TACIT KNOWLEDGE EXPLICIT
Dr Susan Hall
Mindful that the purpose of papers in this conference is to generate
discussion, what I offer is an outline of a micro-ethnography into the
explication and the use made of tacit professional knowledge within an
action research project. The study was carried out in a co-researcher
relationship with a teacher ("Ellen") as she conducted action
research on her literature lessons with her class of twelve year olds.
It was conducted in an inner metropolitan Primary School in Western Australia
over the greater part of one school year. I hope the ensuing commentary
will include questions about parts of the study which people would like
to have embellished and/or discussed.
The study was a lengthy one - it was my PhD thesis - and in addition
to a year of fieldwork it involved several years of experimenting with
epistemology, methodology, (particularly the notion of reflexive research)
and grounded theory analysis. Some of these aspects have been document
elsewhere (Hall, 1995 & Hall, 1996). However, to address the topic
of this conference, the parts outlined here present something of: the
background to the study, the research aims and foci, the process of making
the tacit explicit, Ellen's gradual unfolding of change to practice and
the resulting theory-of-practice.
This interest in explication within the process of reflection began for
me in the early 1980's and developed over a period of six years while
I was involved in facilitating and researching the process of teachers
undertaking action research (Kling, 1981(a); Kling, 1981(b) and Kling,
1984). Like several of my colleagues who were facilitating action research
within the field of education in Australia during the early 1980's, I
recognised a link between explication and action. This link was that,
in most cases, whereas knowledge which was tacit or unexplicated was not
open to scrutiny and was rarely changed or expanded upon, knowledge which
was made explicit (usually through speech or writing) was more readily
evaluated and then either re-enforced, developed or changed. In other
words we shared a spoken theory-in-use (Argyris & Schön, 1975,
p. 7; Yonemura, 1982, pp. 239 - 255) that explication of professional
knowledge transforms it from unconscious knowledge to conscious knowledge
and thereby makes it available for evaluation within the process of aspiring
to improve work practice. It is not surprising that Polanyi's ideas on
tacit knowledge (Polanyi, 1967) became compelling reading for me at this
Although this spoken theory-in-use certainly influenced our work as facilitators,
at that time, it was not prevalent in the literature on professional development
for teachers. At best, the transfer from implicit to explicit knowledge
was represented in the literature as something which occurred automatically
(Johnston, 1989, p. 36), and at worst, as was pointed out by Evans, Stubbs,
Duckworth and Davis (1981, p. 8), teachers' knowledge, whether unexplicated
or explicated, was regarded as faulty and therefore, was not identified
as a resource for their professional development process. Other authors
of this period (such as Simons, 1989; Smyth, 1987, pp. 11-25; and Olsen,
1992, pp. 7 - 24) contested this denial of the value of teachers' knowledge
and attributed the denial to the then prevailing technicist approaches
to studies in teacher thinking.
While the technicist view of teachers' knowledge prevailed, other researchers
including Schön, had completed some well developed works which acknowledged
that teachers do have and use unexplicated knowledge about their practices
(Argyris and Schön, 1975; Elbaz, 1983; Carr & Kemmis, 1983; Louden,
1991; Olsen, 1992; Schön, 1983 & 1987; Smyth, 1991; and Yonemura,
1982). For example, this knowledge was referred to as theories-in-use
by Yonemura (1982, pp. 240 - 255) who took her lead from Argyris and Schön
(1975). Yonemura (ibid) described how, while using each other as 'mentors',
teachers explicated their theories-in-use and used them to inform their
decision making about their practices. This certainly resonated with my
experience in the field. This experience told me that the role of Yonemura's
mentors in precipitating explication of previously unexplicated knowledge,
was in one sense, similar to the role of educational researchers who,
while acting as participant observers, provide feedback to teachers about
their classrooms. Moreover, I speculated that if explication did assist
teachers to examine knowledge underpinning their work then it was an important
component of any process for reviewing and developing work practice.
