FROM PRIVATE PRACTICE TO LOCAL THEORIES
The general “problems” of teaching are well known. The difficulties of raising student achievement; inadequate pay and preparation; and a lack of time, support, and resources are often the source of public debates and the focus of research and reform efforts. These problems reflect the intractable issues of the profession and circumstances of teaching that even large-scale and systemic endeavors seem incapable of resolving. But the specific problems that teachers face every day in the classroom do not have to be seen in such a negative light. In fact, for many teachers, the “problems” they face in the classroom can lead teachers to ask serious intellectual questions about their practice that they themselves can address (Bass, 1999; Lampert, 2001): How do I help this group of fourth graders develop a robust understanding of odd and even numbers? How can I take into account the backgrounds and experiences of the Haitian students in my preschool class? How can I enable my special education students to build their academic skills and to develop as community leaders at the same time?
Teachers cannot avoid these kinds of questions: They think about them on their feet in their classrooms, while reflecting on the day’s activities with their colleagues, and when lying awake at night. By pursuing these “problems of practice,” teachers expand their understanding and improve their work. They begin to think about responses that cut across times, contexts, and individuals. They make inferences and develop hypotheses that suggest courses of action that may work both for their students at that moment and for the students in other classes and coming years. In short, when teachers address the “problems” and questions in their classroom, they make theory out of practice. They make local theories that they can apply in a number of related contexts and that other teachers can learn from and build upon. These local theories can serve as the basis for a powerful knowledge-base different from—but no less important than—the knowledge-base that has emerged from conventional research on teaching and learning.
GOING PUBLIC: CONFRONTING SIMPLISTIC ASSUMPTIONS AND REPRESENTING THE COMPLEXITIES OF TEACHING
Too often the sense teachers make of the real problems of practice they face—those grounded in specific contexts with real students—never gets shared beyond occasional informal conversations with colleagues. In fact, while researchers’ efforts to address the general problems of teaching are presumed to be applicable to a wide audience, the responses that teachers make to the intellectual problems and questions they face in their own classroom are treated as if they have little relevance for others.
The failure to recognize and build on the knowledge that teachers develop over the course of their careers grows out of a set of assumptions about the nature of teaching and the work of teachers. Many conventional approaches to teaching and supporting teachers function as if teaching were a relatively simple process in which teachers deliver information to students and provide opportunities for them to practice and master basic skills. In such a conception, the emphasis for teachers is on delivering curriculum, not on developing it. Teachers are only seen as being “on task” when they are working with students in the classroom—not when they reflect on their practice, discuss it with their colleagues, or prepare articles about it. Consequently, teachers receive relatively little institutional support and recognition for contributing to the production of the knowledge and understandings that they need to be effective.
Despite these conventional assumptions about the simplicity of teaching, a number of individuals, groups, and organizations have long sought to support teachers interested in examining their practice and sharing the results with others (for accounts of some of these initiatives see, for example, Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Freedman et al., 1999; Lieberman & Wood, 2003). These efforts embrace an entirely different set of assumptions: Teaching is a complex intellectual endeavor that demands deep understandings of students, the appropriate disciplines, and the pedagogical principles and practices needed to bring all three together. These efforts reflect the view that the development of such understandings depends upon opportunities for teachers to examine their own practice in the company of their peers over significant periods of time. From this perspective, teachers are developing new insights and ideas and learning all the time, advancing not only their own work, but also the work of their colleagues and their disciplines.
Many of these initiatives share the belief that inquiry is central to learning. Building on John Dewey’s (1904) argument that learning to teach is inseparable from learning to inquire, they see reflecting on practice—generating questions and hypotheses, exploring alternative explanations, and drawing conclusions—as one of the most effective methods for teachers to develop the deep understandings and special expertise they need to teach well. They often view inquiry as a key means for teachers to demonstrate the creativity, autonomy, and judgment of professionals (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993; Darling Hammond & McLaughlin, 1995; Hargreaves, 1993; Hollingsworth & Sockett, 1994; Little, 1993; Stenhouse, 1983, 1988; Zeichner, 1998). They also reflect the idea that by inquiring into their own practice, teachers can articulate and share what they are learning in ways that can contribute to the development of a broader knowledge-base of teaching, support the learning of their colleagues, and enhance the performance of schools (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Hiebert, Gallimore, & Stigler, 2002; Shulman, 1987).
