Learning to teach for equity in initial teacher education: Connecting to students as learners and to their lives and experiences

Year: 2019

Author: Ell, Fiona, Cochran-Smith, Marilyn, Grudnoff, Lexie, Haigh, Mavis, Hill, Mary, Ludlow, Larry

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Preparing teachers to teach in ways that promote social justice and equity is a complex, but essential, task. The Master of Teaching (Primary) (MTchg) programme at the University of Auckland deliberately takes a complex view of teaching for equity. Six broad facets of practice for equity underpin the MTchg programme. One of these facets is ‘connecting to students as learners, and to their lives and experiences.’ This study aimed to understand teacher candidates’ learning about ‘connecting to students as learners, and to their lives and experiences’ in their first semester studying teaching.

The research questions were:

What is the nature of the understandings about ‘connecting to students as learners, and to their lives and experiences’ that emerge early in an equity-centred teacher education program?

To what extent are understandings of the facet a rich, interrelated set of ideas that can guide instructional choices about connecting to students’ lives and learning as an important part of practice for equity?

The theoretical framework for the study is complexity theory integrated with critical realism, accounting for the complexity of teaching, learning, and inequality, and affording examination of how the mechanisms of teacher learning occur under varying conditions.

Fifty-eight pieces of teacher candidate work from across three cohorts of teacher candidates form the data set for this study. Using an elaborated description of ‘connecting to students as learners, and to their lives and experiences’ as a framework, the data were analysed and two themes emerged: ideas about ways to connect and reasons for connecting. Ways to connect were: life experiences and realities, in-school experiences, prior knowledge, culture, relationships, language, choice and home-school links. Reasons for connecting were increasing engagement, improving learning and building identity/ respecting culture. Some teacher candidates were demonstrating critical understandings of connection and its impacts on learners. In writing about the reasons for connecting, the teacher candidates linked their emerging concepts to a broad range of educational theory and concepts from across their university courses and practicum experience, including inclusion, self-regulation, teacher expectations, culturally responsive pedagogy, learning theories, motivation and bilingualism. There was evidence in the teacher candidates’ use of literature and examples that they were building rich, networked understandings of these ideas.

These findings suggest that teacher candidates can build complex understandings of practice, even in the early stages of preparation, and that these understandings provide a foundation for socially-just practice that more reductionist approaches may not.