Development of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Commitment to Teach Diverse Student Populations

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Development of Knowledge, Attitudes and Commitment to Teach Diverse Student Populations
22.12.2018
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The article “Development of Knowledge, Attitudes, and Commitment to Teach Diverse Student Populations” by Robert A. Wiggins and Eric J. Follo is devoted to research whether the undergraduate program in the Oakland University is a successful asset of preparing students for teaching in diverse settings. The issue of multi-diverse communities and the necessity to adapt teaching methods in such settings are very acute problems nowadays, as student populations have become diverse in the USA while the staff and teaching techniques remain practically unaltered. The authors of the article set an objective to evaluate their university program in order to define its influence on their residential area that consists of one suburban and two urban settings drastically different in terms of their population diversity. Moreover, authors strive to analyze not only whether the Oakland University undergraduate program provides students with adequate skills, knowledge, and abilities to be able to teach in culturally diverse settings, but also whether it promotes their desire to be employed in such areas.

Wiggins and Follo have done a comprehensive research of the literature that is relevant for their own study. The theoretical basis of the Oakland undergraduate program study is, thus, broad and versatile in terms of the scholars’ attitudes to the issue of diversity and teaching. All literature sources mentioned in the article may be subdivided into two large sections. The first one deals with the pedagogical and organizational issues concerning teacher preparation and experience of teaching in culturally diverse settings. The second essential, albeit smaller body of literature, analyzes briefly the sources aimed at studying social and philosophical concerns that arise in the process of understanding a culturally diverse community. One of the most important issues concerns the understanding of the concept of diversity and the relationships between teachers and students of culturally diverse backgrounds. This question was studied by J. B. Boyer and E. R. Hollins. Hollins supposes that the teaching process is facilitated by similarities between school and home cultures, while their differences may create some obstacles in establishing productive cooperative relationships between a teacher and a student.

The authors of the article agree with the results of the researches conducted by L. Paine, J. Nel, and P. L. Marshall. Geographically, Oakland University is situated in close proximity to two large urban settings. However, the prevailing party of the prospective teachers consists of white 20-year-old females of suburban origin. Thus, they are not often exposed to cultural diversity. Authors of the article, therefore, deem it important to assess students’ perspectives on the issue of cultural diversity. This way, they could improve their program and modify their methods of influencing these perspectives in order to encourage these young teachers to work in culturally diverse environments. Different methods and approaches to teaching in such settings are practiced. They have been studied by such scholars as K. H. Au and A. J. Kawakami, A. M. Garibaldi, F. Erickson, G. Mohatt, C. Coballes-Vega, H. Heinemann, R. Obi, A. Pagano, L. Weiner, R. J. Wlodkowski, and many others involved into researching the complicated topic of interrelation between cultural diversity and teaching. Various scholars emphasize different aspects of the problem. Some of them prioritize pedagogical techniques while others regard field experiences to be more important for educating future teachers. Many researchers like R. J. Wlodlowski suppose that acquiring experience of working with students from various cultural communities is not sufficient for preparing future teachers to successful work in diverse classrooms. From the viewpoint of S. Buckley Van Hoek, K. Kasten, D. Keenan, and P. Adeeb, the overall situation concerning the “students’ perception of themselves as capable teachers in culturally diverse” environments could be improved through systematic reflection and self-analysis as well as assistance from a tutor (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). The prominent role of master teachers and university faculty in preparing students to the employment in culturally diverse communities is stressed in works by R. H. Clarken and L. A. Hirst, C. A. Grant, G. Holm and L. N. Johnson, S. Ilmer, J. Snyder, S. Erbaugh, K. Kurz, and J. Nel. The summary of the already existing literature on the issue of preparing teachers for educating culturally diverse pupils is given by C. A. Grant, who supposes that it is not sufficient to address multicultural issues through some separate courses or additional workshops. Multicultural education has to be an integral part of the whole undergraduate university program.

G. Ladson-Billings, G. Mohatt and F. Erickson, K. H. Au and C. Jordan speak about the culturally relevant teaching and stress the importance of teachers being aware and comprehending miscellaneous cultural norms. The notion of culturally congruent teaching is consistent with such notions as “culturally congruent teaching” and “cultural appropriateness” (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). All these terms refer to the teacher’s attempts of establishing such communicative patterns in the classroom that will correspond to the communication style of the community. Withal, authors of the article have analyzed a vast scope of literature on the topic under consideration and manage to exploit the results of the previous researches to contribute to their own study.

The study by Wiggins and Follo belongs to the analytic groups of studies as it is aimed not simply at describing the situation or compiling the already existing material on the topic, but rather at conducting an original study in a particular area, i.e. Oakland University. Out of the range of possible subtypes of the analytic study, this research seems to be a cohort one. Cohort studies are useful assets while analyzing a phenomenon on the basis of several groups with some distinct characteristics that predict the results to differ. This research was conducted through surveying three student groups formed from six classes that had different exposure to cultural diversity and attended different courses as well as had dissimilar previous working experience in culturally diverse classrooms.

