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Seeking connections and searching for meaning: teaching as reflective practice

Brian Hudson

School of Education
Sheffield Hallam University
Sheffield S10 2BP
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 114 225 2346
Fax: +44 114 225 2339

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Edinburgh, 20-23 September 2000

This paper explores the commonality and differences between different traditions in relation to teaching and learning. In particular it seeks to highlight the ways in which Didaktik can offer those in the Anglo/American tradition a new dimension to the notion of reflective practice at a time when this seems to be under attack. The paper draws on Klafki's notion of didaktik analysis with its focus on meaning and the aim of re-enacting the rationale for the particular subject matter in question. This has strong resonances with Shulman's model of pedagogical reasoning and action which emphasises the way in which a professional is seen to be concerned not only with the 'how', but also with the 'what and why'. Against this background in which teaching is seen as a moral and reflecting activity that is primarily concerned with a search for meaning, the implications for research into teaching and learning are considered. Finally, against a background of growing crisis in terms of teacher recruitment and retention, some implications for future policy development are suggested.

The basis of this paper draws on current work arising from the Thematic Network for Teacher Education in Europe (TNTEE). The structure, organisation and developments associated with TNTEE and its sub-networks can be found at In particular since 1996, sub-network E of TNTEE has focused research and development on the role of Didaktik and Fachdidaktik(-en) ("subject-related didactics") and Bereichsdidaktik(-en) (didactics of various learning areas) and their potential to contribute to the improvement of the quality of teaching/studying/learning processes both in schools and also in teacher education. A publication covering a range of academic disciplines with contributions from several European countries has already arisen from the work of this sub-network (Hudson, Buchberger, Kansanen and Seel, 1999). In particular this paper represents a further development of the ideas contained in Hudson (1999).

In addition, since 1998 a number of universities represented in TNTEE sub-network E have participated in a project supported by the European Commission under the SOCRATES action programme to promote the development of a European module on Didaktik. The aim of this module is to provide electronic resources on this topic for undergraduate teacher education students across Europe.

In seeking to address the commonality and differences between different traditions in relation to teaching and learning, it is first of all necessary to acknowledge that terms such as "Curriculum" and "Didaktik" are strongly culture bound. Furthermore it is necessary to recognise that the comparison of meaning across linguistic boundaries is fraught with a variety of difficulties as highlighted by Kansanen (1995). In developing the ideas contained in this paper the direction given by Seel (1999) has been most influential. He argues that Didaktik may be conceived as the science whose subject is the planned (institutionalised and organised) support for learning to acquire "Bildung". This is described as an "elusive concept" to capture in English by Westbury (2000) and has variously been translated as "formation", "education" and "erudition". The latter derives from the Latin concept "eruditio" as used by Comenius and is the suggested translation by Hopmann and Künzli (1992). Accordingly my interpretation of Didaktik is of a social science whose subject is the planned support for learning to acquire "Bildung". In turn this can be seen to be a state of being that can be characterised by a cluster of attributes described by terms such as: educated, knowledgeable, learned, literary, philosophical, scholarly and wise. This notion is extended by Friehs and Seel (2000) to that of Allgemeinbildung as "competence for a productive coping with life with regard to coexistence and survival - it includes life in society and basic communicative and technical abilities and values".

In his discussion of the nature of Didaktik, Seel (1999) emphasises the fact that human beings are born into a culture and a cultural environment, including a social system. Furthermore the acquisition of and the ability to deal with cultural objects may be conceived as a major part of the process of acquiring "Bildung". This emphasis on the social context and societal goals mirrors recent and current debates in mathematics education in relation to social and cultural aspects of teaching and learning e.g. the socio-cultural psychology of Vygotsky (1962) and the related fields of activity theory e.g. (Mellin-Olsen, 1987) and social practice theory e.g. (Lave and Wenger, 1991). These parallels are considered in terms of finding commonality between different traditions with particular reference to mathematics education in the first instance. Subsequently differences are considered with reference to the wider and more general "Curriculum" tradition.

Exploring commonality - some recent and current debates in mathematics education

A major debate in the mathematics education, and wider, research community in recent years has centred on the tension between individualistic and social perspectives on the process of teaching and learning. In relation to this Jones and Mercer (1993) have highlighted the extent to which related theories of learning have been dominated by individualistic perspectives i.e. both behaviourism and also constructivism in the tradition of Piaget. Constructivism itself has taken on a variety of meanings with "radical constructivism" (von Glaserfeld, 1987) becoming a very significant influence in mathematics education during the 1980s in particular. More recently there has been an emphasis on the notion of "social constructivism". On this aspect Lerman (1996) highlights the way in which the programs of Vygotsky and Piaget had "fundamentally different orientations" with a Vygotskian perspective placing the social life as primary and a Piagetian view placing the individual as primary. The major difficulty for radical constructivism is seen to be in offering an adequate explanation of intersubjectivity. He quotes Cobb, Wood and Yackel (1991) as stating the problem clearly. They argue that constructivism "at least as it has applied to mathematics education, has focused almost exclusively on the processes by which individual students actively construct their own mathematical realities" and that "far less attention has been given to the interpersonal or social aspects of mathematics learning and teaching".

There are a number of basic assumptions underpinning the cultural psychology of Vygotsky. A primary assumption is that socio-cultural factors are seen as essential in human development. As individuals we are seen to be constituted by our social, historical and cultural experience. The social context is not seen as causative (e.g. of disequilibrium, accommodation etc in Piagetian terms) but rather as constitutive. Intellectual development is seen in terms of: meaning making, memory, attention, thinking, perception and consciousness that evolves from the interpersonal to the intrapersonal. The process of development itself is conceived of as "a complex, dialectical process characterised by a multifaceted, periodic timetable ... by complex mixing of external and internal factors, and by the process of adaptation and surmounting of difficulties" (Vygotsky, 1981).

The social dimension is seen to be primary in both time and fact and the individual dimension is derivative and secondary. Writing from such a perspective, Lerman (1996) highlights the way that language provides the tools for thought, and carries the cultural inheritance of the communities (ethnic, gender, class, etc) in which the individual grows up. Consequently language is not seen as giving structure to the already conscious cognising mind but, on the contrary, the mind is seen to be constituted in discursive practices.

Vygotsky highlighted the dialectical nature of thought and language by proposing that these have separate roots. Speech is seen to evolve out of gestures developed within the context of communication and social interaction whilst thought (especially logical thought) evolves from the child's activity. It is further proposed that speech can be considered to have two particular forms - egocentric and communicative respectively. The function of communicative speech, as implied in its description, is for the purpose of communication with others. On the other hand, the function of egocentric speech is as an instrument of thought itself i.e. a psychological tool. This leads to Vygotsky's notion of internalisation, by which the means of social interaction, especially speech, are taken over by the learner and internalised. Development proceeds when interpsychological regulation is transformed into intrapsychological regulation.