THE PURPOSES OF GOING PUBLIC WITH OUR TEACHING
This volume builds on many of these long-standing efforts to support teacher inquiry and scholarship in order to draw attention to the fact that teachers are producing powerful insights and useful knowledge all the time, in many ways, and in many different contexts; not just in formal research projects that lead to publications in scholarly journals, but in a wide range of formats that can also have a powerful influence on practice. By collecting the works of a variety of teachers, we seek to illuminate many of the “problems of practice” teachers deal with every day to highlight how they come to new understandings about these problems, to show the manifold ways that they can make their teaching public, and to lend legitimacy to their efforts to do so. In the process, we hope to expand the interest in and the audience for making teaching public and to support the development of the conditions, investments, and practices that will make it possible to learn from teachers and build on their knowledge and expertise.
The works in this volume are not intended to be viewed as a “best of” collection, but rather as a representative sample of the kinds of work that teachers today produce. We selected works that we hope will function as an “ensemble” that stimulates discussions of the nature and variety of teachers’ work and facilitates the recognition and support for the development of new methods, forms, and directions for their work in the future.
THE ORIGINS OF GOING PUBLIC WITH OUR TEACHING
This collection grows out of our experiences in designing and leading the K–12 program of the Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching (CASTL). Under the auspices of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching, the K–12 program of CASTL, along with the CASTL higher education program, launched in 1997, was established in order to enhance the practice and profession of teaching and to bring to teaching the recognition and reward afforded to other forms of scholarly work. As Lee Shulman, the president of the Carnegie Foundation, argues, teachers make their examinations public and subject them to critical review by peers, and when others are able to build upon those examinations to advance their own work, teachers are meeting many of the same criteria that are used to distinguish scholarly work in many other disciplines (Hutchings & Shulman, 1999).
The Carnegie Academy for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning
The CASTL program has been designed to enable teachers to document what they are learning and to make their teaching public; to foster the development of the language and standards that permit their work to be reviewed critically; and to contribute to the creation of new forms and forums of publication through which teachers can exchange and build upon one another’s work. In order to accomplish these goals, the K–12 CASTL program provides fellowships that include a small honorarium and opportunities for small groups of teachers to come together with colleagues several times over a one- to two-year period while they carry out an inquiry into their own teaching. The program initially supported two groups of CASTL scholars: The first cohort (1999–2001) included 14 K–12 teachers and 6 teacher educators, and the second cohort (2001–2002) included 18 K–12 teachers. A third group that includes 19 new teachers and teacher educators was launched in 2003.
Scanning the Field: Searching for Models of the Scholarship of Teaching
When we began our work with the first cohort of K-12 CASTL scholars in the summer of 1999, we experienced a problem that confronts many of those who seek to make teaching public: Although many teachers are actively inquiring into their own practice and many are sharing that work within their own schools and organizations, it is still difficult to get quick access to a wide variety of that work. Much of their work remains unpublished and that which is published is spread out in books, journals, and publications of various networks and organizations.
We encountered this problem when we asked the CASTL scholars to propose and pursue a project related to their teaching that would be of interest and of use to a wide audience. Hoping to provide as much freedom as possible for the teachers to represent what they were learning, we simply asked them to develop a “final product” but did not specify what that might entail. Many of the scholars still wanted to know what kinds of “final products” we had in mind—what might “count” and what might not. In response, we sought to find a diverse set of examples that could serve as models for their work.
