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Foregrounding Equity in Teacher Education: Toward a Model of Social Justice Pedagogical and Content Knowledge.


The belief that teachers embody a specialized, professionally specific form of knowledge has long reverberated throughout the teaching profession. Pedagogical Content Knowledge (Shulman, 1986, 1987), commonly referred to as PCK, lent credence and gave shape to this ideology. Following the PCK paradigm, teaching is a profession that requires a "special amalgam of content and pedagogy that is uniquely the province of teachers" (Shulman, 1987, p. 8). PCK posits teaching as a particularized assortment of skills and knowledges uniquely held by members of the profession, not unlike the skills sets and knowledges specific to the medical or legal fields. Under PCK, content knowledges and knowledges for teaching are at once distinctly separate and intimately intertwined entities (Ball, Thames, & Phelps, 2008). The framework rejects overly simplified perceptions of sound teaching practices as condescensions that trivialize and diminish teachers' complex work. From coursework requirements to national standards and assessments, PCK asserts itself at various turns on teacher candidates' paths to their classrooms. The framework continues to intrigue scholars: In an attempt to offer a generative iteration of the term, the 2012 PCK summit posited PCK as

a personal attribute of a teacher and is considered both a knowledge base and an action ... [It is the] knowledge of, reasoning behind, planning for, and enactment of teaching a particular topic in a particular way for a particular reason to particular students for enhanced student outcomes. (Gess-Newsome & Carlson, 2013)

Scholars generally acknowledge equipping teacher candidates with PCK as one of the most basic and essential functions of teacher education (see, for example, Ball et al., 2008; Cochran, DeRuiter, & King, 1993; Hammerness, DarlingHammond, Grossman, Rust, & Shulman, 2005).

But despite its foundational qualities and ubiquity, the framework leaves unexplored vital elements of teaching. Accordingly, this article offers an investigation of PCK, examining first its theoretical underpinnings. Next, we present dissenting views of PCK, pausing to deepen the critique of its silence with regard to the role of equity in classroom instruction. In an attempt to redress this grievance, we offer Social Justice Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (SJPACK), a framework predicated on the assumption that because all instructional maneuvers are politically charged and therefore never neutral, the foundational knowledge domain Social Justice Knowledge permeates and shapes all PCK practices; consequently, PCK can never be siloed from Social Justice Knowledge. Finally, we examine the possibilities for content, pedagogy, and social justice knowledges working cohesively in teacher preparation.

A Foundational Framework: PCK

In constructing the PCK framework, Shulman (1987) parcels the elements of teaching into seven distinct knowledge bases: (a) content knowledge, (b) general pedagogical knowledge, (c) curriculum knowledge, (d) PCK, (e) knowledge of learners and their characteristics, (f) knowledge of educational contexts, and (g) knowledge of educational ends, purposes, and values. Pedagogical knowledge entails stages of comprehension, transformation, instruction, evaluation, reflection, and new comprehensions while content knowledge, Shulman argues, involves familiarity with the key literatures, studies, and criticisms of a particular content area. Bringing into sharper focus the synergies between the knowledge bases, Shulman (1987) states,
   Pedagogical content knowledge ... represents the blending of
   content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular
   topics, problems, or issues are organized, represented, and
   adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of learners, and
   presented for instruction, (p. 8)

Figure 1 illustrates the PCK paradigm of teaching.

Applying the PCK knowledge base requires teachers to consider both what (content) and how (pedagogy) to teach to increase instructional effectiveness and maximize student learning. The framework explains that neither content knowledge nor pedagogical knowledge alone are sufficient to teach in successful ways (Settlage, 2013); instead, expert pedagogues fuse together, often seamlessly, their content and pedagogical knowledge bases. Although the degree to which Shulman's goal of professional legitimization has come to fruition is certainly debatable, there is little doubt that the PCK framework altered the teaching profession.

PCK's Impact on the Field

Many teacher education programs highly esteem the PCK framework. For Ball et al. (2008), PCK is the singular most important element for teacher candidates to master. Gudmundsdottir (1991) goes so far as to say that PCK "is the most important of the knowledge base of teaching and distinguishes the veteran teacher from the novice" (p. 411). Given the reverence with which it is treated, it is unsurprising that PCK language infuses many aspects of teacher education, requiring teacher candidates to master the particulars of the framework to earn their teaching credentials and/or advance in the field. The Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation (CAEP; n.d.), whose Standard 1 assesses candidates' mastery of the concept, defines PCK as follows:
   A core part of content knowledge for teaching that includes: core
   activities of teaching, such as figuring out what students know;
   choosing and managing representations of ideas; appraising,
   selecting and modifying textbooks; deciding among alternative
   courses of action and analyzing the subject matter knowledge
   and insight entailed in these activities, (para. 6)

In addition, the widely implemented Interstate Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium Standards, a 10-standard model of teacher education that forwards what K-12 teachers "should know and be able to do," assesses teachers on their PCK, instruction that "blends content and effective instructional strategies for teaching particular subject matter, including appropriate representations and explanations" (Council of Chief State School Officers, 2011, p. 20). The Stanford Center for Assessment, Learning, and Equity's (n.d.) edTPA, a teacher performance portfolio assessment requiring teacher candidates to submit videos, written commentary, and teaching artifacts, reserves one of its 15 rubrics for assessing students' handle on subject-specific pedagogy.

Scholars have likewise applied the framework to highlight other divisions of specialized knowledge bases. PCK is fundamental to Barnett and Hodson's (2001) Pedagogical Content Knowledge, Love's (2010) Literacy Pedagogical Content Knowledge, Perry's (2013) Sustainability Pedagogical Content Knowledge, and Koehler and Mishra's (2006) Technological Pedagogical Content Knowledge frameworks. Without question, the PCK framework is one of the most influential paradigms in teacher education; that other disciplines have borrowed and built on the construct seems to have only further legitimized its legacy.

Critiques of PCK

But PCK is not without its dissenters. Shing, Saat, and Loke (2015) charge, "Similar to teaching, [PCK] is complex and difficult to define explicitly" (p. 46). Barnett (2003) offers a similar admonishment of the PCK framework, finding it "difficult to unpack," "complicated," and "problematic" (p. 616). Though admittedly a self-proclaimed PCK "disciple," Abell (2008) faults what she views as researchers' "inconsistent and oftentimes vague application of the PCK construct" (p. 1407). Another concern is that while teacher preparation concerns itself with developing preservice teachers' (PSTs) PCK, the skill set is one largely learned on the job (Gudmundsdottir, 1995).

