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Abstract

Preparing teachers to support diverse learners to succeed in school is pivotal in addressing inequalities in society. This qualitative study investigated the ways in which future teachers developed their understanding of diversity and inclusion in one course in an Australian teacher education programme. This study analysed students’ learning using threshold concept theory as a theoretical framework. Three main aspects that were considered troublesome were identified from student teachers’ reflections, which interconnected to generate understandings of diversity. They are recognising others’ life worlds, examining self and experiencing otherness. This study supports the need to guide growth in inclusive education practices and recommends asking three questions: Who are you? Who am I? What does it mean to be other? By interlinking the effects of exploring these three questions, we propose multiperspectivism as a threshold concept. We suggest that multiperspectivism could inform curriculum design of teacher education programmes, recognising the necessity of including multiple opportunities to engage with ideas of diversity and in how to teach with diversity in classrooms.
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The Australian Educational
Researcher
A Publication of the Australian
Association for Research in Education
ISSN 0311-6999
Aust. Educ. Res.
DOI 10.1007/s13384-019-00376-6
Multiperspectivism as a threshold concept
in understanding diversity and inclusion
for future teachers
Kim Beasy, Jeana Kriewaldt, Helen
Trevethan, Alan Morgan & Bronwen
Cowie
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The Australian Educational Researcher
https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-019-00376-6
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Multiperspectivism asathreshold concept
inunderstanding diversity andinclusion forfuture teachers
KimBeasy1 · JeanaKriewaldt2 · HelenTrevethan3· AlanMorgan4·
BronwenCowie5
Received: 25 March 2019 / Accepted: 19 December 2019
© The Australian Association for Research in Education, Inc. 2020
Abstract
Preparing teachers to support diverse learners to succeed in school is pivotal in
addressing inequalities in society. This qualitative study investigated the ways in
which future teachers developed their understanding of diversity and inclusion in
one course in an Australian teacher education programme. This study analysed stu-
dents’ learning using threshold concept theory as a theoretical framework. Three
main aspects that were considered troublesome were identified from student teach-
ers’ reflections, which interconnected to generate understandings of diversity. They
are recognising others’ life worlds, examining self and experiencing otherness. This
study supports the need to guide growth in inclusive education practices and rec-
ommends asking three questions: Who are you? Who am I? What does it mean to
be other? By interlinking the effects of exploring these three questions, we propose
multiperspectivism as a threshold concept. We suggest that multiperspectivism
could inform curriculum design of teacher education programmes, recognising the
necessity of including multiple opportunities to engage with ideas of diversity and in
how to teach with diversity in classrooms.
Keywords Teacher education· Threshold concepts· Inclusive teaching·
Troublesome knowledge· Diversity· Inclusion
* Kim Beasy
Kim.Beasy@utas.edu.au
1 College ofArts, Law andEducation, University ofTasmania, Launceston, Australia
2 Melbourne Graduate School ofEducation, University ofMelbourne, Parkville, Australia
3 College ofEducation, University ofOtago, Dunedin, NewZealand
4 Summer Research Scholar, The University ofWaikato, Hamilton, NewZealand
5 Faculty ofEducation, The University ofWaikato, Hamilton, NewZealand
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Introduction
Contemporary classrooms comprise diverse learners, and so education systems
need to provide learning environments that are equitable and inclusive of all
learners’ needs and strengths. However, research and performance evidence has
continually shown that socioeconomic status, culture, ethnicity, residential loca-
tion and gender all influence students’ academic experiences and achievement in
school (Bishop etal. 2009; Gillan etal. 2017). Disappointingly, however, there
appears little to no sign of improvement in achievement outcomes across these
indicators for diverse learner groups in the Australian context (Crawford-Garrett
2018). Attempts to address inequities have included policy initiatives, such as The
Melbourne Declaration (Barr etal. 2008), that orient teachers within Australia
towards equitable practice to ensure success for all learners. Teachers have also
become increasingly accountable for the delivery of equitable education. This is
made explicit in Standard 1 of the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers
which requires graduates to “demonstrate knowledge of teaching strategies that
are responsive to the learning strengths and needs of students from diverse lin-
guistic, cultural, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds” (Australian Institute
for Teaching and School Leadership 2011, p. 10).
In this paper, we define diversity and inclusion carefully, in recognition of the
plethora of possible interpretations of these terms. Diversity is a holistic term
which we interpret through a post-structural lens that emphasises “diversity not
just of categories but also within categories” (Youdell 2011, p. 40). These catego-
ries relate to markers of identity including ethnicity, social class, gender, sexual-
ity and religion. In his 2018 think piece, Roger Slee positions inclusive education
as “securing and guaranteeing the right of all children to access, presence, partic-
ipation and success in their regular local school” (2018, p. 8). Inclusion is about
removing barriers to enable all learners to have quality learning experiences.
