Reflective Practice: its implications for classroom, administration and research. Prof. Donald A. Schön - PDF

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Reflective Practice: its implications for classroom, administration and research Prof. Donald A. Schön A public lecture given for the Dept. of Language, Literacy & Arts Education The University of Melbourne

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Reflective Practice: its implications for classroom, administration and research Prof. Donald A. Schön A public lecture given for the Dept. of Language, Literacy & Arts Education The University of Melbourne 28 September, 1995 Donald A. Schön This edited transcription of the lecture Reflective Practice: its implications for classroom, administration and research, and the questions and responses which followed, has been compiled by Jane Orton to mark the tenth anniversary of Donald Schön's visit to the University of Melbourne in September, 1995, where he gave the talk as a public lecture, and conducted two days of workshops in the Department of Language, Literacy & Arts Education. Reproduced with permission of Donald A. Schön Donald A. Schön & The University of Melbourne Parkville 3010 Australia. Reflective Practice: its implications for classroom, administration and research I am delighted to be here in Melbourne, at this University and in this Department. What I want to discuss is the idea of reflective practice in teaching, and secondarily in administration, and in the classroom. I want to begin with the idea, which was really put forward by a wonderful philosopher of education named David Hawkins (1974), that teaching should be understood as a dialogue of I, Thou and It. I the teacher, Thou the student, and It the subject matter. In order to think about that dialogue I need to think about the student's conversation with the material, the student's attempt to learn about the material, to make sense of it; the teacher's attempt to make sense of the student's understanding of the material, and, incidentally, the teachers' understanding of the material itself. And all of this taking place within the framework of an institution, the school. Now I am going to talk about some features of reflective practice in the classroom, and one of these I need to get at by telling you a story. The story comes from what was called The Teacher Project, which was run in Cambridge, Massachusetts by two colleagues of mine, Jeanne Bamberger and Eleanor Duckworth. And they worked with some seven teachers from elementary schools in Cambridge over a period of a couple of years. And then a smaller group of teachers continued with Eleanor. They called themselves The Moon Group, because they were interested in the behaviour of the moon; and they worked for some seven years. But the story I am going to tell you took place within the first few months. The teachers were watching a video tape. And they were watching a video tape of two boys and between the two boys there was an opaque panel and they couldn't see through it, but the video tape was placed above and both of them had bunches of patterns blocks are these familiar in Australia? They're, you know, flat sorts of blocks of different geometric shapes and colours. And one of the boys had in front of him a pattern and the other just had a bunch of blocks. And the first boy, Johnny, was trying to give directions to the second boy about how to put together that pattern. And Johnny began to give directions and the teachers watched that tape as the second boy began to try to put together the pattern that Johnny was describing. And at a certain point, the second boy seemed to go astray and had difficulty. And the teachers said things like, 'He seems to have a hard time following directions. And then they said, He seems to lack certain basic skills. And then they said, Perhaps he is a slow learner. And then one of the teachers said, Wait a minute. I think the first boy gave a direction that was impossible to follow. He said, Put down an orange triangle', but there were no orange triangles, there were only orange squares and all the triangles were green. Now you can do this with a video tape they backed up the video tape. And they looked now at what had happened and, sure enough, he'd said, 'Put down an orange triangle' when there were no orange triangles. And then the whole process looked very different to them. And they said, This second boy is really a virtuoso in following directions. He was able to take this nonsensical direction and make something sensible out of it. How wonderful!' And when they thought back on that process, one of the teachers said, We gave the kid reason. And that phrase, 'we gave him reason', became a slogan that lasted for the rest of their work together. And it had to do with this notion of assuming that what the kid was doing made sense, and trying to discover what the sense was. And I believe that's a very powerful shift of attention really turning things upside down. Because if you assume that the kid is making sense, even when he seems to you to be saying something puzzling and curious, then you must turn yourself into a kind of researcher; you have to become interested in discovering what is the sense he is making. And it becomes your problem as a teacher to find that out. So this becomes an example of what I call reflection-in-action. That teaching is a form of reflectionin-action when it is good. The teacher seeks to discover the meaning of what the kid says, and conducts a kind of on-the-spot experimentation when she's puzzled. In this case the experimentation was turning the tape back and testing her hypothesis that an impossible direction had been given. The moments of reflection-in-action run something like this: First, spontaneous routine activity that exhibits what I would call, following Michael Polanyi (1969), 'passive knowing': knowing-in-action. And then a surprise. And I think surprise is of the essence. It is through surprise, that we come to generate new forms of understanding. The surprise interrupts the routine, spontaneous activity. And then in response to surprise, the inquirer reflects both on the surprising phenomenon and on how she has been thinking about it. Thus thought turns back on itself and on the phenomenon being thought about. And one then restructures how one was thinking about this phenomenon. As the teachers restructured their understanding of what the two boys were doing - and especially the second boy's intelligence, or slowness, or virtuoso capability - and then seeks to act on that new understanding. And in turn, reflects on the results of that new action. These are idealised moments. The whole process can go very quickly, and I might add, can take place without words. I find that in my