THE RESEARCH OUTLINE:
A. The aims of the study were twofold: (i) To develop a theory of the
relationship between Ellen's explication of professional knowledge about
her teaching practices and her process reviewing and developing her work
practice; and specifically to examine 'what would happen' when explication
was increased. (ii) To develop a collaborative method and epistemology
for conducting research into teachers' professional working knowledge:
one in which the researcher (myself) would not only come to grips with
the lived experience of the particular teacher's world of work, but would
also account for my own presence and roles in that world.
In order to adhere to the title of this paper I will limit my writing
to aim (i) with only the following cursory reference to the epistemological
framework of the study.
B. EPISTEMOLOGY As mentioned earlier this was a micro - ethnography in
education, a hermeneutic study designed to produce common-sense knowledge
based on the shared meaning constructed by Ellen and myself. The method
for theorising was a form of grounded theory adapted from that of Strauss
and Corbin (1990) and this was used within what I have called a collaborative-reflexive
epistemological framework (Hall, 1994, pp. 53 - 85).
Aim (i) above was based on the assumption that Ellen's explication of
her tacit knowledge would improve the quality of her review and development
of her teaching. I intended to test this working hypothesis by way of
answering the question, "What happened in Ellen's review and development
process as she made her tacit knowledge explicit - what was the relationship
between explication and action?"
C. FOCI In pursuing this question I identified some starting points for
observation or initial foci. These were: (i) Ellen's actions towards increasing
her pupil's interest in literature (the topic of her action research project);
(ii) Ellen's unexplicated knowledge about her teaching of literature lessons;
(iii) Ellen's explicated knowledge about her teaching of literature lessons;
(iv) The school and classroom context in which she worked; and (v) The
ways in which I might have contributed to the data through my involvement
in the setting.
THE PROCESS OF MAKING 'THE TACIT' EXPLICIT
Previous experience brought me to the study with the following assumptions
about how this explication might take place:
(i) Explication can be precipitated from feedback in the form of observations
about teaching. That is, often when teachers are presented with feedback
which touches on or reveals something of their unexplicated professional
knowledge, they tend to spontaneously set about providing an explanation
of and the reasons for this particular practice. In other words they respond
by explicating that knowledge.
(ii) The presence of an interested and familiar observer who understands
the context seems to precipitate explication. That is, after the participant
observer has become a regular and an accepted member of a teacher's classroom
there are times when the teacher spontaneously explicates the theory behind
his/her practices. This can happen during classes or at any time when
researcher and teacher are together.
On the basis of these assumptions and our negotiations, Ellen and I
set out to trial the following sequence of procedures for observing and
recording her literature lessons. (i) I observed Ellen's literature lesson
each week increasing my involvement in the room as Ellen invited me to
join in on lessons. (ii) Ellen and I checked the notes together immediately
after each lesson in order to negotiate agreement about accuracy and interpretation.
This often provided me explanations, additional information and further
comparative data. (iii) I then converted the notes into ethnographic descriptions
and these descriptions were checked by Ellen when I returned to observe
the next lesson and to produce the next set of observation notes. (iv)
As Ellen read the descriptions and my preliminary analysis of the events
in them she commented on both my interpretation of the events, my preliminary
analysis of those interpretations and her own reflections on the events.
Her comments provided me with further data which I promptly recorded.
While this process did in fact bring much of what had been Ellen's tacit
knowledge to an explicit form this is not to suggest that explication
process was ever taken to be complete; some knowledge was made more explicit
than other knowledge and explicitness was often sharpened as knowledge
However, the process of explication does appear to have had a direct
connection to Ellen's subsequent actions. The data recorded in my field
notes and descriptions provided evidence which was corroborated several
months after the fieldwork period, when Ellen and I were preparing a joint
presentation on the study for a research conference. Ellen commented that
the explication had made her more purposeful because of its direct relation
to her reflecting on and modifying her actions. She said:
"It was very helpful to be able to get the observations immediately
after the lesson and again in written form, a week later. This enabled
me to consider and reconsider my actions. Thinking about the actions was
crucial. Thinking about the actions led to making them explicit which
in turn led to modifying the actions and planning new actions". (Ellen,
Note that Ellen's description of her reflection process here is similar
to what Schön (1987, pp. 114 -117) called the ladder of reflection
THE GRADUAL UNFOLDING OF CHANGE TO PRACTICE
Ellen began her action research project with the hunch that children
need to be emotionally involved in literature in order to appreciate it.
