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Author ORCID Identifier



Open Access Dissertation

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Degree Program


Year Degree Awarded


Month Degree Awarded


First Advisor

Denise K. Ives

Second Advisor

Laura Valdiviezo

Third Advisor

Joseph Krupczynski

Fourth Advisor

Floris Wilma Ortiz-Marrero

Subject Categories

Teacher Education and Professional Development


ABSTRACT A CRITICAL LENS OF EXPERIENTIAL LEARNING IN PUERTO RICO February 2019 ROBIN L. MARION, B.A., UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS AMHERST M.A., UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS AMHERST Ph.D., UNIVERSITY OF MASSACHUSETTS AMHERST Directed by: Dr. Denise K. Ives Teacher education research has shown that ethnically, linguistically, and economically diverse students have been historically under-served in U.S. public schools (Bennett, 2013; Gay, 2010). Scholars attribute the under-serving of diverse students to a deficit perspective that exists in many schools across the United States, both in classrooms and within school administration. This deficit perspective devalues the cultural and linguistic resources many students possess (Sleeter, 2011; Delpit, 2006). Teacher education research has consistently claimed culturally responsive and sustaining pedagogical practices are critical to preparing pre-service teachers (PSTs) to teach all students. Culturally responsive pedagogy recognizes the significance of students’ cultural, linguistic, ethnic, and racial identities as resources to support academic learning (Ladson-Billings, 1995; 2014; Bennett, 2013; Paris, 2012; Gay, 2010). When culturally responsive pedagogy is woven throughout coursework, it can guide and support pre- service teachers’ best practices through praxis (connecting theory to practice) within fieldwork experiences (Ladson-Billings, 1995; Bennett, 2013; Gay, 2010; Sleeter, 2011). The purpose of this case study is to explore how a cultural and language immersion critical service learning (CSL) travel study course to Puerto Rico might open spaces for viii pre-service teachers to address preconceived attitudes, beliefs, and biases of others who are different from themselves in respect to culture, race, ethnicity, language, and socioeconomics. Critical service learning is a pedagogy within civic engagement work that uses a social justice framework focused on the disruption and redistribution of power systems for social change (Mitchell, 2008). The intersection of experiential learning, cultural and language immersion, and critical service learning allows participants to engage with individuals from a culture divergent from their own sociocultural worlds (Tomlinson- Clarke & Clarke, 2010). When these culturally responsive pedagogical practices align, “Cultural immersion engages individuals in meaningful, direct cross-cultural interactions, thereby increasing the likelihood of developing cultural understanding and empathy” (Tomlinson-Clarke & Clarke, 2010, p.167). This case study examines how participants in an experiential learning travel study course make sense of their individual and collective experiences. Experiential Learning Theory (ELT) is, "the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience" (Kolb, 1984, p. 41). During the travel study course participants engaged with Puerto Rican culture, history, ethnicity, language, and race through guided coursework, excursions, critical service learning, and Spanish language immersion. Through the lens of culturally responsive, sustaining pedagogy and language ideologies, this study explores how individuals think about others who differ racially, ethnically, socioeconomically, and linguistically from themselves. The study further examines how ix implicit and explicit language and race ideologies impact PSTs’ asset and deficit perspectives of others. The research questions delve into how participants synthesize their new understandings along with their preconceived attitudes, beliefs, and biases through the lens of being Spanish language learners, learning about the culture and history of Puerto Rico, and critically reflecting on their own and others’ sociocultural and linguistic identities. The study explores how a cultural and language immersion, critical service learning designed course contributes to participants engaging in critically reflective practices. The study analyzes data collected through nightly course seminars, final reflection papers, semi-structured interviews, focus group conversations, and course- related artifacts. Findings from the case study affirm that the language and cultural immersion components of the course supported shifts for students as they experienced what it was like to be a Spanish language learner, to walk in the shoes of English language learners, and begin to understand what it feels like to be immersed in a new language and culture. Findings also communicated how experiencing a place, people, and culture, and having authentic human exchanges in real time, can plant the seeds for participants to critically examine their preconceived attitudes, beliefs, and biases. Findings showed participants were able to identify what culturally responsive pedagogy looks like through the caring and empathy they observed by the Puerto Rican teacher hosts at the Spanish Language School (SLS) and the School Rehabilitation Center (SRC) sites. Finally, the study finds that four specific elements were critical to the success of the travel study course. The first two elements were the culturally responsive designed x coursework and guided instruction, and the fact that one of the instructors was a Puerto Rican cultural insider. The third element was the continual reflexivity by and between the co-instructors. The instructors’ reflexivity included observing what was going well and noticing what was problematic in relation to SRC partners and the undergraduate course participants. As a result of the reflexive practice, the co-instructors made shifts within the experiential components of the course, pedagogical changes within the coursework and seminars during the course, and further changes within long-term planning to ensure shifts would be implemented for future travel study coursework. The fourth element was the presence of Haniah and Maria, two participants of color, and their willingness to share personal and difficult stories that serve as a testimony to the criticality of developing diverse teacher preparation cohorts. This case study is significant as it points to the implications and potential benefits of civic engagement and service learning through experiential learning with the unique connection between classroom pedagogy, cultural and language immersion, critical service learning, and praxis in the field.