How International Field Experiences Promote Cross-Cultural Awareness in Preservice Teachers Through Experiential Learning: Findings From a Six-Year Collective Case Study
by Erik Malewski, Suniti Sharma & JoAnn Phillion - 2012
Background/Context: The article examines how international field experiences promote cross-cultural awareness in U.S. American preservice teachers through experiential learning. The findings presented here are based on a 6-year study of a short-term study abroad program in Honduras that included an international field experience component and took place from 2003 to 2008.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of the Study: This article examines questions that contribute to the field of teacher education and the effort to prepare future teachers for culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms as early as the preservice level. Several questions guide this study: How do international field experiences prepare preservice teachers to teach in diverse settings? How does experiential learning in an international context complicate preservice teachers’ cultural knowledge? What are the pedagogical implications of increased cultural awareness among preservice teachers for classroom practice? How do international field experiences open preservice teachers to future opportunities to explore and work in culturally diverse communities?
Participants and Setting: The current study presents a study of 49 preservice teachers from a Midwestern university enrolled in a short-term study abroad program to Honduras as part of an international field experience. During this field experience, students were placed in a local elementary or a secondary school, were enrolled in two required courses, visited rural and urban schools, and visited archeological sites.
Research Design: The qualitative collective case study employed data that included questionnaires, interviews, focus interviews, course assignments, discussions, journal reflections, and researchers’ observations and field notes. Analysis sought to triangulate findings from the multiple data sources for accuracy and reliability when reporting the findings.
Conclusions/ Recommendations: Findings from the study demonstrated that experiential learning in an international setting is key to developing preservice teachers’ cross-cultural awareness. Application of cross-cultural concepts during field experiences provided preservice teachers with theoretical understandings and practical applications for teaching culturally diverse students. Recommendations include international field placements for providing a unique and critical site for promoting cross-cultural awareness through experiential learning; more cross-cultural opportunities for preservice teachers that provoke questioning of conventional teaching and school knowledge; and international field experiences in diverse classrooms that promote preservice teachers’ understanding of themselves and how to teach culturally and linguistically diverse students.
In the last three decades, the United States has witnessed a significant increase in the number of culturally diverse, non-White students in schools across the country. In spite of the changing student demography, teachers entering the profession continue to be predominantly White and monolingual with little or no cross-cultural experiences, particularly exposure to diverse cultures, languages, learning styles, and worldviews (Gay, 2000). Accordingly, many White teachers bring deficit-oriented stereotypes about culturally diverse students and little or no cultural background knowledge to their teaching (Sleeter, 2008). The result is that White teachers often lack the capacity to work with diverse, non-White students or resist working in diverse classrooms altogether. Furthermore, when they do work with non-White students, they often have lower academic expectations (Banks, 2006). This lack of capacity in teachers entering the profession has a detrimental effect on students whose cultural background and knowledge differ from those of their teachers. Non-White students are overrepresented in the rate of dropouts and school suspensions, as well as special education and English language learner (ELL)/English as a second language (ESL) classes (Ladson-Billings, 2007; Nieto & Bode, 2008). Therefore, a serious task facing teacher education programs is how to prepare future teachers for global awareness and cross-cultural teaching that is sensitive to the histories and experiences of students from diverse cultural backgrounds (National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education [NCATE], 2008).
In an effort to educate White preservice teachers for culturally diverse classrooms, colleges and universities in the United States have reorganized teacher education programs to offer a variety of cross-cultural experiences. These cross-cultural experiences range from state, community, and university experiences to international experiences that include short, mid-, and long-term study abroad programs (Stachowski & Mahon, 1998). Whereas local experiences have included urban and rural immersion programs, community-based service learning, and multicultural courses, international cross-cultural experiences have included overseas student teaching, study tours, and international field experiences. Teacher education students who choose to study internationally do so for a variety of reasons that include a desire to improve self-confidence, increase awareness of other cultures, acquire foreign language skills, and develop global perspectives to teaching (Alfaro & Quezada, 2010; Cushner & Mahon, 2002; Dantas, 2007; Rios, Montecinos, & van Olphen, 2007). Educational researchers have found after engaging in international field experiences, teacher education students have reported the following benefits: improved foreign language skills, increased ability to navigate in cross-cultural contexts, heightened interest in foreign travel, and a more critical view of their country of origin (Mahon & Stachowski, 1990; Quezada, 2005; Stachowski & Sparks, 2007). Educational researchers have also found that when teacher education students, including preservice teachers, experience living and working in a culture different from their own, they are more inclined to think positively about cultural differences that involve gender, race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation (Merryfield, 1995, 2000; Rios et al.; Talburt & Stewart, 1999). Accordingly, they show a greater willingness to teach culturally diverse students (Cushner & Mahon, 2002; Malewski & Phillion, 2009b).
The move toward developing cross-cultural competencies in preservice teachers through international field experiences has been a welcome development in teacher education (Cushner, 2009). Along with the increase in international field experience opportunities, educational researchers have begun to recognize the complexity of experiences that preservice teachers have when they pursue study in international settings (Malewski & Phillion, 2009b; Slimbach, 2005; Willard-Holt, 2001). A number of studies have looked at preservice teachers abilities to negotiate diverse contexts, reflect on their own cultural beliefs and backgrounds, and compare and contrast the cultural beliefs and values held by the host community with the beliefs and values of their communities of origin (Cushner & Mahon, 2002; McCabe, 2001; Rios et al., 2007; Roberts, 2007). Whereas some researchers advocate further generalized quantitative studies on preservice teachers intercultural sensitivity after international field experiences (Lee, 2009), few qualitative studies examine how international field experiences shape the very contours of preservice teachers cultural understanding and outlooks on the world (Mahon, 2007; Merryfield, 2000). Accordingly, in this article, we aim to contribute to this developing body of research and scholarship by examining how international field experiences promote cross-cultural awareness in preservice teachers through experiential learning.
This research examines questions that contribute to the field of teacher education and the effort to better prepare future teachers for culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms as early as the preservice level. In this article, we report the findings from a 6-year qualitative study of a short-term study abroad program in Honduras, one that includes an international field experience component designed specifically for preservice teachers. The study is guided by the following questions: (1) How do international field experiences prepare preservice teachers to teach in diverse settings? (2) How does experiential learning in an international context complicate preservice teachers cultural knowledge? (3) What are the pedagogical implications of increased cultural awareness among preservice teachers for classroom practice? (4) How do international field experiences open preservice teachers to future opportunities to explore and work in culturally diverse communities?
For the purposes of this article, we present findings that typify the experiences of preservice teachers who participated in the Honduras study abroad program. More specific, we focus on themes that are representative of preservice teachers developing cross-cultural awareness through experiential learning. In the next section, we describe the Honduras study abroad program to provide a context for our research and to highlight the specific areas of teacher preparation that underwrite the goals for the program.
HONDURAS STUDY ABROAD PROGRAM
The Honduras study abroad program for preservice teachers, initiated in 2003 as a 5-week program, is organized annually by two faculty members in the college of education at a large Midwestern university. Most of the 49 preservice teachers who have participated in the program had little cross-cultural or international travel experience prior to the program. Each of the six trips that are the focus of this study took place between 2003 and 2008, during May and June, over the first and second summer terms, respectively. The focus of the research is on preservice teachers 3-week field placements in two schools (Esperanza Elementary School in Zamorano and Gloria Secondary School in Tegucigalpa),1 the two required courses (EDCI 205, Exploring Teaching as a Career, and EDCI 285, Multicultural Education), and visits to rural and urban schools.
During the field experience, preservice teachers spend the first day exploring classrooms and self-select their placement based on the alignment between classroom activities and their teaching interests. Preservice teachers observe the classroom, assist teachers with lessons, and complete daily written reflections based on a number of topics outlined in the course syllabi: classroom management style, school context, innovative teaching techniques, curriculum organization, and student knowledge, as well as categories they create. In addition to their field experiences, preservice teachers offer lessons in art and health at public urban and rural community schools they visit. On weekends and evenings, preservice teachers travel to various cultural sites, such as the United Nations Park in Tegucigalpa, and the archaeological site displaying the remains of ancient Mayan civilization in Copán.
The program begins with three course meetings on the home campus prior to departure. These meetings focus on travel information, required paperwork, course expectations, documentaries on everyday life in Honduras, and presentations given by participants from the prior year. After arrival in the capital city of Tegucigalpa, for the next 3 weeks, the participants stay at a university guesthouse in Zamorano. As an alternative, some preservice teachers elect to stay with local Spanish-speaking families for 3 days. The two required courses for preservice teachers involve lectures and group exercises; however, the primary emphasis is on discussions that draw out relationships among course readings and assignments, and observing classrooms, assisting teachers, and conducting lessons in the schools. Coursework includes reflective journaling, autobiographical writing, teacher portraits, and critical analyses of pedagogical issues. Each day, there are extensive yet informal discussions of preservice teachers observations and experiences, as well as education-related issues that affect the schools, the surrounding communities, and Honduras.
