Cycles of Research: A Self-Study of Teaching Research in a Sheltered English Instruction Course

Self-Study of Language and Literacy Teacher Education Practices

ISBN: 978-1-78754-538-0, eISBN: 978-1-78754-537-3

ISSN: 1479-3687

Publication date: 2 August 2018

Abstract

In the current political environment where nativist sentiments are driving policies that overtly discriminate against immigrants and refugees, most notably Muslims, it is crucial to prepare teachers who will value and serve all students regardless of their ethnicity, language, or race. It has never been more important than now to bring the stories, experiences, and languages of all the people who make up this country into our classrooms. This study employs self-study of teacher education practices to question how teacher educators might improve our practice to better meet the needs of the diverse students in our classrooms, most specifically English Language Learners (ELLs). Self-study allowed me to engage in cycles of design and analysis to examine how well I implemented critical research as praxis as a tool to prepare students in my Sheltered English Immersion class to critically engage in theories and practices of teaching ELLs.

Keywords

Citation

Robinson, E. (2018), "Cycles of Research: A Self-Study of Teaching Research in a Sheltered English Instruction Course", Self-Study of Language and Literacy Teacher Education Practices (Advances in Research on Teaching, Vol. 30), Emerald Publishing Limited, pp. 223-240. https://doi.org/10.1108/S1479-368720180000030016

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2018 Emerald Publishing Limited


Introduction

In the current political environment where nativist sentiments are driving policies that overtly discriminate against immigrants and refugees, it is crucial to prepare teachers who will value and serve all students regardless of their ethnicity, language, or race. It has never been more important than now to bring the stories, experiences, and languages of all the people who make up this country into our classrooms. Throughout the history of our country, the challenge of educating English Language Learners (ELLs) has been met by our schools and our legal system. The future is not so certain.

The majority of “Americans” would not be in this country if it were not for immigrant ancestors. The US is a “living nation of immigrants” (Nieto, 1992, p. 333). Federal legislation, stemming back to the passage of the 1968 Bilingual Education Act, has targeted the education of linguistic minorities in the US (Crawford, 1989). However, inequitable access to resources persists and both our schools and our legal system are still a far way off from doing an adequate job of supporting the academic experiences of ELLs. The lack of educational services for ELLs has become a civil rights issue and a topic for federal legislation. For instance, Massachusetts was found to be in violation of the civil rights of its ELLs by placing vast numbers of these students in classrooms with teachers not qualified to meet their needs (Zubrzycki, 2011). As of July 1, 2014, in order to obtain licensure to teach in Massachusetts all teacher candidates must have an SEI (Sheltered English Immersion) endorsement. Teacher education programs were required to develop SEI course/s that had to meet state approval to prepare all teacher candidates regardless of content area, to work with ELLs. Massachusetts is the contextual background for this study but it also serves as an example of the challenges across the US in preparing teachers to meet the diverse needs of the growing population of ELLs within a national context of increasingly standardized curriculum and testing, and xenophobia. This study employs self-study of teacher education practices to question how teacher educators might improve our practice to address these challenges.

Purpose

Through self-study, this chapter addresses my concern that graduates from the teacher preparation program in which I work were not adequately prepared to address the issues of diversity that arise in urban schools, including the needs of ELLs. This concern is compounded as our placement of teachers tends to be in Boston Public Schools and the majority of students in our teacher preparation program are white, native English speakers. Our teacher preparation program is small, graduating only a handful of teachers each year in all subject matters with initial licenses in middle and secondary school teaching. As the professor mainly responsible for all teacher preparation at our university, I wanted to assess how well I was preparing teachers who would operate from an asset-based approach (Campos, Delgado, & Soto Huerta, 2011) in working with all students. For me, “asset-based” instruction requires teachers to acknowledge, respect, and assess the abilities and skills of a student to determine the existing knowledge on which instruction can be built. Holding myself accountable for operating from an asset-based approach as well as modeling this approach is important for me professionally and for my goals of meeting the needs of my students and the ELLs my students will eventually teach.

As a teacher and a scholar, I value research as a tool to assess and analyze how my practices meet my goals. I conducted a self-study implementing iterative cycles of research and reflection across the whole process of designing and teaching an SEI course to allow our teacher preparation program to meet the state requirement for providing all new teachers with an SEI endorsement. My overarching goal within this course was to teach and model what I hoped was critical research as praxis.