The study by Wiggins and Follo is aimed at answering three main research questions. First, they want to define the aspect of the elementary education program is the most impactful in terms of teaching in culturally diverse classrooms. Second, they wanted to define what made some aspects of the program more effective than others, and when some aspects turned out to be less effective. Third, they wanted to find out what can strengthen the program and make it more effective in preparing students to teach in culturally diverse settings.

The methodology exploited in the study consisted of collecting and analyzing data selected from three chosen groups of students who were at different stages of the elementary education program at the moment of the research conduct. The researchers employed interviews and questionnaires for determining the students’ readiness and desire to work in culturally diverse environments. This way, they also wanted to determine the part of the elementary university program that was most influential in developing capable multicultural teachers.

The participants of the research were 123 undergraduate students enrolled in the elementary education program at Oakland University. The total amount of classes was six and three different program courses were taken into consideration. Although the gender and ethnic composition of the program was not a decisive criterion, the classes were representative of these factors. Besides, the chosen participants received different suburban and urban field placements.

Among the variables in terms of the participants of the study, gender, age, and ethnicity are not essential while the population of the university is relatively homogenous (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). There are two variables that determined the direction of the research. The first one is the field placement, 30 hours per semester of which are obligatory for all students. There are three possible placements: Urban A, Urban B, and Suburban that unites all suburban areas of two cities. The second variable deals with the course taken by the participants. According to this criterion, three groups are distinguished. Group 1 included students who were taking an introductory course Public Education for the Future (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). 21 students from this group received the field placement in an Urban A area, 15 students spent their semester placement in a Suburban area. Students of Group 2 attended the second-year course Interaction Laboratory for Teacher Development that includes a multicultural component. The majority of the students were placed in Urban B. 6 students spent their semester in Suburban and 4 received their field placement in Urban A. Group 3 comprised students who were taking the course Teaching Social Studies in the Elementary School. These 5 students were in their last year in the university and though being placed in a Suburban area, they had extensive experience in teaching in various classroom settings.

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Materials used for the collection of the data include pre- and post-semester questionnaires with 34 statements concerning various multicultural issues. These statements were taken from the works by R. R. Powell, S. Zehm, and J. Garcia. All the statements were divided into 3 broad categories: “factors fostering readiness for teaching in culturally diverse settings, factors constraining readiness for teaching in culturally diverse settings, and prior experiences relative to multicultural education” (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). A 1-5 Likert scale was used for responses.

Among the responses, 1 was used to mean disagreement, while 5 indicated that students strongly agreed with the statement. They were encouraged to mention any other courses that addressed multicultural issues, their field experience in culturally diverse environments, and some personal experiences that contributed to their understanding of multiculturalism diversity. Anonymity was preserved as students could choose any code they wanted to mark their responses to enable the comparison of pre- and post-semester questionnaires. The data analysis consisted of several stages. The first stage dealt with the students’ perception of themselves. Reliability coefficients were measured with the help of the Statistical Package for the Social Sciences. A Wald Test of Significance of Fixed Effects and Covariates was used “to determine if there were any effects between groups, field placement locations, or question categories” (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). The researchers also conducted an analysis of mean differences in the students’ responses. They also summarized the changes noted in the responses of each individual student. Finally, they made conclusions on the basis of the obtained data and presented some results in the form of tables.

Findings of the research concerned several aspects of the study. The researchers found out that the majority of students entered the university with little prior experience of multicultural issues. 41 students or 33% of the respondents had any prior experience in culturally diverse environments (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). Less than 1/3 of the Group 1 participants enrolled in any class that addressed multicultural issues (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). Contrary to them, members of Groups 2 and 3 answered affirmatively about previous urban field placements. 77% of them had taken classes dealing with multicultural issues before the current course. However, only 30% of the participants had some other forming experiences concerning cultural diversity. In general, almost all students had “a positive image of themselves as teachers in diverse classrooms” (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). The postsemester questionnaire displayed a more positive view of themselves as teachers in culturally diverse settings. While there had been 4 statements with a mean level of the agreement below 3.0 in the pre-semester questioning, there were only two such statements at the end of the semester (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). The standard deviation for question varied from 0.73 to 1.45 (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). There were found “no clear differences between groups or field placement locations” (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). The greatest change was characteristic for Urban B field placements while the smallest change occurred in Suburban field placements. Moreover, the researchers found little change in mean responses to the questionnaire statements concerning the understanding of various cultural differences. The changes found during the research were evenly distributed among the students and categories. Moreover, there were no differences related to the amount of time spent by a student in the program. All students were experiencing consistent growth in terms of their readiness to teach in culturally diverse classrooms. There was a two-to-one ratio of positive to negative change for such categories as Factors that Foster Readiness to Teach in Multicultural Classrooms and Experiences in Multicultural Settings. However, there were almost equal amounts of negative and positive changes in the category Factors that Constrain Readiness to Teach in Multicultural Settings.