A BRIEF LITERATURE REVIEW
To situate this study in a broader context, this review focuses on different aspects of teacher preparation for cross-cultural teaching and examines two interrelated bodies of literature: teacher education and study abroad. The first part of the review, taken from teacher education, looks at the relationship between classroom teachers cultural backgrounds and their teaching practices. This is followed by scholarship on how classroom teachers cultural backgrounds shape the knowledge, assumptions, and beliefs that guide their classroom practice. The final part of the review focuses on ways to address the gap between classroom teachers cultural backgrounds and their understanding of culturally diverse students. Teacher education literature suggests that international field experiences that promote cross-cultural awareness should be introduced as early as the preservice level of teacher education. Although some of the study abroad literature is focused on understanding student teachers cross-cultural perceptions and experiences, others take into account more specific contextual experiences of preservice teachers in international settings. The literature review in this article provides a multifaceted rationale for incorporating cross-cultural experiential learning at the preservice level.
Literature on teacher education and study abroad reveals that teachers cross-cultural awareness has two important implications for teacher education programs. The first is that teachers cultural knowledge derived from their lived experiences dominates pedagogical knowledge of the classroom and therefore affects teaching of culturally diverse students. The second is that cross-cultural field experiences offer greater opportunities for teachers, student teachers, and in-service and preservice teachers to question as well as address their lack of cross-cultural awareness. Educational researchers have found that teachers who lack such awareness and sensitivity are unable to view concepts from the perspective of culturally diverse students (Keengwe, 2010; Nuthall, 2005) and are resistant to change when they are not exposed to diverse cultural settings at the preservice level (Gay & Kirkland, 2003).
Research in teacher education also shows that teachers are not always aware of or concerned about the relationship between their cultural knowledge and their teaching practices, nor are they aware that their lack of cross-cultural experiences has serious consequences for the learning needs of culturally diverse students (Asher, 2007; Sleeter, 2008). As noted, knowledge that teachers bring into the classroom is based on a set of beliefs, values, understandings, and assumptions taken from their prior experiences that give continuity and structure to their repertoire of understanding (Shkedi & Nisan, 2006). Accordingly, stepping outside their own cultural boundaries through cross-cultural immersion can alter teachers cultural assumptions about diversity and give preservice teachers deeper insights into the knowledge, skills, and interests of culturally diverse students (Cruz & Patterson, 2005; Valenzuela, 1999).
In contrast to the mentioned studies focused on teacher knowledge and cross-cultural awareness, educational researchers have found that although teachers rely on their own cultural knowledge to inform classroom practices, culturally diverse students relate better to instruction that connects to their background knowledge and prior experiences (Darling-Hammond, 2006; MacPherson, 2010; Nuthall, 2005). Scholarship also indicates that culturally diverse students resist the cultural conventions and expectations of teachers when teaching practices reflect the knowledge and beliefs of dominant or majority groups (Causey, Thomas, & Armento, 2000). When teachers lack cross-cultural perspectives, they are unable to help culturally diverse students integrate new knowledge with prior knowledge, which results in their lack of interest in learning and low academic achievement (Banks, 1995, 2007a; Banks & McGee, 2009; Ladson-Billings, 2007). One way of addressing the gap in teachers cultural awareness is to introduce all future teachers to cultural diversity through local and national cross-cultural field experiences. In addition, teacher educators have begun to recognize that international field experiences hold great potential for improving future teachers cross-cultural awareness (Blair, 2002; Cushner, 2007; Stachowski & Mahon, 1998).
Studies also suggest that student teachers who participated in international cross-cultural experiences reported deeper awareness of their own cultural knowledge (Roberts, 2007; Walters, Garii, & Walters, 2009), formed close cross-cultural friendships (Rios et al., 2007), and gained valuable insight into the connection between concepts from their course work and their teaching (Cushner & Mahon, 2002). Many teacher education programs have responded to calls for internationalization by making it a top priority for student teaching (Dantas, 2007; Mahon, 1990; Merryfield, 2000). Student teachers report that international experiences combined with multicultural coursework enabled them to adopt a multiperspective worldview (Stachowski & Mahon, 1998). More recently, research on international student teaching found that they offer many opportunities for acquiring the knowledge, attitudes, and competencies needed to teach in culturally diverse classrooms (Cushner & Mahon).
Besides student teachers, preservice teachers have also reported positive feedback from their international experiences. Those who engage in international field experiences develop a deeper understanding of the role of culture and language in teaching and learning; recognize that the cultural background of teachers affects student learning (Marx & Moss, 2011; Willard-Holt, 2001); and acquire the ability to work in diverse settings (Pence & Macgillivray, 2008). Preservice teachers also manifest an increased willingness to teach in diverse cultural settings (Cushner, 2007). Although the literature on study abroad provides few frames of reference for how cultural differences such as race, class, and gender affect preservice teachers experiences while abroad, a few studies have examined how such cross-cultural experiences might be infused into on-site curricula (Bigelow & Peterson, 2002; Engle & Engle, 2004; Hadis, 2005; University of Minnesota, 2005). Studies that specifically explore the ways in which race, class, and gender shape the cultural perceptions of preservice teachers during a study abroad program reveal that preservice teachers have a more complex, nuanced understanding of cross-cultural differences as a result of international field experiences (Phillion, Malewski, Sharma, & Wang, 2009; Talburt & Stewart, 1999). Given the push to increase study abroad programs for preservice teachers, many educational researchers call for future studies on how the cultural knowledge of preservice teachers changes after an international field experience (Ingraham & Peterson, 2004; Merryfield, 2000), and ways in which study abroad programs can prepare preservice teachers for culturally responsive teaching (Barkhuizen & Feryok, 2006; Malewski & Phillion, 2009b; Willard-Holt).
This literature review positions research on developing preservice teachers cross-cultural awareness and competencies for culturally responsive teaching through international field experiences. Addressing all levels of teacher education, these studies underscore the cultural gap between White preservice teachers and culturally diverse students and suggest implications for future research. The literature provides evidence that local and international cross-cultural field experiences offer numerous opportunities to preservice teachers for examining and recognizing their cultural beliefs and practices. Little literature, however, examines how international field experiences specifically for preservice teachers promote cross-cultural awareness through experiential learning. Additionally, most of the study abroad literature does not take into account experiential learning as vital to developing cultural knowledge among preservice teachers.
Key to the study that is the focus of this article, in the study abroad literature, cross-cultural experiences refer to participants interactions with diverse cultures, languages, ethnicities, nationalities, and peoples (Quezada, 2005; Rios et al., 2007; Stachowski & Mahon, 1998). Our research goes beyond cross-cultural experience to cross-cultural experiential learning, which we define as a combination of cross-cultural experiences, cross-cultural awareness, and deep self-reflection that engender cultural knowledge. Our research on a study abroad program in Honduras for preservice teachers explores cross-cultural awareness as situated, contextual, generative, and creativean ongoing context-bound process of experiential learning.
The conceptual framework for this study is informed by Bankss (2005, 2007a) notion of cross-cultural understanding as a process of knowledge construction that provides teachers with the required competencies for culturally responsive teaching and reflective practice. He conceptualized a framework to help preservice teachers and teacher educators expand their cross-cultural understanding based on four levels of cultural knowledge: (1) personal knowledge, awareness of ones own cultural beliefs and practices; (2) popular knowledge, awareness of the dominant culture; (3) school knowledge, awareness of institutional decisions such as choice of textbooks; and (4) transformative knowledge, cross-cultural awareness and culturally responsive interaction. We use this theoretical framework to examine preservice teachers experiential learning, cross-cultural awareness, and knowledge formation during their international field experience.
Banks (2006) suggested that identifying and analyzing these forms of knowledge enables preservice teachers to see the process of knowledge construction in terms of various forms of cultural differences, inclusions, and exclusions. For Banks (2001), cross-cultural awareness is a process of questioning dominant concepts, paradigms, theories, and explanations that constitute traditional and established knowledge in the behavioral and social sciences (p. 10). He suggested that because academic and school culture is shaped by the personal knowledge of teachers, preservice teachers should be helped to critically analyze and rethink their notions of race, culture, and ethnicity and view themselves as cultural and racial beings (p. 12) rather than rely on predetermined, scripted teaching practices. Therefore, the first step in developing a critical perspective toward the process of knowledge construction is for preservice teachers to question their own cultural knowledge and its relation to popular and academic knowledge.