She was not happy with the current level of appreciation and so she undertook
to explore and develop this aspect of her practice.
After we had been successfully trialling and refining the observation
and discussion processes for around two months Ellen began to reveal thoughts
which we came to identify as being central to what she was doing in her
teaching. These were:
- There is a developmental sequence to children achieving emotional
involvement in literature.
- This sequence was the development of:
- self awareness
- The rate at which each student progressed through these stages would
differ and would be influenced by other circumstances as well as by
the quality of her teaching. Examples of the other circumstances might
be the student's :
- social position in the class.
Nonetheless, she believed that she could make a difference by sequencing
the content and activities of her lessons according to this schema and
by monitoring her students' reactions to the lessons.
After she had explained this to me, and I recorded it, she set about
preparing her lessons more deliberately and to monitor the students' reactions.
Each week the observation notes and descriptions, along with her discussion
and reflections on them, informed her plan for the subsequent lessons.
As a result she was able to time the introduction of delicate emotional
concepts and the discussion of them with precision.
The ethnographic accounts of some of these sessions portray the excitement
I shared in being there to witness what was happening in the classroom.
Meanwhile, through a process of formulating hypotheses, synthesising them
into concepts and integrating the concepts, I, with Ellen's help, had
been developing what grounded theorists call a "substantive theory"
of Ellen's use of explicated knowledge. This substantive theory was constructed
in an attempt to answer the main question about this case, "What
was the relationship between explication and change to practice within
Ellen's action research on her literature teaching?" The developed
theory was as follows:
THE THEORY OF ELLEN'S USE OF EXPLICATED
Within the process of Ellen's action research on her literature lessons,
there was a positive relationship between her explication of working knowledge
about her teaching of literature and the students' interest in the literature
lessons. The positive relationship was that, as Ellen explicated her working
(i) She became more focused and deliberate in her teaching actions, bringing
them more into line with her values and beliefs about teaching and with
her knowledge of her students; (ii) She gradually brought together and
used the various aspects of her explicated working knowledge in the literature
lessons; and (iii) As she became more deliberate about her practices and
integrated her explicated knowledge within the lessons, the students also
became more interested in the lessons.
In other words, the nature and timing of this gradual change to Ellen's
practice suggested that it was directly related to the gradual increase
in student interest in literature lessons. And the nature and timing of
Ellen's explication in relation to her actions in practice suggested that
this action was brought on by her making tacit knowledge explicit during
the process of reflection.
Now I ask myself, "why would you believe the reasoning put forward
here?" There is only scant reference to the process by which it was
constructed and to the evidence which substantiates it. These missing
ingredients are in fact the substance of the thesis it emanates from -
a problem with writing short papers about in-depth studies. Nonetheless,
I hope a taste has provided some "food" for discussion.
Argyris, C. and Schön, D. (1975) Theory and Practice: increasing
professional effectiveness. Jossey Bass, London.
Carr, W., and Kemmis, S. (1983) Becoming Critical: Knowing through Action
Research Deakin University Press, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria,
Elbaz, F. (1983) Teacher Thinking: A Study of Practical Knowledge. London:
Evans, E., Stubbs., M., Duckworth, E., and Davis, C. (1981) Teacher-Initiated
Research: Professional Development for Teachers and a Method for Designing
Research Based on Practice. A report prepared at the Technical Education
Research Centers Inc., Cambridge, M.A.
