Three views of teaching
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
Teaching as knowing what to do: the interpretivist view
Teachers, like everyone else, are involved in interpreting
their worlds. They interpret their subject matter, their classroom
context, and the people operating in it. As Freeman (1996:
Classrooms and students are not just settings
for implementing ideas; they are frameworks of interpretation
that teachers use for knowing: knowing when and how to act
and react, what information to present or explain and how,
when to respond or correct individual students, how to assess
and reformulate what they have just taught [
Within this interpretivist view, the "It depends"
statements offer evidence of the highly complex, interpretative
knowledge that teachers bring to bear on their work. For example,
all teachers learn very early in their careers that teaching
and learning have a seasonal rhythm. Thus, in North American
classrooms, September is different from December and January,
especially just before and after holidays, March is different
from June, and so on. In a similar vein, 8:30 A. M. is different
from lunch time, which is different from 2:45 P.M., which
is different from an evening class. Although this seasonality
has been trivialised as common sense, it is integral to how
teachers plan, conduct lessons, and manage various groups
Such seasonal knowledge emerged in a study on how students
and teachers came to understand content in a second language
classroom. In particular, a high school French teacher was
talking to a student who had "soured" the lesson.
Her comments displayed seasonal knowledge as a means of interpreting,
and accounting for, the boy's actions when she asked him,
"What class do you have before this?" And when told,
she said: "That's right, you guys have gym. Well, no
wonder your energy's all over the place."
Knowing how to teach does not simply consist in behavioural
knowledge of how to go about doing things in the classroom;
it involves a cognitive dimension that links thought with
activity, focusing on the context-embedded, interpretive process
of knowing what to do. This know-how is learnt over time.
The kind of teaching that ignores any one of these three components-behaviour,
cognition, and interpretation-is lamentably limited and shortsighted.
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Dimitrios Thansoulas studied English Literature and Linguistics
at Athens University and then did an MA in Applied Linguistics
at Sussex University. After that, he earned an MBA from
Mooreland University and is currently finishing the
second year of my PhD studies in Education at Nottingham
University. His academic interests include fostering
cultural awareness and learner autonomy, as well as
such issues as language and ideology, Critical Discourse
Analysis, Pragmatics, Sociolinguistics, and the Psychology
Dimitrios can be
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