Banks (2001) acknowledged the challenges involved in changing preservice teachers cultural beliefs and practices. He attributed these challenges to the institutionalized narratives of U.S. Anglo history and culture that are deeply embedded in the curriculum, in textbooks, and in the popular culture (p. 11), ones that engender resistance to seeing the world from multiple perspectives among White preservice teachers. Further, White preservice teachers knowledge, attitudes, and values can become barriers to teaching culturally diverse students if preservice teachers do not have any awareness of how to use students cultural knowledge as a resource in the classroom. Therefore, the task for teacher educators is to enable preservice teachers to understand, investigate, and determine how the implicit cultural assumptions, frames of reference, perspectives, and biases (p. 10) of their own cultural knowledge shape their teaching practices. Echoing Freire, Banks said that preservice teachers must know the word and the world (p. 9), meaning that teacher educators must help them delve deeper into the limits of their own cultural knowledge and act on it to learn how to teach culturally diverse students. Thus, White preservice teachers who have little or no experience interacting with culturally diverse students would benefit greatly from discussions on the politics of knowledge construction.
To understand how to teach culturally diverse students, Banks (2007a) suggested that White preservice teachers must study how cultural knowledge is constructed; who constructs it and for whom; and the social, political, and economic context in which knowledge is produced. He defined cross-cultural understanding as a process of ongoing knowledge construction that enables White preservice teachers to know themselves, engage with culturally diverse forms of knowledge, and learn how to teach from multiple perspectives without privileging any one form of cultural knowledge over another (Banks, 2007b). This implies that preservice teachers first engage in the process of their own cultural knowing and then move toward cross-cultural knowing through coursework and multiple field experiences in diverse settings, preferably outside the comfort of their own culture.
We respond to Bankss call by engaging preservice teachers in the study of knowledge construction during an international field experience. Bankss framework for helping preservice teachers identify, analyze, and question different forms of knowledge offers a complex understanding of the ongoing process of becoming a cross-cultural teacher, one who is aware of diverse cultures, languages, ethnicities, abilities, and learning styles, as well as his or her own personal/cultural knowledge. By distinguishing different forms of knowledge and the interactions among them, Banks provides a framework for situating our study within the process of knowledge construction and its relation to developing cross-cultural awareness and, therefore, cultural knowledge in preservice teachers.
METHODOLOGY FOR THE STUDY
COLLECTIVE CASE STUDY
The methodology that guides our educational inquiry is collective case study, one that allows us to examine an event as experienced by multiple individuals (Yin, 2009). According to Yin, a collective case study is called for when the study explores how and why questions that investigate a contemporary phenomenon within a natural setting, using multiple cases as a group rather than focusing on one single case. Yin noted that most collective cases comprise five important features: (1) the phenomenon under study is a collection or group of persons, places, events, issues, or problems; (2) the study is conducted in a natural setting or context in which the phenomenon occurs, making phenomenon and context bound together; (3) the inquiry involves in-depth data collection that is content-rich and from multiple sources such as interviews, discussions, documents, direct observation, and researchers field notes; (4) the goal is to replicate findings across cases; and (5) the study delineates differences within and between cases wherever possible to highlight dissimilar results. Keeping these features of a collective case study in mind, our research sought to examine all 49 preservice teachers in the longitudinal study as a collective case, and the collective case was bound directly to the cross-cultural context of international classrooms and community settings. It would not be possible to conduct this study or for us as researchers to develop an in-depth picture of the phenomenon without considering multiple sources of data or the context in which the experiences occurred.
In a collective case study, the findings from data analysis lead to analytical generalizations rather than statistical generalizations; therefore, it is dependent on participant and researcher interpretation of the phenomenon under investigation (Yin, 2009). Yin suggested that one format for a collective case study is to begin with a theoretical framework as a starting point for filtering themes from a large amount of data. The next step is to sort out themes in each case and then present similar themes across cases. In the final reporting, these themes can be used for generalization while the nonexamples or atypical cases might be used to shed light on subtle and nuanced variations. A context-specific approach helps make thematic connections and associations across all participants without sacrificing individual trajectories or atypical cases. The collective case study we present allows us to observe, explore, study, analyze, and interpret participants experiences; make comparisons; and study the interactions, attitudes, assumptions, and beliefs of individuals aimed at locating common themes within and across participants. In our study, we used the collective case of all participants as a unit of analysis to explore and analyze how international field experiences promote cross-cultural awareness in preservice teachers through experiential learning. Although our focus is on identifying themes across participants, we note atypical responses and their implications for our research.
PARTICIPANTS IN THE STUDY
We engaged in research with 49 preservice teachers (see Table 1 for participant details) who participated in the Honduras study abroad program, most of whom were elementary or secondary education majors at the end of the second semester of their undergraduate degree programs. Two thirds of the participants had little experience with international travel. In addition to the two faculty members who directed the program, a Honduran graduate student served as a site coordinator, and a graduate research assistant conducted interviews and collected data on-site; two research assistants who did not travel to Honduras assisted with developing the database and data analysis for this study. Thirty-seven of the preservice teachers identified as female, and the remaining 12 identified as male; all preservice teachers identified as White, with the exception of one biracial White/Asian U.S. American female and one Latino U.S. American male. Five preservice teachers were fluent in Spanish; 6 had a working knowledge of Spanish; and the remainder had to rely on translators or English-speaking members of the host community. All the preservice teachers were traditional college students who ranged between 18 and 21 years in age.
Table 1. Honduras Study Abroad Participant Demography 20032008
a AA = African American; AsA = Asian American; HA = Hispanic American; WA = White American.
COLLECTION OF DATA
A significant aspect of the collective case study is the use of multiple data sources acquired over an extended period, a strategy that enhances data credibility (Yin, 2009). Our data collection occurred from 2003 to 2008. Yin suggested that researchers collect at least six types of data from each participant to provide rich data for comparison and contrast across participants and for the purpose of thematic generalizations that are a key feature of collective case study. We used qualitative methods of data collection, namely, interviews, focus groups and formal classroom and informal discussions. Other data sets, such as preservice teachers course assignments, reflective journals, and researchers observations and field notes, were used for triangulation. The qualitative data were collected over a period of six years and allowed for in-depth examination of preservice teachers cross-cultural awareness and experiences within and across different contexts such as international classroom settings, community settings, and cultural sites in Honduras.
Yin (2009) noted that data in a collective case study are rich when collected at different stages of the research process. Accordingly, we digitally recorded interviews with preservice teachers in three phases. In the first phase, before leaving for Honduras, pretrip interviews were conducted to collect data from preservice teachers about their backgrounds, expectations from their international field placements, perceptions of cultural differences, and knowledge of Honduran culture. The predeparture interview with each preservice teacher was for 1 hour and guided by an interview protocol that included the following questions (see Appendix A for the full interview protocol): What influenced you to choose teaching as a profession? What goals do you have for your future students? Why do you wish to study abroad? What do you think you will see and experience in Honduras? What do you hope to learn in Honduras? What, if any, prior knowledge do you have of Honduran culture?
In the second phase, we conducted on-site 1-hour interviews (see Appendix B) with each preservice teacher to provide information about his or her international field experiences, which included classroom and out-of-classroom experiences. We also held 1-hour on-site focus groups each week (for 3 weeks) with preservice teachers to discuss how they made meaning of Honduras culture, how they perceived the curriculum related to the cultural knowledge of students and teachers, and in what way course readings and field experiences might have challenged or altered their beliefs, goals, and understanding of themselves, diversity, and cross-cultural awareness.
In the third phase, we conducted posttrip interviews (see Appendix C) on returning to the United States in which we asked preservice teachers to reflect on significant experiences studying abroad; the ways they processed cultural knowledge after they returned; and the impact of studying abroad on their worldviews, particularly their attitudes toward working with culturally diverse learners. The pre- and posttrip interviews administered to preservice teachers traced their cultural knowledge and beliefs and attitudes from before they started to after they completed the study abroad program. This enabled us to examine each preservice teachers experiential learning, changes in cross-cultural awareness, and engagement with cultural knowledge.
