Academic Exchange Quarterly      Summer     2007    ISSN 1096-1453    Volume  11, Issue  2

To cite, use print source rather than  this on-line version which  may not  reflect print copy format requirements  or   text lay-out and pagination.

 

The “Power” to Change Multicultural Attitudes

 

Gina Anderson, Texas Woman’s University

Susan Szabo, Texas A & M University at Commerce

 

Anderson, Ed.D., is an Assistant Professor of Teacher Education, and Szabo, Ed.D., is an Assistant Professor of Elementary Education.

 

Abstract

Linguistically and culturally diverse students continue to increase in our nation’s schools. Pre-service teachers need to examine their multicultural attitudes and become sensitive and knowledgeable about multicultural issues in the classroom and curriculum.  Using a pre-post quantitative research design, we examined 144 pre-service teachers’ multicultural attitudes during a teacher preparation course.  Data analysis revealed the one-semester course did not make a significant difference in pre-service teachers’ attitudes.  The authors argue multicultural education implementation should occur throughout the longevity of the teacher education program.  Reflection of practice is imperative to a professor’s potential to enact true change.

 

Introduction

The number of linguistically and culturally diverse students in our schools continues to increase while our teachers overwhelmingly remain monolingual, European-Americans (August & Hakuta, 1997; Cushner, McClelland, & Safford, 2006; Hodgkinson, 2002).  Consequently, it is important for Teacher Education Programs (TEPs) to help their pre-service teachers not only to examine their multicultural attitudes but also to become sensitive and knowledgeable about multicultural issues in the classroom and curriculum (Garcia & Willis, 2001; Gay, 2002). 

 

Multicultural TEPs combine knowledge of subject matter and effective teaching with sensitivity to cultural diversity.  The goal is to prepare future teachers “to be reflective, critical thinkers” (Gay & Fox, 1995, p. 241) who will promote social equity in their classrooms toward the greater goal of a “collective empowerment of minorities in their classrooms” (Lipmann, 1996, p. 52).  Furthermore, these programs should help teachers create a “system celebratory of diversity” (Cannella & Reiff, 1994, p. 33) and a system which empowers students to perform academically (Cummins, 1990).

 

In contrast, traditional TEPs often integrate one or two “multicultural” courses into the coursework (Kea, Campbell-Whatley, & Richards, 2005).  These traditional multicultural education courses have shown mixed results concerning attitudinal changes.  Lenski, Crawford, Crumpler, & Stallworth (2005) have reviewed several studies substantiating this claim:

 

“Some researchers have indicated pre-service teachers in multicultural courses had improved racial attitudes ....while others reported few or even negative changes....”(p. 4).

These results indicate a true challenge for TEPs utilizing a traditional approach to multicultural education in order to bring about any significant and positive attitude change in their pre-service teachers.

 

In spite of the rising cultural and linguistic diversity in our classrooms today, TEPs continue to utilize teaching practices of the past.  These past practices focused primarily on what and how to teach, but not necessarily, on who is being taught (Kea & Utley, 1998).  This reluctance to address the diversity of our students is truly unfortunate when studies show pre-service teachers who have had multicultural teacher education preparation are less likely to view difference as “deficit” (Irvine, 2003) and have higher self-efficacy in their instruction of diverse children (Pang & Sablan, 1998). 

 

The purpose of this study was to determine what impact, if any, the professors of this course had on the multicultural attitudes of pre-service teachers.  In this article, we will discuss the findings of the study and the implications of those findings.  The following section will discuss the participants, setting, the instruments used for collecting data, the research design, and the procedures used.

 

Participants and Setting

This semester-long study was conducted at a large southwestern university in 2005.  The two researchers were teachers/professors of Teacher Education who were former elementary and secondary classroom teachers.  Their areas of expertise included multicultural and social foundations of education.  The action researchers perceived the teacher education program as “traditionally organized” in their College of Education; their course was considered a “multicultural education” course.  The one hundred forty-four elementary and secondary pre-service teachers were undergraduate students majoring in elementary and secondary education, and they were required to take this particular teacher preparation course. 

 

The professors, who conducted the research, were both female European-Americans.  The student participants included 106 female (74%) and 38 male (26%).  There were sixty-nine elementary education majors (47%) and seventy-six secondary majors (53%).  The ethnicity of these pre-service teachers were as follows:  128 European-Americans (89%), 9 American Indian (7%), 2 Asian American (1%), 2 Black American (2%), 3 Hispanic (2%).  Their ages ranged from 18-43 with a mean of 21.13 (SD 2.9). 

