Teaching practice in a profession

/ 1 May 2009

Here’s a really interesting study that compared teaching practices across three fields: clergy preparation, clinical psychology, and education. The authors write, in particular, about practices of representation, decomposition, and approximation.

Although we have presented them separately, the concepts in this framework—representation, decomposition, and approximation—clearly overlap and underscore each other. For example, every approximation engages students in some element or version of practice, and so in that sense becomes a representation of practice for others. The distinction lies in the novice’s role as observer or actor. A representation illustrates a facet of practice, as does Rabbi Klein’s anecdote about conducting a funeral, whereas an approximation engages students in that practice, as does the eulogy-writing exercise. Approximations of practice also rely on decomposition; instructors must select a component of professional work that forms the basis of an approximation. Because representations and approximations can rarely capture the whole of a practice, instructors must necessarily engage in the decomposition of practice in planning for their use. For example, even the most authentic approximation that we have discussed, worship planning, artificially breaks down the elements of a service over the course of a week so that students can focus on each piece separately. Instructors who develop and guide students through approximations such as worship planning must be deliberate in their decomposition, breaking practice into parts that students can experience in some degree of integrity and from which students can learn to reintegrate what they have learned.

I think part of our continued insistence at Luther on how we manage "contextualized" approaches to education has to do with our "fussing with" (to use Rollie's "technical" term) some of these practices.