In addition to interviews, hour-long on-site discussions that took place at daily debriefing sessions were audiotaped. The discussions were unstructured because the aim was to let preservice teachers speak openly about their experiences. Two 1-hour classes were held twice a week as part of the required coursework, and these were also audiotaped. All data were transcribed, filed as hard copies, and entered into an electronic database. Other data sources included artifacts such as preservice teachers course assignments, which included two education projects, daily reflective journals, biweekly reading logs, an educational autobiography, an educational philosophy paper, and a life portrait of one teacher at the school where they conducted their field placement. Stake (2006) noted that meaningful data gathering methods are often observationalboth direct observation and learning from observations of others (p. 4). Accordingly, the accompanying researchers observed each preservice teacher during his or her field placements. These observations were conducted twice for each preservice teacher, for 2 hours each, and were documented with extensive field notes. The observations focused on preservice teachers understanding of the relationship among classroom knowledge, students cultural knowledge, and preservice teachers perceptions of teaching in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms. The researchers field notes also guided the on-site focus group interviews, as well as informal discussions with preservice teachers. Our data collection was in keeping with collective case study methods and consisted of observers descriptions of preservice teachers interactions and experiences in Honduras.
After transcribing audio-recorded data, all the data were organized in a computerized database to facilitate tracking of data sources, ones that included journals, observations, field notes, assignments, and digital audio recordings of interviews and discussions. This process enabled all the researchers who are part of the program to track and retrieve files from the database at a later date. In addition, data sources, times and dates of data collection, storage maps, coding processes, stages of analysis, findings, institutional review board reports, and names of persons who had access were stored in the database. Multiple data sources provided rich description for mapping themes that emerged from the study. It also enabled further insight into the significance attached to specific events across preservice teachers, the ways in which preservice teachers made meaning of their experiences in an international context, and atypical responses used to highlight subtle variations in the data.
ANALYSIS OF DATA
In this collective case study, the data collection and analysis was an ongoing and emerging process. Yin (2009) described six steps for analysis: (1) searching for themes and patterns, (2) linking of data to propositions made in the literature review, (3) deductions from theoretical framework, (4) inductive explanation and interpretation building, (5) cross-participant synthesizing for generalizations, and (6) identifying atypical cases. We followed these steps from the initial search for themes and patterns to the final step of identifying atypical cases. In the first step, we categorized, tabled, and sorted interviews, assignments, journal reflections, and field notes to look for common themes and patterns across participants. In the next step of analysis, we systematically coded the data for themes and concepts that reflected propositions from the literature review focused on preservice teachers cross-cultural field placements.
Following Yins (2009) third step of analysis, wherever possible, we used the deductive process to search for themes and patterns guided by Bankss (2007a) theoretical framework of cross-cultural awareness as a process of cultural knowledge formation. In our deductive analysis, we looked for taken-for-granted assumptions regarding teaching culturally diverse students, the cultural knowledge implicit in preservice teachers understanding of diversity, and their perceptions of themselves as future teachers. We also looked for transformative changes in the way preservice teachers viewed and articulated cross-cultural awareness over the course of their international field experience as expressed in their reflective journals, interviews, and discussions. We then reexamined pretrip, on-site, and posttrip interviews to synthesize across contexts how preservice teachers perceived changes in their cross-cultural awareness, the challenges they encountered, and how they negotiated these challenges.
During analysis, the findings from data collected from preservice teachers interviews and discussions were triangulated with researchers observation notes, and preservice teachers course assignments and journal reflections. All 6 researchers coded the data and continued to intercode throughout the analysis to maintain reliability and internal validity through a continuous process of coanalysis (Merriam, 2009). For example, the researchers assigned codes to participants negotiation of language barriers, the links they made between language and culture, how instruction in particular subject matter was mediated by cultural knowledge of students and teachers, and reflection on how their prior knowledge of different cultures change when immersed in another culture. Keeping the common themes and patterns, the researchers compared coding across different sources and types of data.
Once the coding was completed, we followed Stakes (1995) suggestion for conducting a member-check with 17 of the preservice teachers to further verify the researchers interpretations of the data. This gave participants the opportunity to clarify or make additional contributions to further validate or invalidate the findings. In the next step of the data analysis, two of the researchers double-coded each set of data, a process of revisiting the data to make comparisons between the initial and the final coding (Yin, 2009). During this stage of the data analysis, six interrelated themes emerged (see Table 2.1). The six themes illustrate that preservice teachers were becoming increasingly aware of (1) language as central to understanding culture, (2) cross-cultural communication as understanding another culture as well as ones own cultural knowledge, (3) how economic realities such as privilege and deprivation shape educational opportunities and classroom experiences, (4) the ways in which cultural knowledge influences pedagogical knowledge and classroom instruction, (5) the role of study abroad in expanding preservice teachers worldviews and their perceptions of diversity, and (6) how negotiating another culture promotes self-reflection as well as critique of ones own cultural beliefs and assumptions.
Figure 1. Flow chart for data analysis
In the next section of this article, we focus on the overarching themes that were consistent throughout the data, across participants, and in multiple contexts. Although the manner in which these themes were discussed differed from participant to participant, the responses were similar in intent, content, or interpretation. For example, all 49 preservice teachers spoke about how their school placement was the highlight of their study abroad experience and offered many opportunities for cross-cultural engagement. In addition, they spoke about how instruction goes hand-in-hand with cultural knowledge of teachers and students and how cross-cultural interactions sparked reflection on their own cultural knowledge, assumptions, and perceptions about other cultures. The analysis of the data at this stage, taken from multiple sources, suggests that these views were representative of the collective group of preservice teachers. Multiple sources of evidence in Table 2.1 illustrate the common themes across the data that form the basis of this article.
Table 2.1. Evidence of Common Themes Across Participants With Corresponding Transcripts
In addition to the common themes and patterns articulated in our analysis, the data also revealed important differences in preservice teachers responses to their international field experience in Honduras. We acknowledge that these atypical responses demonstrate that several factors mediated preservice teachers experiential learning, especially in relation to the anxiety arising from being away from home; a lack of understanding of diversity issues and multicultural education; and negotiating a foreign language, unfamiliar culture, and home stays with local families. We recognize that the atypical variations have implications for preservice teachers experiential learning and their future practice as teachers. While this collective case study does not focus on the atypical findings, we have identified these variations in Table 2.2.
Table 2.2. Evidence of Atypical Data Among Participant Responses With Corresponding Transcripts
As Table 2.1 illustrates, this stage of the data analysis yielded six interrelated themes. We revisited the data pertaining to the six themes and found that field placement was critical to preparing preservice teachers for teaching in diverse settings. Therefore, we combined the six themes to create three vignettes with a focus on preservice teachers experiential learning in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms and their perceptions of what knowledge is considered important to teaching and learning. In the following section, we present and discuss each of these vignettes, separately, followed by a discussion on the implications of our findings for teacher education.
THREE VIGNETTES: FROM PERSONAL/ CULTURAL AND SCHOOL KNOWLEDGE TO EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING
In the previous sections of this article, we offered a rationale for the study through a literature review, outlined the theoretical framework, and set forth the methodology that guided our research. In this section of the article, we present our collective case study through three vignettes from preservice teachers discussions of their experiences in English, social studies, and science classrooms. We introduce each vignette, followed by a detailed analysis of the subthemes that constitute each vignette. Banks (2007a) saw classroom teaching and learning as a civic education project (p. 5) beginning with preservice teachers examining their own lives, cultures, and positionality (p. 54), self-study that will influence their teaching and, therefore, student learning. Our analysis is underwritten by the assumption that teachers can become social critics and reflective agents of change (p. 253) if they learn to recognize how the implicit rules of their own culture shape classroom teaching.
VIGNETTE ONE: WHY CANT ENGLISH BE TRANSLATED DIRECTLY INTO SPANISH?
The context of Vignette One is an ELL classroom comprising 5 students and a teacher in Gloria Secondary School. As part of their field experience, 2 preservice teachers, Anne and Gina, elected to observe the teaching of English in a seventh-grade classroom. The English teacher informed the preservice teachers that the class actively used Spanish as an aid to second-language learning. In this vignette, we present an excerpt from a discussion on the difficulties that preservice teachers faced communicating in Spanish with Honduran students. In light of their limited knowledge of Spanish, most preservice teachers began to understand the cultural underpinnings of language use in the classroom. In the process, they also recognized the importance of Bankss (2006) suggestion that teachers need to question their own personal and cultural knowledge embedded in language and its relation to classroom practice.
Anne: I was nervous, as I did not know any Spanish. I was listening to what the teacher was saying, taking my cue from her, but all the students were so quick that I fell behind.
Gina: In my classroom, I kept using the electronic translator I had brought to help me. I thought I was doing really well until I addressed the principal with tú and the students began to laugh. I asked the students why they were laughing and the teacher said normally you address the principal with usted. Then we all laughed but I guess I have to learn a whole bunch of other stuff besides the words and phrases. I kept thinking, why cant English be translated directly into Spanish. There are these cultural differences that make it difficult.