The mediational role of cultural and psychological tools reflects the emphasis of Marxist philosophy on the central role of labour in cultural development. This stresses the transformation of objects using tools in this process. The notion of the psychological tool was first introduced by Vygotsky as an analogy with the material tool e.g. a chisel, which serves as a mediator between the human hand and the object upon which the tool acts. For example the computer can be viewed as a cultural tool which is itself transformed into a psychological tool by means of social interaction. The idea of the mediational role of tools is extended to psychological tools such as sign and symbol systems e.g. language, writing, number systems (semiotics).

Activity theory has its roots in Vygotskian cultural psychology. Crawford (1996) highlights how activity denotes personal (or group) involvement, intent and commitment that is not reflected in the usual meanings of the word in English. She draws attention to the fact that Vygotsky wrote about activity in general terms to describe the personal and voluntary engagement of people in context - the ways in which they subjectively perceive their needs and the possibilities of a situation and choose actions to reach personally meaningful goals. In building upon Vygotsky's work, Leont'ev, Davydov and others made clear distinctions between conscious actions and relatively unconscious and automated operations. Operations are seen as habits and automated procedures that are carried without conscious intellectual effort. So that activity corresponds to a motive, action corresponds to a goal and operation depends upon the conditions. Mellin-Olsen (1987) highlights the dialectical nature of activity theory and also acknowledges the need to recognise that learning does not take place solely in the context of the classroom:

We shall also study learning outside it, and we shall see how inside-classroom activities relate to outside activities. The dialectics here is located in the part-whole relationship: the classroom activities within learning activities as a totality which includes classroom learning.

Also consistent with this perspective are the insights offered by Lave and Wenger's (1991) social practice theory further illustrated in Lave (1988 and 1996). This work offers a view of learning as an aspect of participation in communities of practice, which is at first "legitimately peripheral" in relation to any new practice but that increases gradually in engagement and complexity. Learning is located in the processes of co-participation, as opposed to within the heads of individuals. The learner acquires the skill to perform by actually engaging in the process, under the conditions of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP), to a limited degree and with limited responsibility. Those participating in the community are seen as learners and learning, as such, is distributed among co-participants and is not seen as a one-person act. With regard to understanding, this is not seen to arise out of the mental operations of a subject on objective structures, rather it is located in the increased access of learners to participating roles in expert performances. Learning can be a feature of various practices and is not seen to be limited to examples of training and apprenticeship. For example, the production of language can be seen as a social and cultural practice. Lave and Wenger's notion of LPP can be seen as a way of engaging and as an interactive process in which the apprentice engages by simultaneously performing in several roles. Learning is seen as a way of being in the social world rather than as simply a way of coming to know about it. Learners are actively engaged not only in the learning contexts but also in the broader social world and learning presupposes engagement without which no learning will occur i.e. activity corresponding to a motive as being an underpinning requirement for such a view of learning.

Furthermore Lerman (1997) argues for the relevance of such a theoretical perspective, and of activity theory in particular, to the development of teachers themselves in (mathematics) teacher education. He outlines three important factors in support of this view. The first is that it offers a coherent single framework for learning throughout life that applies from childhood through to adulthood. Secondly it attempts to integrate affect and cognition in focusing on meaning as its unit of analysis and thirdly it offers a method of rooting knowledge and action in socio-cultural-historical settings.

In relation to Didaktik, Seel (1999) argues that those processes of learning, which in their entirety represent the process of "Bildung", receive their impetus by dealing with people and experiences with objects. The parallel here is with the Vygotskian emphasis on social interaction and the mediational role of tools. That they occur occasionally and may be seen to be accidental and disordered reflects the Vygotskian view of development as "a complex, dialectical process characterised by a multifaceted, periodic timetable ... by complex mixing of external and internal factors, and by the process of adaptation and surmounting of difficulties" (Vygotsky, 1981). Furthermore the emphasis on the overarching goal of helping young people to become more responsible and competent members in the sense of "educated personalities ('Gebildete')" reflects the emphasis placed by social practice theory on learning as an aspect of participation in communities of practice, under the conditions of legitimate peripheral participation (LPP).

The idea that "spontaneous and situational learning has to receive support and supplement by planned intentional teaching" reflects two further aspects of Vygotskian thinking. Firstly there is the notion of learning based upon the acquisition of "scientific" and "spontaneous" concepts. Scientific or systematic concepts are seen to be those abstract concepts that are part of the culture e.g. of mathematics, science etc. In contrast spontaneous concepts are seen as being more "concrete", based on face to face meetings with a "concrete" situation. The development of the learner's spontaneous concepts proceeds upwards and the development of the scientific concepts downward, supplying the structures for upward development. This also reflects the emphasis of Mellin-Olsen (1987) on the dialectic between "inside-classroom activities" and outside activities. Secondly is the notion of the "zone of proximal development" (ZPD) - the distance between the actual developmental level as determined by independent problem solving and the level of potential problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers.

Additionally the emphasis on the selection and provision of cultural components as the goals and content of learning reflects the central notion of goals in activity theory and social practice theory. This idea is developed further in stating the overall aim of "Didaktik" as being the "educated personality" ("Gebildete/r") which is seen to apply to all citizens in an egalitarian sense, is concerned with the central problems of life and aims at the fulfilment of human potential across the full range of human capabilities (Seel, 1999). In reflecting on the overall aim of "Didaktik", there are parallels here with the idea of activity (in its strong sense) through the way in which it provides purpose in the support of learning to acquire "Bildung".

Exploring differences between Didaktik and Curriculum

My aim in this section is to highlight what I see as the most significant differences between the different traditions of Didaktik and Curriculum as the basis for the following section, in which I outline what the study of Didaktik has offered to the development my own practice. In doing so I will draw on Westury's (2000) extensive overview of the differences between the traditions, though not try to offer a comprehensive summary. Furthermore I think that it is worth noting, as others have recently pointed out, that Didaktik is a tradition about teaching and learning which is virtually unknown in the English-speaking world (Hopmann and Riquarts, 2000; Kansanen, 1999 and Westbury, 2000). On the question of its relevance and potential, I agree with Westbury (2000) that "Didaktik provides some ways of thinking that highlight some very important, and universal, educational questions that are not well-defined in the English-language curriculum tradition".

In considering these differences, Westbury (2000) points out in the American curriculum tradition, the dominant idea has been organisational:

... focusing on the tasks of the building of systems of schools which have as an important part of their overall organizational framework a "curriculum-as-manual," containing the templates for coverage and methods that are seen as guiding, directing, or controlling a school, or a school system's, day-by-day classroom work.