Drawing on Patti Lather’s (1986) definition of research as praxis as being a change-enhancing, interactive, contextualized approach to knowledge building, grounded in respect for human capacity helped me to focus on the components I wanted to incorporate into my SEI course. I added “critical” to the definition drawing on the work of Paulo Freire (1970) and his focus on power and critiquing the structures of power. I wanted to ensure that the knowledge generated in my SEI course would question the dominant paradigms and structures that so often do harm to non-dominant students. I wanted to teach research practices in my SEI classroom to build the knowledge necessary for my students to meet the diverse needs of their potential students. Self-study allowed me to engage in cycles of design and analysis to examine if the research I implemented in my course could be considered critical research as praxis.

My overarching question in this study asked what research practices best met the course goals of preparing students to critically engage in theories and practices of teaching ELLs in urban schools. More specifically I asked:

  • What language did I use in my syllabus, class agendas, assignments and journaling to construct ideas about research and research practices?

  • How did I teach and model critical praxis in the SEI class?

  • Where did I see evidence of critical praxis?

Theoretical Framing of Self-Study

The theoretical underpinning of this study began with an understanding of the intersection of participatory research methods and self-study (Paugh & Robinson, 2009). This joining of methods can be demonstrated through iterative cycles of design and analysis.

Cycles of critical inquiry enable all participants in the practice of teacher education to enter into democratic conversations that have local as well as broader implications. This is the point of intersection between the methodological traditions of Action Research/Participatory Action Research (AR/PAR), Practitioner Inquiry (PI) and Self-study. (p. 90)

Bringing participatory approaches together with self-study highlights issues of power and privilege and continually questions who produces knowledge and for whom. My previous work on research as praxis (Robinson, 2012) informs the research I conduct; and I argue that a theory of critical praxis when joined with self-study addresses the very issues of knowledge, power, and privilege central to my questions.

Praxis and Self-study

Transformation of the world as it currently exists is the goal of praxis. Freire (1993) defines praxis as “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it” (p. 51). In my work of teaching and researching, my goals are for the knowledge generated, the questions asked, and the actions taken to have some small impact on existing dominant structures. Like praxis, self-study’s aim is to “provoke, challenge, and illuminate rather than conform and settle” (Samaras, Hicks, & Garvey Berger, 2004, p. 908).

Self-study is a method I can use to hold myself accountable to conducting research as praxis. To test that this praxis is also critical, and attends to issues of power, I draw on Kress’ (2011) work on critical praxis research, which relies on the interplay of identity, context, and purpose. I draw on feminist poststructural theories to understand the relationship between my identity, the contexts in which I work and research, and the purpose of my work and research. Feminist poststructuralism helps me make sense of these three components as being interconnected, and in a constant state of being informed by larger factors or discourses while also informing discourses. The writing of Elizabeth St. Pierre (2000) on feminist poststructuralism captures the importance of questioning and pushing back against dominant power structures by locating and recognizing knowledge generation and power within each individual. “Poststructural feminists believe the struggles of women are local and specific rather than totalizing. Relations of power are complex and shifting. Resistance and freedom are daily, ongoing practices” (St. Pierre, 2000, p. 493). It is especially important for me to point out that I am not studying myself as an essentialized or fixed self. The openness of self-study allows for the “self” I am now to analyze the relationships between contexts, my purposes, and myself in the fall 2014 when I taught the SEI course.

My understanding and use of praxis comes primarily from two sources. First, I am very influenced by the work I did as a research and teaching assistant in a federally funded school-university program called ACCELA (Access to Critical Content and English Language Acquisition). This program included an on-site, inquiry-based master’s program, which supported the academic language development of ELLs. The ACCELA mission statement explains praxis as engaging in theory, practice, research, and action simultaneously to bring about social change through and for education. It is necessary in this work to examine one’s own role and the contextual system in which one’s work is embedded (Gebhard & Willett, 2008). Second, as mentioned above, I draw on Patti Lather’s (1986) work on research as praxis to further define praxis as the interactive approach to knowledge building that brings about change, is contextualized, and grounded in respect for human capacity. These components of praxis align with Barnes’ (1998) characterization of self-study as being open, collaborative, and reframing. Through dialogue and collaboration with others, researchers can frame and reframe a problem or situation from different perspectives (Samaras & Freese, 2009). Self-study is a reframing lens that allows me to investigate my own attempts at praxis.