Anne: Exactly! Now I am beginning to understand this whole thing about first and second language.
Gina: Later I felt better as I noticed the two students sitting next to me in the English class were making the same kind of mistakes in English that I was making in Spanish.
Anne: The most frustrating thing for me about this experience is the language barrier. It was frustrating especially as I was supposed to disperse classroom materials like crayons, glue, and construction paper to make visual charts, but some groups did not have anything because of a lack of communication. It is not easy but I am still hoping my Spanish improves here.
Gina: You know, I tried to speak to the students in Spanish but they did not respond. I am not sure why. I didnt know if I was using incorrect Spanish or if they were shy. Or, if I was self-conscious with Spanish and I just sounded really bad. It really makes you think. You know what I realized, when I compare Honduras to the United States, it is a sad society we live in as we view other people as incompetent because they are poor or dont know English. Now I know what it feels like not to know the common language.
As Anne and Gina reflected, teaching any language involves skills that will enable students to be sensitive to the politics of language, become discriminating learners, and be able to interpret what they learn. Gina spoke of a cross-cultural language pedagogy that not only enables fluency in the spoken and written word but also provides students with the ability to navigate through relationships between speakers. Anne and Gina learned that direct translation does not lead to an understanding of the same idea, value, and belief across languages (Anzaldúa, 1987). That is, they learned that explicit knowledge is easily conveyed, but unspoken cultural knowledge implicit in any language encompasses a deeper understanding of heterogeneity and differences among relationships (Banks, 2006). As Banks (2007) noted, how teachers and students use language in the class derives from personal experience in their homes, families, and community cultures (p. 55). For example, Anne learned that the contextual use of tú and usted conveys power differentials between people. She realized that an electronic pocket translator goes only so far and that words or expressions conjure up different meanings when used by persons from another culture. Anne discovered that the values and practices implicit in language call for an acknowledgement of and a deep engagement with the unspoken elements of cultural knowledge. This finding was corroborated by many other preservice teachers who claimed that going outside the safety of ones own cultural boundaries is fraught with struggle, tension, conflict (Banks, 2007a, p. 4) but is also a necessary process of learning how to teach culturally diverse students.
Other preservice teachers agreed with Anne and Gina that when language is culturally specific, cross-cultural differences can create numerous challenges to a language learner (Valencia, 2002). Mastering accent, pronunciation, grammar, syntax, and the conventions of language, and, most of all, understanding the hidden assumptions embedded in the language are skills that most teachers presume students possess, whereas non-English-speaking students must simultaneously learn, interpret, and use. Further, many preservice teachers experienced that when language of the classroom reflects the cultural thought process of the teacher, the extent to which students understand or misunderstand the teacher can affect overall academic performance (Nieto & Bode, 2008; Sleeter, 2008). In their journals and discussions, preservice teachers pointed out that, similar to Spanish, English as a language is bound by cultural assumptions, values, and a repertoire of common understandings that become obstacles for foreign language learners. Hence, the assumptions implied in any word or expression required an understanding of cultural knowledge, not an electronic pocket translator.
Awareness of the ways in which cultural assumptions are insinuated within language allowed preservice teachers to question the patterns inherent in their own cultural knowledge and made them cognizant of the challenges students faced when learning a new language. Additionally, cross-cultural awareness, as Bankss framework suggests, is about recognizing that cultural stereotypes do not constitute non-White cultures and people, as well as interrogating why such stereotypes were created in the first place and by whom. For example, when placed at a disadvantage in a Spanish classroom, Gina is prompted to think about the assumptions and biases in her attitude toward students who are poor or dont know English. Accordingly, Gina reports that she has a more positive image of bilingual students who, according to her, might introduce creative elements into the classroom through the play of culture and language, ones that teachers can use as a learning resource to improve student achievement. Similarly, other preservice teachers stated that they felt empowered by the growing awareness of the role of hidden assumptions embedded in the language and the need for classroom teachers to question their own cultural assumptions and attitudes.
Anne and Gina learned that language teachers must understand learning patterns of students culturally different from the teacher; any gap in the teachers understanding of student learning can negatively affect aptitude, motivation, and ability to learn in a language class. Importantly, to foster a positive attitude among language learners, many of the preservice teachers besides Anne and Gina began to recognize the correlation between language learning and cross-cultural understanding; immersion in Honduran culture opened new ways of reading students cultural knowledge in light of their own cultural backgrounds. During informal discussions and in their reflective journals, many preservice teachers reported that an international field experience gave them valuable insight into the relationship between students language and culture, and the implications of that relationship for cross-cultural teaching and learning.
The first vignette represents three aspects significant to preservice teachers understanding of culturally diverse students in a language classroom. The first is the realization that in enacting any language arts curriculum, meaning is a cultural process and therefore can be lost in translation. Hence, what preservice teachers say or imply when teaching specific skills or concepts is not necessarily what culturally diverse students understand, and vice versa. The second is that White teachers might benefit from examining their cultural limitations and the challenges that such limits place on understanding how diverse students learn in a language classroom. The third is that preservice teachers begin to view differently the wealth of students cultural knowledge and the importance of building upon students cultural ways of knowing as a part of the teaching process.
VIGNETTE TWO: HOW COME U.S. HISTORY IS MORE IMPORTANT TO THEM THAN HONDURAS HISTORY?
In the context of teaching social studies, Banks (2007a, 2006) argued that an effective citizenship education is possible when teachers are able to shift their lens from the textbook or school knowledge to the connection between school knowledge and teachers cultural knowledge. Further, when prospective teachers cultivate a global perspective for multicultural teaching of social studies, they will understand the connection among diversity, globalization, and democratic education (Banks, 2007b). However, what is missing in much of the teacher education and study abroad literatures is an exploration of the relationship between effective teaching of history and social sciencecurriculum and instructional practice grounded in students cultural knowledge (Rios et al., 2007; Sahin, 2008). We explore this gap through the second vignette, taken from a discussion that occurred after two preservice teachers, Shawna and Stacy, participated in an eighth-grade history class in Gloria Secondary School. Although the excerpt is taken from a particular conversation, our discussion is reflective of the positive response of the other preservice teachers in recognizing the link between subject content and students cultural knowledge.
Shawna: Today Stacy and I were supposed to teach a history lesson on the United States and the World Wars to eighth-grade students. The teacher gave us the topic and I thought it was because we are U.S. Americans. But then I realized that they use the same social studies textbook that I studied in eighth grade.
Stacy: You mean U.S. history and things from the same textbook?
Shawna: Yes, and we told the teacher we can teach Honduras history and it will be a new experience but she said United States history is very important for their economy. I thought but I didnt ask, how come U.S. history is more important to them than Honduras history?
Stacy: Anyway, Shawna went on teaching her lesson about the world wars but when she started asking questions the students didnt really get what she was saying about the Germans in Russia. So we had to explain everything to them, from the Russian weather, boots, and coats to other things, things we take for granted.
Shawna: It was tough to transition to another lesson because after that, when we came to Pearl Harbor, the students were still thinking about the Russian winter! I was not sure what the students knew and what I needed to explain but it was interesting because they asked a lot of questions about the United States. They were teaching us how to teach them.
Stacy: But later I was thinking about our own class discussion and realized how closely the economy of Honduras is linked to the United States. I realized we might be the cause of their sweatshops and children working instead of going to school. Now I am confused. I dont know if we are helping them or making things like the environment and heath worse for them.
Shawna: Thats what I thought about when we went to Copán to see Mayan ruins. I never thought they had such a rich history. I would never have thought seeing the poor kids and the shacks you see on the hills when you come from the airport that Honduran people have such an amazing past.
Stacy: We are always talking about Honduras like it is poor and dirty but really there is so much more we need to see and learn. I think now I can see more similarities and maybe contradictions in their culture too. Its all becoming more complex.
In this vignette, Shawna and Stacy speak of the importance of U.S. history in some Honduras classrooms and illustrate the privileged position of the United States in textbooks and the curriculum in many Honduras schools. Participating in the history class, Shawna and Stacy were surprised at the extent to which the students and the teacher reinforced, rather than resisted, the dominant position of U.S. history within the Honduran school curriculum. In the history class, Shawna and Tracy were confronted with the power differential between the U.S. and Honduras and how textbooks operate as a device for ensuring U.S. domination of social and educational structures, one that maintains oppression through economic dependence. Rather than becoming defensive, after encountering the ways in which other countries like Honduras are affected by the decisions of the United States, Shawna and Tracy showed a greater understanding of power dynamics enacted in a history classroom. As Banks (2007a) noted, it is not enough for prospective teachers to challenge their own cultural knowledge. Rather, when prospective teachers challenge mainstream academic knowledge, concepts, paradigms, themes, and explanations (p. 55), they are a step closer to becoming global educators of diverse student populations. Therefore, it is significant that Shawna and Stacy saw the history lesson as a cultural, as well as political, act.