Preparing pre-service teachers (PSTs) to teach for and with diversity as a
resource is recognised as complex identity work (Boylan and Woolsey 2015). It
supposes that PSTs understand the structural inequalities of education (for a thor-
ough analysis on the social reproduction of inequality in education, see Bourdieu
(1977)) and recognise that they have been part of a system that benefits some
students and disadvantages others. The vital importance of strengthening PSTs
understandings of diversity is continually recognised as foundational in advanc-
ing their levels of preparedness and capacity for inclusive teaching (Boylan and
Woolsey 2015; Dee 2010).
Like many other teacher-educators, we are propelled by our own experiences
of helping PSTs to understand the need for inclusive practices and the evidence
that this is difficult work (Boylan and Woolsey 2015; Taylor and Sobel 2003;
Thomas and Border 2017; White and Murray 2015). It is important that initial
teacher education courses prepare teachers to work in ways that support diver-
sity, ideally working with diversity as a resource that enriches both the curricu-
lum, and student and teacher learning. In this paper, we detail an approach in one
teacher education course to integrate reflective and scenario-based assessment as
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Multiperspectivism asathreshold concept inunderstanding…
a means to build the cultural competence of PSTs and analyse ideas that PSTs
found troublesome. Our exploration of troublesome ideas is based upon Meyer
and Land’s (2003) threshold concept theory. Two questions guided this study:
1. What, if any, ideas identified as troublesome were evident in PSTs’ thinking about
catering to diverse needs and strengths in their teacher education course assess-
ment?
2. How can the ideas that students identified as troublesome point towards what
might be a threshold concept in their learning about diversity?
This paper contributes to the scholarship of teacher education through exploring
PSTs’ ideas about catering for diverse needs and strengths within reflective writ-
ing and scenario-based decision-making. We do this by examining how troublesome
ideas surfaced in PSTs reflections in often nuanced ways.
Literature review
A number of factors influence PSTs’ approaches to teaching with and for diversity as
a resource, notably personal epistemologies. Educators’ beliefs and attitudes toward
diversity, which are not always positive, influence decision-making in classrooms
and how learners are ‘seen’ (Liang and Zhang 2009; Pajares 1992). Challenging and
changing deficit attitudes often require PSTs to reflect critically on their own identi-
ties (Boylan and Woolsey 2015). However, there are mixed reports on the effective-
ness of education courses to change or even challenge students’ attitudes and beliefs
(Garmon 2005). In reviewing the existing literature, both Garmon (2005) and Mills
(2008) found that education courses cannot guarantee the production of graduates
with positive attitudes toward teaching diverse learners.
Garmon (2005) drew on Kagan’s (1992 cited in Garmon 2005) work to explain
that often people draw selectively from information to confirm their worldviews,
attitudes and beliefs rather than to challenge them. PSTs’ pre-existing attitudes and
beliefs on commencing a teaching for diversity course tend to be positively rein-
forced regardless of what those beliefs are. Therefore, students who value diverse
classrooms prior to completing a course are more likely to complete the course
with an enhanced valuing of diversity. Similarly, students who do not value diverse
classrooms are likely to complete a course having confirmed and/or enhanced their
beliefs that diversity is not valuable in a classroom. Moreover, PSTs who are resist-
ant to reflecting on their own biases and attitudes toward diversity are less likely to
develop ideas and practices that are sensitive to catering for diverse learners (Gar-
mon 1998; Major and Brock 2003; Peček and Ermenc 2016). The risk of reinforcing
beliefs or preconceptions must be a consideration for education courses committed
to producing educators who understand and can work with difference.
The literature reported here and the understanding of diversity in this paper is
underpinned by post-structuralist ideas of identity and difference (D’Cruz 2007;
Derrida 1976; Foucault 1980). Cultural markers of ethnicity, gender and sexuality,
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socioeconomic status, religious affiliations and linguistic identifications are recog-
nised as influencing how identity is (un)made, at the same time it is recognised that
identity extends traditional ideas of culture and demographics to include the “every-
day level of lived experience” (D’Cruz 2007, p. 38).
To that end, scholars in teacher education have identified several factors that pos-
itively influence PSTs’ perspectives of diversity. Smith etal. (1997) reported that
exposure to different cultural backgrounds, educational experiences, travel and per-
sonal experiences of discrimination positively influence PST attitudes towards diver-
sity. These attributes have been supported in subsequent research and additional
attributes and organisational frames have been suggested. For example, Garmon
(2005) reported two broad categories: dispositions of the PST including openness,
self-reflection and commitment to social justice; and experiences including inter-
cultural, educational and support group experiences. Winitzky and Barlow (1998)
found that openness to learning and to new ideas were important attributes of those
PSTs who had experienced changes in their ideas about diversity. Warren (2018)
found that empathy, which is often regarded as a personal characteristic, could be a
mechanism for encouraging alternative perspectives that positively influence cultur-
ally responsive pedagogy.
