Intersectionality. Sociological theorists and researchers have developed the concept of “intersectionality” in an effort to understand the complex interactions between multiple identities—such as those associated with an individual’s age, social class, race, ethnicity, and gender—within various discursive frames—such as the classroom. This perspective acknowledges the importance of interactions of individual attributes and sociopolitical situations for students’ identity development as well as for their academic success. These studies, many of which—like Willis’s (1977) classic study—focus on expressions of resistance to oppression and exploitation, have increased educators’ awareness and understanding of both “new forms of marginality” and “new forms of agency” (Gregoriou, 2013, p. 180). Qualitative studies, particularly ethnographies of schools (e.g. Nespor, 1997), identify and illustrate the processes by which some groups of students, immigrant students from an impoverished region, for example, are stigmatized and how “the discursive practices of students and teachers contribute to the performative constitution of intelligible selves and others” (Youdell, 2003, p. 2).
The Unit offers students opportunities for inquiry and action research, including ethnographical observations, that enrich their understanding of the processes that contribute both to the marginalization of students who do not participate fully in the mainstream culture and to the competitive advantages of students privileged by membership in groups associate with economic and political power.
Differentiated instruction. According to Ladson-Billings (2001), teacher education programs that include experiences with diverse children help candidates acquire the ability to offer instruction that is meaningful to students from a variety of backgrounds and with a variety of needs. From the perspective of the Unit, providing education that is meaningful to students from different backgrounds is only part of what is necessary. Addressing the “achievement gaps” that exist between students from dominant groups and those from marginalized groups is also critical (Gardner, 2007; Wan, 2008).
To accomplish these broad educational goals, candidates need to learn how to differentiate instruction in ways that meet individual learner needs and are culturally relevant. Interestingly, as Santamaria (2009) notes, the knowledge base related to differentiated instruction (e.g., Bender, 2009; Nordlund, 2003; Tomlinson & McTighe, 2006; Yatvin, 2004) does not have extensive crossover with the knowledge base related to culturally relevant instruction (e.g., Cartledge & Lo, 2006; Davis, 2006; Gay, 2000; Gruenwald & Smith, 2008; Hollins & Oliver, 1999). Faculty members in the Unit must therefore be deliberate in demonstrating to candidates how these two approaches to differentiation can be used synergistically to create lessons and instructional units that invite students to participate in challenging learning experiences that relate meaningfully to their prior experiences (Novak & Purkey, 2001). Included below, Table 8 lists works on differentiated instruction that inform the Unit’s knowledge base.
Table 8: Knowledge Base—Differentiation of Instruction
EDCS 5040 Sociology, Politics, and Change in Education:
Cianciotto, J., & Cahill, S. (2012). LGBT youth in America's schools. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
Cartledge, G., & Lo, Y. (2006).Teaching urban learners: Culturally responsive strategies for developing academic and behavioral competence. Champaign, IL: Research Press.
Horne, M. D. (2012). Attitudes toward handicapped students: Professional, peer, and parent reactions. New York, NY: Routledge.
Lambert, J., & Ariza, W. (2008). Improving achievement for linguistically and culturally diverse learners through an inquiry-based earth systems curriculum. Journal of Elementary Science Education, 20(4), 61-79.
EDSP 5700 Nature and Needs of Persons with Exceptionalities:
Turnbull, A. P., Turnbull, H. R., Wehmeyer, M. L., & Shogren, K. A. (2007/2010/2013). Exceptional lives: Special education in today's schools (5th, 6th, or 7th ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Pearson.
Delgado-Gaitan, C. D. (2006). Building culturally responsive classroom: A guide for K-6 teachers. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.
McGuire-Schwartz, M. E., & Arndt, S. (2007). Transforming universal design for learning in early childhood teacher education from college classroom to early childhood classroom. Journal of Early Childhood Teacher Education, 28(2) [No Pagination].Retrieved from
Gardner, H. (2006). Multiple intelligences: New horizons (Rev. ed.). New York: Basic Books.
Nasir, N. S., Hand, V., & Taylor, E. V. (2008). Culture and mathematics in school: Boundaries between "cultural" and "domain" knowledge in the mathematics classroom and beyond. Review of Research in Education, 32(1), 187-240.
Gay, G. (2010). Culturally responsive teaching: Theory, research, and practice(2nded.). New York, NY: Teachers College Press.