When Shawna and Tracy recounted their experience to the other preservice teachers, the ensuing discussion among the group revealed that some of the other preservice teachers had encountered similar experiences in their international field placement classrooms, prompting them to take into account the connection between subject content and students cultural knowledge. Many of them admitted that at the beginning of the study abroad program, they had given little or no thought to the place of cultural knowledge in the teaching and learning process. As the preservice teachers reflected on their own learning that was taking place while observing instructional practices in the classroom, they acknowledged their growing awareness of the constructed nature of history, or any other subject that goes beyond the textbook to global power relations among nations.
At this point, it did not matter what the actual lesson plan of the classroom looked likea printed lesson, a documentary, popular film, or even role-playing; many of the preservice teachers came to understand not only the role of the lesson in presenting content knowledge of history, or whose history is represented in history textbooks, but also the mediated role of cultural knowledge defined by students and teachers historical perspectives and positions. Furthermore, along with Shawna and Stacy, most of the preservice teachers learned that students and teachers perspectives on Honduras reflected the larger context of global politics that plays out in classrooms and between teachers and students. Many of the preservice teachers agreed with Shawna and Stacy that history is a living process of cultural knowledge formation linked to current social, economic, and political events (Banks, 2006). Over the course of their field placements, it became evident to most preservice teachers that interpretation of historical events is an ongoing process that takes place in light of contemporary world relationships.
This cultural awareness of a historical-political experience (Rios et al., 2007) in curriculum underscored, for many preservice teachers, their role in the telling of history. For example, Shawna and Stacy realized that they had made many assumptions about students prior knowledge. They had assumed that students had knowledge of Russian weather and the extent to which snow and ice hamper mobility, even survival. Severe winter weather conditions were not a part of Honduran daily life and therefore not a part of students background knowledge or experience. Realizing this, Stacy explained to students the hardships of maneuvering in knee-deep snow, and yet when she moved onto discussing U.S. involvement in World War II and asked why the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, students replied that it was because there was too much snow.
Although Shawna and Stacy assumed the previous discussion in the history class had no bearing on the present one, and they had successfully transitioned to the next lesson, students experienced wide gaps in their learning because the textbook knowledge they were being taught was considerably different from the cultural knowledge they brought into the classroom. In subsequent discussions, some of the preservice teachers admitted that they had not sufficiently understood and, at times, even misunderstood the relationships among subject content, students cultural knowledge, teachers assumptions, and pedagogical practices. Preservice teachers recognized that such misunderstandings can occur in spite of students being familiar with English because of a lack of any historical knowledge or background information on any given topic. For example, when Stacy asked students the next day what the prior days lesson was about, students responded with snow and winter, indicating that students can misunderstand concepts being taught in spite of knowing the language if they do not have the background knowledge to support those concepts.
When teachers wrongly assume that students have factual or conceptual knowledge of historical events, this assumption of shared knowledge can seriously affect students and teachers understanding of the goals and processes of teaching. Student failure is often the result of teachers inability to understand the background knowledge of students or their lack of sociocultural understanding of different attitudes and beliefs (Banks, 2007b). Listening to students responses inside the history class, on the one hand, and witnessing the grand testimony of Mayan civilization outside the classroom, on the other, introduced an entirely new historical and social perspective of Honduran culture hitherto absent in preservice teachers cultural knowledge. Shawna and Stacy were convinced about the privileged position of U.S. American culture after their history lesson but were confused when they witnessed the grandeur of the Mayan archaeological site at Copán. Numerous comments from the other preservice teachers demonstrated that they were also grappling with this contradiction as they attempted to make sense of the underlying tensions that arise from oppositional meanings and values invested in U.S. American culture and Honduran culture. Although such tensions crystallized over particular issues and contexts, preservice teachers comments revealed their growing sense of cross-cultural awareness and engagement with different forms of cultural knowledge.
The paradoxes of cross-cultural international teaching reveals the complex issue of the power dynamics between those who are historically dominant and those who have been and/or continue to be dominated. Most of the preservice teachers discovered that mediating such paradoxes required a flexibility, open-mindedness, and willingness to understand that similarities, contradictions, and paradoxes can be a challenge to cross-cultural teaching. As preservice teachers recognized, the challenge is beyond opening up to the cultural knowledge of students from diverse ethnicities and races. Rather, the challenge is to be able to reflect on ones own cultural knowledge as one encounters the cultural knowledge and rich experiences of students from another culture. The challenge is also to be able to question school knowledgefacts, concepts, generalizations, and interpretations (Banks, 2007a, p. 55)canonized in textbooks and accepted unquestioningly by many current and prospective teachers.
In on-site focus interviews, most preservice teachers agreed that it is not appropriate to comment on the poverty and poor hygiene they witnessed in Honduras without questioning the role of wealthier nations in the economic, social, and political decisions that affect the livelihoods and lifestyles of people around the world. Reflecting on connections between the economic conditions of the rich and poor nations, preservice teachers challenged the historical myths (Banks, 2007a, p. 4) of school knowledge to explore the reality of dominant depletions of natural resources in Honduras, the export of cheap labor, deforestationall elements that compound povertyand the role of U.S. business interests in Honduras. The challenges of teaching history in a culturally diverse classroom offered preservice teachers opportunities for self-reflection, questioning prejudices and thinking of alternative ways to frame the teaching of history through international cross-cultural understandings. Further, the context of studying abroad provided preservice teachers with the social distance to analyze and critique their assumptions about what the United States is or is not without becoming defensive about their nationality or culture.
Experiential learning in a social studies classroom reveals that the potential of international field experiences for developing cross-cultural awareness and competencies is invaluable for a number of reasons. First, preservice teachers realized that teachers assume that students have knowledge of historical events; this is an assumption of shared knowledge that can seriously affect students and teachers understanding of the goals and processes of teaching. Second, teachers lack of background knowledge of students or their lack of sociocultural understanding of students beliefs with regard to historical events can be detrimental to students learning. Third, preservice teachers recognized that their attitudes and beliefs about the teaching of history changed with international field experiences, making them self-reflective and sensitive to students cross-cultural knowledge and value systems.
VIGNETTE THREE: I ALWAYS THOUGHT CONCEPTS IN SCIENCE SHOULD BE NEUTRAL
In this third vignette, two preservice teachers, Lacy and Alyssa, consider the politics of cultural knowledge critical to understanding the educational experiences of diverse students in a science classroom. We use the experiences of Lacy and Alyssa to illustrate the process by which many preservice teachers began to understand the relationship between the cultural knowledge of students and the teaching of specific subject content. The context of this vignette is a sixth-grade classroom at the Esperanza Elementary School, where they observed the teacher, Jack, conducting an integrated science lesson. According to the two preservice teachers, Jack demonstrated a unique style of teaching that did not involve textbooks, building directly upon students knowledge and experiences. Lacy and Alyssa learned from observing Jacks lesson on the reproductive system that sensitivity to sex and gender are an essential component of inclusive and collaborative teaching. The class is a reminder to preservice teachers of how race and gender interact to influence knowledge construction (Banks, 2006, p. 134), issues often ignored in the classroom when in fact race and gender issues are integral to the teaching and learning process.
Lacy: I was expecting students to be poor and ill informed compared to U.S. American schools.
Alyssa: I know, I thought we would have to explain each and every thing many times to them, as they would not know English. Wow, were we wrong.
Lacy: The next day I started being a little stressed because Jack [the teacher] said the class was scheduled to study the reproductive system. I was wondering how that would play out and hoping I would not have to say anything.
Alyssa: But did you notice how none of the students were embarrassed? That wouldnt happen in the U.S.
Lacy: I always thought concepts in science should be neutral. But I loved the way he [Jack] divided the class into two groups, girls and boys, and the boys met with a male teacher and the girls met with a female teacher. After discussing particulars about the reproductive system, sex, and gender, the class regrouped to discuss the reproductive system and concepts linked to it. He [Jack] didnt say a word, and just let students explain everything, draw the diagrams, and answer all the questions. He let the students make meaning of the ideas so that they were their own.
Alyssa: I was impressed with the students and the way they understood new concepts in relation to what they already knew or experienced. When we studied the same topic when I was a high school student in the U.S., I remember the biology teacher used models, charts, films, and the textbook to teach us and we were very uncomfortable. But all Jack did was use students as a resource and relate the concepts to what they already knew. Then there was no need for regular resources! And the students were so calm. I thought they would struggle with the reproductive system or explaining it in English in front of us but they really didnt.
