Teacher educators’ views about diversity, teaching to diversity and teaching practices that support preservice teachers’ learning about teaching to diversity

Year: 2018

Author: Walker, Sue, Bourke, Terri, Lunn, Jo, Ryan, Mary, Leonie, Rowan

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Graduate teachers in Australia report feeling under-prepared to work with the diverse learners to be found in a typical classroom (Mayer et al., 2017). In particular, graduate teachers in Australia lack confidence in their ability to work with students with a disability, Indigenous students and students from culturally, linguistically or economically diverse backgrounds (Mayer, et al., 2017; Rowan, Kline & Mayer, 2017). Considering this perceived lack of preparedness to teach to “diverse learners”, the focus immediately shifts to analysis of the structure and content of Initial Teacher education (ITE). Yet, despite many years of critique and close scrutiny, teacher educators’ own understandings of diverse learners and what it means to be equipped to teach to diversity remains under examined. We know very little about the ways in which teacher educators work with preservice teachers to support their learning about teaching to diversity (Cochran-Smith et. al 2009; Francis, Mills, & Lupton, 2017).
The study reported in this paper used a social lab to explore teacher educators’ understandings of diversity, the ways in which they teach to diversity and the pedagogical practices they use to support preservice teachers as they learn about teaching to diversity. The participants in the social lab were 12 teacher educators from one university in Queensland Australia. The social lab was facilitated by an external consultant to remove the researchers from the process in order that the participants could feel unconstrained to contribute freely to the dialogue. The conversations were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim.
Analysis showed that across most of the discussion the word “diversity” was used in very specific ways: primarily to signal an awareness of the existence of different groups in any particular society. The “what” of teacher education regarding diversity focused on the need to “respect” and “cater for” diversity. Both positions suggest that the diverse learner is ‘other’ to a norm, and requires a tolerant attitude from the majority. In terms of supporting preservice teachers as they learn about teaching to diversity, participants discussed the importance of getting to know their students and helping them to recognise diversity. It was seen as important to confront and disrupt student perceptions and help them to consciously reflect on their own culture to help students to understand themselves in order to recognise diversity. Overall however, there was limited reference to helping preservice teachers engage in conscious or critical reflection as a key aspect of their pedagogy.