Teacher’s Purposes and Student’s Intentions. Do They Ever Meet?

Kansanen, P. (1997).

In P. Kansanen (Ed.), Discussions on Some Educational Issues VII (pp. 35-46). Research Report 175. Department of Teacher Education, University of Helsinki..

1 The teacher

To be a teacher means to work in some institute with some students in order to bring about learning or some other forms of changes in the personal development of those students.

The mental bounds of teaching are composed of the curricula which teachers must follow. That is, however, not enough; the curriculum is always a part of a broader social context. Although teachers are assuming an increasingly larger role in planning curricula, the degrees of freedom in planning are not indefinite. The broad boundaries are usually defined outside the teacher’s sphere of influence, but the teachers themselves develop the curriculum as it is carried out in practice. In this way teachers can integrate their own values into the curriculum from the very beginning so that it is more in line with their own thinking than when the curriculum was more or less given. In any case there is a discrepancy between the values of broad curriculum and the values the teacher brings into the curriculum and into the instructional process. This discrepancy is not often noticed because both sources of values are probably based on the same framework and because teachers’ values are mainly subconscious. Often this discrepancy is no discrepancy at all if the broad lines do not contain any exceptional aims or goals.

In any case there are some organising themes or basic principles behind the curriculum which may be called purposes. Logically, the aims and goals must be in harmony with the purposes. The system of aims and goals form a totality where all parts are related to each other. When the form and content are brought into this system no such elements are possible which are in conflict with the totality. In a way this totality is an ideology whose content may vary from religious to political doctrines with all their variations. According to this metaphor the teacher must be inside this ideology to be able to act accordingly. To follow the idea further the teacher is a representative of this ideology and cannot act against it. His/her mission is to lead the students to adopt the doctrines of the ideology.

This metaphor can also be applied to the contemporary conception of the curriculum although the content is conceived as consisting more of knowledge and beliefs than of ideological substance. In any case, the teacher is the same representative of this totality as before and an expert in the content of the curriculum which is designed to bring about learning in his/her students. With this example in mind it is easier to understand the dependence of teachers’ activities on the values of the curriculum. To attain commitment to the values of the curriculum, the teacher’s own values must gradually become harmonised with these. This is presumed to happen through the following phases of development:

1. The teacher must become familiar with the values of the curriculum. In practice this means to become acquainted with the purpose, aims, goals, and objectives of the curriculum. The process of making the curriculum as teachers’ own undertaking guarantees more than before the expert knowledge of the curriculum content. This first phase may have been problematic earlier when some committee produced the whole curriculum, which teachers were supposed to become familiar with during their work using it as a guide or through textbooks. When teachers are given only the broad framework of the curriculum they are compelled to reflect on and deduce the more concrete aims and goals. This means that getting acquainted with the values is unavoidable. The smaller the units of the curriculum become, the clearer the whole system is supposed to become. The inevitable consequence is that the teacher must have a good knowledge of the purpose, aims, goals, and objectives of the curriculum. Thus it is highly probable that the first requirement is put into practice.

2. The teacher must accept the values presented in the curriculum. Earlier when the aims and goals were introduced from outside, the process of accepting them could be problematic. The new approach presumably guarantees the acceptance of the aims and goals during the early stages of writing the curriculum. At least the possible discrepancies between the guidelines presented in the framework of the curriculum and the teacher’s own values become obvious. In any case, this phase presupposes active reflecting, and adapting to the values can begin in due course. In extreme cases the teacher may become disillusioned and leave the profession. Another solution is to start to fight against these values. This may happen when the teacher has a strong conviction and sees it as his/her duty to act according to his/her own values. This inevitably leads to conflict and perhaps to serious consequences. If the teacher understands his/her mission in this way s/he may justify it e.g. with the principles of critical philosophy, the intent being to change practices and to achieve a new understanding of the curriculum and thus a new conception of the school.

In some normative systems of education the selection of a teacher is determined by the special values of the curriculum. It is highly exceptional for a teacher who does not accept the system to apply for a position. It is also natural to leave if the acceptance of a system becomes impossible. A good example is a school where activities are based on a religious curriculum. In state controlled schools the political system of the society also defines the values behind the curriculum. Most often these are so extensive that no problems occur. There are, however, a large number of examples from totalitarian countries where the teachers have no choice.

