Using Reflective Practice to Link Personal and Public Theories

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  • This article was downloaded by: [The University Of Melbourne Libraries]On: 29 September 2013, At: 10:27Publisher: RoutledgeInforma Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

    Journal of Education for Teaching:International research and pedagogyPublication details, including instructions for authors andsubscription information:http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/cjet20

    Using Reflective Practice to LinkPersonal and Public TheoriesMorwenna Griffiths a & Sarah Tann ba School of Education, University of Nottingham, UniversityPark, Nottingham NG7 2RD, United Kingdomb School of Education, Oxford Polytechnic, Wheatley,Oxfordshire OX9 1HX, United KingdomPublished online: 07 Jul 2006.

    To cite this article: Morwenna Griffiths & Sarah Tann (1992) Using Reflective Practice to LinkPersonal and Public Theories, Journal of Education for Teaching: International research andpedagogy, 18:1, 69-84

    To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/0260747920180107

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  • Journal of Education for Teaching, Vol. 18, No. 1, 1992 69

    Using Reflective Practice to LinkPersonal and Public TheoriesMORWENNA GRIFFITHSSchool of Education, University of Nottingham, University Park, NottinghamNG7 2RD, United Kingdom

    SARAH TANNSchool of Education, Oxford Polytechnic, Wheatley, Oxfordshire OX9 1HX,United Kingdom

    ABSTRACT Ways of improving the efficacy of present methods of relating theory and practicein the education of teachers are considered. It is argued that: (1) insufficient attention has beenpaid to the methods of uncovering personal theories; (2) personal theories are often expressed inimages and metaphors; and (3) the interlocking of personal and public theory can usefully beunderstood as the interaction of different levels of reflection. Five levels of reflection areidentified and are then used to argue, further, that: (4) different language is appropriate todifferent levels of reflection; and (5) each practitioner should be able to work at each level.

    1. THEORY IN TEACHER EDUCATION AND REFLECTIVE PRACTICE

    Criticisms that teacher education is too theoretical have appeared in a steady flow inrecent years, both in the United Kingdom and in much of the rest of the Englishspeaking world, for instance, the USA, Australia and New Zealand. As Education(15 February 1991) pointed out, "The new Secretary of State [in Britain] and hisjunior ministers believe they have detected the source of most of the strange andsilly ideas in educationin the colleges of education... [They believe] traineeteachers could learn on the job under the tutelage of mentors without the risk ofinfection by dotty ideas and fancy theories" (p. 128). On 18 March 1991 theIndependent reported: "The Prime Minister believes that too much time is spent byteachers on Bachelor of Education courses studying the theory without putting theexperience into practice". In the USA the Holmes group has come into beingprecisely to defend teacher education from equivalent views there (Devaney, 1990).

    Much of this criticism is incoherent: teacher education is attacked because it isover-full of theory in contrast with the down-to-earth practice and sound commonsense of teachers. For instance, in the Guardian (19 March 1991), O'Hear argued:

    Who better to induct a newcomer into teaching: a theorist who believesthat, left to themselves in a sensitive and nourishing atmosphere, childrenwill naturally learn for themselves; or an experienced professional teacherwho realises the difficulties with so-called open approaches to learning?

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  • 70 M. Griffiths & S. Tann

    Yet it is the same set of critics who make pronouncements that the 'barmy' theoriesof teachers (about reading methods, for instance, or, in the case of O'Hear,antiracism), need to be thrown out and replaced by sound ones. For example, theEconomist (23 February 1991) comments approvingly that the "new curriculum willbring a little rigour into the soppy world of sand pits and colouring books. For toolong, over-indulgent teachers have churned out children for whom reading is achallenge and writing a mystery".

    There is nothing wrong with sound common senseit is, after all, the stuff ofpersonal theoriesbut it can operate in 'barmy' ways if it is not rigorouslyexamined. The question raised is not, therefore, one of good common sense or badtheories. Rather, it should be how much rigour we apply to both our practice and thetheories which underpin it. It would seem that it is not theory itself that is beingchallenged, but the nature and 'soundness' of the espoused theory which is beingquestioned.

    The force of the attacks depends on the assumption that there is a clear dividebetween 'theory' and 'practice'. In effect, policy-makers are reactivating an olddebate, on the relation between theoretical and practical reason. The question iscrucial to any practical enterprise, and has been debated down the centuries. Therehave been those who have argued that both theorising and practical action can carryon independently of the other. There have been others who reply that the mutualindependence of theory and practice is impossible to sustain since each dependscrucially on the other. Education is like any other practical enterprise in this respect.Mutual suspicion between those who think of themselves as theorists and those whothink of themselves as practitioners appears, dissolves, and reappears in a range ofother practices besides education: business management, nursing, town planning,architecture, and social policy are examples. For instance Woodcock (1991) com-ments:

    The argument over whether the courses offered at such academic institu-tions [business schools] are too theoretical and irrelevant to companies andthe business of managing at work shows no sign of abating. 'Goodmanagers are made at work not in business schools and the only forum formanagement learning is the organisation in which they work', says Dr IanCunningham.

    A radical answer to the question of the theory/practice distinction has becomepopular recently. Writers such as Carr (1986), Carr & Kemmis (1986) and Schon(1983, 1987), and Elliott (1987, 1989) (also see Dearden, 1984, for a discussion ofthe position) argue that all action is an expression of theory (albeit, highly personaland implicit theory). It is an argument which owes much to Dewey on the one hand,and to the recent tradition of critical theory on the other, and it also draws on thework of Aristotle on practical reason (Carr & Kemmis, 1986; Griffiths, 1987;Ashcroft & Griffiths, 1989).

