¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 In the United States, K-12 student population, especially in public education, is increasingly of children of color and Hispanic origin, while the population educating these children remains largely Caucasian. In 2010, only 52% of American students were white, 1 while 84% of teachers were white. 2 Educational research suggests white, middle class teachers are often poorly prepared to effectively teach students from minority and lower income backgrounds, 3 meanwhile, a significant achievement gap persists between students from low-income and minority backgrounds and their white, Asian, and middle-class peers. 4
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 To understand why achievement disparities exist, preservice teachers need to explore issues of power, privilege, and prejudice, and to understand institutional and societal structures impeding the success of affected populations. This is often easier said than done. Teacher educators frequently report student resistance to discussing race. 5 Students deny race as a salient factor in their lives and see racism as a problem of the past. 6 They claim not to notice race 7 and to adopt what is known as a colorblind perspective. 8 Colorblindness suggests that because race should not matter; it does not matter. It coincides with a belief in the United States as a meritocracy and the world as a fair and just place. 9 From a colorblind perspective, acknowledging a person’s race as an important characteristic is offensive and suggestive of underlying prejudice. 10 Accordingly, race is treated as an invisible characteristic that polite people neither see nor discuss. Such beliefs make frank discussions of power, privilege and prejudice challenging for educators and students.
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The purpose of the Identity Exploration Assignment (in this volume) was to have pre-service teachers write and share identity narratives in a multi-course blog. Assignment designers hypothesized that preservice teachers who reflected on their own childhood identity development in addition to reading and commenting on identity narratives from a diverse group of peers would gain appreciation for the influence of group memberships in the interactions that shape K-12 students’ identities. The instructors hoped that such an appreciation would increase preservice teachers’ receptivity to discussions of race and ethnicity in students’ educational experiences. When students interact with peers from different racial/ethnic groups and discuss racial/ethnic issues there is often a positive effect on educational outcomes. 11 In a profession that is 84% white and 84% female, 12 education courses may suffer from homogeneity. Pre-service teachers may not have the opportunity to hear first-hand accounts from students of different backgrounds. Web 2.0 applications that allow students to share work across a more diverse student cohort can address this deficiency.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 A pilot effort began with five sections of an educational foundations course offered at Old Dominion University in Spring 2013. Working with a writing instructor/digital humanities scholar, three participating instructors designed The Identity Exploration Assignment, a heavily scaffolded web writing project in which students engaged with texts about identity development, reflected on their own membership in various social groups, produced “This I Believe” 13 style essays, and posted them to a course blog. 14Students tagged their posts with group memberships enabling classmates to identify and respond to students they perceived as similar to/different from themselves. Students concluded the assignment with a final piece of reflective writing.
¶ 6 Leave a comment on paragraph 6 2 Several considerations made identity development the ideal topic for the assignment. First, the literature suggests attitudes associated with colorblindness are typical of white students in the first stage of racial identity development, what Helms 15 calls the contact developmental status. 16 Assignment designers hoped that students who studied identity development would become more aware of their own identity development, and to understand that developmental growth can be accompanied by feelings of anger, guilt, and discomfort. Second, the students are future teachers who may profoundly impact the identities of young people. Reading stories of young people’s identity development — especially ones recounting the influences of teachers and peers — illuminates the powerful role, and thus responsibility, teachers have in shaping students’ identities. Stories can illustrate how teachers’ beliefs about various groups, conscious or unconscious, affect their interactions with members of those groups. Finally, engaging in reflective writing and thinking, exploring personal histories, acknowledging membership in different groups, and learning about the lives and experiences of other groups are specific activities suggested for education students to become culturally responsive teachers. 17
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 1 Assignment designers wanted students to do most of their intellectual work, as well as demonstrate their learning, through writing for three reasons. First writing-to-learn is a well-documented pedagogical strategy that provides students with (usually lower-stakes) writing assignments that allow them to think through what they are learning. 18 Students needed to slow down and take the time to really think through what they were learning about the importance of group memberships, especially in education, and connect it to their own identity development experiences. Second, students would improve their writing skills while writing to learn. Raimes argues “[w]hile we agreed that it was not the business of biology or art history teachers to be teaching and correcting the basic mechanics of writing, it was nevertheless important for them to assign plenty of writing to teach students their subjects”. 19 And part of learning any discipline is understanding its theoretical and philosophical underpinnings which are present in the type, style, and genres of writing privileged in that discipline. Writing to learn would help the students process their own learning; learning to write would help them mature as future educators.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 Assignment designers layered the project so that students could write their way through their learning and continue to build upon their thinking in a scaffolded manner. As discussed above, students’ belief systems make it difficult for them to understand how power, privilege and prejudice operate within educational systems and in their own interactions. Faculty who teach writing typically argue for scaffolding larger assignments, 20 especially research projects, 21 as a way to help students break up the tough intellectual labor of finding, analyzing, and synthesizing information from the just as difficult work of arranging and presenting their thinking through writing. Rosenshine and Meister 22 demonstrate that scaffolding can be used to teach higher-level cognitive strategies. In a scaffolded assignment, students used write-to-learn activities to help process what they were learning about diversity and their own identity development and then worked through steps to present what they learned in a more formal, polished manner.