According to Gay (2010), culturally responsive teaching refers to “using the cul-
tural knowledge, prior experiences, frames of reference, and performance styles
of [culturally] diverse students to make learning encounters more relevant to and
effective for them. It teaches to and through the strengths of these students” (p. 31).
Sleeter (2012) warned against interpretations of culturally responsive pedagogy
that are simplified and identified four forms of simplifications common to practice
including: “cultural celebration, trivialisation, essentializing culture and substitut-
ing cultural for political analysis of inequalities” (p. 568). The most effective ways
of engaging PSTs in developing understandings of culturally responsive pedagogy
that guard against these simplifications being adopted remains an important area for
research (Sleeter 2012).
Scholars argue that PSTs need to understand how power operates in educational
contexts. This includes how diverse learners are socially positioned relative to peers
and educators. PSTs who understand the broader contexts of diversity in classrooms
tend to demonstrate more culturally appropriate instruction (Diller and Moule 2005;
Kahn etal. 2014). Unless explicitly discussed, the systematic oppression prevalent
in education and schools that perpetuates inequality often remains invisible to PSTs
(Sleeter 2008). Civitillo etal. (2018) in a systematic review found that multidimen-
sionality and complexity of PSTs’ beliefs about cultural diversity are poorly reported
in research and recommend further investigation into how PSTs beliefs can be chal-
lenged to assure equitable education to culturally diverse students. Yet, research
continues to reveal that challenging beliefs is difficult, for example, professional
development even when focussed on culturally responsive pedagogy cannot be
assumed to impact beliefs (Septor 2019). Similarly, Glock and Kleen (2019) found
that developing teacher efficacy with PSTs who are a part of the cultural majority
was also often ineffective.
Borg’s (2011) study of in-service teachers beliefs about language demonstrated
how an intensive eight-week intervention programme (completing a Diploma
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course) can be beneficial in influencing beliefs. The six teachers included in the
study all had different experiences of engaging with their beliefs regarding language;
some had their views reinforced, others did not feel like their views were challenged,
while all seemed to develop an increased competency to articulate what their beliefs
around language were. Borg (2011) made eight recommendations in engaging edu-
cators with their beliefs, noting the relevance to PST contexts including; acknowl-
edging that reflecting on beliefs may be a new experience; explaining the difference
between beliefs, practices and theoretical knowledge; ensuring educators understand
why reflecting on beliefs is important; centralising discussions on beliefs in group
discussions; providing examples of how to examine beliefs; encouraging ‘biographi-
cally responsive’ (Reeves 2009 cited in Borg, 2011) reflective practices; consider-
ing attitudes toward reflective practice; and, providing opportunities for educators to
develop their beliefs and to question them.
Yet, there is a continuing disconnection between PSTs’ theoretical understand-
ing of and attitude toward diversity and their teaching practice (Civitillo etal. 2016;
Gay 2015; Samuels etal. 2017). In this paper, we report on a study that used Meyer
and Land’s (2003) threshold concept theory to consider troublesome ideas for PSTs
learning about diversity.
Theoretical framework: threshold concept theory
Meyer and Land are the founders of threshold concept theory, publishing their semi-
nal paper in 2003. They asserted that, within any discipline, certain concepts exist
that transform the thinking of an individual to such an extent that they transform
who they are in relation to that discipline. They termed these threshold concepts,
evoking the notion that comprehending a threshold concept was similar to stepping
through a portal or over the threshold to a new way of understanding the world. A
learner will step from an area of limited understanding through a portal and into
an area of heightened understanding; they cannot return to their previous concep-
tion, so they are transformed. In their paper they outlined five likely characteris-
tics common among threshold concepts. They are transformative, meaning that a
learner’s understanding will be altered having learned a threshold concept; irrevers-
ible, meaning that a threshold concept is extremely difficult to forget; integrative,
meaning that learners will be able to make previously hidden connections between
concepts when coming to comprehend a threshold concept; bounded, meaning that
threshold concepts can serve to highlight boundaries that exist between other con-
cepts and between different disciplinary areas and troublesome, meaning that learn-
ers will experience a level of difficulty when coming to comprehend a threshold
concept.
Troublesome is the characteristic given the most focus within Meyer and Land’s
seminal paper and it is a characteristic commonly referenced by threshold concept
authors (Adler-Kassner etal. 2012; Felten 2016; Timmermans and Meyer 2017).
