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Getting to Know Ourselves and Others Through the ABCs: A Journey Toward Intercultural Understanding

reviewed by Florin Mihai & Hilal Peker - January 13, 2016

coverTitle: Getting to Know Ourselves and Others Through the ABCs: A Journey Toward Intercultural Understanding
Author(s): Claudia Finkbeiner and Althier M. Lazar
Publisher: Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
ISBN: 1623967694, Pages: 260, Year: 2014
Search for book at Amazon.com

Claudia Finkbeiner and Althier M. Lazar’s edited book, Getting to Know Ourselves and Others Through the ABCs: A Journey Toward Intercultural Understanding, is based on studies implementing the ABCs model of Cultural Understanding and Communication in the United States, Canada, and Europe. The ABCs model consists of the following components: (a) an autobiography of participants from various cultural perspectives, (b) a biography of an individual who is different from the participants’ cultures, and (c) cultural comparisons between themselves, the person interviewed, and the development of culturally responsive ideas for the school and workplace.

Getting to Know Ourselves and Others Through the ABCs is designed for pre-service teacher training programs. It facilitates the appreciation and understanding of diversity in classrooms that need to integrate students from different cultures, ethnicities, and backgrounds. The authors start with the idea that a lack of personal experience and reflection is a hindrance for teachers educating students within culturally diverse classrooms. This book provides numerous opportunities for readers to experience diversity through the autobiography, biography, and cultural comparison techniques.

In the foreword and introduction chapter, Michael Byram, Finkbeiner and Lazar outline the book’s contents and present the research project that was its basis. In Chapter One, Patricia Ruggiano Schmidt describes the starting point of the ABC model in detail. In Chapter Two, Finkbeiner takes a more explanatory and global approach to elaborate on these elements as well as language, culture, and literacy. She describes the TRANSABCs project—TRANS stands for Trans-Atlantic—followed by a study that explains how this project was launched and implemented in Germany, the U.S., Spain, and Poland. The authors discuss the project’s results and recommendations for applying these lessons to different contexts through a multi-perspectives framework. Chapter Three details an adapted ABCs project that was completed in Montreal. The setting is a multilingual cosmopolitan city and Finkbeiner and Troy Davidson focus on pre-service teachers’ preparedness for culturally diverse classrooms. Most importantly, readers can find examples of Davidson, a pre-service teacher, engaging in authentic ABCs in the appendix. His absorbing reflection through ABCs is fascinating.

In Chapter Four, Jane L. Neer and William J. Neer discuss how the ABCs model was implemented with pre-service teachers in a culturally responsive teaching project at a small American college. In addition, they explain the U.S. education system and provide background knowledge for readers from other countries. In Chapter Five, Lazar adapts the ABCs model to a graduate level literacy course, and examines power, privilege, inequality, and gender issues throughout this chapter. While Chapter Six aims to create awareness regarding establishing socially equal classrooms, Josep M. Cots focuses on otherization and nonotherization, and includes complementary strategies that act as solutions for inequality problems. The impact of ideology, social structure, discourse types, and culture learning on intercultural understanding is used as a framework. This chapter is more of an exploratory study focusing on the Cs part of the ABCs model. In Chapter Seven, Sylvia Fehling shares a sample autobiography by one of her students in Germany and examines it in relation to identity construction. She focuses on the A part of ABCs and discusses why individuals should learn about their inner selves through autobiography before attempting to understand others. In Chapter Eight, Shelley Hong Xu ties the ABCs model to a reading methods course in California and examines learning to read and reading to learn concepts. She demonstrates that the participants explored their and others’ cultural and linguistic heritages, learned how to connect cultural backgrounds to school and home-school learning for literacy, and became aware of issues endemic to ethnicity and beyond to achieve culturally responsive teaching practices.

In Chapter Nine, Ulla Lundgren proposes a new perspective for the ABCs model and explores how it can be used to create world citizens who think critically and take an active role in solving conflicts through multiple lenses. The most important element of her study is that the participants were required to take part in debates, engage in self-reflection, and share opinions to analyze different perspectives. Jiening Ruan applies the ABCs model to a graduate level course in a teacher education program in Chapter Ten. The model instructs candidates to create linguistically and culturally diverse lesson plans, and engage in culturally responsive teaching. Participants investigated their hidden biases and stereotypes, and became more aware of social justice issues to initiate changes and share their cross-cultural understanding. In Chapter Eleven, Ewa Bandura connects the ABCs model to teacher candidates’ critical intercultural development through cross-cultural activities and analysis. Chapter Twelve highlights the literacy aspects of ABCs. Here, Patricia A. Edwards and Susan V. Piazza present an example to encourage literacy coaching across all levels of schooling through each stage of ABCs while Lilia Ratcheva-Stratieva approaches the ABCs model from a gendered perspective in Chapter Thirteen. She concentrates on her experiences in five ABCs seminars, and compares the ethnic and cultural beliefs of past, present, and future generations of women. She uses authentic excerpts from interviews so readers can see the struggles these women suffered through and how they overcame them. Finally, in Chapter Fourteen, Lazar and Finkbeiner propose future directions for other ABCs projects, which will ideally help professionals, researchers, and future teachers create cultural awareness in the society. They want teacher education programs to take the lead in making international and global education more culturally responsive and aware of the critical issues necessary to achieve true cultural understanding.

Overall, Getting to Know Ourselves and Others Through the ABCs is a great resource for education programs that intend to prepare their pre-service teachers to work within increasingly diverse classrooms. It presents a clear overview of diversity from both a theoretical and practical perspective. One possible limitation admitted by the authors is that data was only collected in English. Perhaps the possibility of reflecting on personal experiences in a different native language would have enriched the reported results. Nevertheless, this book is an invaluable tool that demonstrates the effectiveness of the ABCs model in creating cross-cultural awareness and understanding.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, Date Published: January 13, 2016
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 19327, Date Accessed: 12/4/2021 9:19:47 PM

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About the Author
  • Florin Mihai
    University of Central Florida
    E-mail Author
    FLORIN M. MIHAI (Multicultural and Multilingual Education PhD, Florida State University) is an Associate Professor of Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) at the University of Central Florida, where he teaches graduate and undergraduate TESOL courses. His research interests include language and content-area assessment for English learners, pre- and in-service teacher education, foreign language curriculum development in global contexts, and grammar instruction. He has recently co-authored Educating English Learners: What Every Classroom Teacher Needs to Know with Harvard Education Press.
  • Hilal Peker
    University of Central Florida, Orlando
    E-mail Author
    HILAL PEKER (Fulbright M.A., University of Texas at Austin) is a Doctoral Candidate and Graduate Teaching Assistant in the TESOL PhD program in the College of Education and Human Performance, University of Central Florida, Orlando. She has recently published several book reviews and articles in TESOL Journal, TESL-EJ, and Foreign Language Annals. Her primary research focus is on language learning motivation, motivational L2 selves, identity construction, and bullying at schools. She is also working on several different projects such as early foreign language education at pre-K and kindergarten including students with special needs, and computer assisted language learning (CALL) in teacher education programs.
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