Our search turned up a small number of well-known and previously published pieces that many of our colleagues refer to again and again. However, many of these articles reflected a somewhat similar “research” or narrative format, and we found it hard to find examples that used other genres or multimedia. In order to find a more diverse collection of works, we contacted teacher networks, educational reform organizations, disciplinary associations, and editors of educational journals and newspapers. We also consulted with teacher educators and colleagues and asked them to send us pieces by teachers that they used in their own classes. Ultimately, for our own purposes, we put together an informal ensemble of sample products that included some research articles, book chapters, op-ed pieces, early teaching portfolios, and rough videotapes. Subsequently, we expanded our group of examples by adding works produced and sometimes published by the first and second cohorts of CASTL scholars.
SELECTION AND ORGANIZATION OF THIS VOLUME
This volume brings many of the pieces in our informal collection to a wider audience. We selected pieces that address key problems of practice across diverse contexts; reflect the diversity of styles and genres in which teachers present their work; link to new forms of representation that use video, audio, and the Internet to make teaching public; and bring together work from some of the many groups and individuals who have long made teacher inquiry and research a focus of their work.
Representing Different Styles and Genres
In the volume, we purposely include works that represent different styles and genres of writing. Some pieces reflect the rigors and demands of writing for academic audiences while others offer the kinds of opinions and reflections that might be found in newspapers or dairies. Deborah Ball’s research originally published in The Elementary School Journal sits alongside the narratives of Vanessa Brown and Emily Wolk, the personal reflections of Heidi Lyne and Yvonne Hutchinson, and the editorial and opinion pieces of Joan Kernan Cone and Ramón Martínez.
Also, the pieces vary substantially in length and substance. Some pieces are printed in their entirety, but others, such as the excerpts from Ron Berger’s monograph, from Heidi Lyne’s reflections, and from the narratives on Rebecca Akin and Emily Wolk’s website, are meant to provide readers with a glimpse into the kinds of issues and ideas presented in other forms of representation such as books, videos, and websites.
Representing Published and Unpublished Work
The differences in style and substance also reflect our desire to include both published and unpublished works. This decision grows from a commitment to recognize the many avenues through which teachers can make their work public and to embrace the possibility and the power of pieces that may convey expertise, experiences, emotions, practices, ideas, and results in nontraditional ways.
We selected the previously published pieces because both we and our colleagues continue to draw on these pieces in teacher education courses and professional development work, and because they reveal some of the history of the work teachers have carried out. These pieces raise issues that are as important today as they were when they were written.
Some of the unpublished pieces have been presented at conferences or submitted for publication, but others, such as the written excerpts from the videos and websites, remain largely unknown because appropriate channels for distribution and dissemination have yet to be developed.
Representing Teaching Beyond Traditional Texts
We have chosen to include writing from several multimedia works in this collection, because we believe that they reflect new and potentially powerful ways to show the complexities of teaching and to enable people to learn from the experiences of teachers.
In our own work, simply seeing what a colleague’s website looks like,
hearing what a narrative can sound like, or seeing what a video can represent,
has inspired CASTL scholars to experiment with entirely new forms of
conveying their ideas to others. For example, several members of the first
cohort of CASTL scholars who had written extensively about their research changed
their approach after viewing the first page of a website by Elizabeth Barkley,
a professor of music at Foothill Community College in California. The scholars
immediately envisioned the potential for using the web to share their
own writing as well as their curriculum materials, student work, and video
and audio recordings of their classrooms.
In that spirit, we have included written texts or written excerpts that go along with an audio performance developed by Rebecca Akin, a video and website created by Heidi Lyne, and websites produced by Yvonne Hutchinson and Emily Wolk in order to open a small window into the kinds of multimedia representations that we hope will inspire teachers in the future. One of our biggest challenges in including these materials remains that the power and possibilities of websites, videos, and other multimedia materials cannot be contained in printed text. The writings from the websites include quotes and descriptions of the sites, as well as some longer excerpts.
