Infusing Social Justice and DEI Practices into Teacher Candidate Literacy Instruction

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Infusing Social Justice and DEI Practices into Teacher Candidate Literacy Instruction

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In response to factors in the landscape of the American education system (i.e. growing diversity of the K-12 student population, lack of diversity in the K-12 teacher workforce, current events highlighting racial and socioeconomic inequities, and a growing understanding of the opportunity gap), university teacher educators (TEs) have worked to integrate social justice (SJ) and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) into teacher candidate (TC) preparation with the goal of preparing TCs who can teach culturally, linguistically, and racially diverse children. Research indicates that these concepts are not typically infused by teacher educators in coursework through entire programs. Instead, ideas are often siloed into introductory courses, and if SJ and DEI concepts are taken up across coursework, it is often sporadic and inconsistent across the program curriculum. Thus, current teacher preparation programs often limit or undermine the confidence of TCs to teach in socially just ways because TCs are not prepared with cohesive, well designed programmatic curriculum that makes clear connections between SJ theory and enactment. Using case study methodology, this study addressed a gap in the literature by investigating how a revised curriculum in a literacy course that follows introductory elementary education coursework, built upon, and increased the understanding and confidence of TCs to teach literacy in a socially just way. Results from this study indicate that SJ pedagogies must be modeled and explicitly discussed by TEs in the context of discipline-specific instruction. As a result, TCs grow in their literacy knowledge, pedagogies, and confidence to employ SJ concepts when they are given opportunities to design, test out, reflect upon, and receive feedback on scaffolded literacy assessments and lessons for K-6 learners. Study findings can be used to strengthen teacher education programs with a social justice emphasis, particularly in the field of literacy education, by indicating a roadmap of how to infuse social justice programmatically and disciplinarily. This includes, but is not limited to, providing TEs with a clear scope and sequence of what SJ concepts can be addressed throughout the program and how. Results from this study also note the need for agreement among TEs on the definition and application of SJ, and opportunities for TCs to enact SJ pedagogies in authentic practicum experiences. This study also points to how TEs can make intentional changes to their instruction that shift TCs’ understanding and self-efficacy; findings also point to the need for intentional collaboration and curriculum planning by TEs to continuously weave and connect SJ concepts throughout the program. All of these efforts help TCs have a more nuanced and practical understanding of SJ. Finally, explicit connections between SJ theory and enactment in a particular discipline needs to occur in order for TCs to feel confident in teaching each disciplinary subject in a socially just manner.


University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. 2022. Major: Education, Curriculum and Instruction. Advisor: Deborah Dillon. 1 computer file (PDF); 209 pages.

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Robinson, Lindsay. (2022). Infusing Social Justice and DEI Practices into Teacher Candidate Literacy Instruction. Retrieved from the University Digital Conservancy,

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