Much of the criticism around PCK centers on its treatment of content knowledge, pedagogical knowledge, and the relational boundaries and intersections between them. Citing Bernstein's (1996) scholarship that contours pedagogy more capaciously than mere instructional practices that transpire in classrooms and instead as a phenomenon that occurs whenever (and wherever) knowledge is culturally reproduced, Segall (2004) faults PCK for failing to recognize that content and pedagogy are inherently bound. His argument aligns with McEwan and Bull (1991) who insist that, "all subject-matter knowledge is pedagogical" because "ideas are themselves intrinsically pedagogic ... they are always for someone" (p. 332). Similarly, presenting curriculum or content as devoid of pedagogical underpinnings fails to problematize language or discourse as politically charged vehicles through which consciousness is negotiated, manipulated, and achieved (Kincheloe, 1993; Segall, 2004). Still other scholars offer a more scathing refutation of PCK. Decrying the construct as "an antiquated throwaway term," Settlage (2013) articulates, "The core problem with PCK is that the knowledge is treated as information without sufficient regard for how it manifests itself as action" (p. 9). Pressing on, he critiques the equal weight assigned to pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge, citing Hattie's (2012) study that found teachers' mastery of content knowledge bears almost no impact on students' achievement.

PCK poses problems for inservice professionals as well. Even experienced teachers oftentimes have disparate views of PCK and its role in their instructional maneuvers (E. Lee & Luft, 2008). In their study seeking to illuminate the elements of PCK infused within computer science textbooks, Saeli, Perrenet, Jochems, and Zwaneveld (2012) find that textbooks overwhelmingly supported the development of teachers' content knowledge but only weakly tended to their pedagogical knowledge growth. Still other studies (e.g., Ennis, 1994; Fernandez-Balboa & Stiehl, 1995) reveal that teachers' belief systems directly influence the manners in which they elect to present their subject matter instruction, an orientation that PCK fails to capture. That the term only superficially tends to the notion of learning contexts presents another point of concern. As Settlage (2013) contends that "when clumsily handled, 'context' is treated as detracting barriers or detestable impositions interfering with efforts to educate children" (p. 9). Conversely, other teachers' cognizance of the notion of "context" as a rich assortment of resources and assets actually deepens their quality of instruction (Fernandez-Balboa & Stiehl, 1995; Milner, 2010).

These fragmented understandings of PCK reveal that the framework, for all its attributes, is not without its fissures and omissions. In this article, we examine another shortcoming of the PCK framework, namely, that it leaves unexplored matters of diversity and equity, both critical dimensions of social justice teaching. Scholars historically (Nieto, 2000) and currently (Cochran-Smith et al., 2016) continue to ask "What does it take to foreground equity in teacher preparation?" Here, we answer this query by offering an SJPACK--a framework that both centralizes and cultivates equity by spanning and synergizing fundamental areas of teacher preparation: content and pedagogy.

To establish our paradigm, we first define social justice as an awareness of the myriad manifestations of privilege and oppression in our society, including racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and heteronormativity, as well as an active commitment to dismantling these hegemonies and the structures that both represent and perpetuate them (L. A. Bell, 1997). Social justice involves recognizing how institutions, such as government offices, perpetuate societal inequity through the disproportionate distribution of material and symbolic resources among social groups. Perhaps no systemic entity is more culpable for creating and maintaining these stratifications than the educational system given that schools act as sites that both perpetuate and reproduce social inequities. Broadly, schools enact overt policies, such as the regulation of language use (Auerbach, 1993), as well as latent procedures, such as the requirement of personal finances to participate in school activities and sports (Jones & Vagle, 2013), that maintain inequities along lines such as culture and class. In addition, differences in school funding create chasmic disparities in students' access to resources such as technology and to qualified teachers (Adamson & Darling-Hammond, 2012). In classroom spaces, traditional practices of tracking purport to group students by ability levels but have actually been shown to more accurately correlate to students' race, class, and gender. That these practices often result in "less-advantaged students finding themselves more often sorted into the lower tracks" (Ansalone, 2001, p. 44) therefore propagates inequity, restricting opportunities and exposure to instructional experiences to which students in higher tracks are granted access. Social justice education seeks to confront these political aspects of society and school directly. A teacher who subscribes to a social justice paradigm not only recognizes and teaches students about inequities but also addresses those disparities within their classroom. Social justice in education therefore "encourages students to take an active role in their own education and supports teachers in creating empowering, democratic, and critical educational environments" (Hackman, 2005, p. 103).

If teacher educators and other stakeholders with a vested interest in the field do not make explicit that all PCK practices are politically imbued, PSTs will continue to think of their work as neutral and devoid of ideology, an orientation that will likely affirm students belonging to dominant, mainstream groups while only further marginalizing students belonging to nondominant populations. Accordingly, ours is a revitalized conception of what teacher candidates should know and be able to do to equip teachers with the knowledges necessary to disrupt inequity. While the SJPACK model offers a generative framework from which to understand classroom instruction, the relationships between social justice, content knowledge, and pedagogical knowledge have enjoyed much discussion throughout the years (see, for example, Banks, 1993; Cochran-Smith, 2004; Gay, 2010). Like Shulman's PCK framework, our work seeks to amalgamate an assortment of theoretical conversations while establishing a defined space that connects these many dialogues. What is new, then, is our distillation of the otherwise nebulous action of teaching a discipline in ways that promote social justice; our argument advances the uniqueness of the knowledge combinations that, tailored appropriately, promote equity. Such a framework warrants a clearly articulated theoretical paradigm to make clear and respect its nuances.

In the following sections, we advance the SJPACK framework--its knowledge domains, categories, and strands--and offer future directions for teacher education classrooms.

Reenvisioning Teacher Preparation: SJPACK

What Shulman labeled correctly in 1986 was that something happens when a teacher translates content for student consumption. We build on this sentiment by suggesting that these happenings are inseparable from one's social justice leanings, be they advanced or limited in their scope. Accordingly, we offer SJPACK, a theoretical model that argues Social Justice Knowledge--or lack thereof--profoundly shapes teachers' PCK practices. Figure 2 illustrates the SJPACK conceptual framework.

