Lessons & Activities

Attending to place in preservice teacher education can feel like there’s one more thing to try to squeeze on the syllabus. However, in classes where teacher educators are already asking their students to reflect on their identities, it really can be an intuitive and easy addition. Below, I share some ideas of possible activities for doing this work in teacher education classrooms. I view this as a space for community building and idea trading, so please, reach out with any questions and/or suggestions you have.

Possible Assignments/Activities
Critical autobiography with at least one focus or component being place

Quite a few of my undergraduate and graduate level teacher education courses asked students to complete a critical autobiography, but most of the attention was focused on race, class, gender. Adding place; its connections to race, class gender; and its impact on our identity construction and position would fit right in with the critical identity work we’re already asking students to do.
Reflection on and/or discussions of how where they went to school impacted their learning

In a recent course I taught focusing on how urban contexts shape teaching and learning, I asked students to complete short personal narrative responses about how they thought where they went to school impacted what they learned in school. Many students replied that they felt they had the “standard” high school experience. However, the kind of resources and field trips and extra curricular experiences and curriculum they mentioned weren’t reflective of the kind of high school experience a majority of US students have. Asking them to dig into what they learned, where they learned it, and how that connected to more macro structures of power helped them unpack their views of what it means/looks like to be a student, what it means to teach and learn, as well as how place and power shaped their understandings.
Using place to frame a self study of their fieldwork

Assignments like equity audits, community walks, and others designed to engage preservice teachers (PSTs) with the schools and communities in which they will be teaching are already used widely in teacher preparation. However, most don’t ask PSTs to think about how where they are from impacts and shapes how they understand the communities in which they’ll be teaching. Because out- and in-migration are so common, asking PSTs to critically explore and examine how where they’re from affects their understanding of where they’ll be teaching is an important component of this work. As part of PSTs’ fieldwork assignments we could ask them to reflect on how their cultural connections to place are shaping their relationship- and curriculum-building practices in the schools and communities where they’re doing their field placements.
Analysis of how where they are from has impacted their language use with consideration for how it (mis)matches their field placement

I remember the first time I was ever made to feel that the way my family spoke was wrong – the first time I realized that the way we sounded communicated to most folks that we were dumb. There has been a growing body of work dedicated to pursuing linguistic justice; however, most of this work has focused on intersections of layers of racial and linguistic otherness. White folks who speak rural language varieties (like me) are often left out of this discussion because the rural/Appalachian varieties of English we tend to speak are connected to our whiteness in ways that leaves them considered merely improper/incorrect English. Considering how PSTs’ own linguistic heritage shapes their teaching of and interactions with speakers of all manner of language varieties and whether/how diverse language varieties are represented by and/or present in their teaching is vital for continuing to make space for and appreciate the wealth of language knowledge that comes with students and teachers into classrooms.
Where I’m From Poem with added reflection

One of the most well-known and popular approaches to asking students of all levels to think about their places is using Lyon’s (1993) “Where I’m From” poem as a template to write their own. This is a wonderful exercise; however, it is often not accompanied by critical reflection of how all of the aspects of where students are from shape who they are now in their current moment. For PSTs at varying stages of their teacher preparation program, reflecting on how where they’re from has shaped who they are and how that can impact their teaching is crucial for their development as both people and professionals.
Identity map/metaphor framed by place

Metaphors help us think about things in nuanced ways that can clarify our perspective. We could ask preservice teachers to select a metaphor to use as a map for the ways their personal and professional identities connect to and build off of one another. For example, the out-migrant teachers in my study drew pictures of their home landscapes, being in between two worlds, and tug-of-war to represent how they did(n’t) identify as rural people and what it felt like to be in-between their rural roots and current teaching positions in sub/urban schools.
Build a critical text set that focuses on a place (e.g., rural, rurban, sub/urban, state, region, nation) to explore differences and nuances in the representation of the place and people who live there

While more common in elementary literacy methods courses, secondary teachers also build text sets to support students’ learning. Often these sets and/or units are structured around a theme or critical topic. Centering place as a critical topic for study would allow PSTs to interrogate dominant cultural narratives surrounding different kinds of places and the people who live there as well as consider how to invite their own future students to do the same.
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