Hall, S.& Tuetemann, E. (1986) An Evaluation of the Early Literacy
Inservice Course (ELIC). Volume Two: Case studies of the Tutor Training
Programme. Western Australian Education Department, Perth, Western Australia.
Hall, S. & Loveday, S. (1990) Collaborative Research Between Teachers
and Outside Researchers: Enhancing Reciprocity by Dovetailing Agenda.
Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association ((BERA),
Hall, S. (1992) Developing Anti-discriminatory Teaching Practices in
a Primary School . S. 80 Report No 9, in the series Discrimination in
Government Policies and Practices. Equal Opportunity Commission, Perth,
Hall, S. (1994) The Explication of a Teacher's Working Knowledge Within
Her Self-evalution of Her Teaching. Unpublished PhD thesis, Murdoch University,
Hall, S. (1995) Achieving Reciprocity within Collaborative Research Between
Academics and Research Participants. In the conference proceedings of
the First Pacific Rim Interdisciplinary Conference, Qualitative Research:
Beyond the Boundaries, Fremantle, Perth, Western Australia, November 21-
Hall, S. (1996) Reflexivity in Emancipatory Action Research: Illustrating
the Researcher's Constitutiveness, in Zuber-Skerritt, O. (Ed.) New Directions
in Action Research. Falmer Press, London.
Johnston, G (1989) Tacit Knowledge and the Social Education Curriculum.
In Curriculum Perspectives, 9, 1, p. 34-42.
Kling, S. (1981) Teachers as Co-researchers: An Argument and Pilot Study.
Pivot, Journal of the South Australian Education Department, 8, 1.
Kling, S. (1981) Process Interventions in the Development of an Action
Research Group. Paper published in the proceedings of the Annual Conference
of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE), Adelaide.
Kling, S. (1984) Developing a Collaborative Network of Action Researchers.
Unpublished Honours thesis, Deakin University, Geelong, Victoria, Australia.
Louden, W (1991) Understanding Teaching; Continuity and Change in Teachers'
Knowledge. In the series, Teacher Development, Hargreaves A., (ed.), Teachers'
College Press, New York.
Olsen, J. (1992)Understanding Teaching: Beyond Expertise. In the series,
Developing Teachers and Teaching. Day, C. (Ed.). Open University Press,
Bristol, USA and Buckingham, UK.
Polanyi, M. (1967)The Tacit Dimension. Garden City, New York, Doubleday.
Schön. D. (1983) The Reflective Practitioner. New York, Basic Books.
Schön. D. (1987) Educating the Reflective Practitioner. Jossey Bass,
Simons, H. (1989) Evaluation and the Reform of Schools: Towards a Self-Accounting
Profession. An invited lecture to the Faculty of Education, Curtin University,
Perth, Western Australia.
Smyth, J. (1987) Teachers as Intellectuals in a Critical Pedagogy of
Schooling. Education and Society, 5, 1 &2, 11-27.
Smyth, J. (1991)Teachers as Collaborative Learners: Challenging Dominant
Forms of Supervision. In the series Developing Teachers and Teaching,
Day, C. (Ed.), Open University Press, Bristol, USA and Buckingham, UK.
Strauss, A., and Corbin, J. (1990) Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded
Theory Procedures and Techniques. Sage publications, California, USA.
Yonemura, M. (1982) Teacher Conversations: A Potential Source of Their
Own Professional Growth. Curriculum Inquiry , 12, 3, 239-255.
Another reference requested in response to my replies.
Hall, J.R. & Hall, S. (1986) The Teacher Educator as Collaborator
in Classroom Research: Profiteer or Co-learner? Paper presented at the
annual conference of the South Pacific Association for Teacher Education
(SPATE), Perth, Western Australia.
Dr Susan Hall
Academic Staff Development Centre for Educational Advancement
Office of Teaching and Learning
PO Box U1987
Ph. 0011 + 61 8 9266 2290
Fax. 0011 + 61 8 9266 3051
the list of Conference papers]