Drawing from Freire (1968/1970), SJPACK holds that educational processes are never apolitical. Associatively, no part of PCK is neutral--at every step, teachers make instructional decisions that either work to promote a more equitable society--or, under the guise of "neutrality," they perpetuate hegemony. Because PCK practices are always molded by the political, Social Justice Knowledge and PCK domains are inextricably intertwined--The latter can never isolate itself from the former. The same rejection of neutrality is true of teacher preparation. It is implausible to assume that, as Cochran-Smith, Barnatt, Lahann, Shakman, and Terrell (2009) avow, "there is a choice ... between politics and no politics and that it is possible to engage in practice and policymaking in teacher preparation, certification, and program accreditation without being political" (p. 632). Claiming to be neutral is therefore an ideological stance itself. SJPACK overtly challenges teachers to teach for social justice, not just along its parameters. The framework encourages teachers and students to recognize and disrupt oppression, and sees pedagogies and content as vehicles through which to realize these ambitions. In this way, SJPACK also presents itself as a teaching goal.

SJPACK occurs, and is realizable, across all disciplines. It requires the knowledge of social justice theory in all its many forms. To teach equitably, SJPACK necessitates familiarity with a host of liberating pedagogies. Finally, SJPACK involves translating content so that it is socially relevant or can be critiqued for the values it creates or maintains.

Because texts, pedagogies, and knowledges are ultimately dependent upon the focal topic, context, and teacher, SJPACK can--and should--be tailored to each classroom situation. For example, realizing SJPACK with students who benefit from an array of privileges would likely look quite different from teaching students who belong to historically marginalized groups. Subscribing to the belief that students evolve into multicultural thinkers and allies by advancing through phases (Nieto, 2006), the fluidity of the framework allows for various combinations and manifestations. Van Driel and Berry (2010) affirm that "the more representations and strategies teachers have at their disposal within a certain subject domain, and the better they understand their students' learning processes in the same domain, the more effectively can they teach in that domain" (p. 656). We draw from this sentiment to note that a broad base, an understanding of the three domains we describe below and how to work within them, is crucial so that teachers are able to pull from each and effect equitable learning experiences for their students.

In the following sections, we provide a nuanced exploration of the SJPACK framework--its domains, categories, and strands--situating the conversation in the scholarship of teacher education.

Domain I : Social Justice Knowledge

Social justice in education traces its roots to a variety of areas: philosophical/conceptual, practical, ethnographic/narrative, theoretically specific, and democratically grounded (Hytten & Bettez, 2011). Despite these traditions, a search to address and explain societal inequities permeates these various approaches. Cochran-Smith (2010) draws on the discipline of political philosophy to explain conceptualizations of social justice as the "redistribution of material and other goods, including opportunity, power and access" (p. 7) and the recognition of social groups to validate their existence. Thus, social justice addresses power differentials between groups and critiques structures that sustain those systems of privilege and subjugation. In brief, "social justice is about the treatment of inequalities of all kinds" (Barry, 2005, p. 10).

Social Justice Knowledge--an understanding of systems of oppression, privilege, and domination--courses throughout the SJPACK framework. Under SJPACK, all pedagogical and curricular decisions are rooted in one's knowledges of social justice. Because SJPACK maintains that teaching practices are always politically charged, and that impartiality is a thinly veiled farce for maintaining the status quo, PCK can never be detached from social justice underpinnings. Figure 3 presents an illustrative graphic of Social Justice Knowledge, categorically emphasizing one's fluency with Discourse (Gee, 2015), theory, history, and agency.

Social justice necessitates disassembling institutions of subjugation in which oppression occurs as "a set of policies practices traditions, norms, definitions and explanations (discourses), which function to systematically exploit one social group to the benefit of another social group" (Sensoy & DiAngelo, 2012, p. 39). Relations within these institutions pertain to how people act on individual levels but are intimately tied to the broader scope of social group identifications and labels (L. A. Bell, 1997). People thus both perform and internalize the ways they treat others based on the social scripts learned in the macrocosm. Disrupting these systems and working to achieve the goals of social justice must involve a "vision of society in which the distribution of resources is equitable and all members are physically and psychologically safe and secure" (L. A. Bell, 1997, p. 3).

One reason inequity proves difficult to disrupt is because social injustice harbors itself within everyday practices. Thus, Social Justice Knowledge includes an awareness of how seemingly mundane activities, like making purchases or using common expressions, serve to perpetuate hegemony and reproduce racism, classism, sexism, heteronormativity, xenophobia, ableism, and other phenomena. Inequity is woven into the materiality of our lives in ways that those who are privileged are often conditioned not to see (Frankenberg, 1993). Inequities occur across, and in fact are often profoundly exacerbated by, intersections of race, class, gender, and other sociocultural identities (Crenshaw, 1991; Nash, 2008); thus, it is important to account for the myriad ways in which these various layers affect individuals. Possessing the wherewithal to recognize how actions affect and uphold the oppressive structures in place and how actions can address and dismantle those are critical components of Social Justice Knowledge.


Gee (2015) posits that Discourses are "saying (writing)doing-being-valuing-believing combinations" (p. 171). Discourses, which reflect social roles, values, beliefs, and attitudes, are "ways of being in the world" (Gee, 2014, p. 3) that provide individuals with identities to assume and communities to join. The social position, language, and behavior of a person are ideologically laden, and thus, these factors reflect one's orientation to equity. We see Discourses similarly and further separate them into two distinct strands of Social Justice Knowledge: actions and language.

Certain practices, often unbeknownst to the practitioner, often preserve the status quo. In cataloging her own privileges as a middle-class White woman in the United States, Mcintosh (1988) concretizes everyday performative acts of Whiteness, testifying that she could "be late to a meeting without having the lateness reflect" her race and that she could "remain oblivious of the language and customs of persons of color who constitute the world's majority" (p. 3) without experiencing social penalties. While there are overt activities in which people engage that may be discriminatory, there is a "link between privileges that benefit white people and how such benefits sustain systems of oppression" (Applebaum, 2010, p. 33). Actions, then, create and reflect structures (Giddens, 1979), and this connection is dire to an understanding of how oppression exists in the present day. While the knapsack metaphor helps cultivate social justice knowledge of privilege, more nuanced identifications are necessary to fulfill this domain--those that illustrate how autonomy operates with relation to and within social spheres.

Applebaum (2010) links the idea of benefiting from White privilege to the notion of contributing to larger systems of oppression: "One of the ways that whites actively perpetuate systemic injustice is when they are privileged in ways that give them permission to be ignorant, oblivious, arrogant and destructive" (p. 33). When we purchase, for example, goods by a company that mistreats its workers, we contribute to a system of oppression. When granted access to an event, a job, or a conversation, because of Whiteness, we benefit from and contribute to a system of oppression. And, when we sit back and allow others to fight for a cause because it does not directly pertain to us, our inaction contributes to a system of oppression. While these maneuvers might seem innocuous in their limited instances, the repetition of such measures results in pervasive inequities.

Language is perhaps the most evident discursive practice in which privilege and prejudice are woven into our everyday lives. Part of social justice knowledge is understanding everyday discourse--or "language-in-use" (Gee, 2015, p. 133)--as the mechanism through which biases are perpetuated in both the general structure of language and the ways it is used to construct myths and justify norms (Gee, 1996). Words are rife with meanings generated from historical and social contexts. For example, it has been socially appropriate in many contexts to masculinize occupations or general references such as "policeman," "mankind," and to defer to the masculine pronoun "his" in singular references. While these referents appear neutral, they perpetuate patriarchy as a guiding social scheme. Furthermore, these binary patterns not only subjugate women but also promote gendered distinctions that are rampant throughout society (Foucault, 1971). Similarly, L. A. Bell (1997) avows that there are "racial images embedded in language and cultural practices that are promoted as neutral and inclusive" (p. 7). The notion of "standard language" contains power and affords for judgment, both socially and academically, by its familiarity and use (Delpit, 1995). The words we use thus reflect subscriptions to larger ideologies.

Language is utilized not only as a means through which to establish and maintain cultural norms and to assume power; it also allows for the construction of myths on which we rely. For instance, many people subscribe to the notion of meritocracy, articulated by phrases and terms such as "bootstraps," "hard work," and "individualism." These terms suggest that if a person is dedicated and works arduously, any goal is achievable. Language likewise provides an aspect for negation--for those who do not subscribe to the dominant schema--because they do not work "hard enough" or are not "invested" (Barry, 2005). Such discourses ignore issues related to glass ceilings and government policies that restrict certain groups because such justifications are excluded from the narrative of meritocracy. The same is true for discourses of capitalism and neoliberalism and those which address politically charged topics such as immigration and equal rights. Kumashiro (2001) refers to this phenomenon as "framing," where "frames are mental structures that shape the way we see the world" (p. 3) through language. He describes how neoliberalism "overlooks structural or institutional biases, historical legacies regarding oppression and injustice, and ... promotes an understanding of equality and freedom that presumes a level playing field" (p. 37). Thus, knowledge of how language is used in our everyday lives and a discerning capacity in reference to it are critical to social justice.


Social Justice Knowledge involves possessing a variety of theoretical perspectives that can be mapped onto society to render transparent the ways inequity is reproduced. Fairclough (2013) writes, "If one becomes aware that a particular aspect of common sense is sustaining power inequalities at one's own expense, it ceases to be common sense, and may cease to have the capacity to sustain inequalities" (p. 2001). A number of scholars have highlighted the necessity of a theory for social justice in teacher education (Barry, 2005; L. A. Bell, 1997; Cochran-Smith, 2010; Sensoy & Di Angelo, 2012), noting how theory affects the ways we explain the world to ourselves, and how "theory ... provides us a framework for making choices about what we do and how" (L. A. Bell, 1997, p. 4). Theories undergo iterative refining. Thus, while this theoretical base of knowledge is key, it is not static, nor does it ignore or undermine practical and everyday activities.

Theories that consider social justice knowledge--those that explain the ways society functions and inequity persists--pervade academic discourse. They include philosophies under the umbrella of critical theory, such as feminist theories (Friedan, 1963; hooks, 1994), Marxist theory (Marx & Engels, 1848/1888), disability studies theories (Linton, 1998), and critical race theory (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012), each of which explains how the dominant group wields privilege over groups deemed inferior. These theories elucidate the ways in which authority is laced endemically into the fabric of society; how, for example, the gender binary is so pervasive that we do not question the existence of women's and men's sections in clothing stores or how we take for granted the normalization of accessible spaces for the ablebodied. Social justice knowledge also entails, therefore, theoretical insight into notions of power and how power operates through ideology (Althusser, 1971; Eagleton, 1991), hegemony, and the construction of common sense (Gramsci, 1971). Awareness of these perspectives makes the familiar strange and grants the opportunity to see society anew; it supplies the language necessary to describe what we may have sensed but not yet fully uncovered.

Social Justice Knowledge includes an epistemological stance that views knowledge as a social construct imbued with ideology rather than as objective or neutral (Sensoy & Di Angelo, 2012). This relates to the idea of taken-for-granted assumptions and how theory helps us to demystify those aspects of society we treat as axiomatic. Banks (1993) avows that knowledge contains "cultural assumptions, frames of references, perspectives, and biases" (p. 5) and thus must be recognized as such when considering any field or body of work. Understanding access to knowledge as it varies by social class (Anyon, 1981) and of policies that govern particular spaces, such as the school or the media, is also key. Seeing knowledge as an entity that is constructed and produced in a particular context opens up possibilities for recognizing varied types of knowledge that are valuable, depending on the field in which they exist, and it allows us to the opportunity to appreciate those who might hold, for example, place-based (Davidson-Hunt & O'Flaherty, 2007), experiential knowledge (Dewey, 1938), or community-related knowledge (Moll, Amanti, Neff, & Gonzalez, 1992). Indeed, teachers who have themselves experienced marginalization due to their race, sexual orientation, class, and/or gender may use that history of oppression to effect more socially just realities for their students (Boyd, in press; Dyches, 2017). These counterstories of teaching are not only legitimate and powerful; they in fact position teachers to recognize and transform inequitable realities (Solorzano & Yosso, 2002).

While we are not suggesting that Social Justice Knowledge requires advanced understandings of the inner-workings and abstruse language of specific theories, we advocate for a range of reading and dialogue and an understanding of the capabilities and possibilities a theoretical base affords. As Gee (2015) argues, "theory is sometimes a dirty word and technical terms ('jargon') are decried. But ... theory and meaning are moral matters" (p. 23). As with all growth and learning, we believe that social justice knowledge is not static and has no end point. Rather, these theories are areas of investigation that lead to others. Engaging with these understandings related to systems of oppression provides necessary exposure to varied perspectives and helps one unsettle notions that are so powerfully instilled in American culture.


In addition to theory, Social Justice Knowledge includes familiarity with history and particularly the histories that have created and contributed to the types of oppression that social justice seeks to disrupt. Viewing history as such is closely tied to the theory of knowledge described above; we must recognize that history is not static or objective, but generally exists in the form of narratives that are told from a specific point of view. Delving into the ways the past has been constructed and retold over time is fundamental to gaining a richer understanding of both specific events and their consequences, the traces of which filter into contemporary attitudes and incidents, as well as to comprehending general, more tacit policies, practices, and curricula that may persist over time by mere tradition (Bissonnette & Glazier, 2016). Breaking apart past occurrences and earlier social milieu helps us to understand better why things are the way they are.

Historical narratives traditionally exist as an outgrowth of the dominant perspective; they are commonly recounted in textbooks used in public schools to educate students as to their country's history (Wills, 1994). Critical race theorists (Delgado & Stefancic, 2012), however, have articulated the presence and power of counternarratives, or those histories shared by marginalized individuals that differ from the commonly accepted and objectified "truth" (Solorzano & Yosso, 2002). The conventional account of desegregation as a shining moment in the history of the United States, a movement that was completed for the betterment of our citizens and desired by all African Americans, is one such example. Through the telling of counternarratives, we know that this was not the case; not all African Americans wanted to integrate into White society, and the motivations for the national shift may were more complex than mere altruism. Reflecting on the era and its educational ramifications, Siddle Walker (1996) contradicts the "national memory" of African American children during segregation as those who "suffered immeasurably" and "received little of educational value until they were desegregated into the superior white systems" (p. 1). Retelling the story from an emic perspective, she noted how the community actually felt its school had provided a "good educational environment for African American children" (Siddle Walker, 1996, p. 6) based on the dedicated administrators and teachers and total community involvement in the school. D. A. Bell (1980) further elaborates on this era, solidifying the notion of interest convergence, the idea that "whites in policymaking positions" (p. 524) enact laws seemingly beneficial to people of color only when Whites discern benefit to White society. The historical context of the threat of communism, America's supposed spread of freedom during World War II, and the potential industrialization of the South all led to the decision to desegregate, not merely a zeal for equal rights. Because conflicting histories such as these abound, all major movements deserve investigation. Familiarity with the tensions in these pasts and the perspectives of them are crucial components of Social Justice Knowledge as these storied realities reveal the histories of persistent inequities.


If social justice knowledge is to translate to social justice practice, practitioners must act as agents of change. Thus, information about translating knowledge into practice is a critical aspect of SJPACK. Without this strand of Social Justice Knowledge, an individual will possess an awareness of oppression without the propensity to dismantle that system. While practices reify oppressive structures, they can also be used to counter and liberate (Giddens, 1979). L. A. Bell (1997) delineates two areas central to this domain component: "Social justice involves social actors who have a sense of their own agency as well as a sense of social responsibility toward and with others and the society as a whole" (p. 3). Thus, Social Justice Knowledge should involve both an individual awareness and a schema for contributing to a more just society.

The first of L. A. Bell's (1997) two areas, individual agency, "the transformative capacity of the person" (Levinson, 2011, p. 11), must generate initially from selfreflection. Learning about social justice involves an examination of our own autobiographies and socialization (Bissonnette, 2016b; Boyd & Noblit, 2015) so as to develop our critical consciousness, an understanding "that our ideas come from a particular set of life experiences, an ability to trace our ideas to their sources in our experience, and an acknowledgement that others will have equally valid, if different, life experiences and ideas" (Hinchey, 2004, p. 25). But in teacher education, the word "reflection" has been used in myriad ways to highlight processes different from each other (Ciara, 2014; Sams & Bissonnette, 2016). We see reflection as an iterative, contextual, sociocultural practice that encourages teachers to query how their positionality shapes their interactions with culturally and linguistically diverse students. SJPACK upholds the "inextricable union between critical reflection on oppressive conditions and the social action necessary to transform the world into a more just and equitable place" (Garcia & O'Donnell-AUen, 2015, p. 17), an orientation rooted in the praxis writings of Freire (1968/1970). Thus, though reflection under the SJPACK model involves exploring one's positionality and this orientation shapes instructional maneuvers, it likewise requires teachers to perform these understandings to create more equitable conditions for students. Reflection, then, is a key component of agency because it requires teachers to channel their social awareness to catalyze change for their students.

Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain (1998) provide a useful model for agency within the scope of figured worlds, which they describe as cultural realms "peopled by the figures, characters, and types who carry out its tasks and who also have styles of interacting within, distinguishable perspectives on, and orientations toward it" (p. 51). Opportunities for agency exist within figured worlds in the forms of, for example, using tools in new ways or through "improvisations that piece together existing cultural resources opportunistically to address present conditions and problems" (pp. 276-277). Agency then is a creative capacity, an ability to discern spaces for disruption given the restraints within which one operates. Therefore, agency is always in tension with the social aspects of context. Social justice knowledge must include comprehending and working with this paradox rather than falling victim to resignation for, as Hinchey (2004) shares, "to throw up our hands in despair is not to stay neutral, but to move even farther away from the ideal" (p. 119).

Teacher activism as a social justice knowledge-influenced form of agency can assume numerous forms that span both inside and outside of the classroom. First, teachers can be activists by the work they do in their classrooms--through the way they treat content and the pedagogies they use. At other times, teacher activism "involves publicly advocating for students and explicitly challenging the status quo" (Oakes, Lipton, Anderson, & Stillman, 2013). This might mean, for instance, advocating for students who do not conform to the gender binary (Boyd, in press). Teachers might also participate in collective efforts for reform, joining networked activist groups whose outlets include conferences, protests, and collaboration with other educational players (Picower, 2012). Such group efforts arise due to the belief that "focusing solely on teaching social issues in class alone cannot address the existing power structure" (Picower, 2012, p. 562).

Engaging in collective movements helps teachers fulfill their goals to create transformed social realities, not only a more inclusive classroom. Thus, in addition to self-reflection and the realization of the individual's capacity for personal agency, there is also a need for understanding one's social responsibility. As citizens in a democracy, we have an obligation to ensure the safety and rights of one another. Hytten and Bettez (2011) emphasize making justice a central element of one's thinking and acting, noting that "participatory citizens ... are active in the community and local government and engage in collective efforts at social change. Justice oriented citizens also value responsibility and participation" (p. 19). Social Justice Knowledge, therefore, incorporates viewpoints for acting on recognition of the various injustices it includes.

Domain 2: Social Justice Pedagogical Knowledge

For Shulman (1986), pedagogical knowledge serves as the capacity to utilize certain strategies in classrooms, such as methods for classroom management, to maximize student learning. We agree with many dimensions of Shulman's original conception of pedagogical knowledge--Teachers must know of sound pedagogical strategies to be successful with the students in their classrooms. Furthermore, we also believe that it is impossible to generalize practices so that they can be assessed on a standardized teacher evaluation in ways that ignore the identities, cultures, and lived experiences of students. But because we see all pedagogical actions as politically-driven, we situate Shulman's category in the domain of Social Justice Knowledge by naming explicitly, through equity-oriented approaches, ways to accomplish the goals of student learning. We augment this area of teacher knowledge to specifically include a range of pedagogies that position students to act for justice and recognize that all pedagogy-- from classroom discussion to read alouds to worksheets-- are political in nature, and fueled by a teacher's relationship to Social Justice Knowledge. Figure 4 illustrates the Social Justice Pedagogical Knowledge domain and presents its three categories: culturally accessing pedagogies, critical pedagogies, and agency-inciting pedagogies.

Culturally Accessing Pedagogies

A number of teaching methods that broadly address students have been developed by justice-oriented scholars in the field. We see culturally accessing pedagogies as those strategies that respect and integrate students' cultures, such as culturally responsive teaching (Gay, 2002) and methods based on integrating students' and families' funds of knowledge (Moll et al., 1992). These pedagogies affirm the value of students' cultural assets; they reject deficit thinking and discourses that often permeate education, such as students "can't learn" or parents "don't care." Instead, such approaches avow that learning becomes more meaningful when situated in students' discourses and knowledges, that is, when teachers' honor through centralizing students' voices. Culturally accessing pedagogies utilize students' cultures as vehicles for teaching (Villegas & Lucas, 2002); they also provide varied perspectives on knowledge in the context in which they exist, and they pay attention to elements of classrooms such as symbolic curriculum, the "artifacts that are used to teach students knowledge, skills, morals, and values" (Gay, 2002, p. 108).

Included within strategies dependent upon students' characteristics are also knowledges of pedagogies that have been advanced by scholars for teaching specific populations. While these may lead to initial concerns about stereotyping, Gay (2010) reminds us that such notions are like templates through which actual behaviors of individuals "can be filtered in search of alternative explanations and deeper meanings" (p. 12). This perspective reminds teachers that there are often cultural factors embedded in student and family behavior. Also included here is Heath's (1983) groundbreaking work on how students' home language patterns differ by race and social class and implicate pedagogies that understand and value the ways we use questioning methods in classroom settings. In addition, pedagogies which respect students' home languages (Paris, 2012) or those for working with transnational students to understand how students "use fluid multicultural identities to camouflage and protect themselves from marginalization, xenophobia, and anti-indigenous sentiments" (Machado-Casas, 2012, p. 10) are important components of social justice pedagogies. Banks and Tucker (1998) maintain that equity pedagogies entail using "a wide range of strategies and teaching techniques such as cooperative groups, simulations, role-playing, and discovery" (p. 18). Properly executed, culturally accessing pedagogies affirm all students' sociocultural backgrounds.

Critical Pedagogies

Other methods included under the Social Justice Pedagogical Knowledge domain are those that require students to become critical of the world around them. These involve helping students identify elements of hegemony and ideology by developing their critical literacies (Luke, 2000) and understanding how strategies for social reproduction permeate society (McLaren, 2003). Queer (Britzman, 1995), culturally relevant (Ladson-Billings, 2006), and feminist pedagogies (Villaverde, 2008) are just a few pedagogies that fall into this category, all of which advocate the development of students' sociopolitical consciousness so that, as Ladson-Billings (2006) writes, they can "better understand and critique their social position and context" (p. 37). This category of pedagogies could also include Freire's (1968/1970) famous "problem-posing pedagogy" in which an educator guides students through examination of a social phenomenon they wish to address, a style demonstrated by Carey-Webb (2001) in his classroom study of homelessness and by Ginwright and Cammarota (2002) who work with urban youth to "develop a sophisticated knowledge of the root causes of social problems, and generate unique ways to contend with the larger political forces" (p. 83). Critical media pedagogy, wherein students examine popular culture and everyday media for the ways they represent and uphold certain messages (Morrell, Duenas, Garcia, & Lopez, 2013; Morrell & Duncan-Andrade, 2005-2006), such as how they construct gender roles (Boyd, 2014) or how they perpetuate racism (Hall, 1997), also functions as a critical pedagogy. While these pedagogies are generalizable and adaptable across disciplines, they remain social justice-oriented because they equip students with skills to critically consume the contexts in which they live.

Agency-Inciting Pedagogies

Recall that Social Justice Knowledge entails a category of agency which focuses on teachers' ability to effect transformation. But as North (2008) declares, "education for social change requires that students and teachers actively transform social injustices, not just study them" (p. 1194). Accordingly, Agency-Inciting Pedagogies channel teachers' sense of personal agency and invite students to action. Pedagogies that move students to action include those that are liberating (Shor & Freire, 1987), anti-oppressive (Kumashiro, 2001), and equity-driven (Banks, 1993). They can occur within social action projects such as Peterson's (2007), which included students writing letters, circulating petitions, and attending marches to demand immigrant rights or Morrell and DuncanAndrade's (2005-2006) work in which their students undertook projects to inform the general public on issues of concern to them that they felt had been misrepresented, such as "the media's interactions with and portrayals of urban youth of color" (p. 5). Telling the story of a group of high school students who persuaded the Nebraska state legislature to pass a law requiring multicultural education in schools, Sleeter (1996) notes, "children and youth who learn to use the democratic process effectively to advance ideals of social justice can become adults who are able to actualize the ideals of justice and equality through the political process" (p. 246).

