sets) that Louise had assembled. The teams selected one among five topics of text sets: elementary multicultural education, antibias education, character education, tolerance education via Holocaust studies, and women's studies. This activity took place during the course of five class periods, with teams meeting during part of the period as well as after class to analyze the texts and to interrogate their subtexts and ideological foundations, using the two frameworks as tools.

5.) Sharing what was learned. The teams shared their findings with their classmates through 1-hour presentations. The class discussed the differences and commonalties among the approaches presented, with particular attention to the social, political, and ideological foundations as well as practical implications of each approach.

6.) Action. As a final project, students wrote individual action plans for implementing multicultural education in their school site or another appropriate site. The class negotiated the content of the plans to include a strong theoretical rationale, a detailed set of implementation steps, perceived obstacles and methods for responding to them, and a method of assessing the plan.


7.) Reflection. Each week of the 5-week (25-day) course, students wrote an essay that brought together course readings and their own experiences by reflecting on their own assumptions and understandings. These dialogue-journal entries were responded to by another student and Louise. The dialogic nature of the entries encouraged participants to carefully articulate their thoughts and to reflect on classmates' ideas and experiences when in the role of respondent.


Analysis of student writings indicates that students' meanings and language had transformed to some extent during the 5-week course. Because the students were aware that Louise would read their responses and evaluate their action plans, their words need to be interpreted cautiously. Still, by examining the integration of their statements and the kinds of actions that they proposed in their action plans, we can gain some indication of how their repertoire for multicultural education might have transformed during the course.

The first activity of the course involved writing one's definitions and goals for multicultural education. At this point, all but one participant emphasized the need to heighten cultural awareness and appreciation of cultural diversity. For example, one woman wrote,

Multicultural education teaches students the similarities and differences in cultures. This allows students to see that people from other cultures have much to share. It also teaches tolerance for views that are different from views that students had previously been exposed to and respect for ideas and beliefs that are different from their own.

Several teachers added that multicultural education should address attitude change, to increase tolerance and respect among students. Many stated a belief that solely increasing cultural understanding could lead to a more equitable society, as articulated by another woman, "If understanding of different cultures can be taught, fear of differences and resulting problems and inequalities may be eliminated." Such views that emphasize learning about others are typical among teachers (Bernhard, Lefebvre, Chud, & Lange, 1995; Kumashiro, 2000).

The action plans submitted at the end of the course do indicate a shift in students' repertoires for multicultural education. As seen in Table 2, the action plans represent many diverse approaches and strategies. Most students developed plans that they could carry out in a setting in which they worked or spent much time (e.g., church). Although a few of the plans focus on content integration of multicultural materials, most of the plans illustrate comprehensive goals, assumptions, and strategies, even if set within a single classroom. Five of the plans take what Sleeter and Grant (1999) view as a human relations approach, single group studies approach, or both, with an emphasis on helping members of dominant groups to better understand people from marginalized groups. For example, one plan promotes positive interaction among students with disabilities and those without on the university campus. More than half the plans can be classified as Sleeter and Grant's (1999) more comprehensive conceptualization of multicultural education. Most of these plans integrate multiple strategies for a comprehensive program, including content integration about cultural diversity, prejudice reduction, equity pedagogies, social action, and critical thinking approaches. In sum, most of the students came to articulate a fairly comprehensive repertoire of multicultural principles and practices that reached beyond integrating content about other cultures to developing participatory and democratic interactional practices that engaged learners in grappling with issues of diversity.


However, although there was a shift in students' conceptualizations of multicultural education that included talk of a transformational approach, their action plans did not convey a full understanding of them. Many students used the language of social reconstruction without accurately illustrating its meanings. For example, one student wrote,

Students must be empowered to effect changes in school and the work world beyond; empowering students to act on meaningful issues and to value their own and others' cultures prepares them to work toward social equality and structural pluralism. To become socially and politically responsible citizens, students need the knowledge of social inequalities and the skills to challenge them.

This student's plan, however, provided few strategies for realizing these goals, noting only that teacher in-services would stress social reconstructionist aims and social action. The social actions that she suggested included a play about cultural diversity or a pen pal exchange, neither of which helps students directly gain knowledge of structural inequality.

Furthermore, the language, but not the meanings, of Banks' (1996) conception of knowledge construction was expressed in many plans. This view could be more aptly labeled knowledge deconstruction, for it involves interrogating how knowledge bases are socially and politically constructed. Many of the students misunderstood this concept and instead focused on developing instructional strategies that allow children to actively make meaning. On one hand, this indicates a positive change away from passive, banking model (Freire, 1970/1995) instructional practices toward practices that help students develop responsibility for their own learning. However, none of the participants articulated the meanings of knowledge deconstruction that are critical to creating a transformational pedagogy.