Okoye-Johnson, O. (2011). Does multicultural education improve students’ racial attitudes? Implications for closing the achievement gap. Journal of Black Studies, 42(8), 1252-1274.
Gregoriou, Z. (2013). Traversing new theoretical frames for intercultural education: Gender, intersectionality, performativity. International Education Studies, 6(3), 179-188.
Orenstein, P. (2011). Cinderella ate my daughter: From the front lines of the “girlie-girl” culture. New York, NY: Harper Collins.
Herrera, S. G., Holmes, M. A., & Kavimandan, S. K. (2013). Bringing theory to life: Strategies that make culturally responsive pedagogy a reality in diverse secondary classrooms. International Journal of Multicultural Education, 14(3), 1-19.
Rodriguez, J. L., Jones, E. B., Pang, V.O., & Park, C. D. (2004). Promoting academic achievement and identity development among diverse high school students. High School Journal, 87(3), 44-53.
Howard, T., & Terry, C. L. (2011). Culturally responsive pedagogy for African American students: Promising programs and practices for enhanced academic performance. Teaching Education, 22(4), 345-362. doi:10.1080/10476210.2011.
Semken, S., & Freeman, B. (2008).Sense of place in the practice and assessment of place-based science teaching. Science Education, 6, 1042-1057.
Palmer, P. (1998). The courage to teach. San Francisco: Jossey Bass.
Siegel, J., & Jausovec, N. (1994, July). Improving teachers’ attitudes toward students with disabilities. Paper presented at the conference of the International Council on Education for Teaching, in Istanbul, Turkey.
Richter, E. (2001). Intercultural education as the responsibility of the school. In S. R. Steinberg, Multi/Intercultural conversations (511-526). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Souto-Manning, M. (2009). Negotiating culturally responsive pedagogy through multicultural children's literature: towards critical democratic literacy practices in a first grade classroom. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 9(1), 50-74.
Rose, D. A., & Meyer, A. (Eds.).(2006). A practical reader in universal design for learning. Cambridge, MA: Harvard Education Press.
Wilson, S., & Gore, J. (2009). Appalachian origin moderates the association between school connectedness and GPA: Two exploratory studies. Journal of Appalachian Studies 15(1&2), 70-86.
Wiggins, G., & McTighe, J. (1998).Understanding by design. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.
Youdell, D. (2003). Identity traps, or how Black students fail: The interactions between biographical, sub-cultural, and learner identities. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 24(11), 3-20. Retrieved from
Yeo, F. (2001). Thoughts on rural education. In S. R. Steinberg, Multi/Intercultural conversations (511-526). New York, NY: Peter Lang.
Lifelong Learning The Unit prepares leader-educators and practitioners who engage in self-reflection and professional development for continuous personal growth, and who inspire similar practices in those whom they serve.
According to most learning theorists, children are natural learners (e.g., Gandini & Edwards, 2001; Montessori, 1995; Steiner, 1998). When children are provided with rich environments and given adequate encouragement, they enjoy the processes of learning and readily acquire new knowledge and skills (e.g., Cambourne, 1995; Criss, 2008). Not all instructional practices, however, guide and foster children’s natural curiosity and learning capabilities; and some instructional practices even make learning unpleasant and interfere with it (Scott, 2009). Premised on the insight that individuals construct knowledge in social contexts, many contemporary works about the influence of teaching on learning focus on ways to help children build on previous experiences to make sense of new ones (e.g., Mueller, Yankelewitz, & Maher, 2011; Steffe & Gale, 1995). Though they may not share children’s heightened capacities for some kinds of learning, adults continue to learn throughout their lifespan (e.g., Knowles, 1984; Gluck, Mercado, and Meyers, 2007; Valiant, 2013).
Arguably, in any society, adults need to continue learning throughout their lives in order to adjust to changing circumstances (Jarvis, 2006). The rapid growth of technology and information, as well as changes in labor supply and demand, make it imperative that adults’ natural proclivities for learning be encouraged and focused past their secondary and post-secondary learning experiences(Giroux, 2013; Jarvis, 2007).
Adults identified as lifelong learners tend to feel a greater sense of well-being and to bring measurable benefits to their community (Field, 2012). Especially pertinent to teacher preparation programs is the finding that lifelong learners prove to be much more fluent in their transfer of information than adults who are less meaningfully engaged in learning (Bransford et al., 1999). This difference may result from the fact that lifelong learners examine situations synthetically, seeking to understand the big picture—an approach that both authentic activities and constructivist learning opportunities promote in learners of all ages (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999; Frick, Polizzi, & Frick, 2007; Wertsch, 1997).
