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Skilled performace as a basis for professional practice?

February 4th, 2009 by Graham Attwell

Chris Sessums asks: “What would a knowledge base for the teaching profession look like? How can we get one?”

He goes on to say: “Imagine teachers collaborating around the globe to improve education. Sound like a fantasy? Is there a path that could lead from classrooms to a shared, reliable professional knowledge base for teaching? Is it because practitioner knowledge is highly personal, highly contextual, and lacks the vetting process associated with scientific research that such a path has never been developed? Given the millions of teachers producing knowledge of classroom practice everyday, is it worth examining what would be needed to transform teacher knowledge into a professional knowledge base for teaching? What would such a path look like?”

These are good questions. However, they pose problems over the nature of practice. Chris bases his idea of practioner knowledge around the idea of “elaborating a problem” and alaborating and testing answers to such a problem. But surely this is only part of the practice of a teacher. Can teaching be reduced to a knowledge base? In struggling to envisage what form such a knowledge base might take Chris suggests it could be developed around lesson plans. Although a readily accessible and open bank of lesson plans might be a valuable resource, it still ignores many elements of the practice of teaching. It is perfectly possible that no two teachers would use the plans in the same way. Of course that is not important. But such a knowledge base might then fail to capture the essence of professional practice (I am unconvinced of Chris’s distinction between practioner knowledge and professional knowledge).

Reckwitz (2003) distinguishes 3 different meanings or understandings of practice:

  • Practice as embodied knowledge;
  • Practice as a skilful performance with artefacts;
  • Practice as implicit knowledge, as the implicit logic of doing things

It may be possible to develop a database of the background knowledge and of the artefacts. Far mor problematic is the skilful performance. Yet it is this element of practice which would seem to be most useful for teachers and trainers.

Is one of the problems the divisions we have made between so called scientific (or professional) knowledge and practice? I wonder if it might be possible to develop taxonomies for practice embodied as skilful performance and then develop social software which would allow the sharing of such practice. If, so how and what might it look like? Does anyone have any ideas?

Reference

Reckwitz, A. (2003). Grundelemente einer Theorie sozialer Praktiken. In: Zeitschrift für Soziologie, Jg. 32, H. 4, 282-301.

One Response to “Skilled performace as a basis for professional practice?”

  1. Martin Owen says:

    Consider a musician from Erewhon. They can be an extremely skilled musician and make wonderful music that moves the spirit in magnificent ways. Their dexterity in manipulating their instrument may amaze. Their empathy for and experience of their fellow players allows them to complement each other increasing the magic of their performance. Their knowledge is embodied, their knowledge is borne from practice. They are consummate performers. However their reflection is internal to their own practice. If they have not heard music from elsewhere, if they have not subjected their practice to a comparative analysis: to theorise, to experiment. We would have no Bach, we would have no Beatles. You need a language to describe practice. You need a language which illuminates the experience of teacher and of learner. Atheoretical teachers can be wonderful – however they need scientific knowledge to transcend what they do – and in changing times – that is what we need. We need software to support jam sessions in the presence of a critical audience.

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