Perkins (1999) provided the foundation for Meyer and Land’s description of the
troublesome nature of threshold concepts. In his paper, Perkins discussed differ-
ent forms of knowledge that may prove troublesome for learners including inert
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knowledge that remains stagnant within the mind until being called upon to answer
a specific question; ritual knowledge, which is called upon out of routine such as
mathematical formulas and reciting names; conceptually difficult knowledge, refer-
ring to knowledge that is difficult to accept as it contradicts a learner’s prior expe-
riences or conceptions and foreign knowledge, which is knowledge that is difficult
to understand because it arises from a perspective that differs from the learner’s.
Threshold concepts are troublesome in the sense that they often challenge learners’
common sense and existing knowledge (Walker 2013) meaning that researchers tend
to identify them through a focus on where people are stuck. Moving on from their
established ways of thinking is troublesome and deeply affective and can involve ‘an
uncomfortable, emotional repositioning’ (Cousin 2006, p. 4). As an example, Cous-
in’s (2006, p. 135) work with cultural studies students highlighted how otherness,
which she suggested is an idea that “captures contemporary understandings of social
difference”, was conceived as troublesome and threshold to students’ understandings
of diversity.
Enabling student growth requires identification of threshold concepts based
on their troublesome nature, and deliberately and frequently including the ideas
throughout a programme. Scholars have concluded that focussing on a threshold
concept throughout a course will aid the learner more than teaching it in an iso-
lated instance (Adler-Kassner etal. 2012). Furthermore, the process of revisiting
threshold concepts can be useful if it can be structured in such a way as to expose
learners to deeper levels of learning each time they are re-examined (Timmermans
and Meyer 2017). As well, the troublesome nature of threshold concepts should be
deliberately utilised by educators as a means of thrusting students into a liminal state
to further the learner’s comprehension of a threshold concept (Timmermans and
Meyer 2017). Liminality is the uncertainty that results from the juxtaposition of new
and existing ideas and the work of making sense of new ways of thinking (Meyer
and Land 2003). It is the inbetweening of understanding and not-understanding new
ideas. Often spaces of liminality are affective, identifiable by students themselves by
a sense of grappling, confusion and frustration. This oscillation can be viewed as a
necessary part of the learning process in the struggle to move towards transforma-
tive ways of thinking (Smith and Crowley 2015). Outcomes from the discomfort of
liminality determine whether learning is transformative or results in mimicry and
“ritualised performances” (Morgan 2012, p. 224). Evidence of students encounter-
ing liminality is used to understand PSTs’ experiences with concepts of diversity.
Liminality is used in this paper to articulate the complexity of PSTs efforts to under-
stand diversity and the implications for their teaching practice.
Methodology andmethods
This article reports on data that were collected as part of an interpretive qualita-
tive study (Cohen etal. 2007) investigating changes in PST understandings of
diversity and inclusion. The project focussed on one unit of study (equivalent
to 10h of work a week across 13weeks) within a Bachelor of Primary Educa-
tion and Health and Physical Education course in a medium-sized university in
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Australia. The unit aims to develop positive PST attitudes and beliefs about diver-
sity and to develop skills in culturally responsive pedagogy. Culturally responsive
pedagogies focus on ensuring that the cultures and backgrounds of all students
are valued as a part of the classroom and a part of students’ identities (Gay 2010;
Ladson-Billings 1995).
The materials and structure of the unit are informed by post-structural under-
standings of diversity that include identity and difference (D’Cruz 2007; Derrida
1976; Foucault 1980). The constitution of identity extends traditional ideas of cul-
ture and demographics to include the ‘everyday level of lived experience’, for exam-
ple, sporting club affiliations (D’Cruz 2007). Interpretations of identity in the course
challenge PSTs to think about individuals and importantly, themselves, beyond dis-
crete categories, to recognise the complexity and fluidity of identities (Reay 2001).
Deepening the understanding of difference underpins how diversity is deployed in
the course, largely informed by Santoro’s research (2009): “Knowing the ‘ethnic
self’ and the ‘ethnic other’ are inextricably connected and are crucial to develop-
ing … effective classroom practice” (p. 34). Özbilgin and Woodward (2004, p. 676)
similarly to Santoro (2009) suggested that ‘the construction of ‘the Other’ is contin-
gent upon the simultaneous construction of ‘the Same’ as the basis on which ‘the
Other’ is identified. [Noting also that] this is a power relationship, where ‘the Same
is accorded greater power and status than that which is defined as ‘the Other’’.
Data collection
An invitation to participate in the study was sent via email to PSTs enrolled in
the course, posted as an announcement on the online announcements page, and
via an independent teacher-educator visiting the week one tutorial. For ethical
reasons, consent forms were collected and stored by a second teacher-educator,
independent of the institution, until the completion of the unit. At that time, the
authors accessed the consent forms and proceeded with data analysis of partici-
pant assignments. Fifteen PSTs participated in the study.
The assignment
PSTs were required to submit a collection of six varied written responses relating
to pedagogical aspects of teaching practice at the end of the unit for assessment.