It is noted what the central idea results in a view of the role of the teacher, as an employee of the school system, being concerned with simply "implementing" the system's curricula in a relatively mechanical fashion.

On the other hand, within the German tradition the state curriculum has not been seen as something "which could or should explicitly direct a teacher's work" (Westbury, 2000). Within this tradition there is an emphasis on professional autonomy, "freedom to teach without control by a curriculum in the American sense". This aspect is also emphasised by Seel (1999) who highlights the tension between the notion of "relative pedagogical autonomy" for school and teachers in German speaking countries with the more narrowly focussed Anglo-American concept of teaching theory. He also draws attention to Shulman's (1987) critique of a lesson-related instructional theory, which is seen as being too limited for a scientific basis for professional practice. Within the German tradition the equivalent of the state curriculum is the Lehrplan. However although this does outline prescribed content for teaching, Westbury (2000) describes this as being:

... understood as an authoritative selection from cultural traditions that can only become educative as it is interpreted and given life by teachers - who are seen, in their turn, as normatively directed by the elusive concept of Bildung, or formation, and by the ways of thinking found in the "art" of Didaktik.

Within the Anglo-American tradition the social and cultural world is seen as an objective structure (Reid, 1998) and the task of curriculum is to present this structure to students, on the assumption that culture and society can be reduced simply to facts to be learned. In contrast within the tradition of Didaktik the social and cultural world is subjectified. It is seen that there are things to be learned but students are to be encouraged to find their own path. As Künzli (2000) outlines, the "Didaktiker" does not begin by asking neither how a student learns nor what a student should be able to do or know. Rather he or she looks first for "the point of a prospective object of learning in terms of Bildung, asks what it can and should signify to the student, and how students themselves can experience this significance".

In drawing on this tradition as a "conceptual framework for research on teaching", Gudmundsdottir et al (2000) highlight Klafki's five questions and compares them to Shulman's (1987) model of Pedagogical Reasoning and Action. Shulman's (1987) model offers a framework for analysing teachers' knowledge that distinguishes between different categories of knowledge:

Gudmundsdottir et al (2000) offer each as examples of "practical theoretical constructs". They highlight four characteristics common to both which are:

Klafki's five questions are based on the thinking of Nohl and Weniger who came up with the theory, in contrast to the objectivism of previous thinkers, that "a double relativity constitutes the very essence of the contents of education" (Klafki, 2000). Firstly its value can only be ascertained with reference to the individual learner and secondly with a particular human, historical situation in mind with its attendant past and anticipated future. Klafki's questions are as follows and are based on the view that preparation (for teaching) is not a technical issue, but rather an interpretative issue i.e. a pedagogical interpretation:

  1. What wider or general sense or reality do these contents exemplify and open up for the learner? What basic phenomenon or fundamental principle, what law, criterion, problem, method, technique or attitude can be grasped by dealing with this content as an "examples"?

  2. What significance does the content in question or the experience, knowledge, ability or skill to be acquired through this topic already possess in the minds of the children in my class? What significance should it have from a pedagogical point of view?

  3. What constitutes the topic's significance for the children's future?

  4. How is the content structured (which has been placed into a specifically pedagogical perspective by questions 1,2 and 3?)

  5. What are the special cases, phenomena, situations, experiments, persons, elements of aesthetic experience, and so forth, in terms of which the structure of the content in question can become interesting, stimulating, approachable, conceivable, or vivid for children of the stage of development of this class?

In reflecting upon this tradition, Gudmundsdottir et al (2000) observe that it is "as if the founders of the cultural-historical school, researchers like Vygotsky and Bakhtin, ventriloquate through Shulman's Model of Pedagogical Reasoning and Action and Klafki's five questions". Furthermore Keitel and Hopmann (1995) note that, "Klafki represents a tradition that is deeply rooted in the history of German education" and that this form of "didaktik reflection" has been seen as the way of linking the intentions of the state "curriculum" with those of the teacher. They also highlight the way in which Didaktik is a "holistic, comprehensive yet at the same time practical, language that pervades the German education system". Similarly Senn-Fennell (2000) notes that the structure of her thesis for her Second State [Teacher Certification] Examination was determined "according to an unwritten law that generations of German student teachers have followed in their Second State Examination thesis".

In his summarising the characteristics of the view of the teacher within the American system, Westbury (2000) offers the following:

In the American world there is a vision of a system of schools with clear public purposes and well articulated curriculum, and a consequent strong and overt formal control over teachers as employees of the system. In this context "professionalism" is a contested and attenuated aspiration for American secondary or elementary teachers, and this is reflected in the language used to describe teacher education: teachers are "trained" and "certified" to teach the curriculum -- and then re-trained and "in-serviced." Teachers are not "licensed" as self-determining professionals who work within a larger institutional framework that directs, but does not control, the details of their work.

In relation to the nature of the "curriculum" he notes that the system for prescribing what teachers do has been "symbolized by the notion of ... an authoritative and directive manual of teaching tasks to be undertaken and procedures to be used." Furthermore he notes that "more recently external testing has been the preferred mechanism of symbolic and organizational control" and that traditional curriculum ideology, scholarship and practice "is symbolized by its preoccupation with curriculum implementation."

In contrast he highlights how in Germany, teaching in the Gymnasium, or academic secondary school, was "firmly professionalised" by the mid-19th century based on the notion of the establishment of a "middle ground of expert self-determination" against bureaucratic and systemic regulation. He compares the situation of teachers in the German tradition with that of lawyers and engineers, based on an expectation of "autonomy of practice" and a system of self-discipline and peer review rather than of external control. He also highlights the importance of Bildungsideale is the "central social value" of teaching as a profession in this tradition. In this context, the notion of "curriculum change" and of school "reform" take on very different meanings, depending as these processes do on teachers making "their independent judgements - in the light of their sense of the central social value associated with Bildung - that a new way is preferable to an old way."

What does Didaktik offer in particular?

In this section, I will outline what the study of Didaktik has offered to the development my own practice as a relative newcomer to this tradition from the English-speaking world. In doing so I will aim to highlight some of the key issues to emerge from my own engagement with Didaktik in the search to derive meaning from this tradition in a way that makes sense to my own experience and practice. These issues are grouped under the six sub-headings of this section.

Recognising and holding complexity

The first issue is associated with the underlying complexity related to the process that in the English speaking world we refer to as "learning". In particular I have found engagement with the ideas of the tradition of Didaktik has given me a fresh perspective on the recognition and holding of such complexity. On this question it is relevant to note the differences between cultures and also the way in which language can operate to either mask or highlight this aspect (of complexity). For example in the Russian language there is only one word, "Obuchenie", for teaching/learning and therefore there is no sharp distinction made between the terms. Similar thinking underlies the work of Lave (1996) with her emphasis on "teaching as learning in practice". This idea has a parallel in German with that of "Unterrichtfach" which Kansanen (1995) suggests is best translated as teaching-studying-learning. Similar words in Finnish and Swedish are Opetus and Undervisning.

Where attention is focussed

Through recognising the complexity of the process, particular attention is given to the studying aspect of this process i.e. those key functions that need to be fulfilled in order to achieve the goal/end point of the process which might be interpreted as a state of learning. In developing this idea Buchberger and Buchberger (1999) offer a practical description of Didaktik/Fachdidaktik as "(a) science (-s) of teaching, studying and learning ... conceived as a transformation science dealing in an integrated way with:

· actors involved in the teaching/studying/learning process and their actions,

· contexts of teaching, studying and learning,

· aims and objectives of teaching, studying and learning,

· contents of teaching, studying and learning,

· teaching, studying and learning strategies,

· media and teaching/studying/learning aids,

· evaluation of teaching, studying and learning.

Tools for holding complexity

A key tool for the analysis of the complex relations between teacher, student and content in the teaching-studying-learning process is the Didaktik triangle in the tradition of Herbart. As Kansanen and Meri (1999) emphasise, the Didaktik triangle should be treated as a whole although this is seen to be almost impossible to do in practice. They point out that the most common approach is to take the pedagogical relation between the teacher and the student(s) as a starting point (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Pedagogical relation in the didactic triangle

They note that the pedagogical relation between the teacher and the student is taken as a significant starting point in Geisteswissenschaftliche pedagogy. In considering the relationship between the teacher and the content, the teacher's competence is brought into focus. They also note that teaching in itself does not necessarily imply learning and therefore the preferred term for the activities of the students is that of "studying". It is through studying that the instructional process can be observed, whilst the invisible part of this relation may be learning. The teacher's key task is seen to be in guiding this relation. It is emphasised that the didactic relation is a relation to another relation and that to concentrate on this aspect is "the core of a teacher's profession". In view of the complexity of this aspect, it is observed that "it is difficult to think that the didactic relation could be organised universally or according to some technical rules". Consequently teachers' own practical theories and pedagogical thinking are seen to be of vital importance.

Figure 2 The didaktik relation in the Didaktik triangle

Meaning and intentionality

Another key aspect of Didaktik is the emphasis that is placed upon meaning and intentionality, or purpose, from the outset in the process of preparation for teaching through the application of the "five questions" and the process of Didaktik analysis (Klafki, 2000). In discussing the question of lesson preparation Klafki (2000) observes that it is through this process that the "interactive relationship" between theory and practice and the "interplay between experience and reflection" are made concrete through the form of "reflected decisions" for planning instruction and learning. He emphasises the "draft character" of good preparation and also the need for the "openness of teachers' minds to new situations, impulses and difficulties arising in the moment". He sees this openness of mind as being a key criterion of the teacher's pedagogical skill. The principal purpose of preparation is seen to be "intended as the design of one or several opportunities for certain children to make fruitful encounters with certain contents of education.".

However attention is also drawn to the danger of misinterpretation through understanding the task to be first and foremost, or even exclusively, as being concerned with the "how" of the situation i.e. simply a question of methods:

Usually the reflections of those who hold such a conception are dominated by a methodological principle (such as self-activity) or practice (such as learning in small groups) and the question is then how the material can be dealt with in keeping with this principle or practice.

It is emphasised that the search for method must be the final, though necessary step, in good preparation. Furthermore it is emphasised that the first step of preparation is concerned with "the subject matter to be conveyed or acquired in the lessons." This is seen to throw up the crucial question that is at the heart of the whole process of preparation, which is "What comprises 'the matter'? What is the nature of this 'lesson content'?".

In summarising the nature of the process Klafki (2000) describes Didaktik analysis as follows:

If we adopt the term Didaktik as a subsumption of all the mental effort directed at aspects of content, at the "what" of instruction and education (Bildung) (as distinguished from the "how", a topic of a theory of teaching and learning methods i.e. Methodik), the first task of a teacher engaged in preparation can be termed Didaktik analysis.

This perspective has strong resonances with Shulman's (1985) model which emphasises the way in which a professional is seen to be concerned not only with the how, but also with the what and why:

The teacher is not only 'master' (my quotes) of procedure but also of content and rationale, and capable of explaining why something has to be done. The teacher is capable of reflection leading to self knowledge, the metacognitive awareness that distinguishes 'draftsman' from architect, bookkeeper from auditor.

Furthermore it highlights the way in which teaching can be seen as a moral and reflecting activity that is primarily concerned with a search for meaning (Gudmundsdottir et al, 2000).

The role of the teacher

As discussed earlier the two traditions involve very different perspectives on the role of the teacher within the system. As Westbury (2000) highlights, Curriculum seeks to provide a structured framework for thinking about institutional issues. With reference to the influence of "the core text of the field" (Tyler, 1947), he highlights how this has led to a managerial framework for curriculum development and specification and subsequently for the control and evaluation of the educational "service delivery". Furthermore it is noted how the "curriculum technologies" of (behavioural) objective-writing, instruction, test development and curriculum evaluation follow from this framework. It is also observed that "this structure is seen as rational in that it is assumed that it is possible to specify a set of orderly steps setting out how an optimal curriculum can be developed." In considering the history of American discussions about Curriculum, amongst the major themes to be identified is that of teachers as the "invisible agents of the system, seen as "animated" and directed by the system, and not as sources of animation for the system". It is further noted that this perspective leads to a view of teachers as "a (if not the) major brake on innovation, change and reform" that are considered necessary by the system.

In contrast Didaktik provides a framework which places the teacher at the heart of the teaching-studying-learning process. Furthermore it provides a framework "for teacher thinking about the most basic how, what and why questions around their work" (Westbury, 2000). This follows from the emphasis that is placed upon Didaktik analysis and from the relative professional autonomy of the teacher within this tradition.

Reflections on developments in mathematics education research

In tracing the development of educational research traditions in general, Kansanen (1995) highlights the way in which the American and German traditions diverged from around the end of the 19th century. He points out that the psychology of education "took its (Didaktik's) place as a discipline of the science of education in the US" and that psychology of education "still has a strict hold" on contemporary thinking about teaching and learning in the US. I would argue that this has been the case also in the UK. Evidence of this phenomenon can be seen through the way in which the International Group for the Psychology of Mathematics Education (PME) has become synonymous with being the major international forum for research in mathematics education in the English speaking world.