In a democratic society it is usually natural to accept the values behind the curriculum.

3. The teacher must internalise the values of the curriculum. Is not necessarily enough for the teacher to know the values behind the curriculum and to accept them. Without personal commitment the instructional process may be directed from outside. This can happen through using various ready-made teaching materials and if this is combined with a weak knowledge of the content, the process according to von Wright (1971, 57-60) is bound to become quasi-teleological in character.

There is a special difference between intentions and purposes when defining the terminology. All the participants in the instructional process have intentions of their own. The quality of these intentions is of a different character in the teachers´ thinking compared with the students´ thinking. The students come to the process with their expectations and are more or less motivated to study according to the curriculum. Teachers also have their own intentions. As Clark and Peterson note (1986, 273) some of them may be highly personal and have nothing to do with his/her teaching. It is, however, the intentions of the teacher that define the intentional situation in the instructional process (Pearson 1989, 65-71) and that is why it is important to try to combine the teacher´s intentions with the purposes of the curriculum. If that process succeeds, thinking can be labelled purposive, and the teacher has internalised the aims and goals of the curriculum.

It is the responsibility of the teacher to plan and guide the teaching-studying-learning process. The instructional process deduced from the curriculum presupposes following the aims and goals expressed in the curriculum. This may happen in various ways. Internalising the aims and goals of the curriculum is often presented as an ideal means to fulfil the teacher´s sense of mission. This is partly true; the spirit of the curriculum is thus realised as fully as possible. It brings with it, however, a paradox concerning the teacher´s freedom to act in the instructional process. The more s/he is committed to realising the curriculum and to following its ideology the less freedom s/he has. On this basis it is justified to claim that purposiveness may become a threat to teacher autonomy. How is it possible to act autonomously in the instructional process with the aims and goals of the curriculum as an integral part of one’s own thinking? The teacher is in danger of losing his/her critical mind and adapting him/herself to unproblematised thinking. A logical conclusion is to try to internalise the aims and goals of the curriculum in while maintaining a critical attitude towards decisions that are behind his/her/her pedagogical thinking. How this is possible depends on the readiness for autonomous reflection and conscious decision making where all the alternatives are taken into consideration.

2 The student

The pupil cannot only be a learner; a much wider role of a student is needed.

The activity of a student consists of studying that which is expected to bring about learning and other planned changes. Studying is conscious activity that is supposed to take place according to the lines and purposes expressed in the curriculum. The desired learning is thus context bound and that kind of change intended in the curriculum. It could also be called school learning. That is why the role of the pupil is not only to be a learner but also a student. To learn something needs doing something for it. Another issue is that much more learning is taking place than is defined in the aims and goals in the curriculum.

Participating in school studies is not voluntary, nor is it a responsibility for the student in the same way as it is for the teacher. Students in the school are of various ages and the desire to participate varies accordingly. The younger the students the fewer problems in motivating them. With older students motivation itself often becomes an independent phase in the instructional process. Gradually the students bring more and more of their own intentions into this process and these are usually well in line with the aims and goals of the curriculum. The crucial point, however, is that studying presupposes some kind of motivation. Without motivation studying becomes impossible. Although this extreme situation is infrequent, motivation can vary between very low and very high levels. It is common to divide motivation into different categories which interact closely with each other: extrinsic and intrinsic motivation.

