talking teaching and learning: using practical argument to make reflective thinking audible
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Talking Teaching and Learning: UsingPractical Argument to Make ReflectiveThinking AudibleRobert Boody a , Katheryn East a , Linda M. Fitzgerald a , Melissa L.Heston a & Annette M. Iverson aa University of Northern Iowa , USAPublished online: 06 Jan 2012.
To cite this article: Robert Boody , Katheryn East , Linda M. Fitzgerald , Melissa L. Heston & AnnetteM. Iverson (1998) Talking Teaching and Learning: Using Practical Argument to Make Reflective ThinkingAudible, Action in Teacher Education, 19:4, 88-101, DOI: 10.1080/01626620.1998.10462894
To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/01626620.1998.10462894
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Action in Teacher Education Wink.. i998, Vol. XIX, No. 4. pp. 88-101
Talking Teaching and Learning: Using Practical Argument to Make Reflective Thinking Audible
Robert Boody, Katheryn East, Linda M. Fitzgerald, Melissa L. Heston, and Annette M. Iverson
University of Northern Iowa
Abstract According to Fenstermacher (1994), simply engaging in reflection is an inadequate way
to facilitate change in teaching practice. Practitioners must work together to consider whether their practicealigns with their intent. Faculty teachinga diverse variety of teacher preparation courses (child development, early childhood curriculum, classroom evaluation, educational psychology, classroom management, and school, community and family relationships) met regularly to discuss their beliefs regarding educational philosophy, teacher education, constructivist pedagogy at the college level, and authentic assessment. The structure of these discussions required us to make our reflections public and subject to review by the empathetic, but critical, others in the group. In this paper, we will describe the process we have used to explore our thinking about our teaching practiceand student learning. We also discuss how this process has made an impact on our practice and how we think about our practice. Implications for teacher educators are suggested.
Introduction In ancient Greece, knowledge was seen as a tripartite structure: a) the theoretical,
the understanding of abstract principles; b) the technical, the ability to use appropriate techniques to solve particular concrete problems; c) the practical, the process of reasoning about human action (Aristotle, 1947). In terms of teaching, each of these forms of knowledge plays a critical role. However, teacher preparation programs often seem to emphasize theoretical and technical knowledge (e.g., specific teaching skills and strategies), while giving relatively little attention to the practical personal and shared meanings that undergird teaching behavior.
Over the past year, we have engaged in a shared search for this practical knowledge, the often implicit and unconscious reasoning that informs our own teaching. This search has led to the creation of a small interdisciplinary community of teacher educators who talk critically about teaching and learning. We have used the process of practical argument (Fenstermacher, 1994) as a springboard for developing a reflective dialog (Kruse, Louis, & Bryk, 1995) about the fundamental nature of the beliefs that guide our teaching decisions and classroom actions. In this paper, we describe the process through which our group came into being and the impact that our shared work has had upon our thinking and practice as teachers.
In the Beginning The group that participated in the process discussed here had its origin in two
overlapping faculty groups. Two streams of participants separately pursuing examinations of their teaching practices and activities gradually merged to become one. In retrospect, it was a painful time for us. Some group members came primarily to socialize which annoyed those who wanted to work. Extended discussions were held in which participants described their goals for attending. In terms of a community-building process, this was a time of storming (Peck, 1987) which eventually resulted in the formation of a group norm explicitly oriented toward actively studying our own teaching practices and producing scholarly work. Although one member of the group viewed its function as meeting her personal needs for social interaction, this member eventually ceased to attend, as did members who were interested, but less motivated in pursuing a research agenda. The group achieved a stable membership, began to search for a methodology which would be useful to our efforts, and continued to meet with renewed interest and energy.
Group Membership Group members range in age from their 30s to as, and possess a wide variety
of background experiences. For example, A has extensive experience as a school psychologist; K has a background and teaching experience in special education; L has extensive involvement in school reform efforts and in studying early childhood programs in urban settings; M has a background in developmental psychology and early childhood education; and R has a background in philosophy and instructional technology. It is, in many ways, a rather heterogeneous group bound together by our shared interest in enhancing our teaching and improving the quality of teacher education in general.
The participants represent the content areas of developmental psychology (2), classroom evaluation (l), classroom management and school psychology (l), and early childhood education (1). Only one participant is tenured, and one participant is an adjunct instructor. Four of the participants are female, which actually caused some consternation among many male faculty members. There is a general perception that this is a womens group, and that men are not welcome, despite the fact that one member is indeed male; other men have been invited to join but have expressed regrets that workloads prevent their regular participation.
Practical Argument Rather than looking for a formula we could follow, we searched for a way to
structure our sessions which would allow us to continue using the strategies we had devised to date which worked well for our particular community. Anumber of options were explored and discarded when they clashed too significantly with our already established norms. Finally the group settled on Fenstermacher s (1986) practical argument as a way to structure our sessions.
In 1986, Fenstermacher proposed the use of practical argument, based on Greens discussion of practical reasoning in teaching (1976), as a way of studying teaching and discovering how teaching can be done better. Practical argument, as presented, is based on practical rationality-the assumption that people engage in a particular action because they believe that action will lead to a desired result (Fenstermacher & Richardson, 1993). Practical argument then is a way to understand and explain
particular actions or sets of actions. The process lays out a series of reasons that can be viewed as premises, and connects them to a concluding action (p. 103).
The process of actually conducting a practical argument is based on a series of post hoc discussions about an action or series of actions. The conversations take place between the actor, in this case a teacher, and the Other or Others. Because of the nature of the discussion in terms of personal beliefs, it is imperative that the Other or Others be individuals trusted by the teacher.
The discussion takes place over time and moves through two stages which wrap around one another and ar