Design and Methodology

Designing Cycles

The SEI course that is the focus of this chapter was designed between the fall 2013 and when it was taught in the fall 2014. This course was approved by the MA Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) as fulfilling the SEI endorsement requirements. In order to study my development and teaching of the SEI course, I drew on previous work (Paugh & Robinson, 2009) to study my own practices through critical cycles of design and analysis. I modeled my study on the framework that was proposed in the Paugh and Robinson chapter for bringing together the processes of self-study and participatory research.

…as we design initial cycles of research we “problematize” our practice in relationship to others. That is, we develop questions concerning its “purposes, participants and contexts” and choose methods of data collection and analysis to structure our study (realizing that additional questions, methods, and participants may be needed as our research progresses through various cycles). (p. 91)

I designed two cycles of research in order to “problematize” my practice. My first cycle was initiated by the need to design an SEI course for all graduates of my University’s teacher preparation program, and my second cycle examined the teaching of the SEI course. I analyzed myself in relationship to others keeping in mind the contexts of my own classroom and the macro contexts in which my work existed. I also analyzed myself in relationship to research and teaching. Fig. 1 provides an overview of the two cycles. I will elaborate on each cycle by explaining the purposes, including the question/s that guided me, the participants, the contexts, and the methods of data collection and analysis.

Fig. 1. 
Components of Cycles of Research. CDA, Critical Discourse Analysis.

Fig. 1.

Components of Cycles of Research. CDA, Critical Discourse Analysis.

Cycle 1

The first cycle of design and analysis focused on my initial construction of the SEI course syllabus. I was concerned with incorporating critical research as praxis into the course design. In this first cycle, I questioned what research practices would best meet the course goals of preparing students to critically engage in theories and practices of teaching ELLs in urban schools.

I researched myself as the primary participant, in collaboration with the different discourses or factors that were shaping my decisions within my immediate context as well as the larger context. The immediate context of this study was my university’s teacher preparation program, which was in the process of being phased out. Due to increasing requirements from the state for granting teaching licensure, our students were having a difficult time completing our teacher preparation program at the undergraduate level. Location was another factor in this decision to stop offering teacher preparation. In the Greater Boston area, there are many institutions of higher education that offer teacher preparation on a much larger scale. My university did not believe a continued financial investment in teacher preparation was warranted. The civil rights investigation at the state level by the Department of Justice was the macro context of this first stage of the study. Because all SEI courses within teacher preparation programs needed to undergo review from DESE, I researched myself in interaction with DESE as a secondary participant and the regulatory institution that held the power to approve my course. Better preparation of my students to work with ELLs was my own goal as well as a requirement of the state. I designed the SEI course to incorporate praxis and also meet the requirements laid out by the state.

The data I collected in the first cycle consisted of the different iterations of my syllabi, the model templates the state provided for the SEI syllabus, and e-mails and feedback from the Department of DESE. The feedback from DESE included an evaluation tool (rubric) for assessing my SEI course design. In order to analyze these data I sought to recreate the narrative of designing my SEI syllabus. Pinnegar (1998) explains that self-study researchers operate from and embrace the premise of subjectivity and “present evidence of meaning and relationships among phenomena from the authority of their own experience” (p. 32). For me, this analysis happened after the completion of both cycles.

My data analysis included spending time with my data sources to remember my own experience of the decisions I made in creating my syllabus. I read through my syllabi and my interactions with DESE while simultaneously reflecting through journaling about my experiences and goals of designing the course and the process I went through to incorporate research into the course design. Once I had recreated my process of designing the SEI course, I was able to identify important interactions I had with DESE, within the political context of our university and the state. These interactions impacted the decisions I made about how to incorporate research in my course. I then looked to answer my question about what language I used to construct ideas about research and research practices in the course assignments. I specifically looked for language in my syllabi and in the course texts that explained the process of conducting research. I drew on Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) (Rogers, 2004) tools to focus my analysis on the relationship between language form and language function, within the relationship between discourse and context so that I might gain a better insight into learning (p. 8). Understanding Fairclough’s (1992, 1995) three-tiered model of analysis informed how I looked at the language of each of the texts. At the local level, I asked questions about what representations were being made through language, what forms of language were being used, and what might be left out of each text. At the institutional level, I was able to look at how my decisions were meeting the requirements of my university and the state. To think about the impact on the societal level, I asked questions about how these assignments would ultimately impact the ELLs we need to serve. Next, I will explain the components of the second cycle of design and analysis before sharing my story of working to embed critical research as praxis in my SEI course.

