An Outline for a Model of Teachers’ Pedagogical Thinking

In P. Kansanen (Ed.), Discussions on Some Educational Issues IV (pp. 51-65). Research Report 121. Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki. (ED366562)

1. Introduction

The basic idea behind this research project is to find out how teachers move in their thinking from the descriptive to the normative. This well-known principle is usually referred to the work of David Hume (1711-1776) and to his book A Treatise of Human Nature (1739). The problem is constantly of current interest and, for example, Fenstermacher (1986) in a recent article deals with it by dividing the problem into “knowledge production” and “knowledge use”, where the later implicates some action. It is self-evident that it is not possible to be in the teaching profession without personal values or without taking sides between various alternatives that continuously come into reflection in a teacher’s thinking. How do these values come into the educational process and what is the teacher’s role in this process? In my earlier report (Kansanen 1989) I suggested that values come into the teaching process two different ways: Through the analysis and definition of educational aims and goals in the curriculum, and through the decisions steering the educational process in practice.

The first way for values to come into the educational process brings the formal decisions of the curriculum makers to the teacher’s consciousness and s/he must consider and evaluate them before they are internalised in his/her thinking. If this does not happen the educational process is steered from the outside. In any case the, process itself gets its steering elements from the curriculum, and the teacher is a link in this process.

The second way for values to enter the educational process is directly through the teacher’s thinking that is naturally guided by various factors of which personality, experience, and teacher education are perhaps the most important. In addition to the values in the curriculum, the teacher’s personal conceptions of education, teaching, learning, students, etc., have a central meaning in this process.

What are the educational principles and educational theories that guide the teacher’s action in this process? Are these conscious and what kind of speculation is s/he using in this process? These are questions that can find their answers in teachers’ implicit theories, in their pedagogical thinking.

2. The conceptual framework

2.1. Teaching and instruction

It is not possible to define teaching or instruction with one word or one brief concept without considering the background of the whole educational system and the specific curriculum where the very educational process is taking place. Furthermore, these concepts have different nuances in different languages that, perhaps, also mirror different kinds of thinking. We turn here to the terminology of Anderson and Burns (1989, 3-15). They define teaching as

“… an interpersonal, interactive, typically involving verbal communication, which is undertaken for the purpose of helping one or more students learn or change the ways in which they can or will behave.” (1989, 8).

Instruction, on the other hand, is conceptualised as a broader concept

“… as inclusive of teaching (that is, teaching is one aspect or component of instruction)” and “Knowing something about instruction helps us gain a more complete understanding of teaching.” (1989, 9).

The instructional process is, thus, a wide concept consisting of all the important components taking place in classroom instruction as well as of the steering factors defined in the curriculum. The teacher’s task in this process is to develop the best possible ways to promote learning in his/her students.

2.2. Purposiveness as a characteristic of education

The cardinal concepts of the instructional process as it is understood in this project are purposiveness and interaction. Of these, logically the first and thus more important describing education in general and instructional process in particular is the purposive nature of this phenomenon. As a prerequisite for education, a certain purpose is always prebuilt in its definition, guiding the process with all its minor parts and details. This purpose permeates the whole educational process where it becomes specified at various levels and in various areas. There is purpose all the time in this process. On the one hand, purpose gets its meaning through the curriculum, on the other hand, this purpose becomes a part of the thinking of the participating persons. They, the teacher as well as the students, have intentions that they bring into the process with all of their own experiences acquired during their former lives. Purposes come into the curriculum from somewhere, but they must also become internalised into the thinking of the participants before they can be present in the process. The crucial question becomes how to integrate the purposes of education defined and specified in the curriculum as goals, aims, and objectives, into the thinking of the teacher and of the students. In this article, however, I limit my considerations to the teacher’s pedagogical thinking.