As an inquirer herself, Louise has questioned why more transformative practices were not developed and has revised the course to address these concerns. However, a single course can only bring about so much change. As Ellsworth (1989) points out, educators cannot expect a once-only shift in students' attitudes, for our understandings, beliefs, and thus practices are situated and context bound. It is important to look beyond the course to understand transformational processes (McAlister & Irvine, 2000). During the following autumn, Louise was surprised to learn that many of the students were actually implementing their action plans. The veteran teacher who planned a democratic pedagogy described the challenges and satisfactions of enacting it that fall. The college reading curricula were revised and put into place at the technical college. The plan for increasing positive interactions among students with disabilities and those without disabilities was carried out and reported in university publications. One student implemented, presented, and published his action plan for multicultural approaches in culinary arts programs.

By examining the case of one student's implementation of her action plan, we can better understand the challenges and springboards for developing more transformative educational principles and practices. Cynthia implemented and continuously revised her action plan, documenting the process as a critical inquirer. She informed Louise of her study a year after commencing it, and we later saw promise in combining our case studies, even as Cynthia's continued to evolve.


The following section chronicles Cynthia's journey from the stance of doctoral student fulfilling a course requirement to that of an emergent critical inquirer and transformational educator. In examining the data together, we recognized five main insights of value to educators interested in transformative multicultural education. First, we will describe the background of the case study, then reveal the insights that became evident with each phase of her professional journey.


For the past several years, Cynthia has been involved in a special project for her district that involves all third-grade students in a 10-day unit focusing on the daily life of people living in York County, South Carolina, in the early 1800s. The original unit included a visit to Brattonsville Academy, a one-room replica schoolhouse built in historic Brattonsville. Previsit activities involved students in learning about the clothing, food, games, customs, transportation, and communication of the period through teacher-directed activities. Postvisit activities included writing letters from the point of view of a child in the 1840s, comparing and contrasting present-day school with the Academy, or designing a poster illustrating an Academy rule (Smith, 2000). Cynthia was a member of the curriculum writing team, and now her job includes conducting one of the previsit activities and portraying a schoolmistress in the schoolhouse, guiding each third-grade class through the experiences of a scholar in the 1840s.

After completing the 1st year of this history program, Cynthia experienced some unsettling feelings about the content and activities of the unit. A previous course on diversity, in conjunction with readings in several other courses, contributed to her growing awareness that the unit was Eurocentric. Only the history and heritage from the European point of view was being presented. In 1840, both African American and Native American groups were a part of the local region. Thus, Cynthia was experiencing tension between her changing personal convictions and the reality of the actions in her teaching situation (Short & Burke, 1991) and found herself at a loss as to how to resolve her dilemma. She enrolled in Louise's course hoping to find a solution.

Cynthia's personal experiences as the mother of an adopted biracial child and her professional experiences working in racially and economically heterogeneous school districts had, for many years, led her to confront her own beliefs and practices about diversity and multicultural education (Helms, 1990; Lawrence & Tatum, 1997; McAlister & Irvine, 2000). She thus entered Louise's course with a repertoire of meanings, language, and practices that support the development of culturally diverse educational environments that are child centered. Louise's course confirmed this repertoire and challenged Cynthia to expand it.

Creating a Culturally Relevant Inquiry-Based History Unit

Through the course, Cynthia came to see the importance of providing her young students with opportunities to actively construct knowledge about the contributions of different cultural groups to the social fabric. She recognized how the teacher-directed instructional activities of the original unit prevented students from actively inquiring into historical topics. Furthermore, Banks's (1995) framework helped her see how the third-grade unit addressed only popular, media, and mainstream/academic knowledge about South Carolina history. The students had no opportunity to explore personal/ cultural knowledge related to the topic.

During the course, Cynthia participated in a term project to interrogate antibias curriculum materials. In her view, this collaborative inquiry, along with discussions with class members and guest speakers, led her to develop a commitment to transformative multicultural education principles. That belief guided the development of her action plan. This plan included revising the social studies unit to incorporate culturally relevant materials and inquiry-based teaching strategies that allowed students to develop and research their own questions related to the topic. First, she added information on Native American and African American life in the 1840s to “help students develop multiple perspectives on a variety of social and historical phenomena” (Ladson-Billings, 1995, p. 162). Through the added content, Cynthia hoped that all students would come to understand the contributions of and the hardships experience by both African Americans and Native Americans, in addition to European Americans. Also included were suggestions for students to research the location in the world and the activities of Hispanic, Asian, and other cultural groups not living in York Country in 1840. She also developed a more cultural relevant unit by adding opportunities for students to make personal connections to their own cultural heritage.

To enhance the inquiry component of the unit, Cynthia gathered from the local library a number of books that focused on African American and Native American involvement in American history, which could be used as resources for the children’s research. Teaching strategies from the original unit were changed from teacher-directed activities to discussions and investigations designed to allow the children to develop their own questions about the daily life of the time. During this 5-day portion of the revised unit, the children used the collected resources to research their questions and to record information in a research notebook.

Cynthia’s plan also included a social action component. Capitalizing on her unique position as a resource for all of the third-grade teachers in the district, she sought to implement her plan in away that might lead her colleagues to interrogate their beliefs and teaching practices. Rather than having teachers mechanistically implement the revised unit, she created opportunities for them to critically observe the lessons as led by Cynthia in their classes. As discussed in the following section, she also developed structures and tools that would allow the teachers to compare ideas, raise issues, and reflect on their own beliefs and practices. In her view, such critical inquiry on the part of the district’s teachers was a step toward creating more transformative instructional beliefs and practices within her district.

Inquiring Into a Culturally Relevant Inquiry-Driven Pedagogy

Not satisfied to simply make these changes in the unit, Cynthia wanted to investigated how the revisions may influence teaching and learning. Thus with the summer multicultural course behind her and a new school year beginning, she inquired into these changes by piloting the new unit and gathering data about its effectiveness. Adopting the cycle of inquiry she experienced in Louise's course, Cynthia sought to answer the following question: Would using culturally relevant materials in conjunction with an inquiry approach increase the interest, participation, and performance of students of diverse cultural groups? She attempted to "gain new perspectives" (Short et al., 1996, p. 157) by teaching the unit to three different third-grade classes in three different schools. Class A was located in an African American and low socioeconomic community, Class B was in a predominantly white, upper class economic community, and Class C was located in a more rural, middle-class section of the school district. The teachers were one African American female, one European American female, and a European American male, respectively.

Although Cynthia's time in these three classes was relatively brief, data gathered from videotapes, audiotapes, field notes, and participant observation suggested that the inquiry approach, in conjunction with culturally relevant resources, increased the amount of time that children were engaged with the materials. When looking for answers to their own questions, children were willing to spend more time and energy than when solely responding to teacher questions in a traditional curriculum. In follow-up interviews and journal entries, the three field study teachers noted that several students who were not very engaged in previous lessons participated more after the introduction of these inquiry-based multicultural lessons. When Cynthia worked with the children during Academy orientation previsits and follow-up activities, she found that students also demonstrated increased knowledge when compared with their peers who were taught with the original unit. For example, students taught with teacher-led activities from the original unit frequently answered questions with one-word responses, silence, or a shrug. Students participating in the research activities offered two- and three-sentence responses and also made connections to their present school life, contributing to each other's discussion during the orientation sessions. During interviews conducted 1 month after completion of the unit, these students were also able to give in-depth answers to Cynthia's questions about life in 1840, along with detailed reasons why they preferred their present-day school. She had not anticipated how much a participatory inquiry approach could ignite the children's enthusiasm and nurture more complex understandings.

The findings from her pilot study offered Cynthia many insights about multicultural education. However, her journey had just begun, and as she continued to transform her instructional practices regarding this history unit, many more insights were revealed. We will highlight these insights as we unfold the rest of Cynthia's journey in enacting her action plan.

Insight One: Transformation Comes From Continuous Reflection and Revision

Cynthia noticed the positive impact that the culturally relevant materials had for many students. However, she was concerned that the children did not seem to gain the understanding of Native American and African American cultures for which she was hoping. One child still wanted to know if "there were any Black people in 1840," and most children did not include questions about Native American life in their research. Reflection on this concern with two of the collaborating teachers led to future lessons that integrated content about all three cultural groups from the 1st day of the unit.

Collaboration with teachers in the first field test also revealed that the students' end-of-unit projects lacked focus. Cynthia concluded that the students needed as much ownership in designing the culminating projects as they did when choosing their research questions. Also, students often resorted to researching the dominant (i.e., European American) group. For example, students who asked, "what kind of clothes did they wear?" focused mostly on the dominant, European culture. Thus, students were asked to be more specific about the cultural group they were referring to when writing their research question. They could choose to focus on one cultural group or inquire across the three groups.

This revised strategy was field tested with six different classes. Cynthia again found an increase in students' levels of participation and knowledge. Many of the students also demonstrated an increased appreciation for the difficulties encountered by all three cultural groups that they investigated. When students determined which cultural group they were researching, they were able to seek and locate specific information about the group and thus could make comparisons about the lives of the three main cultural groups included in the unit.