Cycle 2

The second cycle of design and analysis focused on my teaching and modeling critical research as praxis in the SEI course. I wanted my students to use research in very specific ways to learn about and support ELLs. Drawing on my own theoretical understanding of praxis, my objectives were for my students to be able to:

  • draw on theory as a tool to build knowledge of their own roles within the contexts in which they would potentially be working,

  • draw on theory and their knowledge to conduct research, and

  • implement the knowledge they generated into practice/action.

My larger goal was to collaborate with my students to bring about social change through and for education. The second cycle of this self-study was to assess if and where I was meeting my pedagogical goals. The questions I asked to guide my self-study were how I taught and modeled critical praxis in the SEI class and where I saw evidence of critical praxis. As in the first cycle, I asked how the language I used constructed research and research practices.

I was the primary participant in this second cycle of design and analysis. I analyzed myself in collaboration with my students, the secondary participants. My students were not the focus of this cycle but their work and presence in my class and in my journal reflections helped me assess my pedagogy. I also analyzed my use of the course text I chose to teach research: Using Data to Improve Learning for All: A Collaborative Inquiry Approach edited by Love (2009). I position Love’s text as another secondary participant. My SEI course was the context of this cycle. The course ran from January to May 2014. I had 11 students in the class and we met for an hour and fifteen minutes twice a week. The complex relationships that constituted this context existed between the participants: myself, students and course material, and my pedagogical goals of engaging in praxis, and the state’s academic requirements.

In the second cycle of this self-study, I collected more data than in the first cycle because I was asking more questions and I needed to be able to analyze evolving and changing practices. My syllabus and specifically the research assignments within my syllabus as they evolved over the semester served as one body of data. Other data sources were the class agendas I created for each class I taught, the teaching journal I kept throughout the semester, student assignments, the Love (2009) research text, end of semester course evaluations, and personal correspondence between the students and me. It wasn’t until after the course had been taught that I analyzed all the data sources for Cycle 2. To analyze these various data sources I began once again by reading through each data set and journaling about the themes and answers to my research questions. I worked to recreate my experience of teaching and modeling research in the class. Next, I tried to create a praxis checklist. I thought it would be a good analytic tool to determine whether or not data could be considered praxis. However, because of the dialectical nature of praxis it was difficult and artificial to separate out specific components that could collectively make up praxis. Instead, I kept my definitions of praxis visible as I read through the data sets and took notes on where and how praxis might have existed. As the analyst, I needed to engage in a more theoretically informed reflective process of thinking through and about data as opposed to checking off a list. Drawing on the methods proposed by Paugh and Robinson (2009), I worked to hold myself responsible for the discourses I inhabited as the designer of the course, the instructor of the course, and the critical research praxis mentor by asking questions of pedagogy, questions of collaboration, and questions of power (p. 92). For instance, I analyzed the specific research assignments in the SEI course to determine if they were theoretically informed assignments. Drawing on my definition of critical research as praxis as being a change-enhancing, interactive, contextualized approach to knowledge building, and theorizing, grounded in respect for human capacity and focused on critiquing the structures of power, I asked if and how the assignments drew on collective and collaborative resources of all participants. Did the assignments meet the needs of our classroom context? Most importantly did the knowledge generated through the assignments have potential to be implemented in urban school contexts? Did our work question and raise awareness of issues of power and privilege? An important step in my analysis involved looking closely at the language in different data sets that was important to answering my research questions. I analyzed “not only what is present in the text, but what is absent” (Rogers, 2004, p. 7). CDA does not read political and social ideologies onto texts but rather it is the job of the analyst to discover relationships between texts, contexts, ways of being or discourses and the meanings made and conveyed through language.

