Dialogue Journals and Transformational Learning: Latino Students and Their Professor “Talk-back” to Each Other

Dialogue Journals and Transformational Learning: Latino Students and Their Professor “Talk-back” to Each Other

Yolanda Nieves (Wilbur Wright College, Chicago, IL, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/ijavet.2014010101
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Abstract

This article explores how dialogue journals can lead to a transformative learning experience. Adult Latino students enrolled in a community college developmental reading class agree to speak truth to power through this critical writing process. Using Mezirow's(2002) transformational learning theory, Brookfield's (2000) concepts on teaching for critical thinking, and Cranton's (2000) ideas of individuation and strategy for fostering self-awareness in students, the students and professor “talk-back” to each other through dialogue journals. The complexities of discourse, culture, and individuation or resistance to it are revealed.
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Background

For almost a decade I have been teaching developmental classes, synonymously referred to as remedial courses, at the community college where I work. Semester after semester my developmental classes have been disproportionately populated by students of color, usually African-American and Latino students. These developmental classes are often taught by adjunct faculty. Alexander (2010) proposes” our current system…is a set of structural arrangements that locks a racially distinct group into a subordinate political, social, and economic position, effectively creating second-class citizenship…the system itself is structured to lock them into a subordinate position”(p. 185). My adult students are usually well aware of their placement in non-transferable courses, the classes deemed lowest on the academic spectrum, because they didn’t “test” into the college-level classes they wanted and needed. Having survived a maze of underfunded public education and minimum wage jobs, many of these adult learners have overcome immense hurdles. Attending community college is the “last chance” for a better life. Thus, the adult learners in my evening classes are focused and eager to please their Latina professor in spite of arriving to class extremely tired from their day’s work.

The evening developmental classes were congenial, but I was disconcerted that the lessons, as dictated by the skills book, did not address the students’ aspirations of what they wanted to accomplish as adult learners. hooks writes, “In recent years we have been challenged as educators to examine the ways in which we support, either consciously or unconsciously, the existing structures of domination…we may unwittingly collude with structures of domination because of the way learning is organized at institutions (p. 45). As I deviated from the established curriculum and added more African American, Latino, and Asian-American authors into the reading list, the students enthusiastically engaged with the readings. We used these “alternative” readings to discuss unjust social structures, culture, language, and how the readings could be linked to their lives. Using authors such as Richard Wright, Malcolm X, Judith Cofer, Esmeralda Santiago, Amy Tan, Piri Thomas, Lorna Dee Cervantes, Ana Castillo and others, it made sense that they connected to authors that mediated their realities and preoccupations.

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