¶ 9 Leave a comment on paragraph 9 2 Assignment designers had students post, read, and respond in a blog for three reasons. First, the functionality of a blog served the purposes of the assignment objectives. As an online repository for the work, students could easily post and then see and comment on one another’s postings. Many scholars suggest benefits of various Web 2.0 applications 23 including the ability to share work more widely, and with a more diverse audience. Tagging allowed students to efficiently find peers with similar/dissimilar group memberships. Having students develop new user accounts within an instance of a WordPress blog outside of any institutionally affiliated software, gave student the option of using pseudonyms which enabled them to discuss sensitive issues freely.
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 2 Second, by writing in the “public” space of a blog, available to anyone with Internet access, where “real” people might read their work, students might take their writing more seriously. Early scholarship in computers and writing hailed the “achieved utopia” of networked classrooms; however, articles like Selfe and Selfe 24 and Taylor 25 quickly demonstrated that culture still carried into cyberspace. Recognizing difference in digital spaces becomes important to scholars demonstrating that students benefit from writing in more “public” spaces, defining either the class 26 or the wider internet as the potential “public” audience. 27 Students realize that their public audience is potentially different from themselves. Accepting that cultural cues migrate in digital spaces and that “public” writing helps students learn both content and writing, instructors like Tougaw 28 as well as Hull and James 29 explicitly use digital writing environments to get students to explore aspects of their identity and cultural experiences.
¶ 11 Leave a comment on paragraph 11 3 Third, having students work within the digital writing environment of a blog helps develop a variety of “21st Century Literacies.” As of August 2013, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has 21 position statements related to “21st Century Literacies.” 30 In 2008, while working with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and their Framework for 21st Century Learning, 31 NCTE adopted “The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies.” 32 The Identity Exploration Assignment, especially as it is developed in a blog, helps students meet four of six elements in NCTE’s definition; the assignment’s learning objective is to explicitly “build intentional cross-cultural connections.”
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Although not perfect, students who completed the Identity Exploration Assignment appeared to meet both the primary objective of improving understanding of diversity as well as the secondary objective of improving writing skills.
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Identity Development and Diversity
Students enrolled in a foundations of education course participated in the Identity Exploration project. Approximately 80% of participants were female; 75% were white, 15% Black and 10% were other racial/ethnic backgrounds. Four sections were taught face to face and consisted primarily of traditionally aged college students. One section was taught online and included more older and non-traditional students.
¶ 14 Leave a comment on paragraph 14 0 Prior to an instructional unit on diversity, instructors administered a pretest consisting of demographic questions and three diversity related scales. The Professional Belief Scale 33 measured students’ beliefs related to teaching. The Color-Blind Racial Attitudes Scale 34 assessed students’ racial attitudes. Fifteen items from the Multicultural Sensitivity Scale 35 assessed interracial personal and teaching interactions. The questions in all three surveys were coded so higher values indicated greater discomfort with diversity/denial of racial and ethnic influences. At the end of the course, instructors gave a posttest including the three diversity scales and a researcher-designed survey evaluating students’ attitudes toward the project.
¶ 15 Leave a comment on paragraph 15 0 Researchers ran paired samples t-tests with a Bonferroni adjusted p-value to control for family-wise error to compare participant attitudes on the three diversity measures pre- and posttest. There was a significant difference in students’ Professional Beliefs from pretest (M=2.32, SD=0.38) to posttest (M=2.19, SD=0.38); t(49)=4.957, p < 0.001. The mean score was lower at the posttest suggesting students had attitudes more accepting of diversity and more knowledgeable of institutional inequities at the end of the course than at the beginning. To uncover how the students’ attitudes were changing, paired sample t-tests were run on the individual survey items. Items with significant changes are reported in Table 1 below.
|The traditional classroom has been set up to support the middle class lifestyle.||2.79||2.40||2.763||.008|
|Students and teachers would benefit from having a basic understanding of different (diverse) religions.||1.83||1.57||2.184||.033|
|The attention girls receive in school is comparable to the attention boys receive.||2.92||2.58||2.475||.017|
|Tests, particularly standardized tests, have frequently been used as a basis for segregating students.||2.83||2.49||2.231||.030|
|Teachers often expect less from students from the lowest socioeconomic class.||2.60||2.26||2.231||.030|
|Large numbers of students of color are improperly placed in special education classes by school personnel.||3.09||2.55||3.869||.000|
¶ 18 Leave a comment on paragraph 18 0 Researchers found no significant difference in students’ Colorblind Racial Attitudes from pretest (M=3.18, SD=0.69) to posttest (M=3.10, SD=0.63); t(49)=1.397, p = 0.169 suggesting students’ beliefs about the salience of race did not change significantly pre to posttest.