Findings

Cycle 1: Designing Praxis

My self-study research story begins with relaying my process of incorporating critical research as praxis into my design of an SEI course. This story focuses on the interactions between my purpose, the participants, and the contexts (Paugh & Robinson, 2009).

I knew from the time I had been employed at my institution in 2008 until this study in 2014 that students enrolled in our teacher preparation program were not receiving the instruction they needed to work with ELLs. Four of the eight required courses in our undergraduate teacher preparation program for initial licensure in all subjects incorporated texts, discussions, and strategies for working with ELLs into the course work: Reading and Writing in the Content Areas, Culturally Responsive Education, Classroom Communication, and Student Teaching Practicum. However, the pedagogical approaches to ELLs taught in these courses involved modifying curriculum for ELLs as opposed to designing curriculum for ELLs. Students in these classes generally included modifications in their lesson plans such as allowing ELLs to work in groups and providing dictionaries or translators for ELLs. These modification strategies met the state requirements for pre-service teachers to employ appropriate sheltered English strategies for ELLs but did nothing to foster understanding of language acquisition or appreciation for ELLs.

In the fall 2013, I began designing the SEI course. I drew on several different graduate courses I had taught: English Language Acquisition Strategies and The Teacher and Cultural Change: Teaching Multilingual Students in K-12 Classrooms. I also consulted the SEI materials and sample syllabus circulated by the state (DESE) to find a text for teaching research in my SEI course. The text I decided upon was Using Data Improve Learning for All: A Collaborative Inquiry Approach (Love, 2009). I was very hesitant in choosing this book because data-driven instruction from my experience was terminology used within the discourse of scientifically based research. Within this discourse of research, studies should use:

an experimental or quasi-experimental design with a control group or a multiple-baseline method that should be applied to all inquiry for education. Programs and methods found to be effective through such studies are then assumed to be generalizable across educational contexts. This has led to concepts such as “best practices” and “scripted curriculum” with the understanding that once something has been proven to work it should work in all classrooms with all students. (Robinson, 2012, p. 106)

I chose the book based on assumptions I made of the text while scanning through the introduction and table of contents and finding language that aligned with my beliefs. The book's explanation of the problems schools face when using data provides an example of this language: “drilling students while failing to improve instruction; instituting practices that further exclude, label, or discriminate against students of color – will leave underserved students even worse off” (Love, 2009, p. ix). I read this statement as recognition of the inadequacy of school practices coming from an obsession with data. A footnote stating “It is with ambivalence and because we are still searching for a better term that we use the phrase ‘achievement gap’” (p. ix) signaled to me a critique of the dominant structures and discourses that blame students for inequitable opportunities. If I had read more deeply or widely, I would have found it more difficult to find forms of language that fit with the function of critiquing power and privilege. I hand-picked the language that supported discourses I wanted to bring into the context of my SEI course.

I incorporated three research assignments into my syllabus, hoping that each would engage students in critical research as praxis. The first was an interview the students would conduct with a bilingual person. The second research assignment asked students to research and interview someone from a community organization that provided services for immigrants, newcomers, or refugees. Finally, based on the Love (2009) text I asked the students to conduct a collaborative inquiry project, where they would work in groups to identify a common issue or problem and conduct research in order to create an action plan. CDA helped me to analyze the language I used to ask where knowledge was located, who generated knowledge, and how in each of the research assignments.

The interviews with a bilingual person and the community support professional were both about making connections. Each assignment positioned the person being interviewed as the expert and generator of knowledge. The knowledge generated by the interviewees in each assignment was different, however, and each assignment positioned ELLs differently. Bilinguals, potentially ELLs, would share their personal knowledge gained through different experiences making them the experts. On the other hand, the community support professionals would also be positioned as the experts, and would share professional knowledge aimed at helping ELLs. I asked students to make connections to themes and theories we had learned in class. The purpose was to share the personal knowledge and lessons they had collected from their interviews with bilinguals with one another as well as creating a resource list for our class of different community support organizations for ELLs. By design I asked students to build interactive and contextualized knowledge.

I was perhaps most excited about the Collaborative Inquiry Project (Fig. 2). I envisioned an interactive, contextualized approach to knowledge building (Lather, 1986, p. 260) where my students would read about collaborative research practices and then design their own Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) in order to research a question they had about working with ELLs.

Fig. 2. 
Assignment from Syllabus.

