Thinking through Practice: Exploring Ways of Knowing, Understanding and Representing the Complexity of Teaching

Sep. 01, 2013

Source: Asia-Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 2013, Vol. 41, No. 4, 414–425.
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In this article, the author presents the foundations of a research programme developing an understanding of teaching practice in secondary visual arts classrooms. This study aimed to:
(1) evaluate the efficacy of the conceptual foundation developed for investigating teaching practice; and
(2) identify and explore specific classroom-based practices within secondary visual arts education.

The participants were four secondary visual arts teachers, who were involved in the study as teacher-researchers.
They were drawn from two schools, both in the same regional area of New South Wales.
Two participants were selected from each school.
The teachers represented teachers at different stages of their careers, and working in different school contexts.
Data were collected in the form of completed Relational Framework for Investigating Teaching Practice (RFITP) templates and transcribed group discussions.


The data reveal that core practices of visual arts teaching were evident, in relation to instructional methods, selection and use of resources, in the focus of programming and in approaches to relationships with colleagues and with students.
Common instructional methods included discussing artworks, listening to student ideas, questioning students about their artworks, connecting ideas and experimenting with art making approaches and materials.

In all cases, teacher-researchers spoke of these strategies with a focus on “we” that illustrated the importance of relationships developed within classrooms and a consistently collaborative approach that was central to the development of those relationships. Collaboration involved both teachers with students and teachers with other teachers.
Supporting these instructional methods was the consistent use of resources to present examples, ideas or objects as central to teaching practice.
In addition, dynamic qualities were also identified in each of the teacher-researcher’s practice, although the degree of dynamism and the nature of adaptations varied significantly in relation to context, resources, physical space and teaching style.
Such dynamism also developed over time, and in relation to a structure related to the core qualities of practice.

All of the teacher-researchers tended to externalise the reasons for adaptation, rather than connecting the dynamic nature of their practice to a personal artistry.
They generally viewed themselves as responding to extra-individual factors, including learners and learning environment or responding to temporal circumstances.
Furthermore, the opportunity to systematically talk through practice using a guiding, reflective structure was noted as significant as a means of framing, and possibly reframing, action, experience and context.
The teacher-researchers were able to talk about what they did, and did so with a keen interest in the practice of others.
At the same time they recognised a lack of regular opportunities to talk about practice.

Implications for teaching and teacher education

The author has developed four propositions that provide the basis of a practice-based approach to teacher education.
First, there are core practices of visual arts teaching that are common to classroom sites. These practices can be investigated, articulated, taught and developed through a teacher education that is practice-focused.
Second, there are dynamic approaches to teaching practice that respond to the conditions and contexts of practice.
Third, teaching practice is embodied and pathic.
The body is implicated in practice albeit largely implicitly in relation to instructional approaches, the use of resources and the creation of learning environments. In relation to this is the importance of knowing and feeling through intuitive means and the creation and perception of a sense of being in the classroom.
Fourth, it is proposed that knowing and understanding teaching practice requires recurrent opportunities to investigate, articulate and represent practice from the standpoint of practitioners.

The author concludes that exploring practice from these perspectives may ultimately generate accounts of teaching practice that have the potential to inform approaches to teaching and teacher education.

Updated: May. 25, 2015