¶ 19 Leave a comment on paragraph 19 0 There was a significant difference in students’ Multicultural Sensitivity from pretest (M=2.05, SD=0.77) to posttest (M=2.32, SD=0.72); t(49)=-3.863, p < 0.001. The mean score was higher at the posttest suggesting students were more insensitive to multicultural interactions at the end of the semester. Looking at individual items with significant pre to post changes (see Table 2), students reported greater discomfort interacting with people from racial/ethnic groups other than their own at the posttest.
|I have a tendency to trust students of my racial/ethnic group more than I trust those of other racial/ethnic groups.||2.11||3.00||-4.768||.000|
|I feel most secure when I am in the presence of members of my racial/ethnic group.||2.89||3.23||-1.970||.054|
|I feel less comfortable when I socialize with persons outside my racial/ethnic group.||2.19||2.49||-2.308||.025|
|In order to be accepted by persons of other racial/ethnic groups, I frequently find myself altering my behavior.||2.11||2.43||-1.991||.052|
|I naturally respond more favorably to students of my racial/ethnic group.||2.17||2.66||-3.238||.002|
|I prefer teaching students with whom I can identify racially/ethnically.||1.92||2.23||-2.358||.022|
|I would feel more relaxed if I could work with students of my own racial/ethnic group.||2.09||2.43||-2.691||.010|
|I classify students on the basis of obvious racial/ethnic characteristics.||1.72||2.08||-2.657||.010|
¶ 22 Leave a comment on paragraph 22 0 Students evaluated the Identity Exploration Assignment very highly (see Table 3). The great majority of students found it a valuable learning activity and enjoyed participating.
|Survey Question||Percent agree (somewhat or strongly)||Mean|
|By completing the Identity Exploration Assignment. . .|
|I learned about identity development.||85||4.20|
|I learned about myself.||83||4.17|
|I learned about the effects of group memberships on people’s identity.||91||4.41|
|I learned how other students’ group memberships affected them in ways I hadn’t previously considered.||86||4.38|
|Section 1 (Watching the videos, reading the articles and posting on the VoiceThread) helped me understand the effect of group memberships on identity development.||86||4.26|
|Section 2 (Completing the “Remembering Yourself” worksheet) helped me understand the effect of group memberships on identity development.||85||4.13|
|Section 3 (Reading the This I Believe stories of the high school students) helped me understand the effect of group memberships on identity development.||89||4.28|
|Section 4 (Writing your own story) helped me understand the effect of group memberships on identity development.||85||4.27|
|Section 5 (Reading other people’s stories and making comments) helped me understand the effect of group memberships on identity development.||90||4.49|
|Section 6 of the Identity Exploration project (Reflecting on the whole project) helped me understand the effect of group memberships on identity development.||91||4.43|
|The Identity Exploration project was beneficial to me as a future teacher.||89||4.38|
|I enjoyed participating in the Identity Exploration project.||84||4.16|
|The Identity Exploration Assignment was a good opportunity to practice my writing skills.||78||4.07|
|The WordPress site we used for the Identity Exploration project was easy to use overall.||76||3.98|
¶ 25 Leave a comment on paragraph 25 0 The multi-course blog allowed students to explore the influence of group memberships on identity development with a diverse cohort of peers. Findings suggest students better understood the effects of group membership on interpersonal interactions and educational experiences at the posttest. Students’ awareness of educational inequities increased pre-post as evidenced by the changes in students’ professional beliefs. The most interesting finding was the increase in students’ Multicultural Sensitivity Scale scores showing that students perceived greater discomfort interacting with others outside their racial/ethnic group at the posttest. Caution must be used interpreting this finding as it is not clear whether students actually became less comfortable interacting interracially, if they became more aware of their discomfort, or if they are more willing to admit discomfort. In any of these cases, the result can be interpreted as a cautiously optimistic sign of students’ willingness to acknowledge race/ethnicity as a potentially important demographic characteristic warranting consideration in educational interactions. It also opens the door to explore students’ previously unacknowledged biases. At the same time, the results are also a call to action for the course instructors and program coordinators. Thoughtfully planned and scaffolded instruction is clearly needed to help students explore their racial and ethnic biases and the reasons behind discomfort they may experience in intercultural interactions. If further exercises are not implemented, instead of opening a door to explore prejudices, this writing exercise might only serve to make implicit prejudices explicit and to deter future teacher from working with diverse populations.