Fig. 2.

Assignment from Syllabus.

The last stage of designing the SEI course was to submit the syllabus to Massachusetts DESE for review. The feedback from the DESE reviewer indicated that the course needed more content to meet the requirement that all teachers know federal and Massachusetts laws and regulations pertaining to ELLs. I responded by crafting the collaborative inquiry project around questions students had about laws and regulations pertaining to ELLs. This approach was accepted by DESE and the course was approved to meet the SEI requirement.

Cycle 2: Analyzing Praxis

The story of the second cycle of design and analysis is about what I learned from conducting a self-study focusing on how I taught and modeled praxis, and where I saw evidence of critical praxis as research within the SEI course. Of the three assignments I designed to incorporate critical praxis as research throughout the course, analysis of my multiple data sources at the local, institutional, and societal levels (Fairclough, 1992) demonstrated only one resulted in the class engaging in research in ways that I could define as critical praxis. Through studying myself as I taught and modeled research I learned that designing curriculum around theory led to students engaging in critical research as praxis while designing curriculum around research led to students engaging in traditional research projects. I will share my experiences and learning from the first few weeks of the SEI class which I believe clearly demonstrate ways in which I was successful in teaching and modeling praxis and ways in which I was not.

I started off the first class of the fall 2014 semester by drawing on my theoretical understandings of Backwards Design (Wiggins & McTighe, 2005). This meant that I began the course by explaining the course goals to ensure students understood the purpose of the course. Table 1 shows a chart from the syllabus explaining the course goals and objectives and how those objectives would be assessed.

Table 1.

SEI Course Learning Goals, Objectives, and Assessments.

Goals Objectives Assessments
Upon successful completion of this course, students will: Upon successful completion of this course, students will be able to: How the student will be assessed on these learning objectives:
Understand the importance of language and culture in teaching and learning in order to engage in culturally sustaining practices
  • Identify and explain the basic structure and functions of language

  • Identify and explain the major concepts, theories, and research related to the nature and acquisition of language

  • Identify and explain the subsystems of language including phonology, morphology, syntax, pragmatics, and semantics

  • Use understanding of oral language development in literacy development to support ELLs in developing academic as well as social literacy

  • Apply concepts and theories of first and second language acquisition to facilitate ELL students’ attainment of English in academic and social settings

  • Apply understanding of the major principles, theories, and research pertaining to the influence of cultural groups in designing instruction that supports ELL students’ cultural identities and academic needs

  • Read Massachusetts Department for Elementary and Secondary Education (2012). User guide for DART (District Analysis and Review Tools) Detail: English Language Learners (p. 5–27)

  • Prepare notes to explain DART to someone else

  • Design lessons that support ELL students’ development of oral language, literacy, and academic content

  • Conduct interviews with bilinguals

  • Professional Learning Community Inquiry Projects (poster session)

  • Microteach a lesson

Understand through research and praxis (theory, action, and reflection) theories and practices of different strategies/approaches to instructing ELLs
  • Implementation of strategies for coordinating SEI and English language development instruction for ELLs

  • Design lessons that support ELL’s development of oral language, literacy, and academic content

  • Microteaching and providing feedback on other’s SIOP (sheltered instruction observational protocol) lessons

  • Lesson plan (SIOP)

  • Weekly journal reflections on educational experiences and ongoing inquiry projects

Understand mechanisms through which social, cultural, or global differences are perceived, understood, and constructed
  • Identify the differences related to the area of study in their historical or geographical context

  • Compare different standpoints and perspectives about diverse communities

  • Explain how differences are constructed or reinforced

  • Review demographic and enrollment myths about ELLs (Samway & McKeon, 2007)

  • Share Identity Kits

  • Ongoing exploration of identity and ELLs through journals, and research projects

  • Interviews with bilinguals and 2–3 page analysis addressing: what was learned, what new questions were raised, and what kinds of class connections can be made

