Educating preservice teachers to teach diverse learners: Exploring teacher educators’ epistemic reflexivity when teaching to/about diversity.

Year: 2019

Author: Ryan, Mary, Bourke, Terri, Lunn, Brownlee, Jo, Rowan, Leonie, Walker, Sue, Johansson, Eva, L'Estrange, Lyra

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Background, Significance, Aims

Recent research has shown that graduate teachers do not feel prepared to teach diverse groups of children in their classrooms. Achievement data shows that while the majority of students are performing well, the same diverse groups of children consistently remain at risk, suggesting that teachers experience challenges in teaching these children. Rather than revisiting teachers’ sense of preparedness to teach diverse learners, this project investigates teacher educators’ understandings of diversity and teaching to/about diversity and how they make decisions about teaching.

The investigation draws upon growing research which shows that key to understanding teachers’ practices are the beliefs, dispositions and skills they hold related to the nature of knowledge and processes of knowing, otherwise known as epistemic cognition. To date little research has explored epistemic cognition and its relationship to teacher educators’ practices. This ARC research brings together the fields of epistemic cognition (psychology) and reflexivity (sociology) in a new framework for addressing teaching to/about diversity. We argue that focusing on the epistemic dimensions of decision making helps to understand how teacher educators think reflexively about and negotiate the challenge of preparing preservice teachers to teach diverse groups of children.

Research design

This mixed method project includes three phases conducted over a three year period. Phase one used social lab methodology with 32 teacher educators to explore the ways in which teaching to/about diversity was viewed from an epistemic reflexivity perspective. In phase two, a national survey to measure teacher educators’ epistemic reflexivities was conducted. The final stage of the research will involve case studies exploring teacher educators’ epistemic reflexivities for teaching to/about diversity using classroom observation and stimulated recall interviews.

Findings and implications

To date, findings reveal insights about the ways in which teacher educators understand and negotiate teaching to/about diversity:

- Diversity was constructed in binary terms as “not the norm” and, by extension, as associated with “the minority” of students.

- Factors such as knowledge, personal experience, professional standards, and university culture/context can be both enabling and constraining as they intersect in different ways in the effective preparation of pre-service teachers around diversity.

- Teacher educators described aims of promoting the development of knowledge and depth of understanding with respect to teaching diverse groups of children. These aims seemed to align with their focus on experiential approaches.

- Teacher educators indicated a number of changes they would recommend in initial teacher education.