Cultural Dynamics of Teaching
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
children first attend school and embark on the formal processes
of learning to read and write, school learning purports to
enable children to realise and release, as it were, their
intrinsic potentialities of interpreting written text. Moreover,
this release of potential is supposed to help children acquire
a higher-order cultural awareness of their society, so that
they may engage in the use of logic, science and religion.
This is what has been dubbed "the classical torch"
view of literacy and schooling (see Thomas, 2000: 43 for further
details), and it has been criticised on certain grounds-that,
for example, it creates a void between literates and non-literates,
and that if school fails to achieve its goals for many of
its pupils, the latter are doomed, as they are incapable of
participating effectively in cultural interaction and their
society's high culture. Nevertheless, even if some students
fail to become "literate"-mainly because much of
school learning is concerned with the "technological"
features of writing (ibid.: 44)-they still have a rich oral
capacity, which has been neglected or even ignored by formal
schooling. It is this rich oral capacity that will be the
springboard for our discussion; yet, we will not focus on
"non-literates'" tradition, which is said to be
at variance with that of "literates." We will only
briefly examine the cultural dynamics of teaching, which should
take into consideration the needs of all students.
a cultural pedagogy
speaking, all learners are potentially capable of achieving
most learning objectives, provided that certain conditions
of learning are met: adequate feedback, sufficient time on
task, an awareness of the import of the material under study
and, of course, an appreciation on the part of the teacher
of the cultural context in which the learning is embedded.
In this light, information about what styles and methods both
teachers and learners employ in order to solve problems can
tell us more about the context of learning and teaching than
just knowing that the learner has provided the correct answer.
In other words, it is more important to take a process perspective
on schooling rather than a product one, inasmuch as there
are a whole lot of mechanisms at work in the "process"
which can affect the "product." This perspective
is an essential component of a pedagogy that addresses cultural
needs. As Thomas (2000: 80) notes,
which identifies different cultural pedagogies, and describes
the impact they may have on improving educational quality,
will be a welcome antidote to the possible unifying excesses
that educational change in the context of modernisation and
globalisation is likely to bring.
Nature of Pedagogy and Cultures of Teaching
this chapter, we will address two issues: the changing nature
and traditions of pedagogy, and the belief that teaching is
to be viewed as a set of cultures.
Changing Nature and Traditions of Pedagogy
subject of pedagogy can be traced to the time of the Greeks,
but in modern times most of what permeates developments in
pedagogy has come from psychologists and educationists such
as Piaget (1971), Bruner (1966), Shulman (1986), Schon (1983),
and Bennett (1993), to name but a few. Sifting through the
relevant literature, it is possible to discern three different
theoretical traditions pertaining to research into teaching
and teacher education that have emerged in the 1990s. Two
of these traditions have been termed by Zeichner (1992) as
"academic" and "social efficiency," while
the third tradition, referring to teaching as a "cultural
process," has been examined by Olson & Bruner (1996),
Kruger & Tomasello (1996), and discussed by Thomas (1997a,b).
of the first one, that is, the "academic" tradition,
we could say that it draws on evidence which stakes out that
teachers should have a sound knowledge base, in order for
them to promote comprehension among their students. Shulman
(1987) delineates seven such knowledge bases, which include
content knowledge, general pedagogical knowledge, curriculum
knowledge, pedagogical-content knowledge, knowledge of learners
and their characteristics, knowledge of educational contexts,
and knowledge of educational ends. His pedagogical reasoning
model builds on these knowledge bases, identifying the skill
of a teacher's understanding, which plays a pivotal role in
the development of comprehension among the learners.
"social efficiency" tradition draws on research
evidence from studies on teaching and learning in classrooms,
which take a constructivist perspective on learning. Within
this tradition, children are viewed as being actively involved
intellectually with learning which accompanies the development
of teaching skills and teacher knowledge to promote this very
involvement (see Thomas, 2000: 84). Bennett (1993) has put
forward a five-stage task model of teaching (see figure below),
which places emphasis not only on the task at hand but teacher
intention to involve learners in the process of teaching.
intention >> Task >> Presentation >> Pupil
Task Performance >> Assessment / Diagnosis >>
Teacher intention (and so forth)
The third tradition views teaching as a "cultural process"
which reflects different cultures of teaching. Thus, the following
discussion on the "teaching as a set of cultures"
has an affinity with this tradition, since it is about how
the various cultures of teaching might inform practitioners
to develop pedagogies that would provide teachers (and learners)
with guidance and enhanced forms of explanation in class.
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