Transforming Philosophy and Pedagogy through Critical Inquiry

Article excerpt

Learning to teach is a process that develops and evolves over an educator's career (Ehri & Williams, 1996). Seasoned teachers recognize they must continually update and position themselves on current educational issues and research to transform their teaching and grow as informed professionals and mentors. Practitioners' philosophical perspectives and best practices emerge and progress as we polish the leathered structure of our pedagogy over a career of learning how to teach effectively through critical inquiry into practice.

Valuing a philosophy does not necessarily mean one automatically knows how to incorporate it effectively into one's best teaching practices. As my teaching has progressed, I have come to embrace critical inquiry as a teaching and personal philosophy. The transformation of my teaching practices to include critical inquiry, however, has been a challenge as I struggle with the practicalities and methods of incorporating it into the courses I teach. Therefore, in the Spring 2005 semester, I studied what happened as I attempted to take on a critical inquiry stance on issues in literacy with an undergraduate, pre-methods teacher-education class at a four-year college. What follows is a narrative reflection that describes what it looked like-what tensions were created, how practice and learning were influenced-when I worked to incorporate a forming philosophy of critical inquiry into my pedagogy. This study will provide insight into how critical inquiry might influence the transformation of a teacher education professor's philosophy and pedagogy as reflected through the candidates' learning. Implications for teacher education are also proposed.

Theoretical background

Learning is viewed here as a transformation of knowledge that is social in nature and influenced by the context of the situation (Wenger, 1998). It is a new way of seeing something because we have added to or refined what it means to us through some type of text or discourse (i.e., something we've read, written, viewed, or discussed with others). For the instructor, knowledge is transformed through critical inquiry, which may include forms of professional development, collaboration, and reflection.

Taking a critical inquiry stance expands one's reflections on practice and readings of texts to delve into the underlying meanings and interpretations of an issue (Duesterberg, 1999; Anonymous, 2004). Critical inquiry encourages the learner to not only seek information but to look for a sagacious understanding of the world (Jennings & Smith, 2002). Lindfors (1999) describes this phenomenon as the "going-beyond purpose" (p. 61) of reading that evolves as readers probe the possibilities of meaning, understanding, and connections to the world. Critical inquiry is vital in teacher education if we want to encourage teacher candidates to become agents of societal change in positions that will allow them to empower students (Routman, 2003). When teachers take a critical inquiry stance toward their own teaching philosophies and practices, they become engaged in finding deeper understandings to complex issues as they question their perspectives, biases, purposes, and motivation.

Fecho (2004) describes a critical inquiry classroom as "... a place where inquiry [takes] place in ways that [call] mainstream venues of financial, social, and political power into question, but [does] so in ways that [allow] for a range of interpretations and perspectives" (p. 142). Such a classroom enables students to make informed decisions about their learning and practices. It changes the focus of learning from one of filling empty vessels to one of empowering students to explore their positions on critical issues (Freiré, 1970). This perspective fits with Wenger's (1998) view of learning as a transformation of knowledge. In my classroom, I wanted candidates to take a critical look at literacy theories and practices to determine their positions and perspectives. …