Saturday, November 26, 2011

Relationships of knowledge and Practice: Teacher learning in communities

Cochran-Smith, M., & Lytle, S. L. (1999). Relationships of Knowledge and Practice: Teacher Learning in Communities. Review of Research in Education, 24, 249-305.

In this article Cochran-Smith and Lytle examine the assumption that often guides teacher learning, 'teachers who know more teach better'. But what exactly does knowing more mean? What is teaching better? What do policies that tout this assumption actually mean? The paper breaks down this assumption into three conceptions for teacher learning:
  • Knowledge for practice
  • Knowledge in practice
  • Knowledge of practice
Knowledge for practice is theoretical knowledge is that already known by someone else outside of the classroom. This theory is what is important for teachers to know and teachers are expected to learn this knowledge and apply it. Teachers are receivers of knowledge.

Knowledge in practice is that knowledge held by expert teachers in their everyday practice. Teachers can learn from these experts and adapt their practices. In this conception the teachers are generators of knowledge and receivers of knowledge.

These two conceptions support the assumption of teachers knowing more by being receivers of knowledge from theorists or expert practitioners. The third conception turns things around by positioning teachers as creators of knowledge and architects of transformative change. 

Knowledge of practice stands outside the dichotomy of knowledge as theory or knowledge as practice. In this conception "Teachers learn when they generate local knowledge of practice by working within the contexts of inquiry communities to theorize and construct their work and to connect it to larger, cultural, and political issues" (p250). Knowledge of practice is a life long learning pursuit and is conducted by teachers working together across the span of novice and expert, and working alongside students, teachers and community. This knowledge is transformative and provides more than findings, it provides change.

You can see these three conceptions reflected in different policies for teacher education, both past and present. Knowledge of Practice for me stands out as being really closely related to the NZ Curriculum Teaching as Inquiry process.

My purpose for reading this paper was to see where I thought the digital stories on NZC Online were situated. I can see that these stories fit really nicely within the knowledge of practice conception. The stories themselves allow teachers to share what they are doing in their classrooms. These stories are not expert teachers presenting theoretical concepts, they are real people doing real things and discussing the challenges and successes they face. When speaking to the teachers who make these stories, they explained to me how the process was like an inquiry cycle for them. The actual process allowed them to look at where they had been, where they were now, and where to next. And they carried out this reflective cycle as a whole school listening to each other's accounts of the same experience. They also explained that as a result of undertaking the inquiry cycle they had made plans for further changes.

By providing their stories for others to interact with these schools and teachers are "playing a critical role in generating knowledge of practice by making their classrooms and schools sites for inquiry, connecting their work in schools to larger issues, and taking a critical perspective on the theory and research of others' (p273). 

From my inquiries with educators who use these stories, many use them to stimulate discussions amongst their staff and learning networks and debate how the ideas in the stories would translate to their particular contexts. "Teacher networks, inquiry communities, and other school-based collectives in which teachers and others conjoin their efforts to construct knowledge are the major contexts for teacher learning in this conception" (273).

Here is the latest story from NZC Online: