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“So We Have to Teach Them or What?”: Introducing Preservice Teachers to the Figured Worlds of Urban Youth Through Digital Conversation


by Robyn Seglem & Antero Garcia - 2015

Background: Extant literature contends that it can be difficult for White preservice teachers to develop culturally relevant curriculum for the diverse students whom they will encounter in classrooms. Though there is a significant body of research about culturally responsive pedagogy, teacher education programs have struggled with how to best reconcile the needs of students of color with the experiences and misconceptions of White teachers.

Purpose/Focus of Study: Using a figured world framework, we explore how social interaction made possible through digital tools shaped the actions and identities of 16 preservice teachers. Research Design: This qualitative case study focuses on 3 preservice teachers from Illinois to illustrate the cumulative and different process of change that each went through during his or her interactions with 10th-grade students from Los Angeles. Beginning with a holistic coding of the corpus of data, we looked at chat room transcripts, preservice teacher reflections, and writing samples from approximately 3 months of interaction between the two groups for this study. Coding the data in multiple cycles, we explored how preservice teachers’ digital interactions with urban high school students contributed to preservice teachers’ figured worlds.

Findings: Providing preservice teachers with virtual access to urban youth’s figured worlds allowed these future teachers to better understand the cultural artifacts of these students’ worlds. In doing so, they were forced to acknowledge the importance of maintaining the belief that all students, including those from urban backgrounds, can and want to engage in rigorous learning. The project also provided the preservice teachers with an opportunity to learn more about the discourse of these students, giving preservice teachers insights about how to navigate the language of their students’ cultures, to evaluate their students’ academic language needs, and to instruct their students about shifting their language use to communicate across settings and purposes. Finally, opportunities to interact with urban youth allow preservice teachers to begin to develop identities that are more culturally responsive in nature.

Conclusions: The results we explore in this article highlight the potential that virtual spaces offer for developing constructive dialogue between urban youth and preservice teachers, which can lead to reflective, culturally relevant teachers.



“So we have to teach them or what? Well, they need to understand where we come from. We don’t come from Illinois.”

 

Written by a high school sophomore in Los Angeles in response to a set of video introductions of secondary preservice teachers in central Illinois, this sentiment captures the essence of a project designed in part to educate White middle-class preservice teachers about urban youth. By placing the two groups in shared virtual spaces composed of chat rooms, video conferencing, and social networks, 35 high school sophomores adopted the role of teacher as they introduced 16 preservice teachers to their social, cultural, and language practices—practices that were very different from those of the students they worked with in their local schools. At the same time, the sophomores were provided with opportunities to practice and hone their academic literacy skills, allowing both groups to engage in mutual inquiry as they explored together what it means to be both a teacher and a student.


This project was conceived in response to needs identified through both authors’ professional work. Robyn works with preservice teachers in a professional development school model designed to provide more authentic experiences than the traditional student teaching approach. As such, preservice teachers divide their fall semesters between courses in pedagogy and content literacy and time working with students in their mentor teachers’ classrooms. This prepares them to enter the spring semester ready to teach right away rather than spending the necessary time observing and getting to know their mentor teachers and students. The model provides preservice teachers with experiences that are rich with authentic teaching practices. Yet, because the local schools do not differ greatly from the schools most of the preservice teachers experienced as students, Robyn was still left with the question of how to best educate and prepare preservice teachers to work with students different from themselves.


At the time of the project’s conception, Antero was in his last year of graduate school and his eighth year working at South Central High School (SCHS). He identified a need for students at SCHS to establish relationships with White adults that were more positive in nature. The ability to communicate and work with individuals of diverse backgrounds was the kind of necessary practical skill that SCHS students were deprived of because of the school’s segregated demographics. Working alongside 10th-grade teacher Ned Snow, Antero also wanted to offer more opportunities for students to practice the academic language necessary for them to succeed in school. By collaborating at the high school level, Antero and Ned worked toward offering equitable learning opportunities within Ned’s classroom.


The pairing of a sophomore English class with Robyn’s preservice teachers helped address the needs we identified for both groups. During the course of our study, we found that both groups benefited from the interaction, however, this article focuses on the preservice teachers. For an in-depth analysis of student learning outcomes in this study, please see Garcia and Seglem (2013) and Garcia, Seglem, and Carlson (2014). Our work points to the potential of developing culturally relevant teachers by using virtual spaces to introduce preservice teachers to students very different from themselves. We situate our work within a figured world framework that explores how social interaction shapes action and identity (Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, & Cain, 1998).


THE CHALLENGE OF DIVERSITY IN TEACHER EDUCATION


Educational policies, popular media, and education scholarship continue to spotlight the achievement gap that exists between White students and students of color (Ladson-Billings, 2006). More often than not, this gap is identified through standardized test scores, but its existence is also evident through an examination of dropout rates, enrollment in advanced courses, and admittance to higher education (Ladson-Billings, 2006). Multiple researchers and theorists who study culture in education have posited causes of the gap, with reasons ranging from misunderstandings of culture and the resulting stereotypes (e.g., Delpit, 1995; Lee, 2004; Steele, 1999) to the structure of schools (e.g., Banks, 2004; Gay, 2004) and pedagogical practices (e.g., Ladson-Billings, 1995; Sleeter, 2001). The underlying thread is the cultural mismatch between the White policy makers and educators, and the students they serve in impoverished, urban areas.


Because teachers are primarily White, female, and middle class (Zeichner et al., 1998), their clinical experiences most often take place in middle-class communities that are very similar to their own upbringings (Sleeter, 2001). Thus, demographically, the preservice teachers participating in this study are not that different from the teaching force in the United States. Often, White preservice teachers’ experiences with people of color involve small numbers, which can result in the mistaken belief that there are few differences in cultures (Seidl, 2007). As such, it can be difficult for White teachers to design instruction that is relevant to cultures other than their own. Compounding this naivety, preservice teachers often bring stereotypical beliefs—such as the idea that urban children have attitudes that are adverse to education—to the classroom (Schultz, Neyhart, & Reck, 1996). Stereotypes such as this can prompt teachers to focus more on what students “don’t have and can’t do” because of a belief that their own experiences are the norm (Gay, 2000). Preservice teachers’ romanticized views of ideal classrooms emerge from their own educational experiences, which can lead to disillusionment when they find themselves in urban classrooms. This can lead to a lack of confidence in their own teaching abilities (Ross, 1998).


Ignoring the differences in culture in diverse classrooms is not always the problem. At times, White teachers recognize the need to acknowledge the diverse backgrounds that students bring to the classroom, but the result is often more of a celebration of culture rather than utilizing student experiences to promote academic learning (Sleeter, 2012). This approach unintentionally leads to students’ cultures being add-ons in the classroom rather than an integrated aspect of instruction. Thus, there is no impact on student learning (Nykiel-Herbert, 2010).


Teacher education programs have struggled with how to best reconcile the needs of students of color with the experiences and misconceptions of White teachers. The existing structure of most teacher education programs often does not allow for the experiences that preservice teachers need to be successful in schools of urban settings (Haberman, 1996). As more and more students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds enroll in urban and suburban schools (Strizek, Pittsonberger, Riordan, Lyter, & Orlofsky, 2006), there is a need to explore new approaches for preparing preservice teachers to work with these students. This means that teacher education programs need to be proactive rather than reactive, which has been the traditional response to diversity in K–12 classrooms (Irvine, 2003; King, Hollins, & Hayman, 1997). Addressing diversity cannot be an add-on course or unit within an existing course (King et al., 1997). Rather, it must be integrated throughout teacher education programs. As Geneva Gay (2002) noted, “teacher preparation programs must be as culturally responsive to ethnic diversity as K-12 classroom instruction” (p. 114).


To become more culturally responsive, preservice teachers need opportunities to reflect on their own cultural beliefs and to assess how their attitudes and expectations will impact students with cultural backgrounds that are different from their own (Akiba, 2011). Through a review of literature, Akiba (2011) identified four characteristics of teacher education programs that impact preservice teachers’ beliefs and attitudes toward students of different cultures: “1) classroom as a learning community; 2) instructor modeling constructivist and culturally-responsive teaching; 3) field experience for understanding diverse students; and 4) opportunity for reflection” (p. 663). As the study that follows indicates, virtual spaces provide opportunities to integrate all these characteristics when access to diverse students is not readily accessible.


Defined by Geneva Gay (2000) as teaching that uses “the cultural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles of ethnically diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and effective for them” (p. 29), culturally responsive teaching is integral to moving beyond a celebration of culture to actually impacting student learning. Learning about culture on a global level and creating instructional approaches that reflect this global understanding neglect the needs of specific students. Students are better served when teachers get to know them and design instruction according to established relationships (Gutiérrez, 2002). Once teachers have established positive relationships with their students, they can then begin to scaffold learning by building on what students know (Garza, 2009). If teachers choose to ignore or devalue the cultural practices and norms of Black and Latino students, students can withdraw from the classroom, resulting in lower academic achievement (Irvine & Armento, 2001). Conversely, Ware (2006) found that instilling students’ cultures within teaching and learning can lead to positive academic achievements.


Education programs that provide opportunities for preservice teachers to get to know students from diverse backgrounds introduce them to the underlying dimensions of what it means to be culturally responsive and relevant teachers. These elements, as represented by the literature, include:


Maintaining a belief that students of diverse backgrounds are capable of engaging in rigorous learning

Scaffolding instruction by using students’ cultural experiences, knowledge, and learning preferences to contextualize new knowledge

Building positive relationships that promote culturally compatible and collaborative learning environments

Providing multiple assessment approaches

Introducing the knowledge and skills needed to perform well in the mainstream culture without usurping students’ personal cultural identities

Engaging in social justice practices. (Frankenstein, 2005; Gay, 2000; Gutiérrez, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1994; Siwatu, 2011; Tate, 2005)


While culturally responsive teaching is multidimensional, communication and language also play a pivotal role (Gay, 2002). Communication influences the development of community (Montagu & Watson, 1979), thus, understanding that culture relates to how we think and talk (Porter & Samovar, 1991) is important for learning to take place (Gay, 2002). Teachers need to be able to understand the language their students communicate in, and for White teachers, the slang used by urban youth can be foreign and difficult to decipher. Because communication is vital to the learning environment, Gay (2002) argued that culturally responsive teachers need to directly confront language differences in order to learn how students of different backgrounds communicate. One necessary component to study is what Gay called protocols of participation in discourse. Schools, Gay argued, promote a passive-receptive style of communication that expects teachers to take on an active speaking role and students to listen and speak only when given permission. She contrasts this with the active-participatory style that many ethnic groups in the United States participate in, which allows for a dialectic approach that leads to interchangeable roles of speaker and listener. When teachers understand these cultural differences, they can begin to teach students “code-shifting skills so that they can communicate in different ways with different people in different settings for different purposes” (Gay, 2002, p. 112). Thus, it is important to provide preservice teachers with opportunities to communicate regularly with students of different backgrounds in order to develop what Gay called “multicultural communication competency.”


FIGURED WORLDS: A THEORETICAL FRAMEWORK


Our study focused on examining White preservice teachers’ experiences with urban youth in a digital forum. We framed our analysis of the preservice teachers’ responses and work through the lens of figured worlds, a concept first described by Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain (1998). Holland and her colleagues drew on the work of noted scholars, including Vygotsky (1978), Bakhtin (1981), and Bourdieu (1977), to demonstrate how social forces shape the ways people interact in socially defined worlds. As people interact with people around them, they form their identities through these interactions, which in turn shapes their world—a world figured by these interactions. These socially constructed worlds help confirm individuals’ places in the world, leading to roles that have clearly defined expectations of how each individual should act and interact with others in their socially constructed worlds. Of particular interest was Holland and her colleagues’ discussion of how cultural artifacts and discourse shape the actions and outcomes that are expected in a particular figured world, which leads to the establishment of social identities within the world. As the high school student in our introduction observed, the preservice teachers “need to understand where we come from,” which is a figured world very different from the worlds the preservice teachers experienced as students and as teachers in their traditional field experiences. By bringing the figured worlds of the urban students together with the figured worlds of the preservice teachers, we were able to analyze preservice teachers’ conceptions of urban youth’s cultural artifacts and discourse and examine how the experience influenced their identities as culturally responsive teachers.


Using figured worlds as a lens also makes sense when situated within the literature of culturally responsive/relevant teaching. As Ware (2006) found, students succeed academically when their culture is represented within lessons. For teachers to understand their students’ culture, they must have a solid understanding of the artifacts that make up their own culture. Similarly, Gay (2002) stressed the importance of discourse in culturally responsive teaching. As an analytic tool, figured worlds allows us to better understand the struggle preservice teachers engage in when they try to reconcile their worlds with the unfamiliar worlds of diverse students.


As mentioned previously, Holland and her colleagues identified three elements that comprise figured worlds: cultural artifacts, discourse, and identity. Like Hatt’s (2007) work with the figured world of smartness, we find these three elements helpful in our discussion of the preservice teachers’ experiences with urban youth. We begin by examining the cultural artifacts as they were first ascribed by the preservice teachers to urban youth during our study. Whereas Holland and her colleagues described cultural artifacts as both material and conceptual, our study focuses primarily on the conceptual artifacts that are made apparent through the dialogue exchanged in chat rooms and via online conferencing tools like Skype, as well as through individual reflections. Next, we will discuss the discoveries the preservice teachers made about discourse, particularly in terms of academic language associated with schooling and the slang used regularly by the urban youth. Finally, we will examine the development of the preservice teachers’ professional identities by looking at three important concepts that aid in identity formation: positionality, a space of authoring, and world making (Holland et al., 1998).


In terms of this study, positionality refers to preservice teachers’ understanding of the power and position assigned to their roles as teachers. Predetermined historical factors offer players in a figured world specific positions that have been defined by socially defined constructs. Once offered a position, people can choose to accept, reject, or negotiate these positions (Urrieta, 2007). Thus, preservice teachers often approach teaching by accepting the positionality offered to them by their experiences with school, experiences that frequently restrict their understanding of students different from themselves. Recognizing this positionality, this project purposefully provided preservice teachers with a space of authoring that allowed them to question their positions as White middle-class teachers. Through digital spaces, the preservice teachers were able to externalize the internal questions they had about diverse students, providing them with opportunities to make sense of their position of future teachers. A space of authoring also allowed for the possibility of world making, which allows players within a figured world to reimagine their actions in specific worlds. This process can lead to the creation of new figured worlds that can be explored by new and existing players, offering the preservice teachers the potential of envisioning a figured world that welcomed students different from themselves. In recognizing the ideological positions of our students in this study, we also spent time reflecting on, identifying, and discussing shifts in our own research positionalities in this study. Although in this article we do not dwell on this area of our research, we want to acknowledge that we gave ourselves spaces for writing about and discussing how we help teachers and students, and the assumptions we make in these power dynamics. It is as a result of our initial memos in this space that we ended up focusing on preservice teacher world making as our analytical frame: In our interactions with our students and watching their interactions across the country, we were rethinking our own roles as educators and researchers.


METHODOLOGY


This study was grounded in practitioner research (Anderson, Herr, & Nihlen, 1994) that explored how educators can use virtual spaces to bridge the gap between in- and out-of-school literacies as well as between middle-class teachers and urban youth. One aspect of this study examined how virtual spaces can provide field experiences with students from backgrounds that are very different from those of the preservice teachers. We designed an experience that reflected the qualities Akiba (2011) identified as important in impacting preservice teachers’ attitudes and beliefs toward students from different cultures. As such, most of the data selected for this analysis are from preservice teacher reflections and transcripts of chats between preservice teachers and high school students.


PARTICIPANTS AND DATA COLLECTION


Participants in this study differed greatly between the two sites. The 16 preservice teachers were all White, reflecting the make-up of the college where 91% of students are White. Within their traditional clinical teaching assignments, 15 worked in schools that are more than 70% White, and only one taught at a school with a student body comprising 61% White, 23% Black, and 7% Latino students. The physical buildings that housed the high schools they were placed in, as well as the classes they attended, were well maintained and well equipped with technology. Conversely, the 26 tenth-grade students in this study attended South Central High School, an urban school site south of downtown Los Angeles. The student population of SCHS at the time of this study was 83% Latino and 17% Black, with 89% of the students classified by the district as “economically disadvantaged.” The school faced steep achievement challenges that were made more difficult by overcrowded conditions. For most of the students, their only regular interaction with White adults is with their teachers, and the increasing demands placed on both the teachers and the students meant that many times their relationships were strained. The graduation rate at the time of the study was 48%, compared with the graduation rate of 84% in the schools experienced by the preservice teachers. SCHS is overcrowded, with classrooms packed tightly with desks and other physical characteristics that are not conducive to learning, such as persistent leaks, faulty heating and air conditioning, and often broken and obsolete technology.


Both authors, Robyn and Antero, met weekly using online conferencing software to coordinate the activities taking place at the two separate school sites and confirm meeting times, activities, and research protocols. These online meetings were in addition to biweekly meetings using Skype to connect the preservice teachers with the Los Angeles classroom teacher, Mr. Snow. Through direct discussions with Mr. Snow, illustration of pacing and weekly online activities were aligned with SCHS pacing plans and California state standards (this study took place before California used the Common Core State Standards).


The preservice teachers participating in the study spent 15–20 hours a week in the local classrooms in which they would be student teaching the following semester. As research indicates (Zimpher, 1989), their traditional field placements largely reflected the demographics of the schools they had attended as students. The virtual field experience described here served to supplement their traditional clinical experiences, providing them with the field experience necessary for understanding diverse students (Akiba, 2011).


This field experience took place during their combined general methods and content literacy course. Beginning in August 2011, the two groups initially met through a whole-class Skype session and through introductory videos created by individuals in both groups. After watching the videos and learning a little about each participant, the class of preservice teachers compiled questions for the students in Los Angeles, and the sophomores provided feedback to the preservice teachers and requested individuals to be paired with during the remainder of the semester. After the initial meeting, one preservice teacher was matched with two to three sophomore students. Then, throughout the remainder of the fall semester, each Monday (with the exception of school holidays), preservice teachers in Illinois communicated virtually with a sophomore English class in Los Angeles. Whole-class Skype meetings were interspersed throughout the semester, but primary communication occurred through chat rooms set up at TodaysMeet.com. By participating in field experiences virtually during class meeting times, the preservice teachers were able to interact with each other to discuss observations, ask questions, and make meaning from each other’s interactions, creating a learning community that enhanced their experiences (Akiba, 2011). Whole-class reflection through class discussion was supplemented by biweekly discussion posts, giving the preservice teachers opportunities to reflect on what they were learning from the students in LA (Akiba, 2011). To allow them to witness modeling of culturally responsive teaching, preservice teachers were given opportunities to watch the class through Skype, read and discuss blogs and newspaper articles that pertained to SCHS, and interview Ned, the classroom teacher, and Antero via Skype (Akiba, 2011).


To facilitate the collection and analysis of data, Robyn and Antero created and shared an encrypted digital folder. Robyn collected the data from the preservice teachers while Antero and Ned collected the data from the high school students. For this analysis, we used three key data sources to look at preservice teacher growth. These data included eight weeks of chat transcripts between the preservice and high school students’ online interactions and preservice teacher reflections written midway through the project and at its conclusion. In addition to these materials, 2 preservice participants each shared three additional 3- to 5-page reflections they had completed as a writing assignment for an additional class. Because of this unique additional data set, these two students, Charlotte and Zoey, act as exemplars that we follow throughout the data findings presented next. Both reflected the racial and linguistic characteristics of the preservice teachers but did not reflect the gender diversity of the group, which comprised 9 females and 7 males. We attempted to overcome this limitation by also following Antoine, who had significant interactions with his high school partner.


Charlotte and Zoey both came from middle-class White backgrounds that are consistent with demographics of U.S. teachers (Sleeter, 2001). Natives of the Chicago suburbs, both encountered students in their family and consumer science courses who were similar to the students they encountered as students themselves. While passionate about their future students, both freely admitted they had little experience working with students of color—particularly those from poorer backgrounds. Both in their early 20s, these students offered a powerful balance with our other focus student, Antoine. A nontraditional student in his late 20s, Antoine not only offers gender balance but also provides a different cultural background: He approached teaching as a second career, having previously toured the country as a musician, and came from a more diverse schooling background. As a White male, one might expect his educational experiences to be similar to Charlotte’s and Zoey’s. Yet, he attended school in a much smaller city that has a high African American population. These educational experiences, paired with his personal experiences as a touring musician, meant that he approached his social studies classes, as well as his work with the students from LA, very differently than most of his classmates. His inclusion here serves as a counterexample of a participant with more life experiences than his two classmates and the rest of the class. Although we recognize that the lack of additional reflections from Antoine limits this study, the rest of the data reflect ways in which preservice teachers engage in meaning making while enrolled in a teacher education course. Further, by focusing on these three cases over the course of the study, we hope to illustrate a cumulative and different process of change that each student underwent. Though we will conclude with some disconfirming data, these 3 students are exemplary of how preservice teachers’ figured worlds adapted over time. Figure 1 highlights the pairing of our focus preservice teachers and 10th graders to help readers easily track the interactions in the remainder of this article.


Figure 1. Preservice and high school student pairings

Preservice Teachers

High School Students

Zoey

Monica, Leticia

Charlotte

David, Ivan, Mateo

Antoine

 Vincent


In addition to the data listed earlier, we also collected samples of preservice and high school student work samples, screencasted videos of Skype sessions, and instructional worksheets. As practitioner research, formal field notes were not always possible; however, because we were systematic and intentional in our gathering and analysis of reflective notes jotted during class and during weekly planning meetings, as well as via email, we subscribe to Cochran-Smith and Lytle’s (1993) argument that such intentionality allows us to consider these notes as legitimate data sources. We used these notes as guides to our pacing and instructional design decisions and to augment themes we identified during data analysis. Weekly planning and reflection meetings took place throughout the course of the study via Skype and Google Hangout.


DATA ANALYSIS

As recommended by Saldaña (2009), we coded the data in multiple cycles. Because we had designed the study with the intent to impact preservice teachers’ attitudes and beliefs toward students from cultures different from their own, we began the coding process using holistic coding—an appropriate starting point for researchers who have a general idea about the ideas contained in the data (Saldaña, 2009). Through holistic coding, we were able “to ‘chunk’ the text into broad topic areas” (Bazeley, 2007, p. 67). Though we looked at copies of the same data set, we independently coded the transcripts and reflection, looking for evidence of growth in terms of the preservice teachers’ attitudes and beliefs toward the high school students. As expected, categories of diversity and language emerged, reflecting the theme of the project. In addition, categories such as the importance of questioning, the qualities of “good” teachers, and the challenges of digital communication also emerged.