2.3. Interaction as a general concept

In an early article Philip W. Jackson (1966) divided teaching into two phases: preactive teaching and interactive teaching. This same division is also used in other articles, e.g. in the review of teachers’ thinking by Clark and Peterson (1986). Jackson’s notion, however, can be logically extended where interaction is used as a base for the whole process. The first one of Jackson’s phases refers to the planning section of the instructional process and other activities that precede the teaching itself. If we accordingly consider interaction as a basic starting point and notice that reflection is also taking place after the interactive phase, we can divide the interaction into three phases: the preinteractive phase, the interaction proper, and the postinteractive phase. The flow of situations builds a continuous cycle where the postinteractive phase always starts a new preinteractive phase so that they integrate into a continuous process of planning, teaching, and evaluation. Gage and Berliner (1983) have also come to this same conclusion in their book Educational Psychology. The conception of the instructional process as a continuous flow of episodes and situations is in itself quite a common way to understand the nature of this process. The terminology, however, often does not express this essential feature.

In addition to the interaction that takes place face to face in the classroom there is also indirect interaction between the teacher and the students. The teacher is preparing his/her lessons and s/he must always take the former history of the class into consideration along with the characteristics of the students and the contextual factors that build the frames for his/her planning. The students, on the other side, do their homework and ponder their tactics for preparing for the next instructional situation.

Defining interaction in such a way with its extension to indirect interaction makes it possible to have a general concept of the instructional process. With the concept of interaction one can explain all the activities of the teacher and the students with one basic concept.

The nature of interaction in itself is a complex expression. An essential question regarding its nature is whether it is possible for the relationship in a teacher-student interaction to be symmetrical. This is the question especially posed by the representatives of the critical school. In the instructional process, however, it is the teacher who always has the responsibility by legislation to steer the process and that is why there is also power and authority in the teacher’s actions that are not to be neglected. Interaction in the instructional process can accordingly never be symmetrical but it can, however, be as democratic as possible within these conditions.

The instructional process cannot take place in a vacuum. In the school context instruction is always directed by the curriculum with its theoretical and political foundations. The societal frame of reference brings its ideological ideas into the instructional process to be followed by teachers in their practice.

3. The basic characteristics of the instructional process

The instructional process within a school always has two sides participating in the process: the teacher and the students. One teacher has several students at the same time with the responsibility guiding their development along the aims and goals set in the curriculum. The activity of the teacher, teaching, is purposive, aiming at the development of pupils’ personal development. It is a well-known fact that teaching in itself does not necessarily imply learning. Teaching is rather a kind of action that is aimed at pupils’ learning or other kinds of outcomes without any guarantee on the teacher’s part (e.g., Smith 1987).

Although the activities of the teacher and the activities of the students can be linked in many different ways, the problem of the nature of their reciprocal relationship stays. According to Ryle (1949) in everyday language we can divide verbs into two categories, task words and achievement words, or according to Scheffler (1960) they can be divided by their intentional use and success use. With the first category we mean the activity itself without any outcomes, the instructional process proper. In the research area of teacher effectiveness this same class of activities is known as process criteria. In the other category consisting of achievement words or success use of the words, there are some results implicit in the expression. In the area of the teacher effectiveness research this is said using product criteria.

As mentioned above, it is a widely held conception that teaching does not necessarily bring learning or other changes as a result. In this respect teaching interactions may differ from interactions in other fields. A very familiar situation exemplifying this difference, perhaps, is the act of selling and buying. This analogy, however, cannot be transferred into the instructional process as such. In the instructional process there can be teaching without learning and there can also be learning without teaching, although this point is not as clear as the first one. It depends on how we define teaching and whether it is necessary to have a person, a teacher, in order for an act to be called teaching. In self-studies, too, there always are some factors or impulses affecting and steering thinking and eventually leading to learning or some other changes. Fenstermacher (1986, 38-39) uses another analogy with the terms ‘racing’ and ‘winning’, and although there is no interaction between these terms in the same meaning as in the instructional process his ‘ontological dependence’ describing this relationship is also very accurate when considering teaching and learning. Pearson (1989, 78-83) presents the same criticism pointing out at the same time, however, that in this way it is possible to avoid characterising the relation between teaching and learning as causal.

The actions of the two agents, the teacher and the students, in the instructional process become very complex if we take into consideration that there can be numerous students participating in this interaction at the same time. Quite soon it becomes impossible to think of the net of possible interactive relations. The position of learning in this process is of the utmost complexity. We are used to thinking of learning as some kind of change but we can also pose the question in the opposite way: Is all kind of change learning? It is very easy to notice that the aims and goals in the curriculum consider changes from a larger perspective than what we are used to when we call something learning (cf. Uljens 1992).