In an attempt to model inclusive practices for ELLs I began the first class by explaining that good classrooms are supportive communities that value and respect all members. Our first collaborative endeavor was to get to know each other and build our community. In our second class, I shared/modeled my “identity kit.” This is an activity where everyone has 5 minutes to share who they are with the class. This can be done through any form of communication, and creativity is encouraged. I generally share artifacts, personal information, and pictures that are important to me. I asked the students to informally define identity with a partner and discuss why their identity is important. Next, we worked to theorize identity through discussion of a quote: “Affirmation of identity refers to the establishment of the respect and trust between educators and students that is crucial for each to reflect critically on their own experience and beliefs” (Cummins, 2001, p. 4). In my journal notes from the second class I wrote: “great discussion about who we are and how our identity is linked to learning!” Another outcome of teaching, theorizing, and modeling identity work was to challenge the status quo of traditional classroom dynamics. Students made personal connections with one another and with me that they might not have made without the opportunities to explore identity. It was a small class, of 11 students, but our ability to discuss personal connections to the course material started from almost the first class.

In our third class session, I was excited to introduce the PLCs and continue our meaningful discussions about supporting all students’ learning. I had asked students to read the Introduction of the Love (2009) book about using data to improve learning. The questions I asked in class were:

  • Why are we reading this book?

  • What is your groups’ impression of data and research in education?

  • Choose one of the assumptions informing this book (p. xiv) and discuss your beliefs about this assumption and be ready to share with the class.

As evidenced from notes in my teaching journal, the students were feeling comfortable enough due to our community building work to state their dislike of this book before we were able to get into a discussion of the assumptions informing the book. I explained my research agenda and told the class that I was going to be conducting research on my practices just as they would be conducting research on issues that they found important to them (related to ELLs and policies). The students were not persuaded. They felt the book was too “hard.” I directed their attention to a quotation I had highlighted as important to our discussion. “When schools build collaborative cultures, commit to all students’ learning, and use data systematically through ongoing inquiry into improving instruction they improve results for students” (Love, 2009 p. x). I tried to link the idea of collaborative cultures to our previous discussions of identity and community building. The discussion fell flat. My journal notes only that I didn’t get to put students in collaborative inquiry groups and I needed to form PLCs in the next class.

The students’ responses at the beginning of the course signaled a building of praxis. They embraced theorizing about identity and building community to challenge inequalities through sharing personal narratives. I saw through my journal reflection as well as the student assignments some indicators of where I was successful in teaching and modeling praxis. Students’ response to knowledge generation that was personalized through our identity work carried over into their learning about themselves and others through conducting interviews with bilinguals and reading and reflecting on the narratives and stories of immigrant teenagers in Hauser’s (2011) book The New Kids: Big Dreams and Brave Journeys at a High School for Immigrant Teens. Students infused their lesson plans and microteaching with activities to draw on students’ funds of knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 2001). “Schema” referring to a person’s life experiences that shape their worldview became our class word to explain everything!

The place where I struggled with implementing research as praxis was in the PLCs. These groups needed continual support and renegotiation. Up until the last month of class the PLCs were still trying to work out their research questions. The final presentations were Power Points rather than the poster presentations I had designed in the syllabus. Students asked for this format because it was familiar and easy to present. The Power Point format signaled to me a re-creation of traditional research practices and presentations. There was no desire for open discussion of the research and there were no action plans. One group contrasted policies regarding ELLs in California and Massachusetts. Another group focused on techniques school counselors might use when working with ELLs. The theory informing these presentations was not explicit. The end purpose for the presentations was to fulfill a class requirement not enact change.

In this second cycle of design and analysis journaling throughout my class allowed me to analyze assignments and class discussions and design classes that responded to my students’ needs. The context of our class evolved as I reflected, often with the students, about where we were in our learning process and the goals we wanted to achieve. However, it was not until after the class finished and I went back to my data that I was able to make sense of what had happened during the course. I wanted to know what factors had contributed to the success of certain practices and assignments as engaging in critical praxis as research and others as reproducing the status quo and dominant ideologies of knowledge.

Returning to CDA I identified passages from the Love text that explained the book’s orientation to research. I analyzed these passages by asking questions about where knowledge is located, how it is generated and by whom. I also analyzed for what was missing from the text. Why had I originally chosen this book as fitting with my conception of research as praxis? Through a close analysis of the language in the book, I could claim that Love’s conceptions of knowledge generation fit with my sociocultural approach. The discussion in the book about the social construction of data demonstrates this point. “Data have no meaning. Meaning is imposed through interpretation. Frames of reference-the way we see the world- influence the meaning we derive from data” (p. xiv). I had originally read this passage and assumed this book would support building knowledge and conducting research as praxis. However, I did not code any of the assignments the students created relating to this book as demonstrations of praxis. What was missing?