As we read and reread the data and discussed our initial findings, we identified instances that reflected participant values, attitudes, and beliefs about teaching, particularly in relationship to their high school partners. Next, we recreate an example of our coding—initially holistically for values with recoding done over three other instantiations. As we analyzed data, we continued to meet weekly via Skype to discuss our findings. The more we discussed the data in the transcripts and reflections and compared them with our notes, the more we deepened our awareness of the attitudes and beliefs that permeated our data (Richardson, 1994). Once these themes were identified, we used the theoretical framework of figured worlds (Holland et al., 1998) to aid us in our interpretation of preservice teachers’ conceptions of diversity and how the experience impacted their understanding of themselves as teachers. This approach is further described in the sections that follow.


Although we coded and analyzed across data, findings here were triangulated from the different sources of data: field notes of interactions with both sets of students, chat room transcripts, and student reflections as examples. These initial codes were to identify forms of learning, growth, and uncertainty. The process of teacher/student identity formation within these spaces was particularly important in our research design. As such, a recognition of how a figured-worlds lens for looking at these data became clear. Looking at our coding to ensure calibration, we then recoded, looking more closely at figured worlds, and we looked through midterm reflections and transcripts. In addition to independent coding of the data before discussion, we enhanced trustworthiness of our findings by coding the transcripts in the same manner as the reflections to corroborate our findings (LeCompte & Preissle, 1993). Finally, through the collaborative writing process, we challenged each other to justify interpretations and identify support, as well as counter-evidence, within our data sets (Michael, Andrade, & Bartlett, 2007). Two samples of our coding are included in this article’s appendix.


MAKING SENSE OF THE DATA THROUGH THE LENS OF FIGURED WORLDS: OUR FINDINGS


CULTURAL ARTIFACTS


As key elements of a figured world, cultural artifacts represent the physical objects, spoken language, and concepts that enable members of a figured world to socially construct their understanding of their world as well as distinguish their world from other figured worlds (Holland et al., 1998). While members of a figured world interact with these cultural artifacts, they learn about the expectations of their world, form new understandings of themselves, and participate in the further production of culture (Bartlett, 2007). Although the term artifact implies physical objects, concepts and their resulting labels can provide valuable insight into a figured world. This was particularly true in our study; the preservice teachers were asked to examine the cultural artifacts of their own figured worlds to determine how this influenced their conceptions of the figured worlds of the urban students. In this work, we emphasize the conceptual artifacts that emerge from the figured world created in the interactions of the two groups of participants.


As previously discussed, the literature suggests that White middle-class teachers often stereotype urban children as having adverse attitudes toward academics (Schultz et al., 1996) and, as a result, adopt a deficit stance toward their students, seeing only what students “don’t have and can’t do” (Gay, 2000). Before participating in the project, these cultural artifacts were present within the preservice teachers’ conceptions of the figured worlds of urban students. Early in the semester, one of our three focus students for this study, Zoey, identified her preconceptions of the urban students, admitting that she had anticipated working with students who “would have difficulty in school and exhibit low achievement.” Although she didn’t know the term cultural artifacts, she understood that her conceptions stemmed from her own experiences, experiences that developed as a result of her own figured world:


Looking back, I wondered why I assumed these students would have low achievement, and I realized that my lived experience has taught me that those who do not have money have little opportunity to succeed. Furthermore, those of a different race were always represented in society as being impoverished. Therefore, I had been assuming that those of color were more likely to be in poverty, and thus less likely to succeed.


In her reflection, the pronouns these and those signal how Zoey’s figured world constructs SCHS students as separate from her own lived cultural experiences. She begins with “these students,” which reads as a neutral description until Zoey develops the binary that demonstrates the otherness with which she sees “those of a different race” and “those of color” in the following sentences. The implied binary of comingled values, power, and race is developed clearly in this reflection.


While Zoey lapses into binaries to describe the SCHS students, her reflections make it clear that she is aware of the problematic aspects of her conceptions, stating at the end of her first reflection: “Although I realize my preconceived notions are stereotypical, I want to be honest about some of the concerns and thoughts I am having about this experience.” Thus, as she discusses her fears of not being able to communicate with students very different from herself, Zoey has begun to examine her conceptions that have been influenced by the culture within her figured world, offering a ripe opportunity for a space of authoring that can lead to reshaping the context and world making for Zoey. At the same time, Zoey also begins to acknowledge the conceptions the students at SCHS might hold toward the preservice teachers, citing a fear that the high school students will not open up to her and her peers because of beliefs that the preservice teachers are “stuck up college students.” These very different conceptions concerned her at the onset of the project, making her hesitant about the success of the project; she worried that the preservice teachers might be afraid to ask questions “that might offend the students, since we are not as familiar with their culture.”


Charlotte shared similar sentiments, disclosing that she had always wanted to teach in a community just like the one she was raised in and work with students who were just like she was. Teaching in a school where she was a minority frightened her, and she admitted that she had “predetermined concepts” about a student population that was predominantly Latino or Black. “I immediately thought these students were probably involved in gangs, drugs, and most likely lived in a single family home.”


Through their experiences in their own schooling and in their field experiences, these preservice teachers accepted the cultural artifacts that labeled the figured worlds of urban youth as scary places where the students received very little family support. These conceptions influenced their initial approach with the students. Charlotte described her experience working with three boys. As she prepared to work with them on their persuasive papers, Charlotte discovered that only one of the boys had actually completed his rough draft. “In my mind I really was not surprised. I had sympathy for these students because they are probably living in broken homes and do not have the resources to finish a paper.” As she reflected in a college assignment on this experience, she acknowledged that most of the teachers she knew would probably move on to the next assignment, viewing these students as a lost cause who could not achieve. Charlotte understood that her assumptions existed because she had been “raised to think” that a “‘low-income Hispanic culture’ has no way to succeed,” pointing to the influence that this conceptual artifact had on her understanding of teaching students different from herself.


For Charlotte, her initial response to adopting low expectations for these students was alarming: “Why on earth did I ever think this???” She realized that she had applied a misconception to an entire group of students, mistakenly believing that this was a trait of their culture. Yet Charlotte and the other preservice teachers discovered that this was not an uncommon artifact in the world of middle-class teachers. The stereotypes preservice teachers entered this project with were challenged in nuanced and complicated ways. High school students who struggled with academic content were able to reflect on ways they were able to focus in school. They could share how they cope with structural challenges within their school, such as “not learning much math these last few years” and figuring out what “works best” in the rushed schooling pace of standardized testing. Despite their initial conception that parental support and resources would be lacking, the preservice teachers discovered that many of their students acknowledged their parents as their motivators to attend school and seek higher education after high school:


Charlotte:

What helps you stay motivated in school?

David:

my parents

Mateo:

i have to do my homework go to school and learn and thry [try] hard and to have a go[od] edecation

Ivan:

teachers, parents, and my brother

Charlotte:

That is great that you have a good support system with your family and teachers

Charlotte:

Do you have plans to continue your education after high school?