Lacy: I wonder if as a country we are very conservative about the human body. I am thinking about how the United States is completely anti-body compared to Honduras.
Alyssa: It must be a cultural thing, and if it is, is one cultural viewpoint more right than the other?
Lacy: No, its just that here the students are calm and not embarrassed and we were not expecting that when we learned the topic of the lesson for the day. And here students ask questions so directly.
Alyssa: But I also noticed some contradictory things like even when students are so open-minded, the girls and boys sit separately in class, which seems sort of traditional. So I never know what to expect.
Lacy and Alyssas experience of observing a Honduras science classroom in action was representative of how many of the preservice teachers were challenged to confront their views on the teaching of specific subjects to diverse learners. Lacy and Alyssa reflected on how their cultural knowledge contained biases and assumptions that shaped their expectations of a science class, the teaching of science, and the way culturally diverse students learn. They discovered that to engage in teaching the reproduction system to sixth-grade students, they first needed to confront their own beliefs and assumptions about teaching science in general, and teaching science to culturally diverse students in particular. Both preservice teachers had assumed that this would be a sensitive topic and that Honduran students would have the same attitude toward the subject as U.S. American students. In recorded discussions, the other preservice teachers agreed that they were beginning to understand and experience how a teachers cultural knowledgeattitudes, beliefs, and viewpointscan shift so that cultural knowledge of the teacher does not become a barrier to student learning. Lacy and Alyssa realized that the science teacher in the Honduras classroom did not have the same inhibitions that they did and had adapted the teaching of science to make the class a comfortable and safe place for open discussions on a topic by building upon students cultural knowledge.
Interestingly, Lacy and Alyssa noticed that the science teacher did not use a textbook, but let students create an integrated science curriculum out of their lived experiences. In fact, the teacher encouraged students to journal after each class so that reflection became a part of the process of learning. Lacy and Alyssa observed that the key to teaching a science curriculum is pedagogy that is contextualized and sensitive to diverse learners. As Jacks lesson demonstrates, students can design the curriculum according to their interests and cultural needs without sacrificing the objectives of a science lesson. Accordingly, Lacy and Alyssa learned that scientific inquiry is not simply neutral but requires awareness of how knowledge is produced without discrete lines between, for example, objective science and subjective journaling, and sensitive to both content and the cultural contexts of all students.
Similar to Lacys and Alyssas experiences of Jacks classroom, the other preservice teachers experienced cross-cultural teaching and learning as a process of negotiating shifting dynamics of power over what cultural knowledge counts in classrooms and content-based curriculum. First, observing and participating in the science lesson, preservice teachers discover that science is more than content knowledgecultural knowledge is embedded in the way science is taught. Second, preservice teachers became aware of the ways in which their cultural knowledge and assumptions about diversity enable or inhibit the teaching and learning of science and were able to challenge their assumptions. Third, preservice teachers learned the implication of collaborative knowledge construction for transformative teaching practices. During their field experience in Honduras, all 49 preservice teachers at one time or another remarked on becoming aware of the value of cultural knowledge, not just in terms of what to teach, but also in terms of how the process of teaching takes place. Preservice teachers began to value instructional practices that accounted for differences in diverse cultural knowledge in the classroom without privileging any one culture as the basis for a particular curriculum or lesson plan.
One of the aims of international field experiences focused on cross-cultural awareness is to bring about changes in the cultural knowledge of preservice teachers. These field experiences give preservice teachers the opportunity to explore different forms of cultural knowledge and examine texts and ideas outside their own comfort zones. Teaching of science or any other subject involves understanding knowledge of a culture, not as a static body of truth or fact, but rather as a dynamic construction bound within the social, political, economic, historical, and geographicalall dimensions with cultural influences and implications (Banks, 2006). Thus, any subject content is not a fixed capital transmitted through a text, lesson plan, film, or class activity, nor can it be measured solely through quantitative tests or analysis. As our research shows, preservice teachers experienced teaching curriculum concepts in the classroom as contextual and mediated by collaborative, cross-cultural knowledge, open to multiple worldviews and experiences.
Together, the themes in Table 2.1, atypical responses in Table 2.2, and three vignettes are illustrative of experiential learning in an international setting as key to developing preservice teachers cross-cultural awareness. As our findings indicate, cross-cultural awareness involves preservice teachers in the process of knowledge formation as they challenge and are challengedas they negotiate, interpret, and actively participate in the process of becoming culturally sensitive. Many preservice teachers who participated in the study abroad program had come to Honduras with little cross-cultural experience, only a few had knowledge of Spanish, and most had given little thought to the role of cultural knowledge in the classroom. Preservice teachers admitted that although they expected cross-cultural differences and anticipated language barriers, they were unaware, prior to the program, of how cultural knowledge might play out between U.S. American White teachers and diverse, non-White students in the teaching and learning process.
Throughout their participation in the study abroad program, preservice teachers acknowledged that their international field experiences in Honduras had given them a deeper understanding of the role of cultural knowledge in becoming culturally responsive educators. They learned that developing effective English language, social studies, and science curricula involved knowing how cultural knowledge works in the classroom, how it is constructed, how it serves as a form of interactive pedagogy, and how it relates to issues outside the classroom. Reflecting that a culturally responsive teacher interprets cultural codes and conventions, challenges assumptions, and rejects stereotypes and myths, preservice teachers were able to construct cross-cultural knowledge as well as critique it.
Cultural knowledge is a site on which diverse students struggle for inclusion and to shift the margins of what knowledge is of most worth. As it is used in the classroom, cultural knowledge is about creating meaning. An analysis of this process would be guessing at meanings, assessing the guesses, and drawing explanatory conclusions from the better guesses (Geertz, 1973, p. 20). Studying cultural knowledge as the construction of meaning in particular context and making meaning of it is an ongoing process; it remains intrinsically incomplete (p. 29). As seen from the language arts, social studies, and science classrooms that are the focus of this article, cross-cultural awareness aims at developing multiple perspectives, beginning with challenging ones own cultural knowledge.
When preservice teachers see academic knowledge as a construct, they are able to challenge the omissions, biases, and inclusions that shape their cultural understandings. Challenging their own cultural knowledgeassumptions, values, beliefs, and attitudesenables different forms of reflective cross-cultural understanding. However, in the first few days of the study abroad program, preservice teachers admitted they had trivialized approaches to diversity (characterized by a focus on food, fashion and folklore) (Rios et al., 2007, p. 1) and looked for superficial similarities or stereotypical images of third world poverty. As preservice teachers read course materials, interacted cross-culturally, and engaged in daily reflections on the days events, they explored and analyzed the role of cultural knowledge in shaping their worldviews. These explorations and analyses complicated and contextualized their understandings of cultural diversity.
With regard to social studies teaching, preservice teachers altered their preconceived notions of teaching history. They shifted their understanding from seeing the teachers role as imparting textbook knowledge to facilitating cross-cultural construction of history and its relationship to current global and race relationships of power. They also learned the importance of building social studies pedagogy from students prior knowledge so that students make connections that enable successful comprehension of the curricula. Otherwise, teaching students from diverse cultural backgrounds, particularly ones that are different from their teachers, can create misunderstandings in the classroom on numerous curricula and pedagogical issues. Making cultural knowledge an important dimension of cross-cultural awareness can inform and guide preservice teachers to think and respond to students learning needs in implementing and formulating their curricula. Similarly, in the science class, preservice teachers challenged the objectivity of a science lesson, discovering that sensitivity to cultural knowledge of diverse students is an ongoing process enacted across disciplinesin language learning, social studies, and even the teaching and learning of science.
It is clear from this research that the goal of improving cross-cultural awareness in preservice teachers through international field experiences involves active engagement with content knowledge and cultural knowledge. Application of cross-cultural concepts during international field experiences provided preservice teachers with theoretical understandings and practical applications for teaching culturally diverse students. This implies collaboration, flexibility, and openness to meet the various challenges of cross-cultural teaching. Thus, a step toward understanding the importance of the cultural background and experiences of diverse students is for preservice teachers to study the formation of their own cultural knowledge, learn from diverse cultures, and understand the relationship between the two.
This collective case study provides strong evidence that international field experiences have the potential for better preparing future teachers to teach culturally and linguistically diverse students. However, we also recognize that it is necessary to acknowledge the limitations of the study. First, the findings are limited to the 49 preservice teachers who participated in the Honduras study abroad program, one comprising two teacher education courses and an international field placement. Hence, questions about what cross-cultural awareness might look like in different contexts, in different kinds of teacher education programs, and with a different set of preservice teachers remain for further study. Second, research suggests that long-term study abroad programs might be the preferred answer to maximizing the benefits of study abroad for preservice teachers by offering extended opportunities for cross-cultural interaction. Third, the long-term effects of study abroad on teacher education students or how it impacts curriculum integration and pedagogical practice once participants in study abroad programs become full-time classroom teachers remain to be researched and examined in more detail.
