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Record number 11315
Title Teaching as acting : a reconstructive study of an action theoretical approach to research and development in the domain of teaching = Onderwijzen als handelen : een reconstructieve studie van een handelingstheoretische benadering van onderzoek en ontwikkeling in het domein van het onderwijzen
Author(s) Beijaard, D.
Source Agricultural University. Promotor(en): J. van Bergeijk; J.J. Peters. - S.l. : Beijaard - ISBN 9789071234156 - 287
Department(s) Education and Learning Sciences
Publication type Dissertation, internally prepared
Publication year 1990
Keyword(s) onderwijzen - lerarenopleidingen - teaching - educational courses
Categories Education Personnel

The introduction of this study describes five developments regarding research and development in the domain of teaching. These developments are closely connected with the desire to bridge the gap between the theory and the practice of teaching. Successively, attention is paid to: (1) changes in research on teaching, (2) the impact of research results on the teaching practice, (3) methodological consequences for educational research in general, (4) developments in perspectives concerning teacher education and (5) developments in perspectives concerning teaching.

The general introduction anticipates an action theoretical approach to teaching, which underlied a previously executed research and development project that concerned practical teaching by instructors of the eleven Dutch centres for practical agricultural education. This project ran from August 1984 until August 1987. The research was directed towards practical teaching by instructors. A didactical in-service programme has since been developed for these instructors, based partly on the research results.

The aim of the present study is twofold. on the one hand a description is given of the project mentioned above, on the other the most important starting-points and key-concepts that underlied the project are submitted to a reconstruction. Through reconstruction it is attempted to realize a theoretical surplus value and, consequently, to contribute to the consolidation of an action theoretical paradigm regarding research and development in the domain of teaching.

Part I

The first part encompasses the theoretical and methodological framework of this study and consists of two chapters. In chapter one the aforementioned project is placed within the scope of the development of an action theoretical approach to teaching. It is argued that the development of such an approach is based on replication and continuity and takes place in the context of a research programme. The desire to bridge the gap between theory and practice is attached to this approach. In connection with this it is relevant to obtain (more) knowledge of teaching as a complex activity. It is tried to achieve this through an integrative study of (external) observable teaching. of cognitive processes underlying this teaching, including the conative elements which play a part, and of the contextual influences involved.

The aforementioned project encompassed the following phases: (1) a preparatory study of the Dutch centres for practical education in agriculture, (2) research on practical teaching by instructors, (3) research on student perceptions of this type of education and (4) the development of an in- service programme. These phases are briefly described in chapter one. In this study the reconstruction concerns the research on practical teaching and the developed in-service programme.

In this study reconstruction is seen as a theoretical reflection on' or an 'interpretative evaluation of'. A distinction is made between different levels of scientific activity in order to clarify what exactly is being dealt with. The reconstructive activity takes place at paradigmatic level, that is to say the level of a research programme. At this level the relationship between theory (action theoretical assumptions, including methodological rules for the designing and the execution of empirical research) and the domain (teaching) is emphasized. This relationship forms the object of reconstruction. on the basis of the previously executed project this relationship is the object of reflection from an action theoretical point of view.

The above-mentioned relationship is emphasized in chapter 2. Prior to giving concrete form to this relationship, attention is paid to some general aspects of the concept action. Literature about this concept demonstrates that it is used plurally. Partly because of this, the following is presupposed with regard to the concept action:
- it is based on a vision of man as an ethically, as well as intellectually, competent and active being; social science ought, along with and in coherence with the acquisition of knowledge, to serve this vision;
- an action is a configuration of intentionality, reflexivity and relationship with a context, whereby a subject is presupposed.

These notions formed the basis for the further development of starting- points and key-concepts at paradigmatic level.

In chapter 2 the following five starting-points are described with regard to the domain of teaching:
- intentionality and complexity interplay; intentionality refers to a teacher's cognitive and conative directedness towards his task and task environment; complexity has a bearing on characteristics of the task environment and on a teacher's personality aspects;
- in teaching the following action phases can be distinguished: planning execution and reflection; these three phases can be studied and analysed in conformity with the orientating, executing and controlling functions of an action;
- teaching is an activity whereby at least two people are involved, i.e. the teacher and the student; teacher actions are for an important part determined by student actions and reversed;
- learning to teach takes place on the basis of an exchange between objective and subjective theory; this point of view has the following consequences: (1) teachers should be 'educated' rather than 'trained' and (2) the transmission of knowledge and (learning) to reflect are automatically not compatible;
- by preference research on teaching is practice -oriented, that is to say theory-committed research which is practically relevant and also contributes to the development of objective theory; theory has a search-light function: it guides the collection of data and helps with their analysis and interpretation; in addition, the research design has to be in conformity with the complexity of the situation in practice (ecological validity), to be directed towards a diagnosis of this situation and to emphasize the study of cognitive representations.

The reconstruction focuses on these five starting-points and the key- concepts belonging to them. In connection with this it is attempted to answer the following three questions: To what extent may teaching be understood from an action theoretical perspective? In which way is it possible to give researchbased suggestions for the augmentation of teachers' rationality or professional competency? To what extent is understanding through interpretation an adequate way to approach the complexity of teaching?