One consequence of this development has been a rather low priority given to social and cultural aspects in mathematics education research. A rather stronger critique is that offered by Michael Apple (1995):

Most discussions of the content and organisation of curricula and teaching in areas such as mathematics have been strikingly internalistic. Or where they do turn to 'external' sources other than the discipline of mathematics itself they travel but a short distance - to psychology ... though it has brought some gains ... it has profoundly evacuated critical social, political and economic considerations ... In the process of individualising its view of students, it has lost any serious sense of social structures and the race, gender and class relations that form those individuals.

Furthermore a tendency towards isolation, even from closely related disciplines, on the part of particular Fachdidaktik (-en) has been noted by Buchberger (2000). On this aspect questions have been raised about the extent to which the academic disciplines have become predominant at the expense of pedagogical aspects. Furthermore Fachdidaktik(-en) have been challenged as to whether they can "define for themselves criteria for justifiable aims of the holistic development of Bildung/education/erudition" (Buchberger, 2000).

The need for an overarching and integrating science of education has long been recognised by some within the mathematics education community. For example, the call for such came from Gattegno (1987) who first published his work in the form of a book entitled The Science of Education, part 1: theoretical considerations. In writing about Gattegno's influence Tahta (1988) comments that "Gattegno's proposal is that shared awareness is an appropriate basis for a science". Gattegno suggests the need to enlarge our notion of science to cover the "know-hows" associated with growing food or making tools, "so that we can grant that our ancestors were also "scientists'". There are parallels with social practice theory in such a perspective. Gattegno argues that all sciences begin with a new awareness - "of light, or sound, or, in the case of mathematics, of relations as such". Tahta proceeds to argue that the science of education" is concerned with the awareness of awareness itself":

... with listening and not with sounds, with touching and not with what is being touched,. With tasting and not with the cause of the taste, with smelling and not with the atoms which reach one's nose. (Gattegno, 1987)

He proceeds to direct your attention as the reader of the text by asking you to let yourself become conscious of your reading, as you read these words. "Do your eyes flicker? Do you take in chunks at a time? What images do you invoke? Are you with the reading? Are you now with the self that was with the reading?" He quotes Gattegno who argues that when "watchfulness" becomes second nature and one is able to adjust immediately to the "subtle demands of consciousness" then it is possible to say that one is a scientist in the science of education.

So, argues Tahta, "the science of education uses aspects of watchfulness as its tools and a process of continuous feedback as its verification". This is resonant with Imsen's (1999) idea of the 'learning circle' which is itself consistent with the action research cycle of planning, action, observation and reflection which has been used widely and effectively by practitioners in the UK. An important role for the teacher according to Gattegno is in "forcing awareness". This has echoes of the role of the teacher in Vygotsky's ZPD. It is addressed explicitly by Tahta who quotes Simon (1985) as claiming that "the ideals of universal education are floundering for the lack of a pedagogy that emphasises what children have in common as opposed to their individual uniqueness." This is interpreted as a call for "a science of education" and he proceeds as follows:

There seem to be two competing choices. Either we continue to enquire what children can do as individuals and then create 'learning environments' in which they can create their own mathematics, and so on. Or - and this may be unpalatable to some readers - we try to find out what it is that all children have done and can do, and then teach them - in groups - in a more directed and sustained way.

Tahta also discusses "ways of knowing" and gives the example of "intuition" which is illustrated in relation to the use of geoboards, cuisenaire rods and mathematical films. He argues that intuition "demands the whole of one's self" and that this is what is required when one meets and tries "to maintain complexity". He argues that it operates in "precisely the opposite way to the 'focusing' traditionally stressed in Western thought and education" and probably has the English-speaking world in mind when arguing this point.

Before discussing the impact of these influences it is relevant to give consideration to what Westbury (2000) describes as "the elusive term, curriculum". With reference to Doyle (1992, 1993), he notes that "curriculum, and the related discussion and argument, can be seen occurring at two distinct levels of schooling: (a) the policy and programmatic levels, i.e. at institutional levels, and (b) the classroom level".

The policy level is seen to entail discussions at the "intersection between schooling, culture and society" and at the programmatic level "in the analysis of 'content' for and in school tracks and their 'subjects' and in the construction of appropriate 'content' for classroom use".

However at the classroom level "curricular reflection, discussion and argument" is seen to result from the further elaboration of the programmatic curriculum and becomes "connected to the events of the classroom and the worlds of real flesh-and-blood students". Furthermore it is observed that "it is at this level that curriculum and pedagogy merge".

When considering the impact of the work of writers such as Gattegno, Tahta and others in this tradition it can be observed that this has been at the classroom level. For example Gattegno was a key influence on the establishment and subsequent development of the Association of Teachers of Mathematics in the UK and others have continued this tradition e.g. Mason's (1994) "discipline of noticing". This approach works on ideas of developing awareness 'in the moment' - and has been developed in the specific context of mathematics education. As Gudmundsdottir et al (2000) have noted, Shulman reached a similar landscape to that of Klafki through grounded theorising based on empirical data. They note that this corresponds with the strong empirical tradition which is characteristic of the Anglo-Saxon research tradition. In contrast she notes that the German (and to a lesser extent the Scandinavian) educational research tradition is more philosophical and textual. One effect of the strong development that has taken place in the mathematics education research community in general is that development has been quite strongly focussed at the classroom level. In exploring the commonality that can be seen to exist between the traditions that is outlined in this paper, it can be observed that it is at this level (of the classroom) that most common ground can be traced.

In the wider educational context, a similar phenomenon can be observed when one considers the widespread impact of action research on classroom practice that owes its influence to the work of Stenhouse (1975) and others in this tradition. As Imsen (1999) highlights, the work of Lawrence Stenhouse has had a significant impact that on educational developments outside the UK and in Scandinavia in particular. She emphasises how action research is seen as a powerful alternative to the "Tyler-rationale and the belief that schools can change only by formulating objectives". This alternative is seen to be through "teachers' continuous evaluation of their own practice, reflection on their own experiences and the ability to learn from their own mistakes and successes". She also draws attention to research that highlights a distinction between those who investigate teachers' planning as a purely rational and logical concern (for instance in connection with management by objectives and implicit norms about effectiveness) and those who consider feelings and caring attitudes towards their students.

Implications for research into teaching and learning

In arguing that Didaktik can offer those in the Anglo/American tradition a new dimension to the notion of reflective practice, I agree with Westbury (2000) that it can give the image of the teacher as a reflective practitioner a meaning that it does not have in the "Anglo-Saxon" tradition. The concept of transformation is central and curriculum is seen as not simply as content but as a theory of content involving what it means to know that content and what goal(s) one is seeking to achieve when teaching that content. As Gudmundsdottir et al (2000) note, from a cultural-historical perspective reflection is dialogical, "because to reflect is to enter into dialogue with something else". Both Shulman's model of Pedagogical Reasoning and Action and also Klafki's five questions can be seen to promote systematic reflection over content. Shulman's model emphasises the way in which a professional is seen to be concerned not only with the "how", but also with the "what and why", whilst Klafki emphasises the process of re-enacting of the rationale for the particular subject matter in question. As a consequence both serve to promote teaching "as a moral and reflecting activity that is primarily concerned with meaning" (Gudmundsdottir et al, 2000).