Mateo:

my perants my techers

David:

of course i do

Ivan:

yea go to college

Mateo:

yes because i want to succeed in school

Mateo:

and go to UCLA

David:

stanford but i know i wont get in


Through their interactions with the urban youth’s figured worlds, the preservice teachers began to revise their initial understanding of their cultural artifacts and acknowledge the importance of maintaining a belief that students from diverse backgrounds can and want to engage in rigorous learning. Within the figured world of middle-class preservice teachers, postsecondary education would likely be an assumption, not a question. At the same time, the high school students’ college aspirations are also tempered with expectations of not getting into an elite institution. By looking at how their assumptions and limited interaction with urban youth shaped their assumptions and the ways they asked questions, exchanges like this one acted as an important step toward culturally responsive teaching. The preservice teachers also began to realize that they could not generalize one student’s cultural experiences across the entire culture. This is best exemplified by Charlotte’s reflection:


During one discussion that I had with the students, we talked about the different holidays that we celebrate. We recently talked about Thanksgiving, and I asked one student if he eats turkey for Thanksgiving. He responded saying that they eat homemade tamales which his mother makes. I immediately felt like I learned about his culture and about his traditions. . . . I then continued to ask the other boys what they ate, and assumed they had tamales as well. But why? Because all three boys are Hispanic? Because they do not celebrate Thanksgiving the same way as me? Well, I was wrong! One of the boys ate ham and the other ate turkey for Thanksgiving. Once again, I found myself making an assumption about a whole culture of people. As I become an educator, I need to look at my class as individuals. . . . Culture is not a one-size-fits-all kind of thing. I also need to realize that merely learning about a student’s traditions or ethnic food does not mean that I just learned all about their culture.


Realizations like this can help preservice teachers move beyond the celebration of a unified culture that teachers often adopt to examining the best approaches for integrating culture in a way that impacts academic learning (Sleeter, 2012). Charlotte’s comment also begins to point to another important distinction about how cultural artifacts such as holidays, foods, and clothing play into the pedagogical considerations of a teacher. However, while she ends by noting that knowing traditions does not equate to learning “all about their culture,” her reflection reminds readers of another important factor. The preservice teachers, through their continued interactions with SCHS students, recognized that they needed to see beyond the assumptions from their figured worlds and beyond just looking at students’ cultures; this was an in-depth endeavor for the preservice teachers to see students as individuals. In this sense, the culturally relevant teaching pedagogy that teachers developed here was about much more than simply looking at a conglomeration of youth that did not match figured-worlds expectations. Culturally relevant pedagogy became about humanizing and treating each student individually.


For Charlotte and Zoey, identifying their own conceptions or cultural artifacts was an important first step toward becoming culturally relevant teachers. Through their interactions with the high school students, both were able to own up to their biases and recognize how these biases influenced the way they approached working with the high school students. Charlotte, in particular, was very candid about this as she described her misguided beliefs about her students’ home lives and holiday practices. Notably missing from this discussion, however, is Antoine’s voice. Antoine’s life experiences provided him with more insights into the figured worlds of others who are different from himself. As such, the self-discovery of his own conceptions was largely absent in this study. Instead, we see Antoine making efforts to bridge the figured worlds he and his students reside in.


One such example of this is during an exchange in the chat room, where Antoine is trying to help his partner Vincent think about what he wants to explore for his persuasive paper:


Antoine:

Is there anything you’re interested in that you would enjoy researching?

Vincent:

ummm graff is one of my main intrests

Antoine:

Fantastic!!! You could write about the legality of graffiti art.

Antoine:

Should it be legal? Where? On public spaces? Private spaces? Specific designated areas? Why is it an amazing art form?

Antoine:

These are all questions you could address.

Vincent:

i see u brought up some good qwestions i could use (:

Antoine:

And for research, you could look into specific instances where graffiti was accepted by communities as being beneficial.

Antoine:

And compare it to communities who don’t like it . . . weigh the pros and cons.


In this exchange, the cultural artifact of graffiti is introduced by Vincent. Although the likelihood of the other preservice teachers understanding the word graff is slim, Antoine immediately recognized not only the term but also graffiti’s significance to Vincent. This allowed Antoine to further his relationship with Vincent by following up with questions about Vincent’s favorite artists. Rather than dismissing graffiti as destruction of property, Antoine approached it as an art form, affirming a cultural artifact that is important in Vincent’s figured world. And although ultimately Vincent did not write his paper on the legality of graffiti, the conversation, which happened early in the semester, helped to create a rapport between the two that was evident throughout their remaining conversations. Charlotte’s and Zoey’s processes of self-discovery were largely informed by their quests to learn about their students’ cultural artifacts. Conversely, Antoine’s existing understanding of Vincent’s cultural artifacts allowed him to use his knowledge to foster a relationship with a student, opening the possibilities of future academic support.


DISCOURSE


According to Holland and her colleagues (1998), discourse is the way participants in figured worlds make sense of their cultural artifacts. Interpersonal relationships, institutional expectations, and personal interpretations of roles within the world shape discourse and help provide meaning within a figured world. Within the figured world of schooling, academic language often dominates the discourse. Because they are active participants in schooling, secondary preservice teachers find themselves comfortable with this discourse as well as the discourse specific to their disciplines of study. This familiarity means that they often do not grasp that their students, particularly students in urban schools, do not as easily understand the academic discourse.


However, a social science major, Antoine seemed to have a clear grasp of the privileging of academic language in the figured world of schools. He described it as “a social construct employed by a privileged class to communicate amongst one another within the privileged class.” In addition to bringing participants in their world together, Antoine also understood the exclusionary nature of discourse: “The language used by any group necessarily excludes those outside of the group who are unable or unwilling to learn and use it.”


To help both the high school students and preservice teachers understand the power of language, a concentrated effort was made by both Ned, the high school English teacher, and Robyn, as the teacher educator, to explicitly address academic language. Again, Antoine recognized the importance of this for the high school students: “Navigating and utilizing ‘academic language’ is of the utmost importance for populations who have been historically, and who are currently, excluded from the privileged class so that they might be better able to position themselves on a more equal footing with those socialized within the privileged class.” To assist the preservice teachers in better understanding academic language’s role in schooling, Ned asked them to work with his students to prepare a persuasive paper on a topic of the student’s choice. Ned staged and filmed debates between student teams to familiarize his students with the formal language of persuasive arguments. In turn, the preservice teachers critiqued their arguments, making particular note of the academic language the students used to frame their arguments. Then, over the following weeks, the high school students shared their ideas and pieces of their writing with the preservice teachers. This allowed the preservice teachers to practice modeling academic language as they helped their students develop their papers. An example of this occurred in a chat room conversation where Zoey asks her partner, Monica, “What are your claims?” Despite classroom instruction from Ned, Monica is still unfamiliar with the term claim, so she responds, “What? I am lost >_.”  As the following excerpt illustrates, Zoey used this confession from Monica to help elaborate on the term:


Zoey:

Why do you support gay marriage?

Zoey:

Why do you think it should become legal?

Monica:

Because I am gay(lesbian) and we should deserve the same rights as straight couples.

Zoey:

So your first claim is that gay couples should deserve the same rights as straight couples.


By posing questions to help Monica share her beliefs about gay marriage, Zoey was able to provide her with a concrete example of a claim, which enables Monica to have a better grasp of the term. The conversation then continued with Zoey prompting Monica to provide evidence to support her claim. Through this discussion, Monica was able to solidify her ideas for her paper as well as gain a working understanding of the terms that peppered the discourse of her schooling.


As members of figured worlds that practice a very different discourse than the discourse used by the urban youth, it was important that the preservice teachers recognized and understood the role of academic language. The weeks spent working on the high school students’ persuasive papers provided them with an opportunity to explore this firsthand. As Charlotte explained in her final reflection, “Students are most familiar with the language that is used within everyday social interactions that there tends to be a barrier for students to truly comprehend academic language.” This understanding helped Charlotte see the value in working with students on their papers because it gave the high school students the opportunities of “hearing this vocabulary consistently.”  