The collection consisted of writing and reviewing lesson plans, challenging defi-
cit talk and heteronormativity among students as well as reflective writing.
The reflective task required PSTs to think about their identity and the cultural
‘markers’ that shape them (Santoro 2009). They were asked to think about what
exclusions they have experienced (through identity and positioning) that may
have helped them to see and/or understand schooling exclusions more clearly.
They were asked to reflect on what their identity and its privileges might shield
them from or prevent them from seeing and experiencing.
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Data analysis
The reflective task was chosen as the focus for analysis as it is often during reflec-
tion that the most troublesome ideas come to the fore and can be identified (Cousin
2006; Santoro 2009). The student reflections were analysed by Author X using a
hybrid approach to inductive and deductive coding (Fereday and Muir-Cochrane
2006). Meyer and Land’s (2003) characteristics of threshold concepts were used to
frame data coding, and at the same time, any striking words or phrases were noted
using NVivo’s annotate function. To ensure the validity of this thematic analysis and
inter-coder reliability of the coding system, Authors Y and Z conducted additional
analyses and provided critical feedback on the initial interpretation of the data.
The assignment analysis process began by reviewing the student reflections to
assess which of Meyer and Land’s (2003) threshold concept characteristics were
most discernible within the students’ reflections. Because of this process, we dis-
cerned that troublesome was the most readily identifiable of the threshold concept
characteristics. After this first stage, the assignments were coded, using NVivo for
evidence of troublesome knowledge. To be coded as troublesome, data had to show
evidence of being difficult for a student to understand. The coding was reviewed
among the research team, and at the conclusion of this process, three troublesome
ideas were identified.
Findings
Analysis of the assignments revealed three ideas that were often troublesome to the
participants: recognition and acceptance of difference, recognition and acceptance
of self to know others and experiencing otherness. Next, each idea is described and
illustrated to exemplify how it was experienced and subsequently expressed by PSTs
in the study.
Recognition andacceptance ofdierence
Throughout the reflections, six of the PSTs described how recognising and accept-
ing difference had been important to them in understanding how to cater to diverse
needs. This concept refers to recognising that a perspective other than your own
exists and being able to accept it. The concept proved troublesome for these PSTs,
with seven excerpts from their assignments highlighting the tensions in accepting
difference. For example,
As a child, my interaction with people who were significantly ‘different’ to me
was limited. Predominantly I interacted with other white, middle-class chil-
dren and adults and ‘difference’ was never spoken about. For example, I didn’t
know anyone who was LGBTI [lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and inter-
sex] until I was in high school. As an adult, I sometimes struggle with concepts
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that are different from my norms. However, even with my white middle-class
background, I see difference as a good thing and I am open to challenging my
normative assumptions. (Student 8)
Here, the PST grapples with the concept of difference and recognises what is
socially expected (to see difference as a good thing) and what is personally comfort-
able. The other five PSTs provided examples that highlighted how realisations that
other ways of experiencing the world exist became evident to them, as this PST did
when they recounted their experiences of access to a private school:
I guess, to an extent, this aspect of whiteness left me blind to the feelings of
individuals from other cultures, as I had never experienced bias due to the col-
our of my skin. However, I can clearly remember my first day of high school,
at a private institution, where funding existed for refugee and migrant students.
It was not until the age of thirteen, that I ever considered the impact of cultural
exclusion and I made a real connection to knowing about and understanding
the perspective of another identity. (Student 15)
Recognition andacceptance ofself toknow others
The second concept related to recognising and accepting the self. Nine of the 15
PSTs demonstrated that understanding their own cultural identity markers and posi-
tionality assisted them in understanding others. This particular concept was evident
in 13 assignment excerpts. It was transformative in PSTs’ understandings of differ-
ence, revealed through the articulation of how one can then know others:
Because of who I am, it is impossible to understand the experiences of oth-
ers. I may not notice the uniqueness of others because this is something that I
have not experienced due to being raised in a middle-class family and mainly
socialised with other cisgendered white students. (Student 12)
Eight of the nine PSTs that displayed evidence of this concept in their assign-
ments recognised that their identity influences how they can know others. They
then pointed to how this can be rethought by explicitly attending to their taken-for-
granted experiences. The following quote is one example that illustrates this point:
I grew up in a traditional family as a heterosexual individual with a mother and
a father. … Throughout my teenage years and now throughout my adult years,
I struggle to understand [heteronormativity] and therefore it effects [sic] my
seeing. When I think of a family I think of a mother and a father however, oth-
ers may think of something much different…By acknowledging my personal
cultural markers and the implications they may have on my teaching practice
helps me to become a culturally responsive teacher. (Student 14)
The concept of self was also troublesome, particularly for PSTs with hegemonic
identity markers. Some reflections demonstrated that PSTs were challenged by iden-
tifying their identities as privileged, for example,
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Whilst I always had a sense of feeling fortunate to have had many opportuni-
ties given to me and to have been brought up in the environment that I did, I
did not see this as being ‘privileged’ [sic] as it is in today’s society. (Student 7)
Experience ofotherness
In six of the PSTs’ assignments there was a total of seven excerpts that displayed
evidence that making sense of otherness developed through either experiencing a
form of social or cultural exclusion themselves or by witnessing the exclusion of
another. Here, experiences of otherness were described as a means of sense making
for PSTs in their developing understanding of diversity. For example:
My father passed away when I was fifteen, this gave me insight into grief and
loss and at times I experienced feeling like the ‘other’ as my closest friends
still had relationships with their fathers. (Student 1)
From moving to Tasmania and starting a new school, there were lots of ques-
tions from my peers about what New Zealand was like. Yes these may have
been cliché, but I had questions such as ‘Do you ride sheep to school in NZ?’