Theories of adult learning, however, suggest that instructional approaches that are effective with children are not always effective with adults (e.g., Merriam, Cafarella, & Baumgartner, 2007). According to numerous writers, professional development for teachers and other school personnel should make use of instructional approaches that are attentive to the characteristics of adult learners (e.g., Fogarty & Pete, 2004; Terehoff, 2002). Theoretical work on the stages of career development, moreover, supports the establishment and maintenance of professional learning communities because they contribute to individual learning as well as to organizational (or team) learning (e.g., Bredeson, 2003; DuFour & Eaker, 1998; Ng & Tan, 2009; Wald & Castleberry, 2000). Related strategies (e.g., lessons study, peer coaching) also receive support in the empirical literature on professional development (e.g., Joyce & Showers, 1982; Lewis, Perry, & Hurd, 2009).
In order for educators to be able to cultivate the lifelong learning of the pupils with whom they work, they must be well grounded in contemporary learning theories and competent to use practices supported not only by these theories but by salient empirical research as well. For this reason various constructivist theoretical traditions inform the knowledge base of the Unit’s curricula for preparing education professionals.
Constructivism, which focuses on individuals’ construction of meaning through their own engagement with the environment as well as their social interactions and cultural precepts, has contributed important insights to learning theory in general and to applications of learning theory in reading education (i.e., schema theory), mathematics and science education (i.e., conceptual change theory, inquiry teaching), and even educational administration (e.g., Lambert, 2008). In a constructivist setting, learners are encouraged to create meaning actively in a “messy endeavor” that allows them to focus on large ideas (Brooks & Brooks, 1999). Constructivist learning “helps learners internalize and reshape, or transform, new information, leading to a greater understanding and better ability to apply this information to different situations” (Brooks & Brooks, 1999, p. 15).
Although not all constructivists agree with the following claims, a broad reading of constructivism—such as that informing the Unit’s conceptual framework—is attentive to these theoretical perspectives.
Learning has a biological basis. Savage and colleagues (2006) discuss learning and teaching as ultimately dealing with the most complex human organ, the brain. Each individual’s brain is programmed differently and is influenced in different ways by his or her experiences. The developing brain appears to be capable of grasping knowledge in different ways at different stages (e.g., Piaget, 1972), and the emergence of certain capabilities, such as language acquisition and recursive thinking, seems to be “hard-wired” into the brain (e.g., Chomsky, 1965; Chomsky, 2006; Corballis, 2011; Hauser, Chomsky, & Fitch, 2002).
Learners use their prior experiences as a basis for constructing new knowledge.Prior knowledge provides context and meaning for making connections to new knowledge in ways that enable the assimilation of new information. Piaget’s theory explores the development of schemata (i.e., webs of prior knowledge) and describes how these schemata assist the learner in making sense of new experiences (Piaget, 1970). Even before Piaget published his major work on schemata, Dewey (1938) also maintained that learning derived from new experiences is dependent on the prior knowledge brought to the situation by the learner. From Dewey’s perspective, inquiry, which requires learners to investigate problems, enables new knowledge to be discovered and integrated into the learner’s system of knowledge. Vygotsky (1986) considered the role of social interaction and its impact on the construction of new knowledge and came to the conclusion that the social interactions that expose learners to new experiences enable them to transform prior knowledge into accessible forms of new knowledge. Constructing knowledge is a highly active endeavor on the part of the learner (Baroody, 1987). Through experimentation and reflection, schemata are transformed in ways that bring both clarity and meaning to the assimilation of new knowledge (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 1999). In teaching that promotes high-level understanding of concepts, “the key constructivist idea is that construction of new conceptions (learning) is possible only on the basis of already existing conceptions” (Duitt, 1999, p. 275).
Learning is a social activity.Through observation, imitation, and modeling, people continuously learn from others’ actions and the outcomes of their actions (Bandura, 1977).Vygotsky focused on how the connections among people and the socio-cultural context in which they interact function to create shared learning experiences (Vygotsky, 1978). Social participation and the character of the social experience directly influence the learning process. According to Lave and Wenger (1991, p. 29), “A person’s intentions to learn are engaged and the meaning of learning is configured through the process of becoming a full participant in a socio-cultural practice.” This social process subsumes the acquisition of skills. Thus, by actively situating and engaging the learner with other human beings, social interaction serves a fundamental role in the process of cognitive development, including development of an identity of self and others (Callero, 2003).