Insight Two: The Power of Inquiring Through Dialogue

The power of blending inquiry with dialogue became evident during the field testing. In several ways, Cynthia incorporated the dialogue-journal strategy used in Louise's multicultural course. First, teachers and students used the dialogue journals to inquire and reflect each day on the progress of each student's research. Cynthia emphasized that the journals were a tool for students to communicate with the teachers about their research questions and progress. The teachers and Cynthia responded to their journal entries. This dialogue allowed students to express any frustration, ask for help with resources, and share their successes. The teachers could support the research process by offering ideas to consider for researching answers to their questions. For example, one student wrote, "I feel so good to learn so much in ten days. I wonder if they had pets in 1840?" The teacher responded, "[I can] see that you are beginning to learn how to research to find answers to your questions. We can look for a book about pets." Another child wrote that he had "learned that black people were slaves and that made him feel bad." Cynthia responded, "Slavery was a bad thing, Evan. But there were some great things that Black people were doing in 1840. I have some books that I would like to show you."

One teacher found the dialogue journals valuable for the insight that it gave him into his students' thinking. In a follow-up interview, he noted that "the students were honest in letting me know that they were having trouble finding resources or that they were finding a lot of information on their topic. I realized that I needed to help them more with the process of researching when several children thought that any topic that was in the book must have happened in the 1840s just because it was in the book. I was so amazed to see Dylan (a child who before had needed much attention) take off and go with no reminding. And Jack was like a kid at Christmas when he found Information about the birds."

Second, the teachers in these three classrooms recorded their observations and reflections about the lessons in a journal while they watched Cynthia teach the unit. The teachers' entries focused on the engagement of the children in the research process and included some of their concerns about the unit. Cynthia responded to the teachers' entries by suggesting possible solutions to perceived problems. Knowing that they would be writing in the dialogue journal and sharing their responses with Cynthia helped the teachers become inquirers along with their students. One teacher in particular talked about the value of recording her observations and reflecting on it with Cynthia. They wrote to each other about the dilemmas and promise or inquiry-based instruction. The teacher wrote "it's hard for me to sit on my hands and bite my tongue and let children explore," but she still planned to develop an inquiry-based approach to other social studies lessons.

The dialogue journal also provided a means to analyze ideas for continually improving the teaching strategies in the unit and to get feedback from the teachers on those ideas. Many of the revisions to the unit were born in the dialogue between students, teachers, and Cynthia, such as the decisions to have students develop their own research questions or to provide more time for students to share their research findings so that all of the children would hear the results. In reflecting on these practices through journal entries and speaking with the teachers, Cynthia's beliefs and language about pedagogy shifted. Although she had written about the value of student-centered teaching strategies in her action plan, her understanding of the value of student ownership and culture-focused lessons grew as she reflected on it while engaged in practice.

Insight Three: Continuous Renewal Through Educational Partnerships

Cynthia views her venture as a collaborative partnership of inquiry with the teachers and students. She has come to value "the generativeness of learning through partnerships" with other educators and with her students (Short et al., 1996, p. 176). Transformations have occurred as teachers have become learning partners with students, as teachers have become learning partners with a teacher-researcher, and as a university professor and a teacher-researcher have become learning partners.

The teachers collaborated with Cynthia to closely examine processes of teaching and learning as she implemented the unit, and they shared their insights with her. Each teacher had noticed that the students had taken an increased ownership of learning. Comments in the students' journals indicated to teachers that they had enjoyed the unit because they got to "look for answers to my own questions." Teachers expressed how they valued the opportunities for learning created through student ownership. One teacher appreciated working along with the children and learning with them. As Short et al. (1996) noted, inquiry processes cannot only shift teachers' and learners' relationship to knowledge but to each other. Cynthia observed that adults and children both benefited from becoming partners in inquiry.

By engaging in a partnership with Cynthia, the teachers came to shift their understandings of pedagogy as they grew to value both inquiry-based instructional practices and culturally relevant pedagogies. Comments in the teachers' journals indicate their recognition of positive changes in the students' engagement. Most of the teachers announced their plans to incorporate inquiry strategies in future social studies units to allow students to "take ownership" of their learning. Thus not only did Cynthia continue to shift her understandings and grow more comfortable in articulating and enacting them through revised practices, but she also saw some transformation in the pedagogical structures and philosophical stance of these teachers as they showed signs of moving from a Eurocentric, transmission model of instruction to a more culturally relevant, inquiry-oriented model.

In addition to continuing partnerships with teachers, Cynthia's transformations have also been supported through her collaboration with Louise as a university partner. For example, knowing her interest in inquiry-based pedagogies, Louise offered her Judith Lindfors's Children's Inquiry (1999), which locates inquiry in children's discourse. This reading led Cynthia to again partner with several teachers who invited her to "listen for examples of children's inquiry" in their classrooms. Louise provided advice for recording and analyzing classroom discourse. Through this project, Cynthia came to differentiate more and less authentic forms of classroom inquiry. This shift in understanding has led her to revise the unit again. In many ways, Cynthia's partnership with Louise has been instrumental for supporting risks, sharing ideas, and gaining resources that she might not have the time to locate herself. Louise has benefited as well because she gains insights into the realities of multicultural education practices from Cynthia's work in local schools.