When considering the implications for research into teaching and learning, there is a clear need to take account of the social and cultural aspects of the situation and context. This might be seen in terms of adopting a "wider angle lens" (Dengate and Lerman, 1995) through which to analyse and interpret (classroom/school) practice. From a similar perspective, Gudmundsdottir (in press) argues for narrative approaches to "school practice" which she explains as practice that arises "as a result of teaching in the context of classrooms and schools". Accordingly the unit of analysis is widened to include, "not just what the teacher does, but also what students learn as a result of experiencing school practice". She highlights the way in which the tradition of narrative research is grounded in the cultural-historical activity theory (CHAT) tradition in psychology "from where it receives much of its driving force". Also with reference to the influence of Lawrence Stenhouse and to the tradition of action research, she outlines how this research genre takes as its primary unit of analysis "teachers' (and student teachers') practice and interpretations of the curriculum, their thoughts, beliefs, images and their students' learning processes". This reinforces the emphasis that Kansanen and Meri (1999) place on teachers' own practical theories and pedagogical thinking. A further connection with Didaktik and its hermeneutic tradition is outlined by Gudmundsdottir (in press) in the following:

The narrative approach moves research on school practice as a field of study out of the constraints that educational psychology has placed upon our community and enables us to move where we belong - into the realm of human sciences as conceptualized by Dilthey. Narrative as a research genre is a branch of interpretative research with roots in Schleiermacher's biblical scholarship of "Hermeneutische Wissenschaften" and Dilthey's "Geisteswissenschaften" ... Dilthey argued that the physical and human sciences are fundamentally different. One seeks to explain physical phenomena, the other seeks to promote understanding of human interaction, in this case an understanding of school practice as it evolves in context specific situations. The hermeneutic circle, or spiral as I would like to call it, is at the heart of a process of meaning making and meaning generating in interpretative research. Phillips (1992) argues for two types of hermeneutic interpretation. One involves general understanding through the use of symbolic systems where every act of comprehension is by nature hermeneutic. This Phillips calls "the weak hermeneutic program." The other involves the systematic use of hermeneutic interpretation as a research tool to approach participants' meanings in a given social interaction. Phillips calls this type of interpretation "the strong hermeneutic program." It is also a kind of grounded theorizing ...

A similar impulse is offered by Pepin (1999) in her discussion of epistemologies, beliefs and conceptions of mathematics and its teaching and learning. In particular she addresses how teachers' beliefs and conceptions are manifested in their practices by drawing on a research study in England, France and Germany. She outlines how these beliefs and conceptions can be traced back to philosophical traditions, to epistemological and educational trends of mathematics and mathematics education, and to personal constructions. She suggests that teachers' pedagogical styles are a personal response to a set of assumptions about the subject and its teaching and learning, to a set of educational and philosophical traditions, and to a set of institutional and societal constraints. Thus, she argues that teachers' pedagogies need to be analysed and understood in terms of a larger cultural context and in relation to teachers' conceptions and beliefs, and that a lack of such understanding is likely to inhibit the process of change at all levels of the system.

Insights from empirical studies

As referred to earlier, in exploring the commonality between the traditions it is at the classroom level that most common ground can be found. In this section I will draw on some recent and current studies which I believe offer examples of such common ground and which give pointers towards future developments to promote change rather than inhibit it.

With regard to the emphasis on "what students learn as a result of experiencing school practice" (Gudmundsdottir, in press), a number of recent and current studies have illuminated aspects of the process of meaning making in the classroom/lecture room situation in novel ways. For example the study by Hudson et al (1998) highlights the importance of students' sense of identity in relation to meaning making in the context of "re-learning" algebra in Higher Education. It also illuminates the complexity of the situation through a focus on language and meaning. In the context of group working with multimedia in the secondary classroom (Hudson, 1998), this study aimed to highlight students' "sense generating" classroom activity and illuminates some aspects of the way in which classroom interaction is mediated by language, computers and other non-verbal tools. Furthermore this study illustrates the complexity of the situation and also the potential for interpreting the empirical data from a variety of perspectives e.g. contrasting patterns of group and individual interaction (Hudson, 1996), the role of the technology and the role of the teacher (Hudson, 1997). The study by Elliott (2000) has also illuminated the rich complexity of the classroom situation in the context graphical calculator use in advanced algebra at secondary school level. For example the ways in which the behaviour of individual students affects the shared construction of meaning is the focus of just one aspect of this study (Elliott et al, 2000). Similarly the study by Gardiner (2000) reveals the complexity of the classroom situation in the context of the use of dynamic geometry software in encountering ideas of construction and proof. These aspects are discussed with an emphasis on the role of the teacher in a "whole class zone of proximal development" in Gardiner et al (1999a) and with an emphasis on the content in Gardiner et al (1999b).

In relation to teachers' practice and interpretations of the curriculum, their thoughts, beliefs, images and their students' learning processes" (Gumundsdottir, in press), I will draw on the preliminary analysis of the initial stages of a longer term study with practising teachers. An approach based upon narrative research has been adopted from the outset of this study. This has involved initial semi-structured interviews with two teachers H and S in July 2000. Both teachers are seen to be successful practitioners in their respective fields. H is an Iranian national with a background in engineering who undertook his teacher education course at a British university and who has recently been appointed to a post of Head of Mathematics in an 11-16 secondary school. S is an Austrian national with a background in the study of law and also as a qualified tennis coach. Following a three course at a State College of Teacher Education, S is now fully employed in the training school attached to the College. He teaches English, geography and ICT to students in the age range 11-14.

The interviews had the aim of exploring the teachers' practice and their interpretations of the curriculum, their thoughts, beliefs, images and their students' learning processes. Furthermore I outlined my interest in relating these to policy making and also to different traditions. Teachers' practice is seen as being the primary unit of analysis of this area of research and my questions were intended to draw out aspects related to these categories.

Initially the interview focussed on the backgrounds of H and S and also their reasons for choosing to become a teacher. Each was asked to reflect on his philosophy as a teacher and to give any examples, which might best exemplify this. Subsequent questions included those focussing on aspects of their work that gave them the source of the greatest satisfaction; what were the most common obstacles in trying to achieve day to day goals, the most common sources of disappointment (and why) and any stressful aspects of the job. Furthermore they were each asked to reflect on their self-image of themselves as teachers and also on how they perceive that society views them and teachers in general.