However, limiting preservice teacher examination of discourse to just academic language was not enough. As Gay (2002) illustrated, it was also vital that the preservice teachers confront the communication differences that exist between the two worlds. Zoey admitted early in the semester that she was fearful of communicating with the high school students because she had “negative connotations toward slang.” Through her interactions, Zoey determined that it is “essential to incorporate slang because that is part of their culture. Thus, a successful teacher needs to bridge the gap between their own culture and the culture of each of their students.” What Zoey identified as bridging the gap between cultures might also be considered culturally responsive teaching. As previously discussed, Gay (2002) stressed the importance of “effective cross-cultural communication” in preparing teachers to be culturally responsive. For teachers to effectively reach their students, they need to learn how to decipher the discourse of students who are culturally different from themselves. This can be difficult without direct experiences with these students: “The cultural markers and nuances embedded in the communicative behaviors of highly ethnically affiliated Latino, Native, Asian, and African Americans are difficult to recognize, understand, accept, and respond to without corresponding cultural knowledge of these ethnic groups” (Gay, 2002, p. 111).


Recognizing this, in addition to having the preservice teachers model academic language for their high school partners, Ned also designed a lesson on connotation and denotation that allowed the high school students to teach their college partners about the slang they used. In her reflection for her other class, Charlotte expressed her appreciation for this lesson, sharing the definitions of some of these words, including shawty and lagger, with her instructor. Yet although there was one explicit lesson on youth language practices, the preservice teachers were exposed to these practices in more authentic ways throughout their online discussions. For example, during Charlotte and Mateo’s discussion about his persuasive paper, Mateo argues that Call of Duty is superior to the game Battlefield. In this conversation, Mateo uses the term XP, a term Charlotte is unfamiliar with, so she asks him what it refers to. When he explains, “experience points except spelled with a X,” Charlotte reminds him that he will need to define this term in his paper. The exchange, although very short, demonstrates how organically discussions about language occurred throughout the partnership.


As discussed previously, one characteristic of communication between students of color is its active-participatory nature. This directly contrasts with the tendency of White teachers to use a passive-receptive approach (Gay, 2002). Gay noted that this can result in teachers construing that their students’ natural communication styles are rude and disruptive. Evidence of active-participatory communication is scattered throughout the chat room transcripts. For example, during their final chat room discussion, Monica and Leticia were tasked with interviewing Zoey for a hypothetical teaching job. As illustrated in the following transcript, while Zoey comes to the room prepared to begin the interview right away, Monica and Leticia begin with their own playful interaction after Leticia arrives late to the room:


Zoey:

Is leticia going to join us?

Leticia:

heyy

Zoey:

Hi :-) Do you have any interview questions for me?

Monica:

She is hella lost I think! xD Lmfao

Leticia:

yuh would say that@monica

Monica:

You were lost though! Lmao xD

Zoey:

Why are you lost? lol

Monica:

She was in the wrong damn room. She was having a conversation with someone else. Hey Leticia you’re weird xD

Zoey:

haha well I’m glad she found the right room!


Zoey had spent the last two months chatting with Monica and Leticia, so she understood their playful style of intermixing banter with serious discussion of the topic. Had she not understood this active-participatory style of communicating, she may have stifled the conversation by shutting down the banter at the first mention of Leticia’s lost status. Instead, she allowed the conversation to unfold naturally, even engaging in the playful banter; as a result, a meaningful conversation followed as Zoey shared her ideas about teaching and the girls provided their own perspectives about what makes a good teacher. This exchange also provides a glimpse into an answer to an earlier question posed by Zoey in one of her reflections: “Is the failure of low-SES students in school really because of their language or is it the teacher’s inability to recognize these differences as resources that is the problem?” It is evident that Zoey has chosen to embrace the students’ language practices, otherwise her knowledge that “Lmao” means “laugh my ass off” may have prompted her to shut down that type of language as inappropriate for school.


The opportunities to engage in rich exchanges of language allowed the preservice to learn more about the discourses of the urban students’ figured worlds. In doing so, they learned how to avoid offending their students’ cultural values, evaluate where they were academically, and teach them “code-shifting skills so that they can communicate in different ways with different people in different settings for different purposes” (Gay, 2002, p. 112). This was demonstrated in a chat room conversation between Antoine and Vincent, where they were discussing whether it was appropriate to use slang in the classroom. Antoine was surprised by Vincent’s claim that students should only use formal language in the classroom so that everyone would understand what was being said.


Antoine:

Interesting. What if people are able to switch between slang and formal language? Would that be ok?

Vincent:

well thats diffrent then if there talking to u in slang then talk back in slang but u should also know how to talk with academic vocab


Monica and Leticia shared similar sentiments about slang, stating that class time might be the wrong time to use slang. However, when Zoey probed this idea more, their reasoning was slightly different than Vincent’s. Rather than avoiding slang to ensure that everyone engaged in the conversation was on the same page, they responded, “The teacher might get mad because they might think that is really bad to use but us students, we do not see it that way.” Monica and Leticia demonstrate an awareness of the privileging of different language practices, opening the door for discussing practice of code-switching, a conversation that is mutually beneficial for both the high school students and the preservice teachers. The more the preservice teachers explicitly confronted and explored the differences in discourse, the less fearful they were about working with the urban youth. As Charlotte explained in her reflection at the end of the semester,


As a future educator, why should these students have to conform to my culture and use of language, when I cannot speak their language? I admit the ignorance that I expressed during this experience, but this is something I need to change. These students are helping me see this every time I am working with them.


Zoey too recognized the power of language, expressing a dawning understanding of language’s role in the classroom: “When teachers learn how language functions within a culture, students are able to make connections to the content and feel comfortable contributing to class discussion.”


IDENTITY


The cultural artifacts and discourses within figured worlds dictate the expectations and values of members within figured worlds. Thus, identities are socially constructed. Holland and her colleagues (1998) described three important concepts that aid this process: positionality, space of authoring, and world making. Positionality refers to positions people are granted within a figured world. Historical factors and power distributions influence these positions (Urrieta, 2007), which can help explain why White middle-class teachers often struggle to understand youth who are different from themselves. Historically, schools were created to serve the privileged classes, creating a role for teachers that failed to consider the needs of members of other figured worlds (Wildman, 1996). As preservice teachers enter the field of education, teacher education programs can offer them a space of authoring, which can externalize the internal dialogue that often occurs in this space as members determine whether they are going to accept or reject the positions offered to them. Finally, world making refers to the idea that players within a figured world can reimagine their worlds, creating new figured worlds that open up new possibilities. Providing preservice teachers with platforms to interact with urban youth unlocks opportunities for them to engage in practices that may allow them to don a culturally responsive teacher identity.


As we have already discussed, the preservice teachers’ previous experiences with the cultural artifacts, particularly in terms of conceptions, and discourses of their figured worlds offered them the positionality that, as Charlotte described it, linked poor children to poor achievement in school. Although statistics may support this connection, the preservice teachers entered the project without questioning why this might be true. Rather, they “developed these illusory preconceived notions” because of their previous experiences that were rooted in “mono-cultural,” “Anglo-American” educational systems (Zoey). Thus, they stereotyped the students in the project as a group of students who likely belonged to gangs, cared little for succeeding in school, spoke little English, and grew up in single family homes. Yet, they were so entrenched in their own figured worlds of education, most were like Charlotte, who pointed out at the end of the semester, “I admit that I was not even aware of my own ethnic beliefs prior to this experience.”


The introduction of this project provided students with a space of authoring that asked them to question their positionality and accompanying beliefs. Holland and her colleagues (1998) largely described a space of authoring as the multiple internal dialogues that people engage in to make sense of their selves. These internal dialogues were made evident as the preservice teachers reflected on their approaches to working with the students, such as when Zoey stated, “I tried to ask questions related to their family life, their attitude toward education, the neighborhood they live in, and their language, which is a more accurate representation of their culture.” Authoring was also evident when Charlotte reflected on Ned’s approach to working with his students:


The problem is not that they’re lazy or that the curriculum is too hard, we just have not taken the time to see how they learn best. This was something I found great about his classroom. He has students work in groups to work on many issues currently happening in our society.