Insight Four: The Role of Critical Inquiry in Broader District Changes

An inquiry stance has led Cynthia to continue to make changes beyond the three classrooms in her first pilot study to the levels of the district, the broader community, and professional organizations. She presented the revised unit and results of the field testing at a school board meeting, which was reported in a local newspaper (The York Observer, 1999). The article and nine repeated broadcasts of the meeting generated interest from teachers in using the revised unit. Cynthia was invited to present the revised unit at 14 school in-services, where she illustrated how it met local objectives for social studies instruction. She also shared student products and video clips of the students engaged in inquiry. Following these presentations, 22 teachers requested assistance in implementing the inquiry-based strategy and 5 more teachers implemented the unit on their own during the 1999-2000 school year. Many of these teachers commented that they had not before considered looking at different cultural perspectives of history, questioning the limits of the history book, or using inquiry for social studies.

At the beginning of the 2000-2001 school year, Cynthia was asked to present the revised unit to all third-grade teachers in a district in-service. She was enthusiastic to share the project but had experienced the failure of mandated curricula and feared that some teachers might try it, get frustrated, and reject an inquiry-based and culturally relevant pedagogy altogether. She also suspected that most teachers want to use more student-centered approaches but felt constrained by increasing demands to document how their lesson plans meet state and local standards. She decided to offer teachers a choice to continue to use the original unit or adopt the new one, and she considered how to encourage teachers to invest in the revised unit. As a critical inquirer, Cynthia considered the current political context and developed a presentation to showcase how each of the instructional activities met state and local standards and social studies process skills (see Table 3). She also offered to assist teachers who adopted the revised unit. She was flooded with calls from teachers enthusiastic to implement the new approach.

As a direct result of the revised unit, the district saw a need for more culturally relevant curricula. Cynthia consults for a team of teachers who are designing a fourth-grade unit highlighting the heritage and contributions of the Catawba Indian culture. They are developing a hands-on inquiry-based project that includes a visit to the Catawba cultural center. Furthermore, Cynthia's supervisor asked her to develop a course for staff development on using inquiry-based teaching strategies in social studies. She is also sharing the inquiry-based, culturally relevant pedagogy at the state and national meetings of the Council for the Social Studies and a state association for young children. Each time she shares her own transformed understandings with colleagues at these meetings, Cynthia considers how it may lead other teachers to reflect on and perhaps even shift their own pedagogical assumptions and practices, particularly with respect to diversity.


Insight Five: Critical Inquiry as Praxis

Another outcome of the multicultural course is Cynthia's continued need to become a critical inquirer of all situations in which she finds herself. For example, she recently wrote, "I no longer read a book or an article, listen to a presentation or lecture, teach a class (at school or church), or conduct an observation without looking at the social and political implications for both myself and my students. I inquire about power and equity issues involved in new mandates from the district and state level and consider what actions I might need to take." As an educator engaging in transformational practices, she now needs to interrogate "institutional infrastructures that produce and reproduce inequities" (Phillips, 1998, p. 55) and challenge the "inequalities of instructional practices" (Shannon, 1993, p. 90). For example, when a new fifth-grade history book was adopted, Cynthia wrote a proposal to examine the extent to which it incorporated African American history by field testing it with a teacher and her students.

As she continues on this journey toward a stance of critical inquiry, she still feels tension and recognizes that the journey is ongoing. When Cynthia was preparing to field test the fifth-grade history text, Louise suggested that she revisit Sleeter and Grant's (1994) concept of social reconstruction and Banks's notion of knowledge deconstruction. Cynthia realized that the revised unit for third grade went far in cultural relevance but did not help students address or question the social and political practices that continue to cause the same kinds of oppression that cultures such as African American and Native American groups were experiencing in the early 1800s. She is still uncertain about addressing these issues in the third grade but is working to incorporate practices of knowledge deconstruction in the fifth grade. Cynthia and the collaborating fifth-grade teacher are field testing an approach they have developed for using the new history text: With each chapter, students address the questions "whose perspective is left out?" and "how would the story be different if those voices had been included?" Based on what they learn with the students, they will develop a social studies curriculum in the fifth grade that will infuse African American history throughout the year, a curriculum that compels students to deconstruct and interrogate knowledge.