In reflecting on his reasons for choosing to become a teacher H referred back to a family history of teaching at school and university level in a society that holds teachers in some respect in general. More significantly however was the enjoyment that he experienced whilst on teaching practice as a student teacher which is why he decided that "this is the job for me". In responding to the question concerning his philosophy as a teacher, he immediately emphasised the importance of relationships as outlined below:

Well, to me the most important thing in teaching is the relationship with the children and, especially if you've got difficult classes, it's important to make them feel good about themselves because they feel, you know, that they are failures. A good example was Year 9 here when I picked them up; apparently they were really, really causing trouble ... and I started talking to them about what they wanted to do in the future, why they are messing about; they are not wasting my time, they are wasting there own time ... and I'm there to help them.

The emphasis here was on the pedagogical relationship (see Figure 1) between teacher and student. However H also stressed the importance of the didactical relationship (see Figure 2) as an intrinsic part of this process. He continues:

But I'm also trying to teach them mathematics because they're going to need that, no matter what they're going to do in the future ... And to me, as I've said before, the most important thing is just the relationship with each individual; to make them feel good about themselves, about their mathematics, do their best in life.

Having established such relationships, H saw his task as a teacher as being primarily concerned with building self-esteem and then building up their confidence in the subject.

S responded in a very similar fashion. He referred to finding his "spark/inspiration" to become a teacher through his work as a tennis coach:

One of the most motivating aspects was when children, parents of the children told me that these children have tried so many different tennis courses and, in a way, these children wanted to go on, to continue but they had lost their, they had lost their motivation because of things like not being able to play a good backhand. And I realised that I had the capability of getting across the message they needed; just to learn how to correct, how to find the correct movement, how to run and how to feel confident on the court. So in a way, it was amazing to see, to me, to find out that. It seemed to be some sort of a gift, to find the way to the heart of a particular pupil, or the particular tennis kid, to say, to diagnose, just to find the right diagnosis and therefore to find a cure for the problem. Yes, that was, I think, how I came to the conclusion that this could be the same case when teaching in schools; it's just to find a way to the heart of a problem, then to help the pupil to get through this very difficult stage ...

Furthermore he, like H, emphasised the role of working on the didactical relationship with a key emphasis on supporting the development of the student's confidence in relation to the content (in this case the game of tennis). His response to the question about his philosophy as a teacher placed similar emphasis on relationships. S referred to the metaphor of a shepherd in "trying to give them some orientation, some help, just leading them ..." in contrast to simply "commanding" them. He also referred to having "some authority" through his subject but also being reliant on the "emotional intelligence" of his students which he described as being equivalent to behaviour, especially towards the teacher.

Other aspects which H and S had in common related to what they saw as key obstacles. Both referred to a lack of motivation on the part of their students as being a key obstacle:

The most common source - the biggest barrier in my eyes is the indifference of their hearts to life in general. Because they are not really thankful for schools, for going to schools, just attending schools. Or even having computer devices. It's just that everything is here and yes, it has to be here. That sort of not being grateful or thankful. The missing thankfulness. It's just a minimum behaviour towards society and establishments ... Yes. Taking things for granted. I think that's the barrier I can feel is almost devastating. It's just like learning foreign languages, I think that's a real advantage for life but they can't see it. And it takes me four years to get that across. And even in the fourth year, that's I think the most disappointing experience in my life; it is that after four years, in some classes - not in every class - you have ... pupils who are so indifferent to what they have learned and to society and their neighbours, and everything almost. They're so demotivated after four years of schooling that it's just incredible and you don't know what sort of profession they can ever hold. You're not sure if they can ever work at anything because they are so dull. It's just incredible. (S)

In his response H emphasised the lack of responsibility on the part of some students and also their parents as a key obstacle:

The obstacles I find - not being responsible, for example, not bringing the right equipment to school, not doing their homework; and I'm trying to see a way, not to keep giving them detention but trying¼ There's too much emphasis these days on teachers in this country like policing and have they done their homework. I'm sorry, I'm a teacher. I've set them a task and that's the responsibility of the children and, of course, the parents, you know; that's why we've got homework planners - parents check it, you know. If a child hasn't done their homework, it shouldn't be my responsibility to chase after them to get it. To make him or her understand it's your responsibility to do your homework, and if you've got any problem, you should be chasing me not me chasing you. "That's your responsibility. Come on, do your homework or I'll put you in detention." These are the things that disappoint me greatly and I hope, although I've got a hard task, I hope I can change these attitudes of the children.

A key difference between the responses of H and S related to their relationships with the wider system. For example S emphasised the notion of "curriculum as philosophy" which would link up with the notion of emotional intelligence on the part of his students. When asked to elaborate on this aspect, he did so at some length:

Yes. The curriculum as philosophy, that's our government, well, all the governments have come up throughout the last 60 years, have always tried to state that they want to have mature citizens in a democratically developed new Austria. I think the curriculum as philosophy is the result of the time after the Nazi era and just to get rid of any intolerance and anti-democratic movements in the country. And that's why it is so strongly influenced, just by being, by stating philosophical aspects; just going back to some Christian pictures as well as Greek philosophy. It's in a way a very eclectic - taking out the best pictures of every sort of world view one can have and therefore they've formed it, just tried to mould it in a way so that a new picture of education and teaching and learning could emerge. That's why it's so strongly ¼ It's more or less just philosophy and more philosophy than actual content for teachers. For instance, it just gives you an account of how to teach geography but it just starts with general aims of education. So the chapter starts with what are the general aims of education and then it goes down to geography and with regards geography, a teacher has to teach and then the points follow, which have to be observed in the first, the second, third, fourth form of secondary school. It always starts with the philosophy - that's the basis - and then goes up or just down to the very points. But the very points just say, for instance, in the eighth grade ... you have to deal with the general problems of a global economy. The teacher is free, which bit he would like to chose to teach this subject ... teachers are completely free in Austria to bring in the people, material, ... whatever, just to teach this particular thing which is in the philosophical curriculum, which has the advice to do something but it's not a command to do that. So Austrian teachers are relatively free in the classroom.

In contrast H felt a level of unwelcome prescription from government as illustrated in the following comments:

I wish sometimes they'd leave us alone and let us get on with teaching, that's what we do best. But sometimes, for example, OFSTED, a lot of people complain. And the way the OFSTED has come along. Some OFSTED is good and some is poor, very, very poor. And some things the government has said, the national numeracy thing, springing from the Year 6 to Year 7 at the secondary school - a lot of it is good ... I should be left alone as a teacher to deliver the subject and at the end of the day if I don't get the result, if the children aren't progressing, then come and ask questions as to why you aren't doing it properly. But they shouldn't be very prescriptive, I don't believe in that. I don't believe in just being prescriptive - "That's why you do that". Look at what happened to communism in the past, because that was being prescriptive - you do that, you do that, you follow that and that's not the right way to go. Just leave us to teach.