‘Do you have sheep as pets?’ To me, this did not make sense as I knew the
question to be untrue. This occurred not only at school but also at sports clubs
and out of school activities. (Student 4)
These experiences often helped PSTs appreciate the implications of not catering to
diversity in classrooms:
Two exclusions I have experienced: As a female, I could not play a game
because the boys were ‘too rough’, and socioeconomically because I could
not complete a homework task that required Internet and I had no computer at
home. There was no attempt at differentiating to be inclusive in either instance.
Both exclusions were by the same teacher, which has deeply impressed upon
me the effects our decisions as teachers have on a student’s ability to succeed.
(Student 6)
At times, reflecting on exclusions encouraged PSTs to reinscribe privileging of
identities. For example, the following PST demonstrated the troublesome aspect
of understanding the concept of other when they said they were ‘lucky enough to
be born into a white, middle-class family’. Here the PST demonstrates their under-
standing of the significance of hegemonic identity (white and middle class), but fails
to recognise their acceptance of hegemony when they note this is a preferred iden-
tity [‘lucky enough’]:
During my time at school, I never imagined what it was like to speak another
language, or to not be white. As a child, I was white and that was what defined
me. As a child, I never imagined that people who were not white experienced
any form of prejudice, or exclusion. I could not imagine this as I was never
exposed to this form of exclusion, as I was lucky enough to be born into a
white, middle-class family. (Student 15)
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Discussion
In this study, we found that threshold concept theory was useful in identifying
themes that PSTs grappled with when learning about teaching for diversity. Three
interlinked troublesome ideas were identified in PSTs’ reflective statements: recog-
nition and acceptance of difference, recognition and acceptance of self to know oth-
ers and experiences of otherness. Each of these ideas contained elements of concep-
tually difficult knowledge, such as privilege and hegemony, which at times proved
difficult to accept because of PSTs’ prior experiences and conceptions. Ideas were
also at times foreign to PSTs and difficult to understand because they arose from
perspectives that differed from their own (Walker 2013). Through grappling with
these ideas, PSTs experienced moments of being in, or approaching a liminal space
in their understanding of diversity. These ideas coalesced as ways of thinking and
exploring what diversity meant for them individually and how this understanding
should inform their practice as teachers. The data indicated that self-reflections were
able to assist some PSTs to think differently about what it means to support diverse
learners and diversity more broadly.
While each idea has been presented as discrete, the data revealed that PSTs’
understandings of diversity and what this means for their teaching pedagogy are
rarely easy to categorise. The three ideas identified are interconnected and together
have the potential to bring people into a liminal space. The relationship between
these ideas is not hierarchical, nor linear; rather, the three ideas were found to work
together as interdependent moving cogs, each generating the other and working
towards understandings of diversity. The ideas that emerged from the data analysis
suggest that learning to teach diverse learners requires PSTs to engage personally in
exploring their lived experiences to activate reflexive thinking about their attitudes
and experiences.
Findings highlighted that when working with recognising and accepting differ-
ence, PSTs are often unaware of how the world is experienced by others. In this
sense, they cannot ‘see’ or are blinkered to the way the world is experienced by
people unlike them. The PSTs in this study were generally from the cultural major-
ity; therefore, their main identity markers (white, middle class) were mostly accom-
modated and reflected in and through their schooling contexts (Youdell 2011). This
seemed to influence how PSTs were able to conceive of the experiences of others
whose identity markers are not accommodated or reflected in educational contexts
(Youdell 2011). Opportunities to reflect on ideas of what it means to be other helped
to bring awareness to these perspectival differences and to consider that there may
be multiple ways to experience the world. Yet engaging in this process was challeng-
ing and troublesome for many of the PSTs; consequently, it is a promising area for
teacher-educators to target in designing curricula and learning experiences to sup-
port PST’s understanding and practice of what it means to teach for diversity (Borg
2011). The responses indicated that by expanding PSTs’ worldviews through critical
reflection on self, specifically in relation to experiences of privilege, capacity for
empathy was fostered and PSTs could appreciate the circumstances of others more
clearly (Warren 2018). They reflected on the challenges that others may experience
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K.Beasy et al.