A further important point is to notice that learning by its nature is unconscious. We cannot get learning to take place by means of willpower or by means of a decision on the part of the student. The instructional interaction aims at learning, but it is only possible to steer the activities of students with the purpose of fostering learning, or the student can wish and try to do something that s/he or the teacher thinks will probably lead to learning. But learning in itself occurs unconsciously depending on various personal and contextual factors.

If we describe the activities of the teacher as teaching, I would prefer to call the activities of the students as studying. This interaction may bring about some results that we usually think of as changes, and an important part of these changes is learning. Learning is occurring in the teacher’s head as well as in the student’s head, but naturally their content is of a different kind. In this way the whole instructional process can be understood as active on behalf of both sides. Studying as a concept is active by nature, and we can avoid referring to learning as something passive, which may occur through conditioning or because direct observation does not reveal what is happening in the student’s head. Studying, on the other hand, can always be understood as active (cf. learning by doing) and perhaps as conscious, too.

4. The elements of pedagogical thinking

4.1. The aspect of purposiveness

The teacher always works in a predetermined context. In this situation s/he has a certain freedom to act that is defined in the curriculum and the societal factors directing the implementation of the curriculum. Institutional frames supply the broader conditions under which the teacher’s work is taking place.

Characteristic of the teacher’s thinking is that decision-making during the interaction is at the same time pointed in two different directions: it has its background in the origins of its purposes and its future in its results. In this process time is an important indirect factor; the instructional process consists of cycles of episodes where planning and evaluation always precede and follow the interaction. The practical moments are naturally directed by continuous-decision making during the various phases of the interaction. Although the teacher may give reasons for his/her actions up to the small details and describe the incidents requiring various skills and methods, it is the broader line of argument that is of importance in pedagogical thinking. From this line of argument it is the totality of the instructional process that leads thinking. Since it is the normative that is of main interest in this article the factors which direct this line of thinking are also of interest. Behind the purposes of the teacher’s thinking, and at the same time behind the whole curriculum, there is the wide area of ethics where values in various forms are directing normative arguments.

The degree of consciousness in the teacher’s thinking about purposiveness can vary quite a lot along a dimension from being a total technician to being an independent decision maker. The instructional process can be steered from outside to previously specified aims and goals without the teacher’s personal contribution. The instructional process is then of quasi-teleological character (von Wright 1971, 57-60) and it is directed, for example, by ready-made teaching material or by a very narrowly defined curriculum. On the other hand, the teacher may be fully aware of the aims and goals of the curriculum. To be defined as purposive in the instructional process the teaching needs to follow the principles expressed in the curriculum. This is, however, not enough. The aims and goals must be accepted into the teacher’s own thinking and finally internalised into the teacher’s way of living.

In the various phases and situations of the instructional process, understanding of the origin of the values behind the curriculum is postulated to have a decisive significance in contemplating what is right or wrong, invaluable or useless in the interaction. Although it is not probable that teachers consciously make up their minds in this respect and have a conscious insight into the origins of these values, they may nonetheless play an important part in the teacher’s implicit theory. It is of interest to find out how teachers are cope with this problem area.

The aims and goals may be thought of being of a consensual character. In that case they can be accepted but at the same time they are understood as relative and changeable as to their obligation. They may be criticised and discussed, there is a certain tolerance in their realisation. Their origin is understood to be in the societal context and they must be accepted in the society by the majority of its representatives. They are also political, and in this meaning democratic, too.

Teacher’s work consists of a chain of episodes with the past and future existing at the same time. Planning as well as the whole preinteractive phase of the instructional process are important because the curriculum, with values expressed through aims and goals, determines to a great extent the intentions in the teacher’s thinking. The future is important because there the results, learning included, can be seen. The more the teacher reflects on the premises of his/her teaching and the whole instructional process the more the value questions come into his/her consciousness. The purposes of the curriculum and his/her own intentions may integrate to build a personal conception of the instructional process. With the internalised purposes as his/her intentions, the aims and goals gradually receive the character of some kind of a deontological theory with moral responsibilities. The understanding of the nature of values behind the curriculum is then of central importance. Teachers work with different degrees of moral consciousness depending on their commitment to the aims and goals directing their action.