Knowledge has a cultural basis.In educational settings, knowledge that is transmitted to students is both shaped and structured by culturally mediated social perceptions (e.g. Boroditsky, 2011; Gammage, 1982; McCarthy, 1996). Schools are dynamic, socio-cultural settings where teaching and learning takes place. Teachers and students freely use “cultural tools,” such as reading, writing, mathematics, and certain modes of discourse (Richardson, 1997).These tools facilitate the assimilation of knowledge, individual development, and the collective experience of “meaning making.” Social interactions, imbued with cultural meanings, are shared by a group and eventually internalized by the individual (e.g. Richardson, 1997; Eckert, 2005). These interactions and the internalization of roles and responsibilities, learned throughout life, continuously affect perception and judgment. The inextricable connection between culture and cognition is such that each human’s learning experience is unique, but shared meaning is also preserved (Gammage, 1982;). In addition to contributing theoretical insights about learning, the constructivist perspective supports particular approaches to teaching and assessment.
Authentic learning. Authentic learning results from experiences that are similar to activities students encounter or will encounter as adults in the world outside the school (Ormrod, 2008). Cognitive processes such as the ability to analyze, apply, and evaluate information, which lifelong learning requires, are all higher level skills and are almost always used during authentic activities. Focus on rote memory and performance “results in little recall of concepts over time, while emphasis on learning generates long-term understanding” (Brooks & Brooks, 1999, p. 8). Authentic activities show learners not only the depth of an idea but how that idea fits with other ideas. This contextualized approach provides a purpose and motivation for learning as well as sustaining a complex learning environment that can be explored in depth and over a long period of time (Herrington & Herrington, 2006). Collaborative groupings enable students to engage in meaningful discussions and reflect with their peers about relevant issues derived from their learning (Herrington & Herrington, 2006).In reflecting on and inquiring into their own practice and that of their peers, educators also participate in authentic activities that deepen personal understanding of the skills, knowledge, and dispositions that promote the success of all students.
Scaffolding. Scaffolding provides support for the learner by functioning within the learner’s zone of proximal development (Vygotsky, 1978). Scaffolding supports the ability to build on prior knowledge and internalize new information. Supports are needed to span the distance between the learner’s existing knowledge and his or her subsequent expanded understanding (e.g. Davis & Miyaki, 2004; Hmelo-Silver, Ravit & Chinn, 2007). The learner, as an autonomous and self-motivated thinker, is provided with appropriate scaffolding when learning activities encourage active engagement, collaboration, and discovery (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). Stimulating learning activities, provided along with temporary support structures (i.e., scaffolds), tend to be those whose difficulty level is just beyond the functional level of the learner (Olsen & Platt, 2000). The ultimate goal of instruction in which the teacher provides scaffolds is for the student to learn how to create his or her own support structures so that eventually he or she becomes an independent and self-regulating learner and problem solver (Hartman, 2002).
Conceptual change. Conceptual change transitions learners to new ways of perceiving, reasoning, conceptualizing, and justifying truth claims (Posner, Strike, Hewson, &Gertzog, 1982). Educational environments that support both the exploration of personal preconceptions and the resolution of questions and problems encourage students to work towards changing their conceptual frameworks in meaningful ways (Stepans, 1996; Strike & Posner, 1992).
Metacognition. Through the executive functions of “metacognition,” learners come to understand their own learning processes (e.g., Schneider, 2008; Weinert & Kluwe, 1987). The practice of monitoring one’s own learning entails the use of strategies that can be learned as well as the disposition to use those strategies consistently and rigorously (e.g., Hacker, 1998) and across different domains (Halpern, 1998). Learners who deliberately use metacognitive strategies improve the efficiency and effectiveness of their own learning (Bransford et al., 1999; Sternberg, 1998). In many fields, experts, or those recognized as effective lifelong learners, prove to be much better at using metacognitive skills than novices (Sternberg, 1998).
These constructivist perspectives infuse the Unit’s curricula and also provide a basis for the learning activities that are included in early field experiences and professional internships. Foundational knowledge representing the constructivist threads within the Unit’s Conceptual Framework is presented in Table 9.