Part II

The second part of this study describes in four chapters the design and the execution of the research and development project mentioned above. Chapter 3 deals with theoretical insights (interpretation theories) which have been important for the definite design of the research on teaching by instructors in the centres for practical agricultural education. This chapter starts with an outline of the historical aspect of this part of the project.

Firstly, an overview is given of research on teaching in terms of research programmes related to scientific traditions. Much attention is paid then to recent research on teacher thinking. Arguments are given for the incorporation of this type of research in a broader, more encompassing conception. Action theoretical research is introduced as an appropriate alternative.

Secondly, the concept of action is further explored. For this a brief study has been undertaken of insights as developed by the hermeneutic ('geisteswissenschaftliche') tradition and of two anthropological views on learning, respectively the work of H. Roth and the Russian psychology of learning.

Thirdly, attention is paid to important general didactical theories and models. In connection with this German literature is referred to in particular, as the Dutch didactical theories and models show interfaces with this literature. Special attention is paid to the significance of these theories and models in relationship to educational practice.

Fourthly, the emphasis is placed on the (continuing) discrepancy between the theory and the practice of teaching. Several causes for this discrepancy are described and perspectives are offered for the solution of this problem, including teaching based on 'recipes' and 'everyday didactics'. Both perspectives are discussed and provided with comments. Teaching as a special form of acting is seen as an appropriate alternative. Reflection as an educational principle and the didactical arrangement of this principle form an important part of the interpretation of teaching as a form of acting.

After this historical section a further explanation is given of the way the action theoretical principle of holism has been shaped. For this system theoretical insights have been tentatively used, which enable one to reduce the complex reality to a surveyable structure. Combined with results of the preliminary investigation these insights have led to a heuristic model for research on teaching by instructors. As regards content, this model has been constructed by making use of the didactical theory of Heimann and Schulz, supplemented with insights from the so- called critical didactics'. To this model, which is primarily a structure model, a process model has been added which separates teaching into planning, execution and reflection phases. This process model consists of points of attention for research mainly derived from recent research on teaching.

In chapter 4 the research on teaching by instructors and the research on student perceptions are illustrated. The underlying starting-points of these investigations are described in chapter 2.

The research on teaching by instructors (n=29) tried to answer questions concerning:
- features of the instructors' task environment and the influence of these features on their teaching;
- features of the involved centres for practical agricultural education in general and of teaching practical lessons in particular;
- the nature of instructors' subjective theories which are accessible through reflections;
- suggestions for the development of an in-service programme with reference to the research on the above-mentioned aspects.

A combination of research methods and techniques has been used to collect data, namely: structured open interviews, observations, context- embedded retrospective interviews and logbooks. The processing of data took place in phases: raw data were successively segmented into protocols, systematized with the help of schemes, and interpreted. The processing of data was characterized by reduction and thick description. A summary of research results is restricted in chapter 4 to a presentation of relevant task environmental features and their influence on teaching, to teaching itself and, derived from that, to features of practical agricultural education within the centres involved. The nature of reflections of the instructors involved and the in-service programme developed are reported in chapter 5.

The research on perceptions of students (n=381) should be seen as complementary to the research on teaching by instructors. For this a model was developed from an action theoretical perspective. Based on this model it was attempted to gain insight into:
- the way in which students from senior secondary and higher agricultural schools perceive the teaching and learning situation;
- the coherence between the conditions, the teaching and learning situation and the learning effects of practical agricultural education in the centres involved.

The collection of data took place by using a prestructured and closed questionnaire, consisting of items to be judged by students on a five- point scale. The processing of the data occurred per item as well as per cluster of items. Among other things, the results led to a completion, sharpening and correction of previously gained insights from the research on teaching by instructors.

The nature and content of instructor reflections are considered in more detail in chapter 5. For the analysis of reflection as a phase of teaching a distinction is made between empiric- theoretical reflections on the one hand and normative- theoretical reflections on the other. The former reflections are reflections concerning what went well and what did not go well during the lessons given. Reflections concerning 'what went well' predominantly seem to be of a concrete nature and are directly related to the lessons given. On the other hand, reflections concerning 'what did not go well' frequently seem to exceed the concrete lessons situation.

Empiric-theoretical reflections are formulated in general as well as in specific terms. Generally speaking, empiric-theoretical reflections mostly contain indications about why something did or did not go well.

Normative -theoretical reflections are reflections concerning desired changes. They refer to goals or future images which sometimes lead to adjustments of lessons. The task environment seems to be an important factor in lessons not being adjusted.