A great deal of our learning happens through extrinsic motivation although its status in pedagogical literature is not entirely positive. It is, however, unrealistic to expect that a student would be intrinsically motivated all the time and with everything presented in the curriculum. Every person has his/her own interest areas and would, perhaps, drop courses of study which s/he does not like if it were possible. Many external reasons, however, may reinforce the motivation to study subjects, unpleasant or not, which the student sees useful in the future. Foreign language may be such a subject. It is not possible, however, to speak here about intentional studying in the sense of its very meaning. The intentions come from outside and are not part of the student’s own endeavours. This is the usual situation in school and it is understandable that while pupils are children or youngsters they are not yet ready to take responsibility for their own studying. Naturally, the pupils have intentions to do something in school but in these circumstances these intentions are not the same as the purposes, aims and goals of the curriculum. The activities might be meaningful from the viewpoint of the pupils, but without extrinsic motivation they would eventually cease. The other alternative, however, is always possible because the instructional process is much like indoctrination (McClellan 1976). In the long run the student can also develop an interest for content that s/he found uninteresting in the beginning. Extrinsic motivation may thus become intrinsic. It is nevertheless unrealistic to expect it to happen in all cases, which is why both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation are always present. From the student’s point of view, some of the aims and goals of the curriculum never unite his own intentions and studying cannot be called purposive although it may be called intentional in its ordinary meaning.

Development toward purposiveness requires a personal commitment to the studies. This presupposes the same phases as with the teacher’s purposiveness but expressed in another way. While the responsibility of teaching is guiding the activities of the teacher in becoming acquainted with the aims and goals of the curriculum these must be presented to the students usually by the teacher. Somehow the aims and goals must be justified so that the students become motivated. In addition to extrinsic motivation, the aim is to elicit the active interest of the students, the ultimate goal being intrinsic motivation. The justification behind intrinsic motivation is that the aims and goals of the curriculum are internalised so strongly that the activities of the students can be called not only intentional but also purposive.

Intrinsic motivation and purposiveness may be seen as the same phenomenon looked at from different angles. When studying is guided by intrinsic motivation it is in line with the curriculum. In other cases the studies must be motivated extrinsically while the teacher tries to increase purposiveness in his/her students. Although this developing is considered mainly cognitive, affective and emotional factors are closely involved in this process. In intrinsic motivation the decision to study according to the aims and goals of the curriculum is not conscious and it is presupposed that intrinsic motivation cannot be transferred from one content area to the other. This is why purposiveness is needed in the teaching-studying-learning process with all students almost all the time. Knowledge of the nature of intrinsic motivation may be useful with ordinary teaching models, where purposiveness is thought to consist of: becoming acquainted with the aims and goals, interpreting and accepting them, and, finally, internalising them. Combining the process of becoming purposive with intrinsic motivation is using both sides of the phenomenon to reach the ultimate goal.

The central concepts in the analysis of intrinsic motivation as expressed by Byman (1995) are curiosity and interest as a basis for intrinsic motivation. In the teaching-studying-learning process teachers often use short-term motivation to arouse interest with some unexpected detail that is peculiar to the content to be studied. This may be wholly extrinsic but all teachers must know that motivation accomplished this way does not last long. If curiosity is aroused by some aspect of the content the rational elements of getting the students motivated are directing their attention. The meaningfulness of studying is emphasised in this way. Curiosity in general (Byman 1995, 36-42) has very little significance; the same can be said about perceptual curiosity. Berlyne (1965), however, introduces some applications that are based on epistemic or specific epistemic curiosity and considers them suitable, especially for science teaching, where it is easy to find surprises or paradoxes (Kansanen 1986, 142-143; Byman 1995, 38-39).

A variation using specific epistemic curiosity as a means of arousing motivation is subject-matter directed motivation (Kempf & Lehrke 1975; Lind 1976). According to this idea studying should be based on content-centred motivation. With intrinsic motivation the activity itself may be emphasised too much and the aims and goals of the curriculum not taken into consideration enough. Subject-matter directed motivation is, however, mainly one kind of short-term motivation which, most certainly, has all the possibilities of developing into intrinsic motivation focusing on some subject-matter. It is, however, unrealistic to believe that the students would become involved in all subject-matters in that way.

The rational side of studying based on curiosity, interest and intrinsic motivation is being purposive in terms of the aims and goals in the curriculum. A teacher’s task in the teaching-studying-learning process is to motivate the pupils so that they may be called students. It is very difficult to find any standard procedures leading to purposiveness but one alternative that has proved to be promising is joint planning of the teaching-studying-learning process (Komulainen, Kansanen, Karma, Martikainen & Uusikylä 1981). Including the students in the beginning of the planning process gives them more responsibility and is justified by the content of the curriculum. When asking the very special question “why” the students are brought together to think about the essential elements of their own education. That is, principally, the core idea of purposiveness from the point of view of the student.