life and I started to write about this work in about 1975 so it is the 20 - year birthday of this work that I am celebrating in Melbourne that in my writing, the word reflection has been troublesome, because it suggests what Hannah Arendt (1971) calls a stop-and- think , which takes place in the medium of words. It is a kind of intellectual exercise. But the reflection-in-action following the process that I just described, can happen very quickly, in an action present. It is, for example, the kind of thing a good jazz musician does at a jazz session. Improvising, listening to how the other musicians are playing a melody, playing it differently because of what I hear you doing, and revising again as I hear your response to me. It also is what we do in conversation. Conversation is an interesting thing, considering that we do it all the time. A bad conversation can be very boring. There was in the United States years ago a record which was called The Babbitt and the Bromide. The Babbitt says: Hi there. The Bromide says: Morning. The Babbitt says: How's the wife? Just fine. How're the kids? Just great. How's the bus? Not bad. See you later. Right. This is utterly boring, utterly predictable conversation. But, if conversation were completely surprising, it would be like an Ionesco play, it would be insanity. So a good conversation lies somewhere between boredom and insanity. And in that zone between boredom and insanity, within a broad framework of shared understanding - like the jazz musician's understanding of meter, harmonic progression and melody, because they know the tunes - comes surprise. And in response to surprise, one improvises, and others do the same. And that reciprocal process of improvisation is what I call reflection-in-action. And we are all good at it. And we are almost entirely incapable of describing it. But our ability to describe it depends upon our being able to observe what we do and to record our observation you have to hang on to it, because you need to be able to look back on it. And we have the ability also, to reflect on our reflection-in-action. That sounds like a fancy phrase but it is very much like what a basketball player does on Sunday morning as he watches the video tape of the game that he played on Saturday night. And he says, to himself, 'My god! How did I let that guard get around me each time? And says, 'Oh, I can see what happened. I waited a second too long. I have to get in there faster.' This he does in words reflection on reflection-in-action takes place in words. Reflection in action, like the teachers' remaking of their understanding of the second boy in my example, may take place in words, but it may not. And another thing about this process of reflection-in-action is that it not only applies knowledge, but generates knowledge. And I am very struck by the proposition that practitioners, when they're competent, are not only appliers of knowledge generated in the Academy, but they're generators of knowledge, which shows up in their own practice. And which, again, they may or may not be able to describe. But can describe, I argue, when they observe their own activity recorded and reflect upon it. Another feature of teaching as Reflective Practice, but very much a piece of this business of giving kids reason, has to do with the phenomenon of multiple representations: that there are different forms of representation and that there are different forms of knowledge and that a teacher is dealing continually with a question of epistemology, that is to say, with knowledge, the nature of knowledge: what counts as knowledge and how one justifies knowledge; and specifically, with a form of knowing which I am going to call figural understandings one might also call them 'situational understandings' as distinct from the formal understandings that are practiced in school and valued in school - not to mention the university and which I would describe as school knowledge. And I am going to illustrate that with a story. This seems to be a lecture about stories. But I like stories. This one comes from the Russian psychologist, Luria, who was a student of Vygotsky. And Luria, shortly after the Communist revolution,would go down to the collective farms and talk to the peasants and he would show them a bunch of objects, and he would say, Put together the things that go together . And at one time he showed the peasants an axe, a saw, a hammer, and a log. And he said, Put together the things that go together. And the peasant said, That's easy. I'll put together the axe and the saw and the log, because I can use the axe or the saw to cut the log to make firewood. And Luria said, I have a friend and that was one of his tricks, to say, 'I have a friend' who says that one could put together put the hammer and the saw and the axe, because they are all tools. And the peasant looked puzzled. and then he said, He sure must have a lot of firewood . So the peasant's understanding of how these elements go together has to do with how they operate within the situation. The friend's understanding has to do with their falling under a class, which is really defined in Aristotelian terms, that is to say, the members of the class possess all and only the same properties: the situational understanding; the categorical or formal understanding. Kids, like all of us in our everyday life, operate primarily on the basis of situational, or I'll call them figural understandings. School prizes and gives privilege to formal understandings, categorical understandings. And as a consequence there's a leap between the spontaneous understandings that a kid brings to school and the formal understandings which he is asked to learn at school Another example of the same sort of thing. A teacher sent young children they were seven years old - out into the school to measure tree trunks. And she gave them string; and the idea was that you looped the string around the tree trunk and then you came back and you hung the string on the wall and you compared the length of the strings. And one little girl went out and measured the tree trunk and then hung the loop on the wall. For her, that's what it was, it was a loop. And if you substituted the straight string for the loop, you were making it into something else. It could be understood only as a loop. Another exercise that the same teacher carried out was to get the children to make a graph in which they took the days of the week Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday and graphed them against the numbers, the dates, and one student refused to do it. He said Thursday and Sunday are not countable. I think it's shocking, isn't it, that the kinds of understanding that we value within the setting of the school are those understandings which require us to