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An Ethnographic Study of Immigrant and Refugee Women’s Knowledge Construction in an Early Childhood Teacher Education Program Open Access


Other title
early childhood education
teacher education
immigrants and refugees
professional identity
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Massing, Dana C
Supervisor and department
Dr. Anna Kirova (Department of Elementary Education)
Examining committee member and department
Dr. Rachel Langford (Department of Early Childhood Studies)
Dr. Heather Blair (Department of Elementary Education)
Dr. Lynne Wiltse (Department of Elementary Education)
Dr. Larry Prochner (Department of Elementary Education)
Dr. Sophie Yohani (Department of Educational Psychology)
Department of Elementary Education

Date accepted
Graduation date
Doctor of Philosophy
Degree level
Immigrant/refugee women may gravitate to the field of early childhood education (ECE) to fill the national and provincial need for teachers (Beach, Friendly, Ferns, Prabhu, & Forer, 2008; CCHRS, 2009) in an occupation that is deemed to be very accessible to newcomers (Service Canada, 2011). However, provincial regulatory standards (e.g. Government of Alberta, 2012; 2013a) and early childhood teacher education programs (ECTE) are framed by an authoritative discourse (Bakhtin, 1981) which foregrounds Western child development theories and normative values; thus silencing immigrant/refugee women's experiential and cultural knowledges about how to teach and care for young children. Limited scholarship in the field tentatively suggests that immigrant/refugee teachers and ECTE students discard their culturally-constructed beliefs and practices in favour of enacting the authoritative discourse (Adair, Tobin, & Aruzibiaga, 2012; Langford, 2007; Ortlipp & Nuttall, 2011), but no study to date has included data from both coursework and field placements. Framed by sociocultural-historical theory (Vygotsky, 1978) and concepts such as communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991) and dialogism (Bakhtin, 1981), this research explored how twenty immigrant/refugee women enrolled in a one year ECTE college program constructed understandings of the authoritative discourse in relation to their own culturally-formed experiences, knowledges, beliefs, and values. My research addressed the following questions: What understandings do immigrant/refugee women in one ECTE program construct of the authoritative discourse of ECE? What impact do these understandings have on their perceptions of themselves in relation to children as they negotiate their professional identities as teachers? How does their learning in this program influence their interactions with children in their field placements? Consistent with an ethnographic methodology, I immersed myself in the participants’ experiences for an average of two to three days a week during their coursework and field placements for the duration of their program. Qualitative data were collected through observational field notes, interviews, focus groups, and artifacts/documents. The findings in this research are presented in a series of four distinct papers presented in pairs. The first paper describes the participants’ recollections of how songs and oral storytelling were employed as pedagogical strategies “back home” for teaching children important cultural values and proper behaviour while conveying familial hopes for their futures. The second paper recounts how the instructors apprenticed students into the early childhood community of practice using scaffolding techniques such as bridging, structuring (Rogoff, 1990), modelling or demonstration (Wood, Bruner, & Ross, 1975), and explicit and implicit mediators (Vygotsky, 1978; Wertsch, 2007) to aid them in appropriating songs and story books as pedagogical tools in practice with young children. The third paper focuses on several participants’ processes of learning to speak and act as professionals as made visible in their play interactions with children in their field placement sites in accredited child care centres. Although these participants were expected to appropriate normative practices, in actuality they were found to dialogically author their own hybridized professional identities informed by their understandings of education formed “back home” and the authoritative discourse. The final paper considers the dissonance between the care practices in the child care centres and five African, Muslim participants’ own cultural and religious constructions of what it means to care for infants and toddlers with a focus on feeding practices. When faced with such ruptures, the participants either suppressed or rejected their own beliefs—performing as full, legitimate members of the community of practice—or subverted dominant practices to enact their own cultural practices. Two of the responses documented in this research—authoring new professional voices and rejecting the authoritative discourse—fill the gap in our understanding of how immigrant/refugee students negotiate discontinuities between their learning in the program and their own experiences, beliefs, and values. Implications and recommendations for policy, teacher education programs, and practice arising from the overall findings in this study are included.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
Citation for previous publication
Massing, C. (2014). African refugee women's songs and stories: Possibilities for diversifying literacy practices in early childhood education. In C. Brewer & M. McCabe (Eds.), Immigrant and refugee students in Canada (pp. 112-128). Edmonton, AB: Brush Education, Inc.Massing, C. (2015). Authoring professional identities: Immigrant and refugee women's experiences in an early childhood teacher education program. Canadian Children, 40(1), 73-99.

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