It is not difficult to find evidence for increasing intrinsic motivation through various experiments (e.g. Cordova & Lepper 1996) but usually the approach does not try to get long-lasting effects. On the other hand, theoretically the idea of using intrinsic motivation as a basis for rational decision making is seen in Deci’s writings. The concepts of self-determination and internalisation (Deci & Ryan 1985, 1994; Deci, Eghrari, Patrick & Leone 1994), when brought into school pedagogy, greatly resemble the principles of purposiveness. In Deci’s writings there is an attempt to refer to both types of motivation; self-determination combined with extrinsic motivation is claimed by Deci and Ryan (1994, 11) “to positively predict high quality learning and personal adjustment in school”. It is interesting to note that the approach based on intentions and particularly on aims and goals in the curriculum has much in common with the approach coming from research on motivation. Further, it is highly interesting that the social context in this research is also the classroom and school. In this respect the context in both approaches is principally the same.

3 Interaction – encounter or mutual understanding?

Teacher-student interaction is asymmetrical. The moment it becomes symmetrical there are no more teachers or students.

The ideal form of an encounter between teacher and students would be acting purposively in a mutual relationship, striving for attaining the aims and goals of the curriculum. At the same time this would be a very dangerous threat to the autonomy of both sides, both in relation to each other and in general. This would also mean that both parties were content with the curriculum and with the school on the whole. Usually there is room enough within the boundaries of the curriculum for the teacher to develop, criticise and reform practices.

Both parties bring different aspects with them into the teaching-studying-learning process. The teacher is responsible for guiding the studying of the pupils in the direction of the aims and goals of the curriculum. At the same time s/he must motivate the students to participate in the process. Most of the time the intentions of the parties are not the same. The degree of purposiveness also varies in the activities of the teacher. The situation may be quite paradoxical with the teacher directed by quasi-teleological forces, guiding the studying of the pupils, whose intentions may be anything but the aims and goals of the curriculum.

Most of the problems concerning interaction in the teaching-studying-learning process arise from the fact that this process is part of a greater context and is situated in some institute, usually in a school. Adult education is a special aspect of this process where the relations of the participants are of a different character. Thus the teacher and the students are not free to do what they would like to do. Although the curriculum sets the boundaries for the activities, there is space to make decisions. Both parties have intentions of their own and life in school is planned in principle so that all the experiences during the time school is responsible should contribute to attaining the aims and goals defined in the curriculum. To fulfil his/her obligations the teacher must decide how to guide the teaching-studying-learning process. Getting purposive is internalising the aims and goals of the curriculum but this development does not happen automatically. At the same time the teacher’s task is to get the students motivated and involved in studying. While the students’ intentions seldom coincide with the aims and goals of the curriculum, growth in this respect is a prerequisite for getting purposive. Intrinsic motivation may be used in this activity but it is unrealistic to think that the entire content of the studies can be motivated in this way. Appealing to rational thinking and to the content of the studies is supposed to lead to increasing interest and gradually to purposive activity. A crucial question here is if this could happen to both parties jointly. In that case the aims and goals would be the joint content of their activity.

Hellgrén (1985, 21-25), leaning on the theory of social action by Raimo Tuomela, uses a concept of we-intention when explaining a common understanding of the direction of activities in the teaching-studying-learning process. An important contribution of this point of view is the notion that a teacher usually works with a group and the “we-intending involves a special form of consciousness which is the internalization of the concept group” (Hellgrén 1985, 22). We-intention may be considered an ideal condition for working in the teaching-studying-learning process. It may also be regarded as an extension of individual intention to contain all the participants in the process. In a context where the teacher acts purposively in interaction with students who have also internalised the aims and goals of the curriculum, the teaching-studying-learning process may be called purposive as a whole. This special condition of joint activities also fulfils the criteria of we-intention. In practice, however, the degree of purposiveness varies among students and with the situation and circumstances. (Yrjönsuuri 1993, 41-51.) The most common combinations may be described as follows:

High level of teacher’s purposiveness Ordinary Purposive
Low level of teacher’s purposiveness Mechanic, quasi-teleological Interest-based
Low level of student’s purposiveness High level of student’s purposiveness

There are two cells where the intentions of both the teacher and the students are in line with each other. The ideal condition for joint activities is represented when both parties are purposive and have internalised the aims and goals of the curriculum. The condition can, perhaps, be described on basis of we-intention. How advisable this condition would be is not unambiguous. Another cell where the intentions are in line with each other originates from the condition where both parties have a low level of purposiveness. Both teaching and studying can be said to be mechanistic and technological without personal involvement. Supposedly extrinsic motivation is in use and the working atmosphere is probably perfunctory. The conditions for studying and especially for learning are not favourable. The teaching-studying-learning process is controlled by quasi-teleological systems.

A high level of purposiveness on the side of the teacher combined with a low level of purposiveness on the side of the students is probably the most common situation in school teaching. The teacher feels that his/her responsibility is to follow the aims and goals of the curriculum as well as possible but the students’ intentions are not in line with the curriculum. It is the task of the teacher to get the students to accept the aims and goals and finally to internalise them. As long as this is not the case the teacher is compelled to use only extrinsic motivation to get the students to study.

The opposite condition exists when teachers have a low level of purposiveness while students have a high level. This may happen when students or at least some students are intrinsically motivated and interested in some content as such. The origin of intrinsic motivation probably derives from personal interest and the activity is usually practised outside the school as well. It is highly plausible that this kind of intrinsic motivation is not present all the time and in all subjects and is not of much use in the instructional process in general.

4 The dark side of pedagogical virtue

Fulfilling the ideal requirements is a threat to teacher autonomy.

Theoretically purposiveness and intrinsic motivation are qualities worth aiming at. Perhaps the effort to achieve conditions where teaching and studying may be considered optimal is to be desired. Another question is how desirable this state would be. To become involved in something or to internalise values also contain dangerous qualities and may be a risk to independent thinking. Internalising something of value is to take a stand in favour of it and at the same time against other values. Acting according to aims and goals decided by others presupposes a critical attitude in order to develop and improve the practice when needed. Following the authorities too strictly is likely to diminish the inclination toward autonomous development.

The traditional conception of teaching and teacher’s work has been justified by a calling or a sense of mission. It is obvious that the essence of it has often been religious in nature and teaching has been a form of charity. Reading, writing and arithmetic have been a means to a better life and a way to become acquainted with the origins of the value systems of those who have been responsible for the teaching. The moral basis of the aims and goals has been deontological, where a strong feeling of responsibility for moral values has been a requirement of the teacher’s work. Internalisation of the aims and goals has been natural for the teachers. Adapting the educational program through internalisation comes close to indoctrination in this case (McClellan 1976). No criticism against these basic values is possible and the teacher loses his/her freedom to think and act autonomously as well. The teacher is acting inside doxa.

The position of teaching and the teacher is no longer as dependent on external value systems as before but similarities to this kind of commitment still exist in the modern curriculum. The teacher is working inside the curriculum and inside its value boundaries. The present curricula also vary from highly value-bound to pluralistic but the teacher can usually seek alternatives. In the case of purposiveness a distinction between cognitive and affective content is fruitful. With cognitive content it is easier to keep distance and think rationally. However, teachers are often specialists in their subjects and may gradually internalise their importance beyond other parts of the curriculum. Affective content is, however, more problematic; it usually requires a personal standpoint. Becoming acquainted with the content, accepting it as positive and finally internalising it are all evidence of commitment to those values. It may be claimed that with commitment to the values of the curriculum the teacher is no longer autonomous but is promoting those values in the students’ thought processes. After taking a stand, changing the curriculum and, above all, independent thinking is of utmost difficulty.

Would it be possible to speak of rational internalisation? Combining these two concepts is like composing a paradox. Or would commitment instead of internalisation be enough to achieve purposiveness? In any case the process of becoming purposive requires conscious control and criticism. Perhaps a conscious and rational commitment is possible. Or would it be better to use self-determination and bring purposiveness closer to motivation in the teacher’s work as well?



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