    This paper argues that the assumed divide between theory and practice is false.We consider that the gap between theory and practice is better construed as amismatch between the observer's theory and the practitioner's own theory. Or to

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  • Reflective Practice 71

    put it another way, what we still tend to label as 'theory' and 'practice' are moreaccurately seen as 'public' and 'personal' theories. Such a view has importantconsequences. Our argument is that we should value practitioners' personal theoriesand encourage them to make explicit their tacit theory to help them theorise fromtheir practice, at a number of different levels of reflection. We argue that this can befacilitated through a variety of media (e.g. plain words, video, metaphor). Personaltheories need to be revealed (at different levels) so that they can be scrutinised,challenged, compared to public theories, and then confirmed or reconstructed.'Personal' and 'public' theories need to be viewed as living, intertwining tendrils ofknowledge which grow from and feed into practice.

    Such a perspective on theory has profound implications for teacher education.The view that all practice is an expression of personal theory underpins theapproach often referred to as 'the reflective teacher' or 'the reflective practitioner'model (e.g. see Zeichner et al., 1987, p. 22; McCutcheon & Jung, 1990, p. 144). (Itshould be noted that the word 'reflective' is over-used in teacher education, and nowsometimes simply means 'thinking' and sometimes has one of range of technicalmeanings.) Central to the spirit of reflective practice is reflection on the personaland professional concerns of the individual student teacher. The reflective practi-tioner reflects on his or her own practice. The theories which are used are taken onwholeheartedly, and criticised open-mindedly.

    We ourselves are committed to reflective practice as a way of working in allsectors of education, including schools and teacher education. We have spent 5 yearsas part of a team developing teacher education coursesboth in-service and pre-servicebased on a model of the 'reflective practitioner' (Isaac & Ashcroft, 1986;Ashcroft, 1987; Pollard & Tann, 1987; Ashcroft & Tann, 1988; Griffiths & Tann,1991). Theories which we presented to the students, or which they discovered forthemselves through library research, were to be tested against their own experienceand assessed against their own professional values. In other words, they wereexpected to build and refine their personal theories of action.

    We were in no doubt that our courses were a substantial improvement on moretraditional ones (Griffiths, 1985; Catling, 1990). However, the suspicion grew thatthe improvement might be less 'reflective' than we had hoped. Certainly, methodsused in the courses appeared to be so. Action research methods were built into theSchool Experience of the students, and into the assessment of serving teachersstudying for Diplomas or Masters' qualifications. Students kept journals. The tutorsmonitored the way they supervised students on school experience. Large files ofobservational data, accompanied by analysis and copious commentaries, were gener-ated both by the students and by the tutors. The doubt was whether these piles ofdocuments constituted 'reflection', or whether the new rhetoric we used was in factunrelated to the improvements we had witnessed.

    These doubts led to our looking for evidence about whether our students wereeither building or refining their own personal theories. The results were notreassuring. For example, an exercise was given to pre-service students as part of thecourse in which they were required to work together on a cross-curriculum topic inschool, 1 day a week for 5 weeks. They were asked to evaluate their sessions, and to

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  • 72 M. Griffiths & S. Tann

    explain not only what they chose to do, and whether it was done, but also why theychose to do it. Overwhelmingly, evaluations were in terms of whether children hadenjoyed the session, co-operated, could accomplish the activity and if it 'went well'.Even when they were asked to focus on the assumptions and theories behind theseevaluations they found it next to impossible to examine, for instance, the signifi-cance of 'enjoyment' or 'accomplishment' in theories of motivation or learning.Further, 'went well' seemed to encode a dual notion of the children's happiness, andteacher's control. Apparently quite hidden from the students were the theoreticaldilemmas such a duality presents to the child-centredness most of the studentsapparently avow. The pre-service students were not alone in finding it difficult towork on their own personal theories. The action research carried out by experiencedteachers on various courses demonstrated the same concern with practical detailsand smoothly running classrooms, and the same difficulty in noticing how educa-tional theory impinged on their day-to-day practice as teachers. Moreover, it onlyrarely called basic professional values into question, or raised questions of hiddenassumptions behind ways of working (Griffiths & Tann, 1991).

    Such findings are similar to those which Goodman (1984) found in her analysisof seminars which were intended to encourage students to reflect upon theirpractice. In fact discussions focused on 'what worked' and how to handle specificproblems which had arisen. The criteria of what worked were never articulated orchallenged, nor was the 'problem' ever questioned as to why a student found itproblematic. Further, this approach is confirmed by Fuller & Brown (in Zeichner &Teitelbaum, 1982), who report that students were primarily survival or self-orientated and hence were very instrumental in their level of concerns.

    We have said that reflection relies on an ability to uncover one's own personaltheories and make them explicit. Yet there are serious doubts about the extent towhich this is happening in the courses as they are presently taught.

    The following sections discuss alternative media through which practitionerscan be encouraged to reflect upon their practice, and different levels of reflection atwhich practitioners can be supported in their theorising.

    2. PERSONAL THEORIES AND REFLECTIVE PRACTICE

    The model of reflective practice is underpinned by the argument that professionaldevelopment requires reflection on personal theories, as we have said. Yet thedifficulties attendant on discovering personal theories are rarely given more thanscant attention.

    The lack of attention given to the uncovering of personal theories contrastswith the relatively large quantities of notice given to the various elements ofreflective methodology, the journal writing or of the action-research cycle. There isplenty of advice and academic discussion on the eleme...

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