If we could, we would include the websites and videos themselves alongside the written excerpts and more conventional texts that appear in this volume. Ideally, we would create a hybrid product that embraces the challenge of inventing new forms for conveying teachers’ work. Of course, such an effort presents a number of problems, not the least of which is how to refer to such a collection (is this a book? a volume? a transmedia collection?) and the pieces it cannot completely contain. From our perspective the only way to begin to deal with the problems of language, “reading,” and
distribution that come with such a venture into
a new frontier is to invite others to come along.
To that end, we encourage readers to view a special
exhibition of teaching and learning on the public
website of the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement
of Teaching. That site contains the websites, videos,
and audio recordings referred to here as well as
a number of other works, including websites that
represent the work of several other authors in
the book, among them Vanessa Brown, Joan Kernan
Cone, Renee Moore, and Marsha Pincus.
Clustering Work Around Central Issues of Teaching
For the teachers and others we have worked with, the power of the pieces collected here comes from their ability to represent the complexity of teaching in a variety of guises. For the most part, these works do not relate investigations that focus on a single problem or question and try to provide a definitive “solution” or explanation. Some pieces, for example, Magdalene Lampert’s, focus directly on the complexity of teaching. Others—among them the work of Rebecca Akin, Gerald Campano and Emily Wolk—explicitly try to capture many of the different issues that teachers have to deal with all at once. As a result, simply by reading through these pieces one finds that any number of important issues come to the forefront. However, each of these pieces also reflects some of the fundamental issues and dilemmas that teachers face, and we have tried to organize the volume around them, as seen in the part titles: “The Culture of Schools and Classrooms”; “The Content of the Curriculum: Expanding Classroom Understanding”; “Issues of Equity, Race, and Culture”; and “Negotiating the Dilemmas of Teaching.” Each Part is described in the book.
Highlighting “Leitmotifs” That Cut Across the Parts
Although we have placed each of the chapters into what seems to be the most appropriate part, most—if not all—of these pieces belong in more than one place. In order to capitalize on the common issues and themes that arise across different pieces, within each section we chose to juxtapose pieces, rather than group them by level, style, or methodological approach. In this manner, the pieces also raise a number of issues that function almost as themes or leitmotifs that come and go, providing harmonies and counterpoints to the major topics.
In fact, if you read these pieces in another sequence, different issues may arise, including how teachers can hold fast to their own beliefs and standards when facing increasing demands from all sides; the importance of the “second look”—the hard, critical look—at initial assumptions about the nature of “success”; the difficulty of bridging the cultures and languages of home and the academic discourse of school; and the roles of students and teachers in creating meaningful or “authentic” educational experiences.
Many of the pieces collected here deal with controversial issues of race and ethnicity. Some of them are included in the Part “Issues of Equity, Race, and Culture.” However, issues of race and ethnicity lie beneath the surface of many educational debates, and they cannot be confined to a single topic or section. As a result, controversial topics and language are spread throughout the volume. The issues addressed in these chapters include how to work with students from many different backgrounds, but they also raise such concerns as like how to represent students and their work. Is it possible to describe the struggles and family circumstances of students who are experiencing problems without stereotyping them or others like them? Is it appropriate and necessary to use offensive language and describe troubling scenes that many involved might prefer to keep private? These kinds of questions and many others were discussed and debated among those in the CASTL program and others who reviewed many of the works in this collection. The conversations were not always easy to have, but we felt it was important to include controversial works in this volume because teachers have to face these issues every day, often without the benefit of the distance and careful examination that these pieces help to provide.
MAKING TEACHING PUBLIC AND PROFESSIONAL
A single collection such as this cannot resolve the challenges of making teaching public or suddenly render the work of teachers accessible to a wide audience, but we hope that it can draw attention to the power and value of teachers’ work and reinforce the need for other collections, outlets, and organizations that can make that work more accessible. In order to ensure that the works collected here and produced by teachers in many other groups and settings contribute to a larger movement to improve teaching, not just the advancement of the work and ideas of a few groups or individuals, several critical issues have to be addressed.