In the authors’ opinion, the data obtained during the research clearly indicates that the elementary education program of the Oakland University provides students with adequate opportunities for developing instructional skills and strategies that will aid students in teaching in culturally diverse settings. Nevertheless, the program does not seem to alter significantly the students’ beliefs and attitudes about such teaching. Therefore, the researchers conclude that their program does not have a desirable effect. Factors that constrain readiness to teach in multicultural classrooms include acceptance and familiarity with some other cultures that differ from the students’ one. However, the students appear to be well prepared academically to teaching in such classrooms. They are also well aware of their academic responsibilities in culturally diverse environments. The program gives them a lot of essential experience and knowledge concerning multicultural environments and diversity issues, though this experience does not make them feel any more comfortable in such settings. Taking into consideration the amount of negative change detected in 3 categories, the authors conclude that urban field experiences may persuade some students that they cannot and should not teach in multicultural settings. This way, some students’ negative stereotypes are not eliminated in the course of the program but are reinforced. Therefore, Wiggins and Follo suppose that exposure to the culturally diverse environment does not automatically imply deeper understanding and acceptance of miscellaneous cultural differences and norms that exist in a multicultural classroom. Moreover, it does not also guarantee that future teachers will feel comfortable in such settings. On the whole, the study concludes that the university program achieves some of its goals, though not all.

The conclusion drawn from the obtained data is logically consistent with the findings. The authors admit that their study is subjected to several limitations. First of all, it is conducted only on the premises of one university. Secondly, the students may have intentionally altered their responses in the questionnaires because of “the need to be politically correct” (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). Therefore, the authors have taken this possibility into account. Moreover, they admit that they “do not believe that we can draw any broad generalities for the entire field of teacher education” (Wiggins & Follo, 1999). However, they did not set such an objective. Their study is aimed at identifying some additional issues that have to be addressed in the Oakland university program in order to improve the process of preparation of prospective teachers. The study has proved that the program’s main components, i.e. literature review, multicultural coursework, field experience, and senior teachers being role models for students, have to be strengthened. Their study points out a prospective field for the program improvements. For instance, students’ understanding of other cultural communities’ norms has to be promoted. The results of the study invoke several crucial for the improvement of the program questions, such as: what can be done to develop this understanding, and what norms are of primary importance. The general conclusion of their research is that there is still a lot of work to be done and a lot of aspects to be surveyed in order to enable students to become successful teachers in culturally diverse communities. Thus, the university program has to be developed in such a way that students reach high levels of understanding and appreciation of other cultures, which will also increase the comfort level of working in a multicultural environment.

One of the authors’ recommendations is to interview practicing teachers who are successful in working with culturally diverse environments. Students should be encouraged to ask practical questions that will facilitate their integration into multicultural communities. Moreover, they should not be discouraged to ask difficult questions concerning cultural issues as it is the only way to enhance their understanding and appreciation of other cultures. Therefore, the university program should address not only the academic skills necessary for successful teaching but also some points that will increase students’ motivation and levels of comfort.

The major strength of the study is that the authors are fully aware of its limitations and take them into consideration while analyzing the obtained data. Furthermore, they have managed to develop the questionnaires that address the issue of teaching in culturally diverse settings in a way to obtain comprehensible and comparable results. Comparison of the results in the beginning and in the end of the semester increases the usefulness of the results and allows comparison of the groups’ dynamics. The largest limitation of the study deals with the fact that it was conducted only in one university. It seems interesting and useful to conduct similar researches in other universities in order to be able to compare the results and to work out the most efficient program for the preparation of prospective teachers.

The authors did not discuss the differences that may occur as a result of the domination of one particular culture in the classroom. They also did not mention how cultural diversity among the teaching staff may influence prospective teachers’ readiness and willingness to work in multicultural classrooms. The sample groups comprised some students of other than the white background. The authors did not mention whether it was easier or more difficult for the representatives of ethnic minorities to teach in culturally diverse environments.

The results of the research seem to be very useful for the preparation of prospective teachers. It is impossible to disagree with the authors of the article that role modeling plays a vital role in establishing students as teachers. Positive examples set by more experienced teachers may facilitate the process of integration into a culturally diverse community. Some difficulties in working with multicultural classrooms may be avoided this way. Personally, I also agree with the researchers that the university program has to find a way to immerse prospective teachers into the culture of the school and community. Only this way, they will understand the norms of this culture and will be able to teach successfully.

The topic under consideration in the article relates to every student who has the objective of becoming a teacher. It does not matter whether a student initially sets a goal to work in a culturally diverse classroom in the future or not. Due to the increased rate of globalization and migration, U.S. society is becoming increasingly diverse. It is essential, therefore, to learn to understand and appreciate cultures different from the native one. Besides, comprehension of other cultures will inevitably contribute to the deeper understanding of the norms and values of the inherent one. Any teacher has to be ready to work with a multicultural classroom as life is unpredictable and one can never know whom and where he/she will teach.

 

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