abstract from the actual experience of events. So what becomes important is the name of the day, and it's placed within a sequence. Not the quality of the day, not what happens in the day, not the feeling of the day, not the perceived psychological time of the day, but the name of the day and its order in the sequence which we call the days of the week. A very interesting cognitive psychologist called Sylvia Scribner did a study of milkmen and how they filled orders for different kinds of milk white milk and chocolate milk and so on; and she organised a beautiful study in which she videotaped the milkmen filling orders. A nd she discovered that the old-time milkmen filled orders much faster and much more accurately than the young kids. She found that the young kids were calculating the orders using arithmetic. But what the milkmen were doing, the old timers was, they used the box as a thing to think with. So they could see the box and they could see that - there were twelve units in every box and they could see that there was one missing, so then they knew there were eleven. They could recognise when they saw half a box, they could recognize when they saw a quarter of a box. The patterns of the box became the elements of calculation. And when they were asked to add up numbers, they were not able to do it with anything like the same speed. Things to think with, objects that become holding environments for knowledge, where one recognises the patterns of the object and those patterns become the basis of our understandings. School knowledge is formal, categorical and also molecular in the sense that it is formulated in terms of building up more complex from simpler units. Situational or figural knowledge is relational, it depends on relation to events; it's drawn from the felt path of experience: next, next, next. And it is phenomenological, it has to do with the feeling of experience. Another story that illustrates the same property I draw from this same teacher project. My colleague Jeanne Bamberger was having the teachers go through the process of drawing a tune out of Montessori bells. Have you ever seen Montessori bells? They look like little mushrooms. The bell is like this, it sits on a stick and they are all the same, just that they make different sounds. And the teachers watched again a video tape of children building Twinkle Twinkle Little Star out of Monetessori bells. And what they saw them do, shocked them, because the child would take one bell, which it thought of as the starting bell - bombom; -and then it would search for another bell, that went next: [one note higher] bombom. So bombom, bombom, bombom,, bombom and then it would place that bell next to the first bell, and then they would start all over again; bombom bombom; and then it would go in search again for the next bell: bombom, bombom bombom, then search again: bombom, bombom, bombom, bom, and put it down - and so on until they had built the whole tune. And the teachers said, These kids don't have basic musical skills. They're lacking their basic skills. And Jeanne asked them, Well what are the basic skills? And they said, Well, the ability to know what a C is and what an A is and what a G is - to know what it sounds like. And Jeanne then asked the teachers to sing the note that followed bombom, bombom bombom bom What's the next sound? And they couldn't do it. The only way they could do it was by starting at the beginning, the way I just did: data data data daa 'bombom. But they couldn't identify the bombom until they'd gone through the pattern that led them to that point. Because the understanding of the tune is relational. One doesn't have atomic knowledge of individual pitches, one has knowledge of relationships of pitches. and so the teachers were forced to the very uncomfortable conclusion that they lacked basic musical skills! But you see, isn't it amazing, that teachers would find themselves in the strange position of teaching their subject in a form in which they don't understand the subject. And I would argue and those of you who are teachers, I hope you will have an opportunity to come back at me on this I would argue that this is what our schooling does, it makes teachers teach in bad faith. It makes me teach the subject in a way in which I don't understand the subject. And my own understandings are much more like the child's, oftentimes, figural, situational, relational. And yet, when I encapsulate school knowledge, I need to teach in that way. And the problem of the teacher is to help bridge, to move back and forth between the spontaneous figural understandings that the child brings and the formal categorical understandings that are prized in the school as school knowledge. Let me quote you a very nice passage from a man named Loris Malaguzzi (1993), who is the quite famous educator who created the pre-school system in Reggio Emilia, in Italy. He said, 'Put more simply, we see this situation in which the child is about to see what the adult already sees; the gap is small between what each one sees, the task of closing it appears feasible and the child's skills and disposition create an expectation and readiness to make the jump. In such a situation the adult can and must loan to the children his judgement and knowledge; but it is a loan with a condition: namely, that the child will repay'. What does it mean to try to help somebody bridge between understandings? So I'm going to try to help you bridge between understandings. I will draw a parallelogram. How does one find the area of a parallelogram? Well, when we teach that in school, what you usually say is, Drop a vertical from Point A to the base and multiply that vertical by the length of that base. So you get the formula A = vertical x base. The problem with that is that if you switch the orientation of the parallelogram, the child then finds himself dropping a vertical into sheer bottomless depths, and is unable to describe why the formula holds. Now the psychologist Max Wertheimer in an old, old book, that's still a wonderful old book, called Productive Thinking (1959), ran a series of experiments with parallelograms [illustrates], in which he showed how you can make a parallelogram into a sort of rectangle can you see it? So if this is the parallelogram A, B, C, D, we drop the vertical and we find this funny little triangle, which can be moved over here. A B A B C D C D E And if I move that triangle over here and fill in the gap, in fact, what I get is a rectangle. And the rectangle now has as its side the vertical that I dropped to find the area of the parallelogram. So now I can see the parallelogram as a version of the rectangle; and I know how to find the area of a rectangle: multiply side tim
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