Contemporary Methodological Perspectives in Educational Research on ‘Teachers’ practice’: Assumptions and Shortcomings for ‘Effective Practices’

July 1, 2019

Source: European Educational Research Journal. Volume: 18 issue: 4, page(s): 461-482

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

In the context of the major influence that ‘effectiveness’ is having internationally, this paper studies the contemporary methodological perspectives in educational research when considering teachers’ practice.
To this end, it starts by expounding a succinct historical account of the scientific and methodological turns on teachers’ practice from the 1970s up to the present.
The author shows that, despite the wide and vast literature on teachers’ practice, the current methodological trends are tied to three perspectives:
(1) naturalistic methodology,
(2) descriptive methodology, and
(3) the nonmethodological solution.

The naturalistic methodological perspective
The author writes that the naturalistic methodological perspective on teachers’ practice is looking for methodological patterns to give a consistent measure of ‘empirical facts’. Underlying the naturalistic methodological perspective, there is a criterion of meaning: empirical facts, day-to-day practices in the that repeatedly work, which provide real significance to propositions on ‘good/effective educational practices’.
Thus, empirical facts (what actually is) provide the grounding from which to make normative propositions (what should be and ought to be done in teachers’ practice, initial teacher education (ITL), teacher development, etc.).
In other words: what actually is working appears to be the criterion for innovation in education.

In effect, he writes, that the aim for this research approach is basically twofold: on the one hand, providing policymakers with evidence for education policy on teachers’ practice; whilst on the other, generating a databank of professional knowledge.
A corpus of knowledge about what is to be an effective teacher.
These findings are then to be disseminated to teachers, whose practice must be, it is said, ‘research-informed’.
The naturalistic methodology approach, when entering the normative sphere, falls into the standard logic of the predicative calculus (i.e. the logic of mathematics) and the following question should trouble this approach: amongst all the available alternatives of action, to obtain effective practices, which is the best option?
From a naturalistic point of view, the answer to this question is based on the empirical facts emanating from observations.
Thus, methodologically speaking, it confuses hypothesis (what would be) with norms-policy recommendations (what should be).

The descriptive methodological perspective

The author notes that the key basic features of the descriptive methodology perspective, in terms of teachers’ practice are as follows:
First, it starts with a criticism of traditional models of research on professional practice, which are seen as lacking in productivity and effective results.
Second, it is said that such a traditional view on practice is ineffective for professional activity.
Third, rather than knowledge emanating from a theoretical-academic source, knowledge about teachers’ practice must be produced ‘in’ action, ‘in’ the context.
Fourth, from a methodological point of view, how does research have access to the sort of knowledge that is relevant to conceive ‘teachers’ practice’?
The answer being observing what practitioners actually do and describing their patterns of action. In this way, it is said, we get a ‘practical’ account of teachers’ practice, i.e. what teachers’ practice ‘is’ and what teachers’ practice ‘should be’ (in teacher education, teacher development, etc.).
He writes that to sum up, the perspective of the descriptive methodology:
• lacks a consistent methodology to propose what should be done in teachers’ practice;
• lacks an evaluative rationality, which lacks a rational criterion to discern the best line of practice;
• rests on a methodological jump when entering a normative dimension (when proposing policies, norms, recommendations, lines of actions, etc.); and
• embraces, consciously or not, a ‘tacit theory’ about practice.

The perspective of a nonmethodological solution
He notes that the perspective of the nonmethodological solution is as follows:
• It springs from a particular methodological view.
• It is an old-fashioned methodological approach, largely criticised already back in the 1960s.
• It carries a hidden theoretical account which, in addition, is intended to be applied to teachers’ practice.
• It does not overcome the aprioristic viewpoint.
• It is not about ‘practice’ but about ‘lexis’.

The author agrees with the premise of ‘effective practice’.
We indeed need effectiveness to receive better outcomes in child development, school change and implementing educational systems.
However, he writes that, a more useful methodological perspective is required.
He makes the point that applied science, and, specifically, the case of educational research will better be conceived from the perspective of the science of the design and the rationality of action (Penalva, 2011). In this view, the reality of education will be basically referred to as ‘human-made’, being complementary, although distinct, from the natural and social base.
This ontological basis offers, then, a different perspective to the realm of education.
The reality (of education) is to be synthesised, so it offers an innovative factor.

This new ontological foundation puts forward a distinct scientific structure.
Axiologically speaking, the research design will be focused on a synthesis of ‘what ought to be’ (rather than focused on analysis, descriptions and interpretations about how thing already are).
From an epistemological point of view, explanations will be considered alongside the proposal for alternative lines of action (i.e. prescriptions).
From a methodological point of view, the research design will simultaneously provide
(1) new (synthesised) meaning and
(2) practical alternatives (including the viability) to achieve its aims.

From a semantic point of view, it will pursue the contribution of both new meaning as well as the process of its development.
He emphasizes that we must keep in mind clear-cut evidence: there is a worldwide consensus on one basic element, which is the role that teachers play in the implementation of an educational system is essential; the strength of the system relies on the quality of the teachers.

Therefore, reinforcing the quality and the role that the teacher plays in the educational system is essential.
As the author has shown, contemporary methodological perspectives offer restrictive grounds to teachers’ practice.
Accordingly, the perspective of the science of the design along with the rationality of action proposes a more adequate methodological framework to reinforce the quality and the role teachers plays in educational systems.
In his view, this new perspective consequently leads to think and shape collaborations and partnerships in a different, more useful way.

Penalva J (2011) The role of explanations and prescriptions in the science of the design: The case of educational research. European Educational Research Journal 10(2).

Updated: Dec. 05, 2019