August 4, 2013 6 Comments
“Thinkers think and doers do. But until the thinkers do and the doers think, progress will be just another word in the already overburdened vocabulary of the talkers who talk.”
This quotation is a reminder that there can sometimes be a gap between theory and practice in adult and community learning. Of course there are theorists who are teachers – and teachers who are theorists – but theory is sometimes remote from practice, where there is a rich experience of tutors intuitively developing creative and successful strategies for teaching, learning and assessment, often working collaboratively. It’s interesting that Twitter and social media are providing means to open up exchanges of ideas and debate, prompting wider professional dialogue on these matters.
Theory and practice come together in the concept of ‘praxis’.
What is praxis in education?
A simple explanation is that praxis is a cycle of theory and purposeful action that incorporates reflection. It helps us to analyse our efforts so that we can develop and improve our thinking, doing and effectiveness as educators.
There are other interpretations and this doesn’t capture the additional elements of informed moral commitment and critical thinking that are commonly associated with praxis. Paulo Freire’s definition of praxis in Pedagogy of the Oppressed was, “reflection and action upon the world in order to transform it.” Praxis is reflective, active, creative, contextual and has social purpose.
Centuries ago the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle categorised three disciplines of knowledge: the theoretical, the productive and the practical and some educators see praxis as one of four ways of approaching curriculum theory and practice, based on these three disciplines:
- The syllabus approach can be seen as transmitting a body of knowledge .
- The product approach assumes an attempt for students to achieve specified outcomes.
- Learning to learn is the main focus of a process driven approach.
- Praxis can be seen as an extension of the process approach, where the curriculum is put together through planning, acting and evaluating as in the cycle described above.
Is this model too simplistic? Are the four approaches mutually exclusive?
These are very basic and introductory interpretations of praxis. Although they refer to education as being contextualised, they can imply that the relationship between tutors and students is not shaped or constrained by policy and, in many organisations, by management and governance decisions.
What issues does this raise?
Some organisations are taking imaginative and very distinctive approaches. For example, Louise Mycroft (@TeachNorthern on Twitter) and others have developed a ‘Community of Praxis’ based on Northern College’s teacher education programmes.
As ever, I’d appreciate comments, development of arguments, disagreements, other ideas or links. There is a great deal of expertise on this subject and many people who can add deeper (or different?) perspectives about praxis in education.
What do you think?