A response following class. As I was reading through the
reflections I was brought back to some of the issues raised
in the correspondence during the Schön On-Line conference
where Jack Whitehead (University of Bath in England) and
I exchanged some thoughts.
Jack, I've been struggling with this for more
than twenty years. I began getting a handle on the ambiguity
of language/communication as a literacy researcher, specifically
exploring how reading and writing are learned and how
we might teach kids/people to be more strategic as readers
I was what we literacy folks call a "kid-watcher" from
early on. That is, I found myself being taught how to teach
somebody by that person him or herself. I discovered that
I needed to do what Gordon Wells calls "leading from
behind." Trying something to see what kind of reaction
I got, how the learner responded, and then continue to
support what the learner was attempting to do. That's
relatively easy to do in a one-on-one exchange. You have
a single learner to work with, you can observe and make
inferences and test them out by asking questions, watching
for reactions, noting connections, etc.
I began to realize this was a lot more complicated when
you have a class or a meeting room full of people. Following
folks' lead, building on their input, keeping the agenda
fluid and moving along, is a lot more difficult with a
group of people because they're all responding differently.
They're all bringing their 'histories' to the situation—interpreting
what's going on based on their expectations, their past
experiences, their personal interests, their power status.
If I'm going to keep the class or meeting moving along
harmoniously, sustaining some energy, encouraging open
expression of different points of view, then I have to
make judgments about what's going on.
Now what's interesting, is that I have no more idea what
direction any particular class is going to take than I
have a meeting. I have some global goals—take for example
the 'course' I was doing with twenty teachers/ administrators
this past fall. We were engaging in inquiry into practice.
My 'goal' was to help these folks develop further skill
as action researchers. I took responsibility for bringing
some reading to the group which would help outline various
'kinds' of action research so folks could understand some
techniques. These readings were helpful for opening the
conversation. But once the conversation got going the
teachers/administrators were in charge of its directions.
What I'm trying to describe is how I see my role, whether
as teacher or as chair of a meeting—one of listening to
what's going on, making my own inferences, testing them
out with the group, trying to hear common interests, to
pick up on what might be productive contributions (realizing
that my interpretation of 'productive' might not be someone
else's) and suggesting strategies / or asking for strategies
for moving on, initiating a summary, inviting a regrouping,
etc. The usual stuff.
This 'inquiry' stance of mine has quite interesting ramifications—first
of all, because the situation is unpredictable, I'm continually
surprised (sometimes in a "That's neat,
I wouldn't have thought of it" way, sometimes "I
didn't know they knew/thought that" or "I can't
believe they don't know that", sometimes as "whatever
does that mean", sometimes as "Oh, oh, I don't
like where this might take us", sometimes in a "Gee,
I see a connection here" way.) (I've been meaning
to respond to Shankar about 'surprise'—Shankar, I've
been thinking about it.) Trying to maintain this openness
means that I'm constantly learning new things about people
and their interests, interactions, motivations....
Yes, it is important for
me to construct explanations for my influence on others
because I can't know how to act without some 'theory' of
what might be going on. And yes I struggle to find out how
others are responding to my influence so that I can keep
things moving in what feels like an energetic, excited way.
And I take account of my inferences and try to test them
out with my 'informants' as much as is feasible when I'm
dealing with a group of people.
None of this is easy. ...