Becoming Responsive Teachers during a Practicum-Based Study Abroad Experience: Learners Leading to New Perspectives

Becoming Responsive Teachers during a Practicum-Based Study Abroad Experience: Learners Leading to New Perspectives

Cheryl L. Dozier (University at Albany, USA) and S. Joy Stephens (University at Albany, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1057-4.ch012
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This chapter shares the planning, design, and implementation of a unique, intensive practicum based faculty-led study abroad program for preservice candidates in village and town schools in Belize, Central America. This study abroad experience included cultural explorations, school-based writing practicum experiences, and daily seminar sessions. In communities of writers, preservice candidates focused on learning from and with Belize learners and families as they developed as responsive teachers. The authors designed engagements to mentor preservice candidates in strengths based teaching, creating side-by-side writing communities, developing purposeful and intentional instructional language, and learning from students' families. Reflecting on two consecutive trips during the university's winter semester, the authors share insights on re-imagining educational and travel narratives. They also discuss ways they continue to learn from participants as they design future trips.
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This chapter’s authors are teacher educators who explore the planning, design, and implementation of a unique, intensive practicum-based study abroad program for American preservice teachers in village and town schools in Belize, Central America. This practicum experience in Belize schools was designed to learn from and with Belize learners and families. Belize, formerly known as British Honduras, is an ecologically and culturally diverse country in Central America with English as its official language. To create communities of writers with Belize learners, the authors framed the practicum experience around two questions:

  • 1.

    What meaningful and purposeful writing experiences will engage Belizean writers?

  • 2.

    How will these writing experiences support preservice teachers to become responsive educators?

Learning from and with students was the center of teaching at all times, whether the learner was a preservice teacher or a student in Belize. The authors collaborated with local administrators in Belize and the Cayo District Ministry of Education to design a course where preservice candidates focused on learning from learners to become responsive teachers. This faculty led study abroad course, Literacy in Social Contexts,” drew on successful practicum university courses in the United States (Dozier & Smit, 2013). The design of the course included cultural explorations and educational experiences including daily seminar sessions and school-based writing practicum experiences.

On the first morning in Belize, the authors and undergraduates engaged in a community walk. They became immersed in the sounds, smells, colors, and community practices in the town that was their home for their winter session study abroad experience. This community walk laid the foundation for learning from learners and positioned all participants as co-learners (Cambourne,1995), as questioners, as inquirers, as wonderers. Learners immersed themselves in their community from the outset and approached each cultural experience with a learning stance.

Participants also entered schools as learners during their practicum experience. Preservice candidates were curious about the perspectives of children. Through family stories they wanted to learn about traditions, foods, what mattered to children, responsibilities in the home, and future dreams. Preservice candidates listened and asked questions (Kugler, 2010). The authors believed the processes that empowered writers were essential to support preservice teachers’ development as responsive educators. To achieve this, they designed instructional experiences where preservice teachers first engaged as learners and then as teachers. Preservice candidates reflected on their learning to prepare for and teach young Belizean writers. These parallel processes created learning spaces for all.


Background: The Study Abroad Experience

This 16 day study abroad experience aligned with the university’s winter session semester. The three-credit course fulfilled requirements for an education minor, as well as general education credits. Eighteen undergraduate students participated during the first two years of the program. Fifteen students self-identified as Hispanic, African American, and Asian, and three self-identified as White. The small groups each year supported community building and partnerships between preservice candidates and Belize learners.

Collectively, the authors drew on more than 30 years of teaching experiences in U.S. schools, U.S. universities, and Belize schools. The authors sought partner schools in Belize with leaders who shared an interest in engaging with and inviting preservice teachers into their schools. To coordinate with administrators and cooperating teachers, the authors were mindful of the formalities and protocols of the educational system. At both sites, school leaders welcomed the study abroad group, shared their school’s mission statements, and joined learners and teachers during small group writing lessons.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Village Schools: Schools situated in rural areas/villages of Belize.

Strengths-Based Teaching: A pedagogy focused on each learner’s strengths, rather than student errors. Teachers build on student strengths as the foundation for more complex understandings.

Responsive Teaching: Teachers build relationships with learners, recognize students’ zones of proximal development ( Vygotsky, 1978 ), engage in explicit teaching based on learners’ strengths, honor home and school literacies, and adjust instructional practices to meet students’ needs.

Parallel Processes: Learning processes experienced by both Belizean learners (side-by-side writing, reflection on work, explicit focus on language choices) and preservice candidates. Preservice candidates engage in learning processes while simultaneously facilitating these processes with Belizean learners.

Preservice Candidates: Also referred to as preservice teachers, Preservice Candidates are undergraduates enrolled in teaching certification courses.

Town Schools: Schools situated in urban areas of Belize.

Side-by-Side Writing: Teachers/tutors and learners engage in writing simultaneously and compose writing pieces.

Practicum: Working with students to apply understandings of teaching and learning, generally in a school or community based context.

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