 

Procedure

During this course, the professors as action researchers, modeled and assigned specific activities for culturally responsive instruction.  According to Banks & Banks, 2004; Gay, 2000; Ladson-Billings, 1994; & Nieto, 1999 these culturally-responsive activities are broadly defined as:

  • Acknowledging students’ differences as well as their commonalities;
  • Confirming  students’ cultural identity in classroom practices and instructional materials;
  • Educating students about the diversity of the world around them;
  • Promoting equity and mutual respect among students;
  • Assessing students’ ability and achievement validly
  • Fostering positive relationships between and among students, their families, the community, and school;
  • Motivating students to become active participants in their learning;
  • Encouraging critical thinking;
  • Challenging students to strive for excellence as defined by their potential;
  • Assisting students in becoming socially and politically conscious.

 

The pre-service teachers in this study specifically explored multicultural issues and participated in culturally responsive instruction through observation of the professors, class discussions, creative writing projects, group projects, self-reflection, various text readings, and holistic assessments.  The class met twice a week for fifty minutes during a sixteen-week academic semester.  The participants’ multicultural attitudes were measured the first week and last weeks of the semester.

 

In order to identify any attitudinal changes, a non-experimental, pre/post quantitative design was utilized.  The participants responded to the Teacher Multicultural Attitude Survey (TMAS - Ponterotto, Baluch, Grieg, & Rivera, 1998) and a background questionnaire developed by the researchers in order to obtain information about the participants.  The TMAS, which contains 20 statements, was designed to measure K-12 teachers’ multicultural awareness, appreciation and tolerance.  The wording of the TMAS statements was modified in order to provide meaning and clarity to the pre-service teachers.  For example:

  • TMAS:  Question 1 – I find teaching a culturally diverse student

group rewarding.

  • Modified TMAS for Teacher Candidates: Question 1 – I would find teaching a culturally diverse student group rewarding.

 

Participants indicated how strongly they agreed or disagreed with each statement using a five-point Likert-type scale.  The TMAS has been found to discriminate between high and low multicultural awareness, with high scores representing greater appreciation and awareness of issues regarding multicultural teaching.

 

The pre-service teachers were required to participate as part of the course requirements; however, they were assured that the results would not affect their course status, as the surveys did not have “right or wrong” answers, and the participants were not identified.  The participants had no knowledge of the research design or question under study. 

 

Results

Data analysis was conducted on the pre/post data.  First, an Alpha Test was used to report reliability.  Next, descriptive statistics and an ANOVA were performed to examine pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward multicultural awareness. 

 

An internal consistency reliability analysis was conducted in an attempt to estimate the degree of consistency among the participants with respect to their responses to the various items on the survey questionnaire.  The results showed a reasonably high internal consistency coefficient for the pre-survey (Alpha = .797) and for the post-survey (Alpha = .806).  These results suggested that the data from the surveys were reliable.

 

Next, the data were examined to determine these pre-service teachers’ attitudes toward multicultural awareness.  The examination showed that these pre-service teachers achieved a higher mean score (M = 77.32; SD 7.49) on the post-survey than they did on the pre-survey (M = 76.23; SD 8.83).   However, these differences were not statistically significant (F [1,143] =.823, p = .732).  These results indicate the successful completion of this teacher preparation course, despite the culturally responsive pedagogy, did not significantly change these pre-service teachers’ multicultural awareness attitudes.

 

Next, the ethnicities of the pre-service teachers were examined to determine if this variable had an impact on their multicultural awareness.  Even though there was no statistically significant difference, there were some interesting results.   All ethnic groups’ mean scores from the pre-survey to post-survey results grew except for the Native American, which declined (pre/ M = 75.4, SD = 6.8 & post/ M = 70.2, SD = 14.8).

 

Then, gender was examined to see if there were any differences between male and female pre-service teachers concerning changes in their multicultural attitudes.  The female pre-service teachers had minimal growth or change from the pre-survey (M = 77.1, SD 8.6) to the post-survey (M = 77.4, SD 7.8).  However, the male pre-service teachers, showed a larger gain, as their growth or change from the pre-survey (M = 74.0, SD 9.2) to their post-survey (M = 77.1, SD 6.7).  But, because the change in the mean scores was small, there was no statistical difference in change between male and female attitudes before and after the course.

