Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Signature pedagogies

Shulman, L. (2005) Signature pedagogies in the professions. Daedalus. pp. 52-59.

This paper echoes Aristotles assertion,

'Watch your thoughts, for they become words.
Watch your words, for they become actions.
Watch your actions, for they become habits.
Watch your habits, for they become character.
Watch your character, for it becomes your destiny'

'Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act but a habit'

This is basically what Shulman asserts is a signature pedagogy, the fundamental ways future practitoners are educated for their new professions. It is the way a professional is taught to think, perform and act. Shulman asserts that equal attention is not paid to all dimensions of professional work; physicians learn how to perform, less on how to act. Lawyers are taught how to think, less on how to perform like one. 

The paper with an observation by the psychoanalyst Erik Erikson that to understand a culture, study its nurseries. Shulman too says that pedagogical signatures teach us a lot about the personalities, dispositions and cultures of their fields and that professions have more defined signatures because their pedagogies must satisfy both the academy and their profession - it is preparation for practice in the service of others, 'they must come to understand in order to act, and they must act in order to serve'. So these pedagogies 'shape the character of future practice' and symbolize the values and hopes of the professions. 

Signature pedagogies have three dimensions;
  1. The surface structure, which consists of concrete, operational acts (showing and demonstrating, questioning and answering, interacting and withholding, approaching and withdrawing)
  2. The deep structure, the set of assumptions about how best to impart a certain body of knowledge and know-how
  3. The implicit structure, the moral dimension that comprises the set of beliefs about professional attitudes, values and dispositions
It can also be characterised by what it is not (think Robin Williams in Patch), ow it is shaped by what it does not impart or exemplify. It involves a choice, a selection amongst alternative approaches. That choice highlights and supports some outcomes at the expense of others.

Schulman also points out the paradox of developing habits. Once ingrained they free you concentrating on how (observation and analysis, reading and interpretation, question and answer, conjecture and refutation, proposal and response, problem and hypothesis, query and evidence, individual invention and collective deliberation) to concentrate on why and the context of the performance.  However, they also lock you into these performances, even once their utility has been exhausted, like fixed undercarriages in flight. They become the signature pedagogies strength and weakness, both at the same time.

Habits are positive in scholarship in that they 'shift new learning into our zones of proximal development', whilst at their worse distort learning in some manner. Because many faculty rarely receive direct preparation to teach, this 'apprenticeship by observation' encourages a pedagogy of inertia. 'Teachers and students can be quite inventive or creative within the boundary conditions of these teaching frameworks, but the frameworks themselves are quite well formed'.

Lastly, Shulman raises the concern of 'compromised pedagogies', where balance is lost between the dimensions of the intellectual, the technical and moral concerns. Because practice always operates within a dynamic; the tension between self-interest and that of their clients, between the client and society, costs and profits, efficacy and opportunity, we have a duty to develop students who can recognise these and have the capabilities to deal with them.

We are also encountering rapid change through such factors as globalisation, information technology, the nature of work, city states, etc. These conditions provide the impetuous to examine how other pedagogies can inform discipline specific teaching practices.  How we form the habits of mind, heart and hands prefigure our culture means we need to contest the way we teach for the future we want to create.

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