Next an analysis of reflection as a source of information (for the investigator) takes place. In this sense reflection refers to underlying reasons or motives of teachers' actions. Subjective or practical theories are distinguished which (1) are abstract and general, (2) represent the 'model-like middle' or blueprints for acting and (3) are specific and close to action. These three-parts ideally form a cognitive structure in which subjective theories are ordered sequentially and hierarchically. Their coherence can be regulative ('top down') as well as constitutive ('bottom up'). Among other things, inconsistencies within this coherence are seemingly caused by an insufficient empirical basis of subjective theories or by subjective theories which are insufficiently thought out from an objective theoretical perspective. It has also become clear that only a few instructors who were involved in the investigation, possess general and abstract theories about teaching and learning. Partly through that it seems that 'model-like thinking' is of an intuitive nature with many instructors; proportionally many instructors act according to didactical principles, rules of thumb or recipes gained in a nonautonomous way or by tradition. These and other findings, including the fact that many instructors did not follow any teacher education, need not necessarily be connected with 'bad' teaching. Due to inconsistencies in the cognitive structure, however, teaching more often appears to be inadequate or to result in unintended effects.

Conclusions like those mentioned above contain important suggestions for the development of a didactical in-service programme, which had to be directed towards enhancing the action competency and to breaking through existing routines. Chapter 5 describes the action theoretical concepts that helped develop this programme. It is essential that this programme meets the criteria of ecological relevance and theoretical reference. The former criterion implies that the programme has to be closely related to the members' own teaching situation. The second criterion refers to the insertion of objective theory in the programme. This objective theory has a bearing upon the 'model-like' middle to give concrete form to acting and upon more general theories of teaching and learning to enable one to legitimate choices made.

Chapter 5 ends with some problems and perspectives regarding research on teacher reflections. Attention is successively paid to (1) the diagnosis of reflections, (2) the relationship between motives and reflections, (3) the differences between people in their ability to stand back when necessary and to look at their everyday reality with some distance, and (4) the use of metaphors by teachers. It is stated that these four problems and perspectives contain relevant implications for current research on teaching.

Chapter 6 deals with methodological and methodical aspects of the research on teaching by instructors. In the first place a description is given of how the informants experienced their participation in the investigation. They generally found their participation positive, pleasant and instructive. None of them seems to have held back information consciously; some instructors emphatically said that they talked about things which they are usually reluctant to discuss. They did so, because they did not want to detract from the quality of the investigation. None of the Informants experienced the observation of a practical lesson as really disturbing: generally instructors as well as students acted as they do normally. This was not the case, however, for logbook keeping. Memories of later lessons appeared to interfere with those of prior lessons. It also became clear that it was not always easy to write down experiences briefly. For many instructors the logbook turned out to be a source of developing awareness and a source of change. Most instructors felt positively about some prestructuring of the logbook in advance.

The research strategy followed implied numerous considerations and choices in connection with the objectivity, reliability and validity of research results. Objectivity is seen in the research on teaching by instructors as disciplined subjectivity and scientific honesty. In this sense and combined with notions of interpretative research, much value is attached to the objective status of theory.

As concerns reliability a distinction is made between internal and external reliability. Several procedures were carried out in each case. The same applies to the internal and external validity of the research results. In general it can be concluded that there are no indications for any doubt about the reliability and validity of the research results; from the perspective of interpretative research and the starting-points as described in chapter 2 there is talk of reliable and valid research results.

Further attention is paid to some methodological issues in chapter 6, namely: the status of the actor's point of view in relation to the importance of doing research on practical theories, the asking of 'why- questions' for gaining insight into informants' motives or reasons and the role of the investigator in interpretative research based on action theoretical starting-points.

Part III

The third part of this study consists of chapter 7, in which proposals are made for an improved action theoretical paradigm regarding research and development in the domain of teaching. First of all, however, the questions formulated in chapter 2 are answered, not in the sense of right or wrong but in an interpretative-evaluative sense.

With respect to the first question, which concerns the suitability of action theory for research on teaching, it can be concluded that this theory has a valuable heuristic function for attempts to understand and describe the complexity of teaching. Among other things, the surplus value of using action theory in the domain of teaching has a bearing upon the teacher's role in the investigation, the process of teaching, how this process can be learned in connection with demands concerning reflection and professional growth.

With respect to the second question, which concerns the relationship between research and development in the domain of teaching, it is stated that the 'voice of the practician' is, under certain conditions, essential in contributing to bridging the gap between theory and practice. For this purpose it is found relevant that research is practice-oriented with an innovationtheoretical perspective.

With respect to the third question, which concerns understanding the complexity of teaching through interpretation, special attention is paid to practical theories in connection with the relevance for practice of the research results in question. It is also pointed out that a scientific detour' is necessary in order to help practice in an accountable way; in connection with this similarities and differences between the investigator's and the actor's perspectives play an important part. Due to the complexity of the phenomenon involved, preference is given to intensive rather than extensive approaches regarding research on teaching.

The remaining part of chapter 7 deals with perspectives with reference to problems which became visible during the reconstructive study. Attention is paid particularly to the relationship between the cognitive and motivational side of intentionality and to action theoretical concepts connected with a concrete perspective of learning to teach. Related to the in-service programme developed it is also emphasized that the innovation- theoretical perspective should be seen explicitly in the context of the course-members' school. In eventual further projects and in line with the development of a research programme these perspectives, including the importance of in-depth research, need to be elaborated in more detail.

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