CDA allowed me to analyze the text for what was left out: a theoretical reference or grounding for the process of collaborative data-driven inquiry. Throughout the book, data is positioned as driving learning and inquiry. There is no mention of theory and no theoretical explanation or section within the book. The language I found resonated with my ideals of collaboration; however, language of equity, inquiry, and theory was distinctly missing. Theory, practice, research, and action are all key components of critical research as praxis. Without the tools of theory to help us understand and question why certain things occur, how might we begin to change the way things are? I cannot expect students to engage in critical research as praxis if theory is missing.

Self-study analysis helped me recognize my students’ engagement in critical research as praxis. When students built on their own personal narratives as tools they were able to understand the theory of funds of knowledge. Respecting and recognizing knowledge generation as being contextualized, the students then interacted with bilinguals through interviews to change their views about ELLs and build knowledge of how to work effectively with ELLs. When I imposed a research structure and a non-theoretical book about collaborative data-driven research on my students, there was no praxis. Instead, they completed the assignments but had no action plans for change or no theories to explain their findings. Theory cannot be omitted.

Educational and Pedagogical Importance of the Study

Through the reflective process of self-study, I have come to recognize the importance of theory within research practices as tools for preparing future teachers. This speaks to the need to keep teacher preparation programs housed within institutions of higher education. Without an academic, theoretical approach to teaching, there is little hope of interrupting the dominant structures that maintain inequality and injustice in our education system. When my students were not engaged in critical research as praxis, their research provided knowledge that perpetuated existing power structures. They were not able to create action plans or build change-enhancing knowledge. When my students were engaged in praxis they challenged their assumptions and built their potential to engage simultaneously in theory, practice, research, and action.

Another realization that came from conducting this self-study relates to the power and privilege of English within the SEI model. If the goal is to use critical praxis to interrupt dominant paradigms then I must use theory to question the imbalance and inherent deficit perceptions of other languages through the SEI lens. The hegemony of English is made visible through examination of the language used in different research practices and assignments in my course. The lessons I learned and stories I heard from investing in identity development and community building point to the need for inclusive and culturally sustaining practices. Many practices in SEI rely on exclusion of all languages other than English. The English-only approach not only ignores the inherent tools of ELLs but also does little to acknowledge the culture and identity of ELLs. For my own practices, this means taking a critical research as praxis stance to look at alternative linguistically and culturally sustaining (Paris, 2012) approaches for working with ELLs.

References

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Prelims
Enhancing Teacher Education for an Inclusive Pluralistic World: A Shared Commitment across Multiple Landscapes
Part I Teacher Educator Professional Development in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Contexts: A Lifelong Process
The Accidental Teacher Educator: Learning to be a Language Teacher Educator within Diverse Populations
Using Self-Study to Examine Our Research and Teaching Practices as EFL Teacher Educators in Colombia
Getting Down to Identities to Trace a New Career Path: Understanding Novice Teacher Educator Identities in Multicultural Education Teaching
Discursive Resources in a Multicultural Education Course
Developing an Inquiry Stance in Diverse Teacher Candidates: A Self-Study by Four Culturally, Ethnically, and Linguistically Diverse Teacher Educators
Reframing Our Use of Visual Literacy through Academic Diversity: A Cross-Disciplinary Collaborative Self-Study
Part II Pedagogical Practices and Policies Related to Linguistic Diversity and Language Development
Preparing Teachers for English Learners in Rural Settings
Facilitating Preservice Teachers’ Transformation through Intercultural Learning: Reflections from a Self-Study
Impacting Classrooms and Ourselves: A Self-Study Investigation of Our Work with and within an Indigenous Pueblo Community
Sifting Through Shifting Sands: Confronting the Self in Teaching Bilingual Emirati Preservice Teachers
Cycles of Research: A Self-Study of Teaching Research in a Sheltered English Instruction Course
Toward a Coherent Approach to Preparing Mainstream Teachers to Teach Language to Emergent Bilingual Learners: Self-Study in TESOL Teacher Education
Moving beyond “Très bien”: Examining Teacher Mediation in Lesson Rehearsals
Index