At the suggestion of one of my university colleagues
– William Fisher – with both expertise in the nature of university teaching and
a broader interest in the political context of universities, I’ve had a look, this evening, at a paper outlining some suggestions about the motivational and
intellectual underpinnings of good teaching:
Larrivee, B. (2000) ‘Transforming teaching practice:
becoming the critically reflective teacher’ Reflective Practice 1: 293-315
I must say that it seemed to make some sensible
comments. The abstract runs:
This article proposes a
framework for conceptualizing developing as a critically reflective teacher.
The author posits that critical reflection is the distinguishing attribute of reflective
practitioners. The term critical reflection as developed here merges critical
inquiry, the conscious consideration of the ethical implications and
consequences of teaching practice, with self reflection, deep examination of
personal beliefs, and assumptions about human potential and learning. Essential
practices for developing critical reflection are discussed. This article define
processes fundamental to reflective practice. Teacher beliefs are self generating,
and often unchallenged. Unless teachers develop the practice of critical reflection,
they stay trapped in unexamined judgments, interpretations, assumptions, and
expectations. Approaching teaching as a reflective practitioner involves
infusing personal beliefs and values into a professional identity, resulting in
developing a deliberate code of conduct.
So the basic idea is that critical reflection is a good thing but is difficult to achieve. The
suggestions for how one does are not a million miles from a programme of self-administered
CBT. Some of the difficulties and consequences are outlined.
In the context of a
recommendation by a colleague I respect, I found it helpful. (Nothing that
follows goes against that.) But I’m intrigued by just how different the
underpinning rhetoric is to a philosophy based article. Here are two
differences. The first may just be terminological slip but, I think, suggests that the paper is not in the game I initially assumed. The second is a more general observation about the style of writing and argument.
First, as the abstract says, Larrivee thinks that
one element of becoming a ‘reflective practitioner’ involves ‘developing a
deliberate code of conduct’. Now that is an interesting claim. I take it that a
code of conduct is a code: something codified or set out. It contrasts with
doing the right thing in context. The latter might be an exercise of phronesis.
A code, by contrast, sounds to be a principles-based explanation, or account,
or rationalisation, of what the right thing to do is. This is a surprising
comment because the whole of the rest of the paper implies the opposite of this
view: that becoming a reflective practitioner is a matter of becoming a
phronimos, not memorising a code. In fact, the paper only picks up the phrase ‘code
of conduct’ three times:
Approaching teaching as a reflective practitioner
involves infusing personal beliefs and values into a professional identity,
resulting in developing a deliberate code of conduct.
Being successful in today’s classroom environment
goes beyond taking on fragmented techniques for managing instruction, keeping
students on-task, and handling student behavior. It requires that the teacher
remain fluid and able to move in many directions, rather than stuck only being
able to move in one direction as situations occur. Effective teaching is much
more than a compilation of skills and strategies. It is a deliberate
philosophical and ethical code of conduct.
The journey involves infusing personal beliefs and values
into a professional identity, resulting in developing a deliberate code of conduct.
And so I think it merely an error to talk of a code. But how odd to
use that phrase, and to make no attempt to head off the misunderstanding that
the word ‘code’ might easily bring in its train, in the abstract and
That’s probably just a slip. It does, however, make me wonder whether we are supposed to quibble with how precisely the claims are justified. Does Larrivee feel the need to get it exactly right? I wonder because there is a second
and more interesting feature of the prose though there’s no knock down
quotation. Let me just assemble a few comments and invite a reading of them.
In the introduction we have:
When teachers become reflective practitioners, they
move beyond a knowledge base of discrete skills to a stage where they integrate
and modify skills to fit specific contexts, and eventually, to a point where
the skills are internalized enabling them to invent new strategies. They
develop the necessary sense of self-efficacy to create personal solutions to
The question that this prompts is: what is the
status of these comments? How are we being invited to believe them? Larrivee
says that ‘When teachers become reflective practitioners, they move beyond a
knowledge base...’. Is that an empirical claim? There’s no supporting evidence.
So I think that the best way to read most of these claims is as analytic.
Larrivee is introducing a concept: that
of the reflective practitioner. It is then a matter of the meaning of that term
(cf the married status of bachelors) that reflective practitioners move beyond
a knowledge base of discrete skills. If someone does not do this then they are
not, by definition, a reflective practitioner.
But that reading becomes strained.
In a later section which begins to outline the
process of developing the relevant constituent skills, we read:
The challenge of effectively managing today’ s
diverse classroom involves self reflection as well as critical inquiry. By
developing self-reflection, teachers become more cognizant of the
interdependence between teacher responses to students and student responses to
teachers. Through self-reflection, teachers become increasingly aware of how
they are interactive participants in classroom encounters rather than innocent
bystanders, or victims. Self-reflection involves developing the ability to look
at what is happening, withholding judgment, while simultaneously recognizing
that the meaning we attribute to it is no more than our interpretation filtered
through our cumulative experience. When teachers develop the practice of self-reflection,
they learn to: (1) slow down their thinking and reasoning process to become
more aware of how they perceive and react to students, and (2) bring to the
surface some of their unconscious ways of responding to students.
The first sentence is a bold claim. But is the
second an analytic unpacking of the definitional claim or a claim about how
reflective teachers tend to think and be aware? Ditto the next sentence: ‘Through
self-reflection, teachers become increasingly aware...’ Do they? Have studies
been done? Or is this again a matter of what it would mean to be reflective? If
it is all analytic then the claim: ‘When teachers develop the practice of self-reflection,
they learn to: (1) slow down their thinking and reasoning process...’ seems quite
strict. Suppose a teacher had all the other virtues of self-reflection but was
really quick at it. Would we deny them the status? Must one be a bit slow?
One immedate response I had was that the talk of
teachers really called for a quantifier before it. Does Larrivee mean ‘all
teachers’ or ‘some teachers’. ‘All’ would seem too bold. ‘Some’ would seem too
weak. Missing the quantifier makes it sound like a shampoo or moisturiser
advert in the UK: “Hair becomes silky smooth. Skin feels soft.” Not ‘all
skin’ or ‘some
skin’ or ‘your
which would no doubt risk advertising standards questioning. Just: ‘skin’ or ‘hair’.
What I suspect is going on here – and again this
may just be obvious so forgive my dimness – is that a series a general claims
(perhaps akin to Aristotelian categoricals: ‘humans have 32 teeth’) are being
lined up for those for whom the empirical backing is not really an issue. That
is, although I want to ask what the status is of the various claims, mine is
not the right response to this style of writing. The right response is to
recognise a pithy summary of something we, the readers, are already in a
position to know. So the comments I have highlighted are just like the very
first sentences in the paper:
Today’ s classroom is dynamic and complex. More
students are coming to school neglected, abused, hungry, and ill-prepared to
learn and work productively. To combat increasing student alienation, and meet
the scope and intensity of the academic, social and emotional needs of today’ s
students, those entering the teaching profession will need to find ways to
create authentic learning communities by adjusting the power dynamics to turn
power over into power with learners.
Now I took it that this was just chutzpah. But it
may not be. It may be that the idea is to select the reader who will go on.
Agree with this and you may recognise the truth in what follows. What follows
is not meant to carry a burden of empirical or conceptual force (empirical evidence
or a sound argument). It is supposed to marshal what the reader already knows.
If so, that’s fine. But it is a very different
underlying logic to something that looks on the surface quite like other
academic papers. In my case, I like the paper because I trust my sponsor. Thanks, William.