Another differences that emerged from these initial interviews related to a difference of emphasis on testing, with S seeing a much greater emphasis on this aspect in the UK. Furthermore he referred to a major difference in terms of control of this process, with the Austrian teacher having far greater autonomy on this aspect than the English counterpart. A partially related aspect of the English system was the much greater amount of time needed for administration.


In conclusion, I will offer some reflections on recent policy developments and the current context in England and Wales and seek to relate these to the different traditions outlined in this paper. An immediate observation is of the similarities between the discourse of the New Labour administration in Westminster e.g. of "modernisation" and "reform of the system" and that of the now rather outmoded "Tyler Rationale", which was first published in the United States in the first half of the last century! As Westbury (2000) notes, the "reforming rhetorics and the systemic technologies" are there for the purpose of changing and redirecting schools as institutions, and "not to maintain and support them or to nurture the on-going, routine work of their teachers!" In outlining New Labour's vision, one of the chief architects the educational reforms recognises that the capacity of many individual heads and teachers is stretched to the limit at what is now seen to be a critical stage (Barber, 2000). Meanwhile he recognises as "a problem" and a remaining substantial challenge, what does appear to be a fundamental contradiction as outlined in the following:

The sustained drive from central government is perceived (my underlining) as an entirely top-down reform with its associated pressures to conform, whereas all evidence suggests that successful reform requires a combination of top-down and bottom-up change.

The solution is seen to be the achievement of "irreversible" reforms of the system leading to the government's role shifting from "driving reform to creating the conditions, and crucially the culture, for transformation, which would be led and created by the schools themselves". The blindspot within this systems based view remains that of the teacher which in Westbury's (2000) view are the "invisible agents of the system, seen as animated and directed by the system, and not as sources of animation for the system".

This mechanistic and dehumanised view of teaching is also one that is conveyed even more chillingly by Reynolds (1998) who is another of the chief advisers to the New Labour government. In arguing for the need for a science of teaching, Reynolds (1998) asserts that "teaching is the core technology of what teachers do". He proceeds to present a very narrow and highly simplistic interpretation of a science of teaching based upon an excess of mechanical metaphors and a smattering of so called "effective" teacher behaviours. His attack on British university departments of education does nothing to help the case of curriculum research at the classroom level. In fact it simply serves to reinforce any prejudice that does exist (of which there is some) on the part of those who see the only real research worthy of note as at the policy and programmatic level.

In considering the benefits of a centrally directed system (in line with New Labour policy) versus a decentralised system, Sander (1999) uses the former German Democratic Republic (GDR) as an example of the limitations of such policies:

It has been generally assumed that the education system of the former GDR was strictly controlled from the top through the Party bureaucracy, the Ministry and the Akademie der Pädagogischen Wissenschaften, critics often comparing it to forms of military command. Political activities of these institutions were invariably seen as following a rational pattern, centres of decision-making were thought of as being well-informed about all the necessary details (taking a realistic view of problems and their origins), bureaucratic elites were regarded as homogeneous - and society as a passive element that could be manipulated at will by the bureaucracy. However, none of these assumptions has stood the test of critical analysis. In fact it has been demonstrated how little the central bureaucracy knew about the reality and the complexities of the education system in particular and the social system in general.

Above all there was never a clear-cut, straightforward relationship between political aims and political actions, the bureaucracy continuously acting against the declared interests of its own plans and programmes.

The kind of streamlined unitary command imagined by researchers was not exercised by the Politbureau or the Central Committee of the SED but rather by the harsh realities of the GDR's long-term economic decline. Beyond that, looking at power structures and the mechanisms of decision-making, it could hardly be disputed that there was a number of different decision-making centres in the former GDR, often radically opposing or outmanoeuvring each other, with the top level of the party and the government very seldom exerting the strongest influence in a complicated power game.

In commenting on the centralised and prescriptive approach to teacher education as outlined in Circular 10/97 (Teaching: High Status, High Standards, Department for Education and Employment) Sander (1999) notes the "misconceptions" of the authors of this document:

It is certainly the authors of such lists whose „errors and misconceptions" about education and teaching need very careful attention indeed, although there might actually be no way of „helping to remedy them". For any critical observer this (and the rest of the catalogue contained in circular 10/97) is nothing but a mass of vague and hollow phrases which definitely could not serve in any way as an orientation for beginning teachers in understanding how to organise their work in the classroom or how to structure processes within teacher education courses with the aim of gaining the required competence. The need for interpreting the respective requirements in their complete vagueness (what is „good use of textbooks", what is „effective questioning", what is „well-paced explanation" outside highly specific contexts and beyond personal interpretations - more circulars by ignorant technocrats needed to explain this!) makes it perfectly impossible to regard them as appropriate standards which could be used in any rational way for assessing specific classroom behaviour of students. Requirements could be deliberately interpreted in widely differing and even opposite ways. Whatever behaviour students demonstrate in practice, it could be regarded at will as corresponding with the standards or as not corresponding, as there are absolutely no criteria or only hints for knowing whether specific behaviour of specific students in specific situations does correspond with the standards. On top of this, it is completely unclear how such competences could be acquired at all in pre-service teacher education, be this at university or in schools. It is only too obvious that university does not have the means of promoting the acquisition of competences in this very narrow sense and it is definitely not its role to deal with such matters.

In considering the centralising project of recent government policy, there are many examples of where this approach has not worked in the past and there is mounting evidence of the deficiencies of this approach at the present time. For example, not only is there a major recruitment crisis into teacher education and teaching, but there is also a major exodus from the profession at this time, as evidenced by headlines such as "Schools struggle with maths exodus" (Dean and Kelly, 2000). This centralising systems-based approach fails to address the role of the teacher who is at the heart of a complex web of relationships and who is key to the transformation of the system that is the goal of the policy makers. What is needed is a recognition that the current policy of centralised instruction, contradicts much that is known about how to raise the performance of large and complex organisations. As such it caricatures an outmoded and outdated style of industrial management that went out of fashion in industry a long time ago. In a context where American curriculum theorists have been searching for a "reconceptualisation" (Westbury, 2000) of reflective practice it is doubly difficult to comprehend the rationale for the direction of current government policy when it comes to teachers and teaching. In seeking a solution to the blind spot that lies at the heart of government policy in Westminster at this time, it seems that policy makers would have much to learn by studying a tradition such as Didaktik, especially if it was accompanied by a degree of humility and an openness of mind!


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This document was added to the Education-line database on 16 October 2000