By combining the two case studies, we have examined how a teacher education course may serve as an important step in a series of steps enroute to transforming our repertoires of meanings, language, and actions for multicultural education. The first case highlighted a critical inquiry pedagogical structure that sought to help students develop a stance of critical inquiry. The students in Louise's course did develop more comprehensive repertoires of multicultural practices and could articulate the value of transformative approaches but without necessarily having the understandings to enact them. The second case illustrates how one student applied what she learned in the course to transform her own educational practices, understandings, and discourse as well as those of the classroom, school, and district. Cynthia's case points to the importance of tools and structures that promoted praxis beyond her participation in the course.


The Action Plan

The action plan led Cynthia to develop a strong rationale for more transformational practices and then to envision realistic steps toward those goals. O'Loughlin (1992) argues that teacher education needs to "enable teachers to ask themselves critical questions so that they can construct and enact critical visions of pedagogy that are appropriate to their own contexts" (p. 338). The action plan was an essential tool toward enacting critical visions of pedagogy.

Critical Inquiry Practices

Cynthia practiced critical inquiry by using the two analytic frameworks to interrogate antibias curriculum materials with her teammates during the course. She applied critical inquiry again when interrogating her unit in the action plan, by examining the subtexts and ideological messages about cultural groups and society that were expressed in the original unit. She continued to interrogate the unit as she revised it, determining how the revisions could be more transformative. By engaging in an inquiry-based pedagogy, Cynthia learned how to pose and critically investigate her own practices to examine the social, political, and ideological subtexts and take action accordingly.

Dialogue Journals

Another essential tool for Cynthia, and the teachers and students she worked with, was the dialogue journal. The journal provided opportunities for the writer and a respondent to share and reflect on each other's understandings, discourse, and action|. Freire (1970/1995) argues that praxis is critical for transformation, and praxis can only occur as we reflect on theories and understandings when engaged in dialogue and action. Thus, simply reading the analytic frameworks provided by Sleeter and Grant (1999) and Banks (1997) is not sufficient for true transformation. Writing about theory in action was an important first step in Cynthia's journey, but reflecting with others on actual actions and practices has been essential as well. It is through dialogue that we author our relations in the world (Bakhtin, cited in Giroux & McLaren, 1987, p. 281), our ways of knowing, being, and acting in the world. Freire offers that, "through dialogue, reflecting together on what we know and don't know, we can then act critically to transform reality" (Shor & Freire, 1987, p. 99).



Another essential feature of Cynthia's transformation has been, not surprisingly, time. She entered the course with a repertoire for multicultural practices more sophisticated than that of many teachers. She left the course with a conviction that she needed to combine a culturally relevant pedagogy with reconstructionist practices. Almost 2 years following the completion of the course with Louise, she is still developing her repertoire toward this goal, as she continuously reflects, gains new knowledge, and revises her practices. Cynthia's journey underscores what most educators have long known: we need to reinvent the notion of one-shot in-service instruction. Some research illustrates in-service structures that allow teachers to learn about and implement curricular changes over an extended period of time (Goodman, 1992a, 1992b; O'Loughlin, 1992). O'Loughlin (1992) notes that such a structure makes it possible to ground the curriculum in the teachers' experiences and provide a support for teachers as they modify and reflect on their practices. In-service structures also need to allow for school-wide modifications so that teachers, administrators, and other staff are Implementing and reflecting on change together, rather than single teachers struggling to make improvements in their classroom alone. Such opportunities for praxis are essential if we are to promote change in the repertoire of meanings, language, and actions for a transformative multicultural education.


Time is made even more valuable alongside a supportive partnership. Cynthia's efforts have been buoyed by Louise's support, suggestions, and resources, and Louise continues to gain many insights from Cynthia's thoughtful, creative work in schools. Although our collaboration is supported by the structure of a doctoral program, a teacher does not have to be enrolled in graduate study to engage in such partnerships. We have both been involved in nondegree school-university partnerships that mutually support the work of all members involved (Jennings, 2001; Jennings & Pattenaude, 1998; Mills & Donnelly, 2001; Santa Barbara Classroom Discourse Group, 1993). Whether these partnerships are formalized through Professional Development School networks (e.g., Hult, Edens, & Gresham, 1999) or informally arranged (e.g., Busching & Slesinger, 1995), faculty from both institutions have much to Coffer each other in their unique positions and roles.

These structures and tools are not offered as prescriptions but as principles of practice for multicultural teacher education. They suggest that we need to continue to develop professional development programs that value the complex unfolding of transformation that is driven by inquiry, reflection, dialogue, and action for diversity and justice. Multicultural teacher education courses need to serve as bridges to a more extensive personal and professional journey.

We are grateful to the 13 other teachers enrolled in Louise's multicultural course for sharing their insights and practices and to the teachers and students who have worked with Cynthia in developing an inquiry-based, culturally relevant history unit. We also thank Fred McDaniel for his contributions to the course and data management. This study was supported in part by a Provost's Instructional Innovation Grant from the University of South Carolina,


Allen, J. (Ed.). (1999). Class actions: Teaching for social justice in elementary and middle school New York: Teachers College Press.

