Academic journal article International Journal of Education

Using Popper's Philosophy of Science to Build Pre-Service Teachers' Knowledge

Academic journal article International Journal of Education

Using Popper's Philosophy of Science to Build Pre-Service Teachers' Knowledge

Article excerpt


Over a series of influential publications, the philosopher of science, Karl Popper, developed an account of how scientific knowledge grows. This article explores the use of Popper's account, referred to here as the Objective Knowledge Growth Framework (OKGF), in order to guide the growth of professional knowledge among a group of pre-service teachers. The evidence from the study shows that this method of critical self-learning does facilitate a useful trajectory for professional knowledge growth.

Keywords: knowledge growth; criticism; error elimination; falsification; critical self-learning

1. Introduction

Critical thinking has become an educational focus at all levels of study in countries around the globe (Bailin, Case, Coombs, & Daniels, 1999), and is explicitly featured in elementary and secondary school curriculum documents where educational reforms have recently occurred (Howe, 2004). However, even though critical thinking is touted as an educational ideal, research suggests that it is not being put into practice, and traditional transmissive teaching practices abound (Paul, Elder, & Bartell, 1997; Swartz, 2004). This is due to the fact that some scholars believe: "experienced teachers are analogous to 'master craftsmen' ... in school-based components of their pre-service education, student-teachers should learn through gaining access to the craftknowledge of experienced teachers" (Brown & McIntyre, 1993, p. 12). They also draw on Lortie's (1975) notion that "craftis work in which experience improves performance" and it "cannot be learned in weeks or even months" (Brown & McIntyre, 1993, p. 18). This model is based on the acquisition of a discrete set of skills during isolated and decontextualized situations which most of the pre-service and in-service teachers are most familiar with.

The educational ideal of teaching in a 'critical manner' refers to "teaching so as to develop in the students skills and attitudes consonant with critical thinking" (Siegel, 1980). Certainly, teaching in a critical manner necessitates that the teacher is a critical thinker. If a teacher holds critical thinking skills and possesses a critical disposition, then he or she will have the ability and desire to teach in a way that helps students attain similar skills and dispositions. Both pre-service and practising teachers have been shown to not only lack critical thinking skills and dispositions, but also lack an awareness of their deficiencies (Paul, 1993; Paul, Elder, & Bartell, 1997). Our educational institutions from elementary to graduate schools encourage dogmatism and attach little importance to critical approach. Various models such as mentoring and peer-coaching have emerged (Britton & Anderson, 2010; Pajak, 2003; Shower & Joyce, 1996; Goldhammer, 1969) to strength teachers' knowledge, critical thinking skills and dispositions so as to affect teacher performance and student learning outcomes.

Regardless of the types of professional models, their aim is to promote teacher knowledge. Theoretical frameworks for teacher knowledge have been proposed by a number of researchers (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Fenstermacher, 1994; Grossman, 1990; Shulman, 1987). Of particular interest here is the knowledge-in-practice perspective initiated by Cochran-Smith & Lytle (1999) which constitutes part of the most essential knowledge for teaching and is perceived as knowledge that is embedded in practice. Schon (1995) considers knowledge-in-practice grounded in professional activity. This study extends specific aspects of the knowledge in-practice by proposing the Objective Knowledge Growth Framework (OKGF), which is based on Popper's philosophy of science. Popper (1963)argues that knowledge progresses througha process of conjecture and refutation. Thus, if practising teachers are to develop sustainable professional knowledge, perhaps they ought to adopt a framework for pedagogical reasoning that would allow them to uncover the inadequacies of their current teaching theories and methods by criticizing them and showing either that the theories have unacceptable consequences or that they do not solve the problems they have set out to solve. …

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