Examples of students working for change often include some sort of collaboration with the local community. Such collaborative efforts reflect Moje's (2007) assertion: "Social justice pedagogy should, in other words, offer possibilities for transformation, not only of the learner but also of the social and political contexts in which learning and other social action take place" (p. 31). A model of this is in LadsonBillings's (2006) account of a teacher who channeled her student's frustration with drugs and crime in his community into a community research project and presentation to his local city council. These myriad forms of action demonstrate how teachers might pedagogically involve students in work for social justice.

Domain 3: Social Justice Content Knowledge

While the approaches described in the previous section recognize students and position them to act for justice, a focus on those strategies alone would be a mere repetition of the tendency that Shulman warned against long ago: the trend of ignoring content to offer up broad-based teaching methods. Shulman (1986) labels this development "the 'missing paradigm' problem" (p. 6), noting the absence in research on classroom management, tasks, and organization of "questions about the content of the lessons taught, the questions asked, and the explanations offered" (p. 8). Much the same has occurred with regard to social justice content knowledge. Thus, while we maintain a belief in the necessity of social justice pedagogies and feel they are essential to what we propose, we are also pedagogical realists (Boyd & Dyches, 2017). As such, we realize that future teachers work in discipline-specific spheres, and our purpose here is to illustrate how those candidates can use their content for social justice purposes. But as with other SJPACK domains, we hold that no part of Social Justice Content Knowledge is neutral: A teacher upholds or disrupts oppressive systems by their choice to teach (or not teach) particular texts. Like Shulman (1987), we emphasize the unique aspect in a teacher's repertoire of translating content for students with, what we add through this paradigm, social justice goals in mind. Figure 5 depicts the domain of Social Justice Content Knowledge and offers its two categories.

The domain of Social Justice Content Knowledge includes two categories of knowledge. First, it requires teachers to develop expertise in traditional content knowledges such as content-specific reading, writing, and mathematical skills. But because traditional content knowledges frequently fall short of accounting for curricular inequities, Social Justice Content Knowledge offers a second category: critical content knowledge. Mastery of this knowledge category occurs when teachers seek out, assess, and incorporate social justice disciplinary content--that is, instructional materials pertinent to the current events, theories, and perspectives that can also be treated as classroom subject matter.

Traditional Content Knowledge

Shulman (1987) explains content knowledge as "the accepted truths in a domain" (p. 9) and posits that content knowledge involves knowing the "syntax" of a discipline, the "set of rules for determining what is legitimate to say in a disciplinary domain and what 'breaks' the rules" (p. 9). We feel much the same about traditional content knowledge. Content mastery--understanding the established interpretations of Hamlet, the maxims of the Pythagorean Theorem, or Newton's first law of thermodynamics--are surely essential concepts for teachers to know. This knowledge base thus includes those elements that have been deemed, over time, the academic vocabulary and particulars of the content area--that is, the discourses of a discipline (Smagorinsky, Daigle, O'Donnell-Allen, & Bynum, 2010). So too should teachers have a knowledge of their curricular standards to ensure their work aligns with the expectations set forth by governing bodies.

Critical Content Knowledge

A teacher must firmly grasp traditional content to work within it for social justice, yet they must also possess fluency in content that comes from other areas and be able to bring that into the classroom as a legitimate source of study. Traditional content and curricular standards reflect dominant ideologies and the codes of power (Delpit, 1995) of mainstream society. Thusly, a teacher must work to equip their students with the skills to demonstrate their mastery of those knowledges that enjoy a wealth of cultural capital. They should, however, make transparent for students the aspects that Shulman states they should only know--the controversies in a discipline, the centrality of some topics at the exclusion of others, and alternative curricular materials available. In this way, content becomes not a taken-for-granted entity that is immutable but rather something that has been canonized (Bissonnette & Glazier, 2016; Dyches, 2017; O'Neill, 1993) and established by a group of people over time.

Social Justice Content Knowledge can be seen in what Garcia and O'Donnell-Allen (2015) describe as "hacking the classics," an approach in which a teacher utilizes standard content as an anchor but teaches in such a way that responds to students' emotional needs, intellectual curiosities, and immediate concerns. They write as follows:
   Thinking of yourself as a hacker--of traditional notions of
   teaching and learning, of curriculum, and of educational systems
   at large--can help you claim and retain a sense of agency that
   may feel all too elusive during your first few years of teaching.
   [Hacking] can keep you from seeing yourself and your students
   as no more than cogs in a system beyond your control. It reminds
   you of your capacity to survey the system you and your students
   are inhabiting, (p. 33)

For example, teaching a New York Times article on Trayvon Martin to access Swift's "A Modest Proposal," a savvy teacher in one study (Bissonnette, 2016a) discusses how her understanding of the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices & Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) and its push for informational texts actually buffers her social justice content teaching and helps her feel more "protected." In this way, the teacher relies on her traditional content knowledge to subvert the dominant systems of her canonical curriculum. Although traditional and critical content knowledge should work synergistically, we argue that a strong grasp of the former renders possible the latter.

Discussion and Implications

Note that the SJPACK framework, unlike PCK or its theoretical progeny, does not show overlap between pedagogical knowledge and content knowledge. Believing there are distinct aspects of pedagogy vital to separate (e.g., incorporating students' cultures in the classroom) from points related to content (e.g., subverting canonical material) emphasized, we have compartmentalized the two domains. Having relied on equity pedagogies to relate traditional content, educational stakeholders often believe they have fully realized social justice. Conversely, educators may teach multicultural literature (content) without disrupting oppression (liberating pedagogies). But an unequivocal commitment to achieving social justice must exist in both domains to more fully realize SJPACK. Shulman (1986) writes, "Mere content knowledge is likely to be as useless pedagogically as content-free skill" (p. 8); similarly, knowledge of social justice content is worthless unless one can translate that for the students in one's classroom, relate it to the discipline, and incite students to act with that knowledge (Moje, 2007). Thus, all domains, complete with their particularities, must ultimately coexist. We bifurcate the social justice pedagogical knowledge and social justice content knowledge domains because we fear that an immediate synthesis would muffle the foundational points we feel believe it critical to first advance--That is, we worry that there would be a tendency to pay attention to the whole instead of the parts. Instead, we will continue to investigate and distill the ways in which teachers deliver social justice pedagogical and content knowledge in disciplinary-specific ways--a combination that would reveal a true synergy between all three of the SJPACK domains.

Realizing the ambitions of SJPACK may seem like an extensive demand and one fraught with obstructions. PSTs might struggle to understand the ways in which PCK is unfailingly politically charged and often privileges mainstream students--perhaps a predictable result given that Whiteness if often viewed as neutral and normative, and the teaching population is itself overwhelmingly White (Boser, 2014). Moreover, they may resist engaging in the critical reflexivity SJPACK requires. Preferring the safe terrain of "niceness," teacher educators may dismiss SJPACK entirely (Boyd & Glazier, 2017). Still other barriers certainly exist. We posit two responses to these concerns: First, SJPACK can be cultivated throughout teacher education programs. Gay (2002), seeking to quell concerns about the feasibility of preparing culturally responsive teachers, shares,
   Acquiring this knowledge is not as difficult as it might at first
   appear ... there is no shortage of quality information available
   about multicultural education. It just has to be located, learned,
   and woven into the preparation programs of teachers and
   classroom instruction, (pp. 107-108)

Social justice teacher preparation must be incorporated throughout methods, content, and pedagogy courses so that candidates learn how these domains operate together and not independent of their disciplines. Second, we do not suggest SJPACK as a packaged, finite set of skills; familiarity with theories, current events, and different ways to engage students are dynamic entities. Rather, we note that teaching for social justice is a complicated endeavor, and one may excel at certain elements and not others. Thusly, SJPACK exists on a spectrum on which teachers may continually advance.

We recognize too the necessity of evaluating this commitment to SJPACK. For an example, we turn to the current context of English Education. The CAEP recently approved the inclusion of social justice in the standards required for the initial preparation of teachers of secondary English Language Arts, Grades 7 to 12 (National Council of the Teachers of English/National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education., 2012). Many scholars in the field (e.g., Alsup & Miller, 2014; Bieler, 2012) are developing assessments that allow teacher candidates to demonstrate their learning of social justice theory and pedagogy. There is a host of ways that we might determine whether our candidates are fluent in SJPACK. For instance, teacher candidates might be given a task or concept from their discipline and asked to plan instruction in ways that demonstrate knowledge of the three domains, anticipate what adolescents would struggle with and attach to in terms of social justice, and design related teaching activities. This fluidity between social justice and PCK mastery is feasible because the SJPACK framework nuances candidates' understanding of social justice-oriented teaching.

We might also better serve our candidates with models of SJPACK through case studies for our PSTs. This would help them learn and develop depth in their own understandings and implementation. Shulman (1987) calls for "case knowledge" (p. 11), whereby "detailed descriptions of how an instructional event occurred--complete with particulars of contexts, thoughts, and feelings" (p. 11) would assist the field. We (Boyd, in press; Dyches, 2017) have begun to develop case studies of discipline teachers who work for social justice in their areas and feel the field would benefit from greater research in this area across disciplines. How might science, math, and art teachers take their disciplines and use their instruction to promote a more socially just society? To answer these questions, additional empirical research on teacher knowledge and practice in each domain is warranted.


Shulman (1987) maintains, "We engage in teaching ... to develop understandings, skills, and values needed to function in a free and just society" (p. 14). Yet, his framework stops short of describing how best to prepare teacher candidates to work toward disrupting hegemony and promoting equity while developing their own social justice positionalities. SJPACK, utilized as a paradigm for teacher education, situates teachers to work as change agents in their own spheres of social influence: their classrooms. It equips them with the skills, knowledges, and positionalities required to develop a sociocultural awareness of self that fundamentally shapes their content and pedagogical knowledges. In suggesting that Social Justice Knowledge osmoses teachers' pedagogical and content knowledges, we forward the notion that social justice pulsates throughout every instructional maneuver.

A ruminating Settlage (2013) contends, "Conscientiously pushing at the weak spots within PCK will lead to territory that is more fruitful than if PCK had never been proposed. Similarly, uncritical devotion to PCK will certainly prevent progress" (p. 5). Here, we have offered SJPACK as a way to conceptualize and realize equitable teaching practices and in doing so, hope to change the paradigm of teacher preparation: Not only should we prepare teacher candidates to feel efficacious in what and how to teach but to consider what and how in light of social justice.


The authors express their gratitude to Dr. Jeffrey Reaser for his insightful feedback on this manuscript while it was in its incipient stages.

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


The author(s) received no financial support for the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.


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Author Biographies

Jeanne Dyches is an assistant professor of secondary literacy education at Iowa State University. Her scholarship investigates the possibilities for cultivating teacher candidates' culturally responsive literacy practices. Her current projects include examining the distinctions among inservice teachers' preparedness for literacy instruction and investigating reflective discourse in teacher education standards and assessments. She has recently published in Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (English), the Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, the Southern Journal of Linguistics, and the Journal of Language and Literacy Education.

Ashley Boyd is an assistant professor of English education at Washington State University where she teaches graduate courses in critical theory and undergraduate courses in English methods and young adult literature. Her research interests include cultural studies, young adult literature, and social justice pedagogies. Currently, she is studying the impact of young adult literature on secondary students' reading attitudes as well as investigating a teacher discourse community focused on reading social justice-themed young adult literature.

DOI: 10.1177/0022487117705097

Jeanne Dyches (1) and Ashley Boyd (2)

(1) Iowa State University, Ames, USA

(2) Washington State University, Pullman, USA

Corresponding Author:

Jeanne Dyches, Assistant Professor of Secondary Literacy Education, Iowa State University, 1555A Lagomarcino Hall, Ames, IA 50021, USA.


Caption: Figure 1. Shulman's (1987) Pedagogical Content Knowledge.

Caption: Figure 2. Social Justice Pedagogical and Content Knowledge (SJPACK) theoretical framework.

Caption: Figure 3. Social Justice Knowledge (SJK).

Caption: Figure 4. Social Justice Pedagogical Knowledge (SJPK).

Caption: Figure 5. Social Justice Content Knowledge (SJCK).
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Author:Dyches, Jeanne; Boyd, Ashley
Publication:Journal of Teacher Education
Article Type:Report
Date:Nov 1, 2017
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