Banks, J. A. (1995). Multicultural education: Historical development, dimensions, and practice. In J. A. Banks & C. A. McGee Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 3—24). New York: Simon & Schuster/Macmillan.

Banks, J. A. (1996). The canon debate, knowledge construction, and multicultural education. In J. A. Banks. Multicultural education: Transformative knowledge, and action (3-29). New York: Teachers College Press.

Banks, J. A. (1997). Multicultural education: Characteristics and goals. In J. A. Banks & C. A. Banks (Eds.), Multicultural education: Issues and perspectives (3rd ed., pp. 3-31). New York: Allyn & Bacon.

Beane, J. A., & Apple, M. W. (1995). The case for democratic schools. In M. W. Apple &J. A. Beane (Eds.), Democratic schools. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Bernhard, J. K., Lefebvre, M. L., Chud, G., & Lange, R. (1995). Paths to equity: Cultural, linguistic and racial diversity in Canadian early childhood. (ERIC Document ED423035). Ontario, CA: York Lanes Press.

Busching, B. A., & Slesinger, B. A. (1995). Authentic questions: What do they look like? Where do they lead? Language Arts, 72, 341-351.

Collins, E., & Green, J. L. (1992). Learning in classrooms: Making or breaking a culture. In H. H. Marshall (Ed.), Redefining student learning: Roots of educational change (pp. 59-86). Norwood, NJ: Ablex.

Duesterberg, L. M. (1999). Theorizing race in the context of learning to teach. Teachers College Record, 100 (4), 751-775.

Edelsky, C. (1994). Education for democracy. Language Arts, 71, 252-257.

Ellsworth, E. (1989). Why doesn't this feel empowering? Working through the repressive myths of critical pedagogy. Harvard Educational Review, 59, 297-324.

Fine, M. (1986). Why urban adolescents drop into and out of public high schools. In G. Nietriello (Ed.), School dropouts: Patterns and policies. New York: Teachers College Press.

Freire, P. (1995). The pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press. (Original work published 1970).

Freire, P. (1998). Education for critical consciousness. New York: Continuum Press. (Original work published 1969).

Giroux, H., &: McLaren, P. (1987). Teacher education as a counter-public sphere: Notes towards a redefinition. In T. S. Popkewitz (Ed.), Critical studies in teacher education: Its folklore, theory, and practice (pp. 266-297). New York: The Falmer Press.

Goodenough, W. H. (1963). Cooperation in change. New York: Russell Sage Foundation.

Goodman, J. (1992a). Elementary schooling for a critical; democracy. Albany: State University of New York Press.

Goodman, J. (1992b, April). Working in schools: Emancipatory theorizing and educational reform. Paper presented at the meeting of the American Educational Research Association, San Francisco.

Grant, C. A., & Tate, W. F. (1995). Multicultural education through the lens of the multicultural education research literature. In J. A. Banks & C. A. McGee Banks (Eds.), Handbook of research on multicultural education (pp. 145-166). New York: Simon & Schuster/Macmillan.

Greene, M. (1988). The dialectic of freedom. New York: Teacher's College Press.

Greene, M. (1995). Releasing the imagination: Essays on the education, the arts, and social change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Helms, J. E. (Ed.). (1990). Black and white racial identity: Theory, research, and practice. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press.

Hult, R. E., Edens, K. M., Se Gresham, D. (1999, February). Promoting collaborative inquiry. Paper presented at the National Professional Development School Conference, Kansas City, MO.

Jennings, L. B. (2001). Inquiry for professional development and continuous school renewal. In A. Donnelly & H. Mills (Eds.), Creating a culture of inquiry (pp. 33-54). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Jennings, L. B., & Green, J. L. (1999). Locating democratizing and transformative practices within classroom discourse. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 34 (2), i-iv.

Jennings, L; B., O'Keefe, T., & Shamlin, M. (1999). Creating spaces for dialogue: Democratic classroom practices in first and second grade. Journal of Classroom Interaction, 34 (2), 1-16.

Jennings, L. B., & Pattenaude, I. (1998). Making meaning and beyond: Literate strategies for exploring and enacting tolerance. The New Advocate, 11 (4), 325-343.

Kaelin, J. (1999). How white teachers perceive the problem of racism in the schools: A case study in "Liberal Lakeview." Teachers College Record, 100, 724-750.

King, J. E. (1991). Dysconscious racism: Ideology, identity, and the miseducation of teachers. Journal of Negro Education, 60 (2), 133-146.

Kumashiro, K. K. (2000). Toward a theory of anti-oppressive education. Review of Educational Research, 70 (1), 25-53.