1 3
and, in light of this, critically considered their positionality. Yet in these moments
of reflecting on self, PSTs often described themselves as being in the middle, mark-
ing themselves as neither privileged nor impoverished. This desire to be un-notable
serves as a blindfold to one’s own cultural identity markers and positionality (San-
toro 2009). In addition, their self-identification regarding privilege were often exas-
perated and, in many ways, reminiscent of the emotions experienced by those grap-
pling with Whiteness (Ahmed 2004; Matias 2016). The PSTs seemed not to know
how to make sense of the privileges they had experienced (which many were una-
ware of prior to completing the course), or with the reality that others do not have
these same advantages. Yet, through opportunities to reflect on otherness and their
experiences with otherness, PSTs became more open to considering how their iden-
tities influence their being in the world.
Six of the 15 PSTs shared experiences of being excluded or othered. These sto-
ries revealed PSTs making sense of othering through their own experiences of being
othered and worked to decentre PSTs’ previous ways of viewing the world. By expe-
riencing exclusion or witnessing exclusion, PSTs were encouraged to reflect on what
it means to be accepted in society and how not having this status influences thoughts
and feelings in often negative ways (D’Cruz 2007). It was in these moments that the
integration of the three ideas—recognising other, recognising self and experiences
of otherness—coalesced to generate new ways of thinking about diversity. Through
the reflective process of recognising and accepting one’s own stories, biographies
and memories, and bringing to the fore the assumptions that sit behind them, stu-
dents expressed discomfort and were unsettled as they entered a liminal space.
Multiperspectivism: apotential threshold
A threshold concept differs from an idea. For example, an idea in understanding
diversity and inclusion might be that people have different experiences—they may
be noticed or unnoticed, described as good or bad experiences and articulated as
personal stories or not. Yet, knowing that people have different experiences does not
take a teacher into a threshold in which they see the world differently, nor change
what they do. This study identified that recognising others’ life worlds, examining
self and experiencing otherness, were three ideas that coalesced to take participants
to a liminal space and enabled them to think differently.
While these ideas were found to come together in varied ways to challenge and
create opportunities for alternative ways of viewing the world, we problematise, as
other scholars have done (Moodie 2019; Thomas and Border 2017), the position-
ing of self and other in how PSTs were encouraged to reflect and subsequently, in
the reflective statements produced. Discursive framings of other can potentially
reinscribe binaries and hegemonic power hierarchies. Affording PSTs opportunities
to reflect on their own identities, as well as the identities of others, is effective in
encouraging liminality among PSTs’ ideas of diversity, but it was found that this
needs to be organised effectively by teacher-educators to avoid establishing a binary
narrative that privileges singular perspectives of both self and other.
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Multiperspectivism asathreshold concept inunderstanding…
The challenge remains to enable PSTs to think beyond binaries and to be open to
multiple perspectives in ways that accept and value diverse ways of knowing and being
in the world. The challenge to teacher-educators is to ensure PSTs are well equipped to
teach authentically with diversity in the classroom. We suggest that multiperspectivism
may be the threshold concept that enables PSTs to work in ways that teach for diver-
sity in classrooms and value diversity as a resource. While our evidence suggests that
examining self and understanding other are important framing ideas to encourage deep
reflection, we contend that more needs to be done to shift PST thinking—to create that
epistemological shudder (Lozinski and Collinson 1999) to spur new ways of thinking
and practicing in ways that are inclusive and embrace diversity. When knowledge is
troubling, it perturbs one’s world view and can open up new ways of thinking and see-
ing otherwise. Learning to view the world multiperspectivally may enable prospective
teachers to view diversity as a resource in classrooms.
Conclusions
The three interlinked ideas identified in this study could help teacher-educators to iden-
tify what needs curriculum attention and to point towards what might be a threshold
concept for PSTs’ understandings about diversity. To activate PSTs’ engagement with
the three interlinked ideas of exploring, recognising and accepting other, examining
self and experiencing otherness, we offer the following questions: Who am I and how
does this influence my experience of the world? Who else is in the world, and how
does who they are influence their experiences of the world? How can I teach in ways
that value the multiplicity of identities in my classroom? These questions can underpin
curriculum design of entire programmes, recognising the necessity of including mul-
tiple opportunities to engage with ideas of diversity and in how to teach with diversity
in classrooms, to become multiperspectival in thinking about their work as teachers
(Adler-Kassner etal. 2012; Timmermans and Meyer 2017).
