By strengthening communication between faculty in inclusive teacher education programs and mentor teachers in fieldwork placements, pre-service teachers may be better positioned to engage in meaningful conversations about ability and race with young children.
Conversations about ability and race in early childhood can make a significant impact on their views later in life, yet early educators often aren't prepared to facilitate these conversations.
Maggie Beneke, assistant professor at the University of Washington College of Education, explored this challenge in her study "Race and Ability Talk in Early Childhood: Critical Inquiry into Shared Book Reading Practices with Pre-service Teachers," which is being honored with the Disability Studies in Education Outstanding Dissertation Award during the 2018 annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association. Read more about Beneke's study online.
"Given what they gleaned from their early educational experiences, experiences in university coursework, and fieldwork, the white, able-bodied pre-service teachers in my study had few means by which to enter critical conversations about ability and race with young children during shared book reading," Beneke said.
By using critical reflective video analysis to support pre-service teachers' recognition of the need for talk about ability and race with young children, however, Beneke said teachers were able to increase opportunities for children to participate in conversations about ability and race.
Beneke said her study points to the need to bring an expanded definition of inclusive education into early childhood and early childhood special education teacher preparation programs.
"Taking an expanded inclusive education perspective in teacher preparation programs means teacher educators can bring to light the underlying and potentially oppressive structures that organize the work of teaching and learning in early childhood," Beneke said. "This perspective is also important for teacher education, in that it can support pre-service teachers in challenging their assumptions and practices that perpetuate deficit-based narratives about difference."
Beneke also noted the importance of creating spaces for children to enter into dialogue with texts, and for teachers to see children as language users, rather than simply language recipients.
"This means recognizing children's capacity to wrestle with notions of fairness as they conceptualize what it means to be a citizen and take action toward social justice," Beneke said.
Finally, Beneke said there's a need for teacher education programs to re-examine links between coursework and fieldwork placements for pre-service teachers. In her study, pre-service teachers reported experiencing few conversations about ability and race in their fieldwork placements. Mentor teachers' shared book reading practice focused on teaching explicit literacy skills, as opposed to providing conversational space for children to engage in dialogue and consider multiple perspectives.
Beneke said a variety of models for university-school partnerships exist that may be useful for teacher educators in supporting this link, such as 1) teaching a literacy methods course on-site that incorporates an expanded definition of inclusive education and critical literacy, or 2) organizing professional learning communities that engage in ongoing dialogue about classroom ability and race talk, reflecting on challenges in context, building collective understandings about critical literacy, and working together to improve practice.
"By strengthening communication between faculty in inclusive teacher education programs and mentor teachers in fieldwork placements, pre-service teachers may be better positioned to engage in meaningful conversations about ability and race with young children," Beneke said.
Beneke will discuss her research during an April 17 AERA session starting at 8:15 a.m. in the Sheraton New York Times Square.
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