Both Zoey and Charlotte had obviously been engaging in internal debates about the best way to work with the students involved in the project. Both recognized that their figured worlds had not prepared them for this experience, so they were consciously trying to explore cultural differences and watch how their teacher interacted with his students and designed his instruction.


Despite the multiple opportunities to engage in internal dialogue, digital chat rooms offered a space of authoring that allowed the preservice teachers to externalize their dialogue, as well as invite others to participate with them. This allowed the preservice teachers to ask the urban youth questions that aided in their determination of whether to reject or accept their previous positionalities. This was most apparent during the conversations in which the high school students conducted job interviews with their preservice teacher partners. For example, in Zoey’s chat room, the following excerpt shows the advice Monica gave Zoey when she asked her whether or not Zoey felt she was ready to manage a classroom of students.


Zoey:

I hope that if I respect the students they will respect me.

Monica:

The respecting part that is going to be like a mission if it does happen. You got to bust a mission and try to earn their respect.

Zoey:

how would I earn your respect?

Monica:

You would just try to understand me. Our generation is different than the one you had when you were my age.

Zoey:

Okay! How do you think your generation is different?

Monica:

A lot of things have changed. We are all different from each other so we think different, we act different and more things.


Monica’s statements guide and mentor her preservice teacher. Here, Monica’s expertise as a youth of color in an urban school helps her emphasize the challenges of earning student respect and of the necessity to do so. At the same time, Monica helps Zoey break apart assumptions of a monolithic minority identity. Through sharing their two figured world understandings and aspirations, both Zoey and Monica construct new and mutual understandings. For Monica, this is an opportunity to speak confidently and validate her views when interacting with a White adult. For Zoey, she is able to continue to challenge the assumptions she held and to see actionable ways to better meet the culturally diverse classrooms she is preparing to work within.


Antoine’s discussion with Vincent had a slightly different tenor. Like Monica, Vincent was concerned with how Antoine would manage and discipline his students. It first appears, however, that rather than agreeing as Monica did with Zoey’s response, Vincent disagrees with Antoine.


Vincent:

well Antoine i disagree on ur disiplen tactics and i think students r gunna try to walk all over u and my advise to u

Vincent:

to rethink ur disiplen tatics a lil but i do think u have great teaching skills and i think ur gunna have a big impact on students life

Antoine:

Thanks Vincent, that means a lot! How do you think I should discipline students?

Vincent:

and i hope we git more teachers like us :)

Vincent:

well if i was a teacher the first sighn of mis behaveing send them to the deans

Antoine:

Don’t you think that will hurt the teacher-student relationship?

Vincent:

well if there not trying to help u by wanting to do there work and help them selvs get there education y should u worry about ur and his relationship?

Antoine:

Because that’s my job. My job will be to not give up on anyone, right? Maybe there is something going on in that student’s life that is

Antoine:

making him act difficult. Maybe he just needs someone to try to reach out and help him.

Vincent:

U PASSD TEST NUMBER 2 THATS EXACLIE WHAT I WANTED TO HEAR FROM U DUD UR GUNNA BE A GREAT TEACHER YO ANY STUDENT WILL BE LUCKY TO HAVE U

Antoine:

hahaha! thanks man!!!

Antoine:

I would be lucky to have you as a student!!!

Antoine:

I’m glad that we were able to work together and connect this semester. I learned a lot from you.

Vincent:

THANKS I HAVE LEARND ALOT FROM U TO I HAVE LEARNED THAT TEACHERS REALLY DO CARE AND IF THEY REALLY DO WANT TO HELP US IN LIFE I AM GLAD TO HAVE

Vincent:

BE ABLE TO WORK WITH U ANTOINE :)


Within this discussion, it is evident that Vincent is very aware of the conceptions that many White middle-class teachers have about students like him and his classmates. Despite the obvious relationship the two have built over the course of the semester, Vincent wants to test Antoine’s response to see if he will react in the manner he has witnessed in past experiences with teachers. Rather than agreeing with the positionality offered by Vincent, a positionality that reflects the expectations of many in the figured world of schooling, Antoine demonstrates that he is using this space of authoring to question and reject the role he has been assigned.


Antoine’s response suggests that he has engaged in world making that embraces culturally responsive teaching. He was not the only preservice teacher to enter the process of world making. Zoey explained, “After forming a connection with these students, I suddenly became conscious of how my assumptions and beliefs have shaped my interactions with them . . . being able to critically examine how my interactions affect student learning will help me to become a culturally relevant teacher.” The project allowed preservice teachers to see, as one of the LA students pointed out in the response to the introduction videos, what it takes to be a culturally responsive teacher: “Teaching means more than being in a class full of students. It is to teach more students about school while understanding how big of an impact you do have on a student’s life.”


The project also prompted the preservice teachers to reflect on why interaction with students different from themselves was more valuable than watching videos or observing in multicultural classrooms:


I will not gain the experience of working in a multicultural setting simply by “observing” and “analyzing” the student. We observe these students like there is something wrong with them, but truly I think there is a lot wrong with our society. We first need to observe and analyze our own perspectives and knowledge about this. (Charlotte)


Charlotte’s response shows how far she came from believing that her students would be lazy and that the curriculum would be too hard for them. By the end of the semester, she could envision a world of teaching that was different from her own figured world. Yet, she was also realistic, knowing that although she had made great personal strides, she might not be ready to tackle a diverse classroom on her own.


Through this experience, I cannot say that I will do great if I was placed in a multicultural setting. I do not think observing students in a low-achieving school will make me a perfect fit in a Chicago Public school. As individuals, we need to take time to understand ourselves and understand the foundation that we have come from that shapes our perspectives. If we do not begin with doing this, we cannot help our students.


The process she describes is reminiscent of the identity formation depicted by Holland and her colleagues (1998). Taking time to understand themselves and the foundations they come from allows preservice teachers to examine their positionality and engage in a space of authoring. When teacher education programs provide opportunities for preservice teachers to interact with students different than themselves, they also aid teacher candidates in developing their identities as culturally responsive teachers, creating a world that looks very different from the ones they experienced on their own.


DISCONFIRMING EVIDENCE


Though we selected our 3 sample students for this study because they helped elucidate the consistent themes around which we coded preservice teacher and high school interactions, there were two significant examples of disconfirming evidence to acknowledge. In particular, in reviewing chat transcripts and reflections for participants during the study, we identified one cohort of participants that did not engage in ways consistent with the other groups. In looking at this group, the main difference stemmed from the initial interaction between the group. Reviewing the chat room on the first day of interaction, two high school students introduce themeselves: “hi.” However, it is not until a few minutes later that their college partner joins them:


Michael:

hello

Michael:

whats your argument

Michael:

or position


Perhaps because of the time that elapsed between these groups or because of Michael’s decision to move immediately from introductory formalities into academic work, he received no response. In fact, more than 40 minutes elapsed between Michael’s first interaction with the students and his final, sarcastic comments:


Michael:

i love talking to myself

Michael:

sweet

Michael:

interesting


As we argue elsewhere (Garcia & Seglem, 2013), it is the lack of relational development and the poor coordination of timing on both ends that led to a group interacting in ways that conflict with findings from the rest of the study.


Likewise, though we can see clearly in transcripts between Alice and high school partners strong engagement around academic topics, Alice noted that she did not engage in the kinds of identity-developing inquiry of her peers. In one reflection, she writes, “Although I can see the merit in a project like this, I have not experienced it for myself.” In some regard, this is because Alice was assigned a specific partnering group of high school students who never showed up in the class; as a result, she bounced weekly from one group of students to another and didn’t get to fully engage with the same group week after week. It is therefore no surprise that the two sources of disconfirming data for this study are preservice teachers unable to fully encounter and contend with figured worlds that differ from their own. Through only getting surface-level interactions with the high school youth, the opportunity to explore their own identity and cultural constructions within an educational landscape were lost for these two future teachers.


