Locating and Exploring Teacher Perception in the Reflective Thinking Process

Oct. 30, 2009

Source: Teachers and Teaching, Volume 15, Issue 5 (October 2009), pages 579 – 599.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In the phenomenological study from which this theoretical article derives, 18 middle school teachers were asked to describe moments when they recognized and responded to a student who did not understand something during an instructional activity.

Based on his analysis of the data, the author identified an essential meaning structure and 10 patterns of meaning that describe the structure. In this article the author explicates the essential meaning structure, highlights the patterns of meaning which were identified, and then illuminates one of the four patterns of meaning specifically related to recognition - perceiving body language. In doing so, the author could then reflect theoretically and practically on this aspect. To illuminate in this article, the author uses Merleau-Ponty's notion of perception as a blending of perspectival views and some of Dewey's thoughts on reflective thinking to theorize the perceiving body language pattern of meaning.

Based on this theoretical reflection, the author describes how teachers might perceive their students' bodies during instruction and consider how these perceptions can:
(1) launch a reflective thinking process, and
(2) become coordinated with reflective thinking within bounded pedagogical situations.


18 middle school teachers participated in this study. 12 participants were women and six were men, ranging from 4.5 to 18 years of middle school teaching experience.
The group of participants taught across a number of content areas - science and social studies (n = 1), science and math (n = 1), social studies (n = 5), science (n = 4), literacy (n = 5), alternative education (n = 1), and health (n = 1).
They worked in different geographic locales - rural (n = 4), suburban (n = 13), and urban (n = 1); and taught across a number of grade levels - Grade 6 through Grade 8 (n = 1), Grade 6 (n = 1), Grade 7 (n = 9), Grade 8 (n = 5), and Grade 9 (n = 2).

Data sources

There were two primary sources of lived-experience data in this study: the conversational (unstructured) interview and the lived-experience written description. Participants were given the choice of completing one or the other. Fourteen participants chose to be interviewed and four other teachers chose to craft lived-experience descriptions using van Manen's (1990) protocol.

To close, the author draws on some well-established strategies in teacher education to discuss ways in which coaches and teachers might locate and explore teacher perception, especially as such perceptions relate to teachers' recognition of moments their students do not understand something during instruction. These strategies include: designing lessons, analyzing video-taped teaching episodes, and writing experiential anecdotes and fictional-variation-in-imagination accounts.

Locating and exploring teachers' perceptions is important for teachers, researchers of teaching, and teacher educators, because such perceptions serve as the catalyst for a reflective thinking process, oftentimes can get lost in the process, and are constantly present. Moreover, the author argues that this location and exploration is not about isolating perception as part of a linear sequence. Rather it is about identifying moments of the blending of perspectival views that Merleau-Ponty describes. Teachers are always, already perceiving during their teaching; and although particular perceptions might serve as starters for a particular reflective thinking process, these moments merely provide openings into the ongoing blending that is always partial and will never cease.

To this end, the location and exploration the author speaks of is about: (1) capturing glimpses of perceptions that appear to prompt and continue to inform the reflective thinking process, and (2) opening them up to try make some sense of them - so that the primacy of perception does not get lost in the reflective thinking process.

Dewey, J. (1997) How we think Henry Regenry , Chicago — (Original work published 1910).

Merleau-Ponty, M. Edie, J. (ed) (1947/1964). Primacy of perception: And other essays on phenomenological psychology, the philosophy of art, history and politics. Northwestern University Press , Evanston, IL.

van Manen, M. (1990) Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Althouse Press , London, Ontario.

Updated: Jan. 31, 2010