We are mindful that this study drew on one source of data and therefore regard mul-
tiperspectivism as a potential threshold concept in which the three ideas are nested. The
analysis of further sources of data (e.g. interviews with teaching staff and disciplinary
experts, focus groups with students from the course) will strengthen our proposition
that multiperspectivism is a threshold concept within this disciplinary area.
Acknowledgements This project was partly funded through Summer Research Scholar funding from the
University of Waikato to advance a programme of research (TC-VITAL (Threshold conceptsVisions of
inclusive teaching and learning). The authors gratefully acknowledge the funding provided. The authors
thank the participants who agreed to be involved in this research.
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maps and institutional affiliations.
Kim Beasy works at the University of Tasmania in the School of Education, teaching and researching
contemporary issues that underpin questions of equity and sustainability. Kim is involved with a num-
ber of projects including effectiveness of pre-service teacher training in studies of equity and diversity,
Sustainability Skills Cafes, effects of diversity on group decision-making for sustainable outcomes, LGB-
TIQ+ inclusive teaching practices and postgraduate experiences. Kim is Chair of Education for Sustaina-
bility (EfS) Tasmania, a network of stakeholders invested in collaborating together to promote EfS across
the state.
Jeana Kriewaldt is a Senior Lecturer in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Mel-
bourne. She has a strong applied background as a classroom teacher and school leader. Researching in
teacher education, Jeana specialises in pre-service teacher education and is undertaking several research
projects that are investigating approaches that will improve the quality of teacher practice and teacher
candidate preparation. These include the effects of multi-source feedback on pre-service teachers and
the role of clinical reasoning in teacher education. She recently co-wrote Place and time: explorations in
teaching geography and history.
Alan Morgan is a primary school teacher in the Bay of Plenty, New Zealand. He completed his masters
thesis on the topic of threshold concepts and the ways in which they have sought to be identified (Univer-
sity of Waikato). He also focused on how threshold concept theory has been used to structure curricula.
Helen Trevethan is a Senior Lecturer at the University of Otago College of Education. Helen has a long
history in initial teacher education and currently teaches in Undergraduate and Post Graduate teacher edu-
cation programmes. Her main research interests are beginning teaching, mentoring and student teacher
professional practice. She is a member of the New Zealand Teaching Council review team.
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Bronwen Cowie is a Professor and Associate Dean Research in the Division of Education at the Univer-
sity of Waikato. Bronwen’s research is focused on teaching and learning in primary and secondary class-
rooms, and in initial teacher education. She has particular interests in assessment for learning in science
classrooms, the development of student teacher and teacher assessment capacity and culturally responsive
pedagogy and assessment. Her exploration of threshold concept theory has focused on engineering edu-
cation and assessment.
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Article
A challenge for early childhood (EC) educators internationally is how to increase the integration of popular culture, media and digital technologies in EC settings to promote children's learning with digital media. But an ongoing puzzle is why the practices of some educators change, while others remain the same. Much research about teaching practice positions the locus of change in teacher beliefs, attitudes, values and knowledge. Re‐mediation by cultural tools (i.e., concepts and artefacts) offers an alternative explanation, but this still does not consistently result in hoped‐for shifts in practice. To gain further clarity, we investigated the idea of multimodal play as a ‘threshold concept’ for EC curriculum. Multimodal play integrates popular culture, media and digital technologies in ways that can promote children's learning. Considering multimodal play as a threshold concept may assist educators to adopt new practices in response to children's significant interest in and rapidly changing life worlds of popular culture, media and digital technologies. Practitioner notes What is already known about this topic Play is the signature pedagogy of early childhood education (ECE). Professional development (PD) by EC educators about digital technologies, media and popular culture produces little change to established practices. Successful ways to integrate digital technologies, media and popular culture in EC curricula are needed. What this paper adds Draws on extant literature and empirical data to explain why multimodal play could be a threshold concept in ECE. Offers an alternative explanation to re‐mediation about why practices are difficult to change. Implications for practice and/or policy Research and PD about digital technologies, media and popular culture should treat multimodal play (not digital technologies) as a threshold concept in addressing signature pedagogies. Popular culture, media and digital technologies can add to rather than displace multimodality in children's play. What is already known about this topic Play is the signature pedagogy of early childhood education (ECE). Professional development (PD) by EC educators about digital technologies, media and popular culture produces little change to established practices. Successful ways to integrate digital technologies, media and popular culture in EC curricula are needed. What this paper adds Draws on extant literature and empirical data to explain why multimodal play could be a threshold concept in ECE. Offers an alternative explanation to re‐mediation about why practices are difficult to change. Implications for practice and/or policy Research and PD about digital technologies, media and popular culture should treat multimodal play (not digital technologies) as a threshold concept in addressing signature pedagogies. Popular culture, media and digital technologies can add to rather than displace multimodality in children's play.
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