Fourth, the present study identifies specific themes that are representative of the collective case and does not examine the significance of atypical cases. We recognize that the dynamics of individual variation during international field placements between and among preservice teachers add a necessary dimension to understanding how to prepare future teachers for teaching in diverse classrooms. We take up this issue of atypical cases in greater detail in other publications (Malewski & Phillion, 2009a). Finally, our research is a 6-year collective case study that examines how international field experiences promote cross-cultural awareness in preservice teachers through experiential learning. Therefore, we focused our study on preservice teachers experiences while they were in Honduras. The teacher education and study abroad literature will benefit from investigations into how preservice teachers transfer what they learned from one context to another or how learning from international field experiences at the preservice level translates into cross-cultural awareness when preservice teachers actually teach culturally and linguistically diverse students after graduation and certification, as classroom teachers.
IMPLICATIONS AND CONCLUSIONS
In this article, we have drawn from the experiences of 49 preservice teachers to explore how an international field experience promotes cross-cultural awareness through experiential learning. Preservice teachers discussions and our interpretations are not meant to be blueprints for teacher education. Rather, we attempted to illustrate particular themes that have implications for teacher education. Teacher education programs have developed many innovative approaches to preparing preservice teachers for teaching culturally diverse students. However, most programs have only recently begun to recognize the importance of study abroad in providing preservice teachers with opportunities for experiential engagement with different forms of students and teachers cultural knowledge, ones mediated in an international context. The existing body of research on preparing future teachers for culturally diverse classrooms and literature on study abroad in teacher education provide few guides on how experiential learning in an international context promotes cross-cultural awareness, particularly at the preservice level. Likewise, the body of literature in both areas does not explore the opportunities for facilitating preservice teachers cross-cultural awareness through engagement with cultural knowledge. Therefore, the findings discussed in this article advance the field of teacher education, particularly how experiential learning in an international context enhances cross-cultural awareness in preservice teachers. Although this collective case study is limited to a Honduras study abroad program, we feel that significant conclusions can be drawn.
First, we believe that international settings are ideal for developing cross-cultural awareness because they conceivably give preservice teachers many opportunities to challenge their preconceived notions about cultural diversity and to develop cultural knowledge that is essential to the process of becoming an effective teacher. Our research demonstrates that teachers bring their beliefs, values, attitudes, influences, and assumptions into the classroom, which has a direct impact on their teaching and, therefore, students learning. The challenge for preservice teachers is how to examine their cultural practices, ones that form the categories of oppression, while teaching meaningfully across differences of race, class, gender, and nationhood. Recognizing and respecting cultural differences is a step toward including all students in the process of transforming school knowledge.
Second, living and learning in another linguistic and cross-cultural context allowed preservice teachers to confront and question conventional teaching practices and school knowledge. Future teachers must understand that what is considered the norm in U.S. American classrooms is not a universal given; that behaviors, attitudes, and responses are culturally formed and differ according to religion, culture, region, group, nationality, society, gender, race, and ethnicity; and that teaching takes place within many changing permutations and combinationsnecessary knowledge for teaching in an interconnected and changing world. Imposing dominant cultural norms can affect students adversely or have detrimental consequences for students who do not fall within prevalent standards and expectations. Therefore, it is important for preservice teachers to recognize students backgrounds, histories, interests, influences, and identitiescultural knowledge that takes into account cognitive and affective, as well as social, economic, and political, aspects of learning. Preservice teachers who possess cross-cultural knowledge of students and build upon it increase their options for knowing about and implementing various teaching strategies that give their students more opportunities for meaningful school experiences.
Third, experiencing diverse classrooms gave preservice teachers a deeper understanding of themselves and how to teach culturally diverse students. One way of transforming preservice teachers classroom knowledge is by reading texts about other culturesa mapping of what constitutes our own cultural knowledge and how it differs from that of others. An even stronger suggestion is that cross-cultural curricula include both content and cultural knowledge and routinely emphasize the need for teachers to be proficient in both. Cross-cultural awareness has to be continually worked and reworked. Further, for preservice teachers, cross-cultural awareness is more than a skill or an attitude; it is a form of intelligence within the cross-cultural turn in teacher education that is an ongoing process of teacher preparation, training, learning, and professional development.
Finally, this study provides evidence that experiential learning through international field experiences holds promise for preparing teacher education students who do not study abroad to teach culturally diverse students. Preservice teachers who return to the home campus infuse their international experiences into class discussions, from comparing teaching methods to contrasting lesson plans from abroad. Participants in the Honduras study abroad program have made presentations on the home campus focused on their experiences abroad and the positive contributions those experiences make to understanding how to teach culturally and linguistically diverse students. Participants in the program report that as student teachers and beginning teachers, they incorporate international perspectives in their curriculum; account for cross-cultural knowledge in their teaching; and hold an awareness of the social, economic, and political aspects of learning. The home university provides detailed testimonials of preservice teachers international field experiences on the official Web pages of the college of education and office of study abroad programs. The two faculty who codirect the program regularly present their research findings at university- and collegewide seminars. Participants in the program are asked to take on leadership roles in the college and university, where they use their positions to share their perceptions of international field experiences with other teacher education students.
In conclusion, we suggest that cross-cultural awareness is key to personal, professional, and pedagogical knowledgea lived curriculummaking it a central focus of preparing preservice teachers for culturally diverse classrooms. Looking toward cross-cultural awareness as an ongoing process in teacher education, beginning as early as the preservice level, we propose the following:
Study abroad programs with a well-organized curriculum that feature multiple opportunities for preservice teachers to develop cross-cultural awareness through experiential learning
International field experiences that provide opportunities for engagement with content, cross-cultural, and experiential knowledge so that preservice teachers are informed by all three
Classroom engagement with diverse forms of cross-cultural knowledge that will enable preservice teachers to integrate the theoretical and practical dimensions of experiential learning within real-world contexts
Study abroad as an effective approach to ongoing professional development of all teachers and teacher educators for successful cross-cultural teaching of diverse students
1. Pseudonyms are used for schools and participants in this article.
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Predeparture group interview protocol
1. What influenced you to choose teaching as a profession?
2. What goals do you have for your future students?
3. Why do you wish to study abroad?
4. What do you think you will see and experience in Honduras?
5. What do you hope to learn in Honduras?
6. What, if any, prior knowledge do you have of Honduran culture?
7. How do you think teaching in Honduras will compare to the U.S.?
8. How do you think the students in Honduras will compare with those in the U.S.?
9. If someone asked you to summarize the good and bad points of the U.S. educational system, what would you say?
On-site focus group interview protocol
1. What were your preconceived notions for this study abroad trip prior to arrival? How do those compare with your actual experiences thus far in Honduras?
2. In what ways, if at all, have your thoughts on what it means to be a teacher changed since your time in Honduras?
3. What sort of teaching strategies did you find teachers use in the classroom in Honduras? How do they compare and contrast with the instructional practices you have witnessed in the U.S.?
4. How do the Honduran students you have seen compare with U.S. students?
5. How do the roles for men and women in Honduras compare with what you have seen in the U.S.?
6. What has been your reaction to the poverty you have seen in Honduras?
7. How does it feel to be in a country where the majority of the people are not White but Latino?
8. Are there any experiences on this trip that you feel have helped prepare you to be a teacher?
Follow-up interview protocol
1. What were your childhood and teenage years like?
2. How would you describe your familys background and values?
3. What initially sparked your interest in the Honduras study abroad program?
4. Has your study abroad trip to Honduras changed your outlook on education and overall worldview? If so, in what ways?
5. What have you learned about yourself as a result of your study abroad trip to Honduras?
6. Given all the experiences you had while in Honduras, what images have stayed with you?
7. Many preservice teachers shared how being a man or womanor White person or person of colorshaped their experiences while in Honduras. How do you think your experiences were shaped by your gender and race?
8. Many preservice teachers remarked on the high level of people in need in Honduras. What are your thoughts on poverty issues after you returned to the U.S.? How have they changed as a result of the study abroad experience?
9. How have you used (or how do you plan on using) your experiences abroad to enhance the educational experiences of your peers at your home university and of the students and teachers you interact with in the schools?
10. Has the study abroad experience impacted your career goals or the type of schools where you might be willing to work? If so, in what ways?