Lifting off the Ground to Return Anew: Mediated Praxis, Transformative Learning, and Social Design Experiments

By Gutierrez, Kris D.; Vossoughi, Shirin | Journal of Teacher Education, January-April 2010 | Go to article overview

Lifting off the Ground to Return Anew: Mediated Praxis, Transformative Learning, and Social Design Experiments


Gutierrez, Kris D., Vossoughi, Shirin, Journal of Teacher Education


During the recent presidential election, we witnessed the increased politicization of approaches to teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention, as debates about what counts as teacher quality, high-quality teacher education programs, and pathways to teaching intensified. Despite the contentious debates in the public sphere, there remains consensus that teachers are the most influential factor in student learning and how learning gets organized on the ground (Bransford, Darling-Hammond, & LePage, 2005; Little, 2003; Walker, in press). Divergent views of teacher education notwithstanding, teachers who are better prepared are more self-confident and have better results with students than those teachers with little to no preparation (Darling-Hammond, 2000). However, the focus on high-stakes assessments in the education of students in the United States has led to the coupling of teacher effectiveness with students' performance on assessments that are not linked to robust learning. This emphasis has complicated efforts in teacher education that challenge a sole focus on outputs and argue for a praxis model of teacher preparation in which teacher learning is linked to pedagogical practices, student learning, and the contextual supports available and created. This article proposes an approach to teacher development that situates learning in its context of development, with attention to what is learned, what tools are appropriated, and how teaching and learning are mediated in practice.

One of the long-standing challenges of preservice teacher education, at both the undergraduate and graduate level, has been the nonalignment often found between the theoretical and pedagogical tools appropriated in the university classroom and those at work in schools and classrooms. In our work (Gutierrez, 2008a; Gutierrez, Morales, & Martinez, 2009), we have tried to address the nonalignment and contradictions that are inherent in, as well as between, all activity systems (e.g., schools, teacher education programs, classrooms) by designing learning ecologies in the university and the community organized around a coherent set of principles of learning and development and multiple forms of mediation across both settings; of significance, these learning ecologies are co-created and grounded in the cultural historical practices of the communities involved. In line with a cultural historical approach to learning and development (Cole, 1996; Cole & Engestrom, 1993; Engestrom, 1987; Vygotsky, 1978), teacher learning is necessarily distributed and examined across a minimum of two activity systems in which teacher apprentices document children's learning trajectories in situ, as well as their own. By accounting for participants' shifts in participation in learning practices across time and the forms of mediation at work, students, teacher educators, and researchers can better understand the learners' sense-making processes, including how new theoretical and pedagogical tools are appropriated and employed.

Little (2002) has argued the importance of providing documentation of teachers' "trajectories of participation and practice over time" (p. 937). Following Little (2002, 2003); Artiles, Trent, Hoffman-Kipp, and Lopez-Torres (2000); and Rogoff (2003), we too believe that changes in learners' identities, forms of participation, and knowledge appropriated are indexed in practice. As we will elaborate later in this article, participating in what we term "social design experiments"--cultural historical formations developed with and for nondominant communities designed to promote transformative learning for adults and children--provides a new model for teacher learning. (1) Through the use of cognitive ethnographies (Hutchins, 2003; Williams, 2006), questions for consideration for course readings, a jointly authored data-driven research report, and a self-reflection paper, we also documented preservice students' appropriation of theoretical concepts of learning and development and content knowledge in pedagogical practices with children from nondominant communities. …

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