AbstractsEducation Research & Administration

Investigating Students' Situated Understandings of Criticality in a Master of Arts TESOL Course

by Kyle Nuske

Institution: Indiana University of Pennsylvania
Year: 2015
Keywords: critical pedagogy ; language teacher training ; teacher education
Record ID: 2057926
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/2069/2289


Critical work has become an important or even canonical domain of TESOL and Applied Linguistics scholarship, yet there is a dearth of information on how novice scholar-practitioners engage with critical pedagogical theories in their formative early stages of cultivating disciplinary expertise. In order to address this gap, the present study investigated how graduate students interacted with critical concepts in a required first-semester Master of Arts TESOL course at an American university and the factors that structured their evolving and situated understandings of criticality. Prior to the start of instruction, interviews with the instructor were combined with analysis of course documents to yield a series of critical principles that guided the course: students would be prompted to become advocates for themselves and others while rejecting universalized teaching methods and embracing the breadth of contested knowledge in TESOL. Subsequently, the triangulation of interview, concept mapping, and classroom observation data was employed to elicit shifts in participants' (n=13) understandings of criticality. For all participants, the pursuit of criticality was a complex, contradictory, and non-linear process deeply bound with their lived histories as shaped by fluctuating confluences of privilege and marginalization. Nonetheless, clear patterns emerged among the outcomes of instruction, enabling the classification of participants into three categories: 1) Those who understood criticality and were able to discern concrete pedagogical applications of critical principles (n=4); 2) Those who understood criticality but were unable or unwilling to determine concrete applications (n=6); and 3) Those who demonstrated limited transformation of their pre-instruction understandings (n=3). Factors that inhibited participants in categories 2 and 3 from developing more substantive and enduring manifestations of criticality included: the perceived unsuitability of critical approaches for intended future teaching contexts, struggles to cultivate the student habitus valued in American universities, devaluation of localized Englishes, intracurricular contradictions, unacknowledged privilege, and anxieties about linguistic performance. The study concludes by recommending methods of conducting critical teacher training in TESOL programs and making suggestions for future research.