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What do teachers bring to the teaching-learning process?
by Dimitrios Thanasoulas
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The teacher as reflective practitioner

It stands to reason that, if teachers are to be effective in the approaches they decide to take, they should act in accordance with their espoused beliefs. In reality, though, this is hardly the case. According to Chris Argyris and Donald Schon (1974, 1978), there is usually a discrepancy between what teachers say they believe (their 'espoused' theories) and the ways in which they act (their 'theories-in-action'). What could resolve this discrepancy is an attempt to help teachers become 'reflective practitioners' (Shon, 1983), thereby subjecting their professional practice to ongoing critical reflection and making clear their own particular world view. Smyth (1991: 116) suggests that this critical reflection can be fostered by means of asking a number of questions:

• What do my practices say about my assumptions, values and beliefs about teaching?
• Where did these ideas come from?
• What views of power do they embody?
• Whose interests do my practices seem to serve?

While critical reflection is not negative in its own right, it does imply that teachers should be cognisant of their belief systems, in order to monitor how far their actions reflect those beliefs. However, in keeping with constructivism, becoming effective and autonomous is a shared process, whereby both teachers and learners monitor, reflect, and act. Thus, a teacher needs to look both inwards and outwards. She needs to become aware of others' points of view, as well as her own beliefs-about learners, about learning per se, and about herself.

Teachers' beliefs

Beliefs cannot be defined or evaluated, but there are a number of things that we should know about them. Beliefs are culturally bound and, since they are formed early in life, they tend to be resistant to change. By virtue of the fact that they are difficult to measure, we almost always have to infer people's beliefs from the ways in which they act rather than from what they say they believe.

Beliefs about learners

Teachers hold any or a combination of beliefs about their students. Roland Meighan (1990) suggests that there are at least seven different ways in which teachers construe learners and that such evaluative constructions have a profound influence on their classroom practice. So, according to him, learners may be construed as:

• resisters
• receptacles
• raw material
• clients
• partners
• individual explorers
• democratic explorers

These constructs are seen in terms of a continuum which mirrors the nature of the teacher-learner power relationship. Thus, the first three constructs are teacher dominated, whereas the latter involve learner participation.

More specifically, the notion of learners as resisters sees learners as recalcitrant individuals who do not wish to learn. This assumption, however, gives rise to the assertion that punishment is the most appropriate way of overcoming such "recalcitrance."

An even more common conception of learners is one in which they are viewed as receptacles to be filled with knowledge. The teacher is seen as having a "jug" of knowledge which he pours into the learners' "mugs." This is what Freire (1970) describes as the 'banking' concept of education, where learners are like bank accounts into which deposits are made and drawn upon.

Even though we have not dwelled upon Meighan's theory in detail, it should be apparent by now that constructivism fits more comfortably with the latter end of the abovementioned continuum.

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