Developed by
Dr. Judith M. Newman

Reflective Practitioner



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 time.

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.


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.


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 was re-explicated.

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, August, 1988)

Note that Ellen's description of her reflection process here is similar to what Schön (1987, pp. 114 -117) called the ladder of reflection .


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
    • self-acceptance
    • self-expression.
  • 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 :
    • personality
    • home-life
    • 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:


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 knowledge:

(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, Australia.

Elbaz, F. (1983) Teacher Thinking: A Study of Practical Knowledge. London: Croom Helm.

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), Roehampton, London.

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, Western Australia.

Hall, S. (1994) The Explication of a Teacher's Working Knowledge Within Her Self-evalution of Her Teaching. Unpublished PhD thesis, Murdoch University, Western Australia.

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- 22.

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, London.

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
Curtin University
PO Box U1987
Perth,W.A. 6001
Ph. 0011 + 61 8 9266 2290
Fax. 0011 + 61 8 9266 3051

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