Ladson-Billings, G. (1995). But that's just good teaching: The case for culturally relevant pedagogy. Theory into Practice, 34, 159-165.

Lawrence, S. M., & Tatum, B. D. (1997). White educators as allies: Moving from awareness to action. In M. Fine, L. Weiss, L. C. Powell, & L. Mun Wong (Eds.), Offwhite: Readings in race, power, and society (pp. 333-342). New York: Routledge.

Lindfors, J. (1999). Children's inquiry: Using language to make sense of the world. New York: Teachers College Press.

McAlister, G., & Irvine, J. J. (2000). Cultural competency and multicultural teacher education. Review of Educational Research, 70 (1), 3-24.

Mills, H. (Ed.). (2001). Preface. In H. Mills & A. Donnelly (Eds.), Creating a culture of inquiry (pp. xv-xxv). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Mills, H., & Donnelly, A. (2001). From the ground up: Creating a culture of inquiry. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

O'Loughlin, M. (1992). Engaging teachers in emancipatory knowledge construction. Journal of Teacher Education, 43, 336-346.

Phillips, C. B. (1998). Preparing teachers to use their voices for change. Young Children, 53 (3), 55-60.

Santa Barbara Classroom Discourse Group. (1993). [Special Issue], Linguistics in Education: An International Research Journal, 4 (3-4).

Shannon, P. (1993). Developing democratic voices. The Reading Teacher 47 (2), 86-94.

Shor, Ira (1992). Empowering education: Critical teaching for social change. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Shor, L, & Freire, P. (1987). A pedagogy for liberation: Dialogues on transforming education. West-port, CT: Bergin & Garvey.

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

Short, K. G., & Burke, C. (1991). Creating curriculum. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Short, K. G., Schroeder, J., Laird, J., Kaufmann, G., Feguson, M. J., & Crawford, K. M. (1996). Learning together through inquiry: From Columbus to integrated curriculum. York, ME: Stenhouse.

Sleeter, C. E. (1992). Keepers of the American dream. London: Falmer Press.

Sleeter, C. E., & Grant, C. A. (1994). Making choices for multicultural education: Five approaches to race, class, and gender (2nd ed.). New York: Merrill.

Sleeter, C. E., & Grant, C. A. (1999). Making choices for multicultural education: Five approaches to race, class, and gender (3rd ed.). New York: Merrill.

Smith, C. P. (2000). School bells in the 1840s: A field trip for third graders. Social Studies and the Young Learner, 13 (2), 6-8.

Spradley, J. P. (1980). Participant observation. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Third graders to learn about diversity. (1999, July 27). The York Observer.

Yeager, B., Pattenaude, L, Franquiz, M., & Jennings, L. (1999). Rights, respect, and responsibility: Toward a theory of action in two bilingual classrooms. In J. Robertson (Ed.), Teaching for a tolerant world, grades K—6 (pp. 196—218). Chicago: National Council for Teachers of English.

LOUISE B. JENNINGS is an assistant professor at the College of Education, University of South Carolina. As a classroom and school ethnographer, she examines the intersections between inquiry, literacy, diversity, and critical democracy that are created through the discourse of learners and teachers. Her recent publications focus on the transformative potential of spoken and written dialogue in classrooms and inquiry as a basis for professional development and continuous school renewal.

CYNTHIA POTTER SMITH is a social studies resource teacher for Rock Hill (South Carolina) District Three schools. As a doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina, she is investigating how inquiry-based instruction and culturally relevant pedagogies can work together in elementary classrooms. Her work was recently published in Social Studies and the- Young Learner.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 104 Number 3, 2002, p. 456-481
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 10845, Date Accessed: 5/27/2022 2:16:36 AM

Purchase Reprint Rights for this article or review
Article Tools
Related Articles

Related Discussion
Post a Comment | Read All

About the Author
  • Louise Jennings
    University of South Carolina
    E-mail Author
    LOUISE B. JENNINGS is an assistant professor at the College of Education, University of South Carolina. As a classroom and school ethnographer, she examines the intersections between inquiry, literacy, diversity, and critical democracy that are created through the discourse of learners and teachers. Her recent publications focus on the transformative potential of spoken and written dialogue in classrooms and inquiry as a basis for professional development and continuous school renewal.
  • Cynthia Potter Smith
    Rock Hill District Three Schools
    CYNTHIA POTTER SMITH is a social studies resource teacher for Rock Hill (South Carolina) District Three schools. As a doctoral candidate at the University of South Carolina, she is investigating how inquiry-based instruction and culturally relevant pedagogies can work together in elementary classrooms. Her work was recently published in Social Studies and the Young Learner.
Member Center
In Print
This Month's Issue