¶ 26 Leave a comment on paragraph 26 0 In a colorblind perspective, acknowledgement of race/ethnicity suggests underlying prejudice. 36 That participants in this study were more willing at posttest to admit they notice race/ethnicity and concede that interracial interactions are less comfortable for them to negotiate can be seen as a positive development. This discomfort may be indicative of the second stage of racial identity development, disintegration 37 where individuals become conflicted over unresolvable racial moral dilemmas, like believing one is nonracist yet not wanting to work with students of a different racial group. By sharing stories of identity, students may have progressed in their own identity development.
¶ 27 Leave a comment on paragraph 27 1 While students reported more discomfort in interracial interactions after the diversity unit ended, they found the project to be a valuable learning experience. This suggests discomfort may be a valuable part of the learning process. To take that a step further, students may have to be willing to get uncomfortable if they are going to learn to be culturally responsive teachers.
Leave a comment on paragraph 28 2
The primary goal of the assignment was to increase student understanding of diversity-related issues within the American education system, in particular how students’ identities are shaped by their group memberships and interactions with others. However, in using writing as a primary tool to help facilitate this learning, a secondary goal was to help students improve their writing. As already shown in Table 3, 78% of the students somewhat or strongly agreed that the assignment “was a good opportunity to practice my writing skills.” Of the 91 students who responded to the survey evaluating the assignment, 32 made general comments about the benefit of reading and learning from one another’s text; they may have become more aware of themselves as potential audience members. Six made comments that demonstrated their awareness of the others reading their work; some of these comments included:
- ¶ 29 Leave a comment on paragraph 29 0
- When people commented on my story they gave praise and I knew that they were engaged into what I was saying.
- I was a little disappointed because I really put myself out there and only received feedback from one person.
- At first I was apprehensive about others being able to read my story.
- I did not feel comfortable sharing my story at all, and did not feel comfortable reading others as well.
¶ 30 Leave a comment on paragraph 30 2 And one student who claimed “It should be simply turned in on Blackboard” missed the assignment objective of learning from reading other students’ work as well as learning from comments left by other student. Four more students emphasized that the assignment was “hard work” and took a lot of time. Three more mentioned the scaffolding, one praised the assignment being broken up into smaller pieces and the other two think it should have been smaller/shorter and had fewer sections.
¶ 31 Leave a comment on paragraph 31 0 The general positive feedback on the assignment, especially the benefit of reading one another’s work, suggests students both learned and were metacognitively aware they learned through writing, reading, and comparing.
Leave a comment on paragraph 32 3
Students who participated in a multi-section blog assignment as part of an introductory education course found the writing-to-learn activity to enhance their appreciation of diverse perspectives and a good opportunity to practice writing skills. Survey results also suggest students felt less comfortable interacting with individuals of different racial and ethnic backgrounds after a diversity unit than before. It is unclear exactly what caused these results. The class discussions on diversity-related topics, the Identity Exploration blog assignment, and 30-hour classroom observation placements may all have been contributing factors. More research is warranted to elucidate the reasons for the shift in attitudes.
¶ 33 Leave a comment on paragraph 33 3 It is important to acknowledge that these changes are occurring in the first course in a teacher preparation program and that more instruction and intercultural interactions are needed before students graduate if these pre-service teachers are to feel comfortable and competent interacting with students from diverse backgrounds in their future classrooms. So, while discomfort is a hopeful first step in the right direction, it necessitates subsequent steps. If the initial step is left unsupported, it could result in pre-service students stepping away from opportunities to work with diverse populations. The use of writing-to-learn activities supported by Web 2.0 technologies, like blogs, can be essential tools to facilitate greater intercultural interaction which enables this process.
¶ 34 Leave a comment on paragraph 34 0 About the Authors: Rochelle (Shelley) Rodrigo is Assistant Professor of Rhetoric & (New) Media at Old Dominion University. She was as a full time faculty member for nine years in English and film studies at Mesa Community College in Arizona. Shelley researches how “newer” technologies better facilitate communicative interactions, more specifically teaching and learning. As well as co-authoring the first and second editions of The Wadsworth Guide to Research, Shelley was also co-editor of Rhetorically Rethinking Usability (Hampton Press).
¶ 35 Leave a comment on paragraph 35 0 Jennifer Kidd is a lecturer in the department of Teaching and Learning at Old Dominion University. Previously she taught at the elementary level in Chicago; Budapest, Hungary; and Newport News, Virginia. Her current research interests center on the use of web 2.0 technologies to support teaching and learning and include student-authored instructional content, peer assessment, classroom community, and diversity. She received a Digital Media and Learning grant from HASTAC/The MacArthur Foundation and funding from the National Science Foundation to support the production of a student-authored wiki textbook in her educational foundations course.
- ¶ 37 Leave a comment on paragraph 37 0
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