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In response to a critical need in teacher preparation, study abroad programs aimed at developing multicultural competencies in pre-service teachers have proliferated across the United States (Kitsantas, 2004). Multicultural competencies constitute the ability to challenge misconceptions that lead to discrimination based on cultural difference, reflect on one's assumptions and biases, and create a classroom environment sensitive to the cultural background and academic needs of all students (Nieto & Bode, 2008). There is evidence that when pre-service teachers return from studying abroad they bring back new perspectives about the world and are more willing to engage with cultural difference (Garii, 2009). As important as study abroad programs are for preparing pre-service teachers, research suggests that studying abroad does not guarantee multicultural competencies (Phillion, Malewski, Rodriguez, Shirley, Kulago, & Bulington 2008). On the other hand, research does suggest that critical reflection as a disciplined practice of systematic inquiry promotes multicultural competencies for teaching and learning (Husu, Toom, & Patrikainen 2008).
Research has shown that a majority of pre-service teachers are White, middle class, and monolingual speakers of English with little or no exposure to the diverse backgrounds and cultural knowledge of non-White students (Sleeter, 2008). Most of these pre-service teachers do not examine or challenge their own knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and perspectives toward themselves (self) and diverse cultural groups (other) (Ladson-Billings, 2007). Further, many pre-service teachers do not engage in the social, historical, and political issues that relate directly to inequality and lack of opportunities among different cultural groups in schools and society (Jennings, 2002). Consequently, teacher preparation for multicultural education attempts to address these issues by bringing a change in pre-service teachers' perceptions of self and other by providing opportunities for critical reflection through course work, cross-cultural field experiences, and study abroad programs (Sharma, 2009).
In this article we examine how critical reflection during a study abroad program to Honduras facilitates pre-service teachers' multicultural competencies for personal and professional growth. We position this study within teacher education literature with a focus on multicultural education, study abroad, and critical reflection. Next, we draw from Dewey's notion of critical reflection to provide the conceptual framework for the study. Subsequently, we highlight a specific study abroad program to Honduras as the context of the study. We follow this with an outline of the basic qualitative research design and report findings from the study. We conclude with a discussion on the implications of our study for teacher preparation and teacher educators invested in developing multicultural competencies in pre-service teachers.
Scholars have approached multicultural education in different ways targeted toward different ideals ranging from traditional multicultural education aimed at assimilation (Ravitch, 1990) to recognizing cultural excellence (D'Souza, 1991), from the politics of identity such as race, class, and gender differences (Banks & McGee Banks, 2009) to cultural hybridity (Wang, 2010). In theory and practice each conceptualization of multicultural education is different in ideology; however, there is strong agreement among teacher educators that the aim of multicultural teacher education is to develop pre-service teachers' multicultural competencies for teaching and learning. Specifically, it is considered important that pre-service teachers develop multicultural competencies such as the ability to question their own beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions; identify practices that are biased; and change their perceptions of self and other (Keengwe, 2010).
There is also strong agreement among teacher educators that contexts such as study abroad offer rich cross-cultural experiences that expose pre-service teachers to diverse classrooms (Walters, Garii, & Walters, 2009). Research on the impact of study abroad on pre-service teachers note that studying abroad promotes a deeper understanding of the role of culture and language on teaching and learning (Quezada, 2005); recognition that the cultural background and personal knowledge of teachers affect student learning (Pence & Macgillivray, 2008); and that after studying abroad pre-service teachers were more willing to work in diverse classrooms (Cushner, 2009). A few studies note study abroad fosters greater confidence, open-mindedness, ability to see the local and global in context, and evokes self-critique and critical reflection (Cushner & Mahon, 2009).
What is critical reflection? Critical reflection as a study of self includes one's culture, histories, worldview, and lived experiences that impact one's personal knowledge and professional practice (Husu, Toom, & Patrikainan, 2008). Critical reflection brings about awareness of the self by calling into question one's prior knowledge or taken-for-granted frames of references which …