 

Finally, the undergraduate major of the pre-service teachers was examined to determine if elementary education majors differed from secondary education majors in regard to multicultural attitude changes.  Even though there was no statistically significant difference, there were some noteworthy results.  For the elementary majors, the pre-survey results (M = 77.5, SD 1.1) were higher than the post-survey results (M = 76.8, SD .86).  The secondary education majors indicated growth in their multicultural awareness from the pre-survey results (M = 75.1, SD = 1.1) to the post-survey results (M = 77.8, SD = 7.9).

 

Discussion, Limitations, and Implications

Simply stated, we know we need to work harder; there is a long way to go.  The overall growth in multicultural attitudes as evidenced in both the aggregated and disaggregated data was statistically insignificant, and we found these results both discouraging and enlightening.  We were discouraged because we spent a great deal of research and effort throughout the semester on pedagogy we thought would help change multicultural attitudes.  This result did not occur as planned.  Encouragingly, however, the study shows to some degree, one course does have some limited value in increasing multicultural awareness and attitudes for some groups.  The slight decline in multicultural attitudes in regard to males and elementary education majors was minute; it does not warrant further reflection.  On the other hand, the decline in the Native American group, although still insignificant, calls for further discussion.

 

Was the decline in Native American students’ attitudes an anomaly due to the small number of this ethnic group, or are we not recognizing cultural groups like we should?  Did the paper-and-pencil TMAS survey contribute to their resistance of teacher-centered instruction, which could be perceived as contradictory to culturally-responsive instruction (Kauchak & Eggen, 2005)?  The cultural learning styles of Native American students need to be considered.  Perhaps qualitative measures utilizing interviews and/or focus groups are in order to better identify change and growth within this population.

 

While the study is informative, it is not without limitations.  First, data were obtained by only one pre-service teacher education course at one university in the southwest area of the U.S.; therefore, the findings are not generalizable to all TEPs.  Secondly, the researchers and majority of the participants were European-American; thus the study primarily examines and interprets from the dominant culture’s perspective.  Did the race, class, or gender of the professors somehow inhibit significant multicultural attitudinal change?  Finally, the effectiveness of the culturally-responsive pedagogy utilized by the professors was not considered.

 

Our study implores teacher educators to consider two primary issues.  First, traditionally-organized pre-service TEPs that teach diversity issues in isolated courses do not have a significant impact on attitudes and beliefs.  The work of Colville-Hall, MacDonald & Smolen, (1995), and more recently, Weisman & Garza, (2002) support this claim as well.  Therefore, if one’s purpose is to significantly change multicultural attitudes, there is evidence of the need to monitor, over a period of time, pre-service teachers’ multicultural attitudes.  Kea, and colleagues (2005) recommend teacher educators develop cohesive and comprehensive multicultural curricula, infuse multicultural principles throughout to prepare teachers to respond to the needs of diverse learners and their families, and identify critical teaching behaviors and essential best practices for diverse students (p. 4).

 

Secondly, reflecting upon our teaching practices is crucial to change and growth in both our students and ourselves.  We must take the time to critique and analyze our own attitudes and beliefs, what counts as knowledge, equitable assessment, and how these notions are transmitted in our classrooms.  Our programs must allow for pedagogical reflection emphasizing issues of race, ethnic diversity, and social justice in classroom practices (Vavrus, 2002).  Professors in TEPs can teach this critical reflection by “thinking out loud” with their students.  Although self-reflection was one of our culturally-responsive teaching assignments, we fear it lent itself more to what Gay (2003) refers to as the “silent discussion” (p. 182).  When students had a difficult time analyzing and reflecting upon their thoughts, beliefs, biases, and behaviors about racial and cultural diversity, we professors stepped in and provided all the analyses, examples, and interpretations.  “What should be thoughtful, co-constructed dialogues among students and instructors quickly lapses into monologues.  The students may listen intently to the reflections of the professors, but their own self-reflection and critical consciousness about racism, ethnicity, and cultural diversity are not accomplished” (p. 182).  Essentially, we learned we need to talk less and listen more.

 

In order to recruit and retain effective teachers, multicultural TEPs must begin with self-examination of attitudes and beliefs.  From there, we need to help pre-service teachers recognize how ethnocentricity affects their practice.  Culturally-responsive pedagogy will then have meaning and value to pre-service teachers.  Finally, we need not forget the power of reflection.  Ultimately, if our pre-service teachers truly desire success for all of their students, a more equitable philosophy across race, class, and gender will be formed.  “Being a critical multicultural educator is as much a philosophy and way of life as it is implementation of quality curriculum” (Page, 2004, p. 8, as cited in Lenski, et al., 2005).   This change in philosophy will inform and enhance culturally-responsive instruction, and true change will become powerfully evident.

 

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