IMPLICATIONS


We began this article with a quote from one the high school participants as he dubiously reflected on his role in helping guide White middle-class teachers into the tricky and nuanced environment of culturally relevant urban teaching. His comment resonates with the dawning realization that youth can play important leadership roles in preservice education. No amount of collected literature or research could replicate the ways in which Zoey learned about trust from Monica or Charlotte was eventually able to see her SCHS mentors as more than whom she expected them to be based on her understanding of their cultural traditions.


We want to stress that we did not view the preservice teachers’ stereotypes and assumptions of student behavior as deficits. In particular, teacher education programs can benefit strongly from looking at these differences in positionality and understanding the surrounding world as rich inquiry-based learning opportunities. This study points to the opportunities that careful integration of digital tools can yield. We feel we began to confront the challenges of providing a rich teacher education program within a middle-class university setting through the persistent and attentive use of chat rooms, video conferencing, and constant reflection. This work expands the culturally relevant literature as a result, demanding that teacher educators seek out and develop university–practitioner partnerships that, when enacted with careful deliberation, offer empowered learning experiences for both high school and college students alike.


As should be clear, this study did not push preservice teachers toward acting on the changes they confronted with regard to their figured worlds. Although preservice teachers in this study confronted their cultural assumptions about students, we did not have the time to devote to exploring how these changes impact one’s pedagogy. However, we believe that a first step of acknowledging one’s beliefs and differences leads toward action. Because the study took place in only a single semester, there was not enough time for students to move beyond acknowledging how preconceived notions are challenged. This next step is left for further, future inquiry. We would love to be able to show the evolution of the preservice teachers’ conceptions, practices, and development as more culturally relevant teachers, but this simply wasn’t possible within the course of 3 months and a handful of chat room dialogues with students.


Middle-class figured worlds began as initial barriers to successful communication among the college and high school students. However, through constant dialogue and reflection, these figured worlds yielded a pathway forward: With obvious contradictions between the world making of the middle-class students and the actions and ideologies of the high school students, the college students had little choice but to be taught by their high school mentors. This reversal in traditional power structures behooved both groups to reflect on classroom interactions differently. Starting the preservice class with a simple question—How do you successfully become a teacher of students who are different from you?—we recognized through this study that our answer did not reside within an arsenal of pedagogical strategies and tactics. Instead, this inquiry was one in recoding the figured world for the teachers we worked with and, in turn, shifting their identity. Though a suburban middle-class figured world made it difficult to conceptualize the figured world of South Central Los Angeles, the humanizing interactions between individuals offered new ways of understanding, communicating, learning, and, eventually, teaching.


APPENDIX


Sample Coding: Excerpt of Preservice Teacher Reflection


Note: The data coding samples that follow are modeled after Armstrong’s (2010) sample coding transcription.

Codes: Figured World (FW), Discourse (D), Identity (I), Cultural Artifact (CA), Confusion (C), Frustration (F), Otherness (O), Engagement/Exchange (E), Cultural labeling (CL)


Undergraduate Class Reflection from Charlotte:

[...] On a funny side note, the class that I am working with recently included me in on some “lingo” that they use. Here is a short lesson they taught me: Swagg-to have style or attitude, Shoot threw-to go somewhere (example: shoot threw my boy at 3), Holla- talk to me/call me, Shawty- girlfriend, Lagger- someone who is not reliable , Whatsabe- what’s up?. (D) It was awesome to hear the words that they (O) use and what they mean because different cultures have different expressions that they use (O). They enjoyed teaching me the words and I enjoyed learning them. (E)

Another point I would like to touch on in this journal is the lack of understanding I had about language in other cultures. (C, O)  During one of the first video sessions with these students from Los Angeles, they taught my class different slang terms that they use. (CA) I mentioned some of these terms in my last journal. (Swagg-to have style or attitude, Shoot threw-to go somewhere (example: shoot threw my boy at 3), Holla- talk to me/call me, Shawty- girlfriend, Lagger- someone who is not reliable , Whatsabe- what’s up?) (D) I was amazed by this and at the same time I was a little nervous about what it would be like working with these students. (C) The class was made up of mostly Hispanic students, who speak Spanish outside of the classroom and are currently living in poverty. Their teacher is a white male, and my first thought was, “how does he help change these students so they understand the English spoken in his classroom.” (CL) They are living in poverty where they cannot receive good resources for this and speak Spanish consistently at home. (O, FW)  Looking back on this, who do I think I am that I think this needs to be “fixed.”  (I, FW), I cannot change these students nor can [Ned] change these students, because they do not need to be changed! (F, FW).


Sample Coding: Excerpt of Today’s Meet Chat Transcript


Zoey:

How are you?

Monica:

Good and you?

Zoey:

Good. Is [Leticia] going to join us?

Leticia:

heyy

Zoey:

Hi :-) Do you have any interview questions for me? (E)

Monica:

She is hella lost I think!! xD Lmfao (D, E)

Leticia:

yuh would say that@[Monica]

Monica:

You were lost though! Lmao xD

Zoey:

Why are you lost? lol (E, C)

Monica:

She was in the wrong damn room. She was having a conversation with someone else. Hey [Leticia] you’re weird xD (I, E)

Zoey:

haha well I’m glad she found the right room!

Monica:

It took her forever to find us! Lol

Zoey:

haha what questions do you have for me? (E)

Zoey:

Do you think that slang should be used in the classroom?

Zoey:

Do you agree that academic language should be the only word choice within a classroom? (D, CL)

Monica and Leticia:

Yes. It should because that might be a way to express what you feel in a better way.(I)

Zoey:

what happens if the teacher can’t understand what you are expressing? (FW)

Monica and Leticia:

Then we can tell them what the words mean or someone else who understands what we are trying to say can tell them. (O, E, D)

Zoey:

Do you think there is a right time and a wrong time to use slang? (CI)

Monica and Leticia:

Yes, we do.

Zoey:

When would be the wrong time?

Monica and Leticia:

Maybe during class time. (E, FW)


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 117 Number 3, 2015, p. 1-34
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 17804, Date Accessed: 10/23/2021 6:48:01 PM

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About the Author
  • Robyn Seglem
    Illinois State University
    E-mail Author
    ROBYN SEGLEM is an assistant professor in content literacy at Illinois State University. Her research focuses on preservice teacher education, literacy and technology, adolescent literacy, and content area literacy. Her recent publications include her work with Antero Garcia, “‘That Is Dope No Lie’: Supporting Adolescent Literacy Practices Through Digital Partnerships” in the Literacy Research Association Yearbook Vol. 62 (2013) and a coauthored chapter, “Expanding the Definitions of Text and Literacy in the Secondary Content Areas: Content Pedagogy as Literacy Practice” in the book Literacy Enrichment and Technology Integration in Pre-Service Teacher Education (Hershey, PA: IGI Global, 2013).
  • Antero Garcia
    Colorado State University
    E-mail Author
    ANTERO GARCIA is an assistant professor in the English Department at Colorado State University. Prior to moving to Colorado, Antero was an English teacher at a public high school in South Central Los Angeles. His research focuses on developing critical literacies and civic identity through the use of participatory media and gameplay in formal learning environments. Antero’s recent publications reflect his collaborative work with Robyn Seglem, including “‘That Is Dope No Lie’: Supporting Adolescent Literacy Practices Through Digital Partnerships” in the Literacy Research Association Yearbook Vol. 62(2013). In addition, he is the author of several recent journal articles and the book Critical Foundations in Young Adult Literature: Challenging Genres (Rotterdam: Sense, 2013).
 
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