Teachers cannot be expected to do the kind of work represented in this volume alone and in isolation; they need opportunities to reflect on their practice with others, and they need the support of the social and intellectual infrastructure that is essential to scholarship in so many other disciplines. To begin expanding opportunities for teachers, we can build on the support that already exists in the activities and norms of some teacher networks, professional development groups, and academic institutions. For example, the deadlines, conversations, and feedback that come with opportunities for teachers to present their own work in meetings of teacher networks and school reform organizations can be powerful motivators and supports for teachers like the authors in this collection. At these meetings, teachers can test out their hypotheses, give and receive feedback, come into contact with real audiences, and develop the connections that can help them gain new information and resources as well as find further presentation and publication opportunities. Even informal meetings among teachers at a particular school or in a district can provide some support for the scholarship of teaching. But these kinds of informal conversations and presentations need to be connected to more formal and public opportunities that can make teachers’ work available for debate and discussion outside their own contexts and networks.
While we hope that the works collected here will support the recognition of the many ways that teachers can make their practice, their “problems,” and the theories they produce available for others to build upon, the use of a wide range of formats, media, and technologies in representing teachers’ work does not necessarily transform teachers into scholars or turn personal reflections into scholarship. Websites, videos, and other media afford opportunities to produce different kinds of work and reach different audiences, but only the critical and collaborative examination of that work can determine whether it is useful for others. To that end, the mechanisms and forums for exchanging and reviewing teachers’ work across groups, organizations, and contexts also have to be developed.
Finally, we have to go beyond lip service to the notion that teachers are professionals. Too often, teachers are treated as if they cannot be trusted to make decisions about teaching and learning—as if their classroom practice has to be monitored and controlled. Guidance, support, and direction can be valuable assets that help teachers deal with the complexity and unpredictability of their classrooms. But to advance their own practice and the practice of the profession as whole, teachers have to be able to engage in professional activities—examining problems, raising questions, evaluating alternatives, making judgments, and sharing their conclusions with others—as a regular part of their work.
1. To learn more about the scholarship of teaching and the CASTL program
that led to the development of this book, see the CASTL website at:
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Darling Hammond, L., & McLaughlin, M. (1995). Policies that support professional development in an era of reform. Phi
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Freedman, S. W., Simons, E. R., Kalnin, J. S., Casareno, A., & the M-Class Teams. (1999). Inside
city schools: Investigating literacy in multicultural classrooms. New York: Teachers College Press.
Hargreaves, A. (1993). Changing teachers, changing times: Teachers’ work and culture in the postmodern age. New York: Teachers College Press.
Hargreaves, A. (1996). Revisiting voice. Educational Researcher, 25(1), 12–19.
Hiebert, J., Gallimore, R., & Stigler, J. W. (2002). A knowledge base for the teaching profession: What would it look like and how can we get one? Educational
Researcher, 31(5), 3–15.
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the National Society for the Study of Education, Part 1: Teacher research and
educational reform. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Hutchings, P., & Shulman, L. S. (1999). The scholarship of teaching: New elaborations, new developments. Change, 31(5), 10–15.
Lampert, M. (2001). Teaching problems and the problems of teaching. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Lieberman, A., & Wood, D. (2003). Inside the National Writing Project:
Connecting network learning and classroom teaching. New York: Teachers College Press.
Little, J. W. (1993). Teachers’ professional development in a climate of reform. Educational
Evaluation and Policy Analysis, 15(2), 129–151.
Rose, M. (1996). Possible lives: The promise of public education in America. New York: Penguin.
Shulman, L. S. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. Harvard
Educational Review, 57(1), 1–22.
Stenhouse, L. (1983). The relevance of practice to theory. Theory into Practice, 22(3), 211–215.
Stenhouse, L. (1988). Artistry and teaching: The teacher as focus of research and development. Journal
of Curriculum and Supervision, 4(1), 43–51.
Zeichner, K. M. (1998). The nature and impact of teacher research as a professional development activity for P–12 educators. Unpublished manuscript.