Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Learning Teaching in, from, and for Practice: What Do We Mean?

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Learning Teaching in, from, and for Practice: What Do We Mean?

Article excerpt

In talk about teacher preparation and professional development, we often hear the word practice associated with what, how, or when learning the work of teaching is supposed to happen. Listening in on those conversations, and reading what has been written about teacher education, one can distinguish several different uses of the term. In this article, I analyze the various interpretations that could underlie the link between practice and learning teaching, consider some common usages of the term in and outside conversations about teaching, and take a brief look at how different concepts of practice might play out in designs for learning teaching. I examine learning teaching rather than learning to teach because the infinitive form can suggest that the action is to occur in the future, after something is learned, while the form teaching allows us to hold out the possibility that learning also occurs while doing the work. To begin, I briefly describe the work of teaching and assume that learning is whatever one does to get better at that work. I will explore different meanings of practice and the different implications each has for how one learns or gets better at the work of teaching. Although it is not possible to avoid entirely considerations of how knowledge plays into learning the work of teaching, I will not review the many arguments about what knowledge teachers need or have or theories about how such knowledge is acquired. My question is not how one learns knowledge or what knowledge is most important, but what practice can mean in relation to learning the work of teaching.

Nothing in this essay will be new to everyone. Its purpose is not to report on novel work or to present a comprehensive review of different literatures but to get us talking more precisely about what we mean when we talk about practice in relation to learning teaching. In some cases, I reduce ideas that have received much more sophisticated attention in the literature to their simplest terms in an effort to get us to look at them from a new perspective. I meander through contemporary and historical ideas about teacher education and professional development, drawing on the literature somewhat eclectically to illustrate important conceptual distinctions. When it seems helpful, I use ideas from other fields to illuminate or question long-standing assumptions.

The Work of Teaching

What is it that is to be learned when one is learning teaching? Teaching can mean many things. In teacher education, we are particularly concerned with teaching that occurs in school classrooms, where the work entails responsibility for whole classes of students compelled to work together for 9 months at a time. Based on a multiyear research project, I have developed a comprehensive representation of the work of classroom teaching as managing problems in several domains of work while maintaining productive relationships with students and content (Lampert, 2001). I will briefly summarize key elements of that representation here as a backdrop for the investigation of what practice might mean in relation to learning teaching. Teacher educators and scholars in the field of teacher learning have found this representation useful in "decomposing" and naming aspects of teaching while maintaining its complexity (Grossman, Hammerness, & McDonald, 2009; Grossman & McDonald, 2008).

Classroom teaching is relational work: Working on learning in the classroom involves concerted action by at least two people, the teacher and a student. Although student learning can be accomplished without actions taken by teachers, simply by a relationship between the student and that which is to be learned, the work we attend to here--teaching in school--necessarily involves intellectual and social collaboration. To do their job, classroom teachers need to act deliberately to maintain productive relationships with particular individual students in ways that result in those students learning. …

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