Speaking according to the language of normative ethics (cf. Frankena 1973, 12-33) we can combine the value questions with the goals and aims of the written curriculum. In this way we can also link the content of the curriculum to the teacher’s purposes. If the teacher knows the curriculum, its purposes, aims, and goals, it is possible for him/her gradually to make them to become a part of his/her thinking and internalise its content as part of his/her responsibility. In the teacher’s pedagogical thinking the decisions that happen during the preinteractive phase of the instructional process derive their reasons through a certain kind of deontological thinking; that means through the content, and behind the content through the aims and goals that reflect the value base of the curriculum. In practice the aims and goals determine to a certain degree the freedom of the teacher’s thinking, and by approving of these they become a part of his/her own thinking. Teacher’s intentions become identical with the purposes of the curriculum. The teacher follows certain rules and administrative regulations as self-evident action, but not without criticism.

Pedagogical responsibility also comes into action on the other side of the process. Although deontological understanding of the curriculum has its obligation, the teacher’s work, however, is evaluated according to its results as consequences in his/her students’ personal development. This teleological aspect of the instructional process must be in harmony with the purposiveness of the teacher’s thinking, and as a rule there is no problem with this question. Combining the deontological aspect with the teleological aspect reflects the teacher’s conscious understanding of the totality of the instructional process inside the curricular frame. There is, however, different degrees of this consciousness. On the other end of this dimension there is quasi-teleological action where decisions are determined through the technological means such as textbooks and other teaching materials without the teacher’s personal contribution to their use. This kind of action may be substituted by any agent in the instructional process. The development of professional thinking in the instructional process follows along this dimension to the conscious thinking about the position of values in the whole process of instruction. Purposiveness may be an idealistic characteristic of the teacher’s thinking and action, but in any case it is the core of teacher’s pedagogical thinking according to this model.

To make it clear, I am trying to say that there is a certain difference between purposes and intentions. In this text I have used the term purpose in the context of the curriculum where it is seen as goals, aims, and objectives. Intentions, on the other hand, are in the head of the teacher. The students have intentions, too. It is, however, the intentions of the teacher that are defining the intentional situation (cf. Pearson 1989, 65-71) in the instructional process. Nevertheless, as Clark and Peterson note (1986, 273) the teacher has many other kinds of intentions during his/her work besides bringing about learning. That is why it is important to try to combine the teacher’s intentions with the purposes of the curriculum. If that process succeeds the thinking can be called purposive, and the teacher has internalised the aims and goals of the curriculum into his/her thinking, hence we can call it pedagogical thinking.

4.2. The aspect of methodology

In addition to the factor of purposiveness, methodology in thinking is the second important cornerstone of the model. In this case, research methodology is specifically emphasised. We all understand how difficult it is to have the whole instructional process as the research object in one research project. It is not possible for a lone researcher or even for a research group to explore this whole area. The teacher, however, has to think all the time how the totality is functioning. How then is it meaningful to require knowledge of research methodology in the teacher’s thinking since it means understanding different approaches and different research traditions which include every possible research method? It is naturally a question of a certain kind of attitude that in general reflects problematising the decisions in the instructional process.

This is not the right place to discuss what kind of research methods are necessary in pedagogical thinking. All kinds are useful without any commitments to certain paradigms. This is, however, a problem of teacher education. Understanding research methodology and knowing how to use at least some research methods, it is suggested, increases the teacher’s autonomy and independent decision-making. The more the teacher has expert knowledge of his/her work and understands on which premises his/her decision-making is based, the more freedom and autonomy s/he has in his/her work and the more critical s/he can be inside the curricular frame.

One approach for analysing the importance of knowledge of research methodology is to look at the teacher’s work from different levels (König 1975, 26-31; Guhl & Ott 1985, 88-113; Knecht-von Martial 1986, 26-28). On the action level (Figure 1) along the interaction dimension there is planning, implementing, and evaluation with numerous contributing factors influencing the practical work. On this level basic teaching skills are needed, and practical experience as well as practical situations guide the teacher’s work. This means thinking only of immediate problems and their practical solutions at a given time. This description is simplified, of course, but it emphasises the continuous flow of problem episodes requiring the teacher’s decision making. Without readiness for pedagogical thinking, without understanding the purposive and methodological character of his/her work, the interaction takes place only on the action level.

On the first thinking level the teacher has an inquiring attitude directed at his/her own action. The instructional process is then the object of his/her thinking. With conceptual analysis and by means of empirical research knowledge it is supposed to be possible for the teacher to build theoretical models to help him/her functioning in the process. The idea is moving from practice through theorising back to practice. In this practice s/he needs theoretical expert knowledge in research methods as well as in pedagogical content knowledge; both are important. One possible result of the analysis on the thinking level could be the understanding of the basic concepts and their interaction that must always be considered in any practical situation. Having the insight to look at his/her own work on the action level is, I think, the basic beginning of the teacher’s professional development and there, knowing the foundations of research methods, the empirical viewpoint which will then follow the purposive attitude becomes the most central aspect.

A further requirement in the teacher’s professional development would be achieving the second thinking level, the metatheoretical level. Acting on the first thinking level quite soon reveals that there are numerous occasions to build theoretical models and frames for teachers’ work. It is naturally possible to begin to compare them with each other and to experiment with different examples. On the second thinking level the teacher may notice that behind the different theoretical models there also are different ontological hypotheses guiding the model building. It is not possible to compare the models themselves but this can be done with their background determinants. The value questions must be taken into consideration, too. All the time there is lively interaction between the various levels.

Knowledge of research methods and the whole aspect of methodology does not mean that the teacher would act like an educational researcher in his/her classroom. His/Her inquiring attitude, however, prevents the intervention of outside authorities from confusing his/her teaching with topical novelties or with unprofessional viewpoints. Raising the teacher’s thinking as high as possible towards the second thinking level relieves him/her of thinking about authoritative boundaries and strengthens his/her autonomy in the teaching profession.

5. The dynamic nature of the model

In building this model of pedagogical thinking my intention has been to make it as dynamic and flexible as possible. It means that the model must be as general as possible, too. It also means that the model is not content specific but it can be used in any context with any content by applying some basic questions:

  1. Why or what is the value basis of the specified theme selected to be examined?
  2. How and by which means we can get knowledge of this theme selected to be examined and how we can have confidence in that knowledge?

The application of this model to every kind of problem specified is possible through content specific application of these two basic questions. The dynamic nature comes into play as we notice that the structure of the analysis often seems to remain the same but the dynamics bring with it the particular features of the problem. In this way pedagogical thinking may be as content specific, as situation specific, or as specific as a whole as needed according to the selection of the theme in question.

The first question focuses on the purposes stated in the curriculum and the intentions that teachers bring with themselves to the instructional process. My point is that intentionality is not enough if it is understood without content that is specific in the instructional process. That is why it is necessary to combine these two elements, and to delineate the meaning by calling it purposiveness. Noel (1993) discusses the problem of intentionality and reviews its use in the research on teaching, mainly in such projects as the process-product tradition of research, the cognitive processing program of research, and the reflective teaching program of research. Noel claims that the conception of intentionality remains a too passive aspect of thinking. In the model of pedagogical thinking the content of purposiveness is taken from the curriculum, and that is why pedagogical thinking is supposed to be active with a content that is continually changing as the instructional process is going on.

The interplay between purposiveness and empirical evidence emphasises the dynamic nature of the model. Decision-making is taking place all the time on different thinking levels according to the teacher’s readiness to think over his/her problems coming up during the instructional process.

6. Some ideas about testing the model

The model of pedagogical thinking is so general that it requires a certain viewpoint every time it is used. The main purpose behind the model is to find out how teachers move in their thinking from the descriptive to the normative. This general problem can be approached in a number of ways. Our angle of approach to this question is to look at the advice that student teacher’s get and that supervisors give during the teaching practicum. The arguments behind the advice are particularly important because they show, we hope, what can be understood as descriptive and as normative in pedagogical thinking. There has been more and more interest in the process of student teaching, and also some interest in the way supervisors guide their students during this process, die Rezeptologie (e.g., Meyer 1980, 27-55) or give advice in general (e.g., Taylor & Dunn 1993). We try to go beyond these recipes and advice. In principle it is not necessary to stay in the supervising process, the empirical starting point could be the instructional process and the pedagogical process wherever it is taking place.


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