What do new views of knowledge & thinking have to say about research on teacher learning?

I’m finally getting/creating a smidgin of time to continue exploring what “distributed” views of knowledge and learning might say about understanding and helping teachers (of all ilks) learn more about what they do. The following is a summary of Putnam and Borko (2000)

Which gives a straight forward overview of the “situated perspective” and how it links to existing research (from the 90s) into teacher learning

What it’s about

Lots of attention is being paid to new ideas about the nature of cognition and learning – i.e. situated cognition, distributed cognition and communities of practice aka the “situative perspective”.

Lots of discussion about using this to help students learn. Less attention paid to teachers either

  1. “to their roles in creating learning experiences consistent with the reform agenda”, or
  2. “how they themselves learn new ways of teaching”. (p. 4)

Putnam and Borko (2000) aim to focus on the latter. Which is exactly where my interest lays. The paper’s focus is

  1. Use the “situative perspective” to understand recent research on teacher learning.
  2. “explore new issues about teacher learning and teacher education that this perspective brings to light”
    Which they divide into three issues

    1. Where to situate teachers’ learning experiences
    2. The nature of discourse communities for teaching and teacher learning
    3. the importance of tools in teachers’ work

    Apparently covered in more detail in Putnam & Borko (1997)

Conceptual themes of the situative perspective

Three conceptual themes, that cognition is

  1. situated in particular physical and social contexts;

    the physical and social contexts in which an activity takes place are an integral part of the activity, and that the activity is an integral part of the learning that takes place within it. How a person learns a particular set of knowledge and skills, and the sit- uation in which a person learns, become a fundamental part of what is learned (Putnam and Borko, 2000, p. 4)

    Hence the push to authentic activities in classrooms. Apply it to inservice teacher education/professional development? What makes for an authentic activity?

    we consider the kinds of thinking and problem-solving skills fostered by an activity to be the key criterion for authenticity (p. 5)

  2. social in nature ;

    interactions with the people in one’s environment are major determinants of both what is learned and how learning takes place…..Individuals participate in numerous discourse communities….(which) provide the cognitive tools…that individuals appropriate (p. 5)

    Generates questions about the type of communities to create in a learning situation – disciplinary communities, or “learn to learn” communities?

  3. distributed across the individual, other persons and tools.
    This section is perhaps a little more underdone than the others.

    Rather than considering cognition solely as a property of individuals, situative theorists posit that it is distributed or “stretched over” (Lave, 1988) the individual, other persons, and various artifacts such as physical and symbolic tools (Salomon, 1993a) (p. 5)

    And the problem is that school’s focus on “tool-free performance, and on deconstexualised skills, educating people to be good learners in school settings alone may not be sufficient to help them become strong out-of-school learners (Resnick, 1987, p. 18) (p. 5)”

Issues arising for teacher learning and teacher education

  1. Where to situate teachers’ learning experiences

    The question is not whether knowledge and learning are situ- ated, but in what contexts they are situated. For some purposes, in fact, situating learning experiences for teachers outside of the classroom may be important-indeed essen- tial-for powerful learning (p. 6)

    The situative perspective encourages a focus on exploring how different settings for teacher learning generate different types of knowing? Broad types

    1. In individual teachers’ classrooms
    2. Teachers bring their classroom experiences to outside workshops.

    The idea of inter-twinning learning with on-going practice.

    Problems include

    1. Scalability
    2. Difficulty of changing mindsets when retaining the connection to the existing situation. To break out of existing mindsets may require entry into a different setting.

    Which generates the problem of integrating new/different ideas back into the existing setting. Which leads to the idea of “follow up”. Brand new experience, and then on-going support to help with integration.

    Moves onto apply this to teacher education and quotes Bird (1992, p 501)

    . But this image re- quires a stable, satisfactory practice that the novice can join. If the aim of teacher education is a reformed practice that is not readily available, and if there is no reinforcing culture to support such practice, then the basic imagery of apprenticeship seems to break down. Teachers’ knowledge is situated, but this truism creates a puzzle for re- form. Through what activities and situations do teachers learn new practices that may not be routinely reinforced in the work setting? (p. 501)

    Talks about the case-based approach as one way to address this. Couple of paragraphs on this.

  2. The nature of discourse communities for teaching and teacher learning

    . These discourse communities play central roles in shaping the way teachers view their world and go about their work. Indeed, patterns of classroom teaching and learning have historically been re- sistant to fundamental change, in part because schools have served as powerful discourse communities that enculturate participants (students, teachers, administrators) into traditional school activities and ways of thinking (Cohen, 1989; Sarason, 1990).

    Also draws on the work of Ball (1994) to talk about how the individualism of teaching makes it difficult to agree on common standards, difficult to disagree and hence limits critique and challenge….”teaching remains a smorgasbord of alternatives with no real sense of community, , there is no basis for comparing or choosing from among alternatives, no basis for real and helpful de- bate. This lack impedes the capacity to grow. (p. 16)” (p. 9)

    Links to various research projects mixing academics and teachers to get the mix of theory and practice to engage in discussions and generate practical solutions. But does mention some problems that arise. e.g. Richardson (1992) “agenda-setting dilemma”

    In looking at pre-service teacher education the suggestion is that they “have focused more on the development of individual knowledge and competencies thought to be important for teaching than on the establishment of discourse communities for prospective teachers” (p. 9). But that if existing professional communities aren’t “reformed” then this causes problems.

  3. the importance of tools in teachers’ work

    The situative perspective provides lenses for ex- amining more thoughtfully the potential of new technolo- gies for supporting and transforming teachers’ work and learning

    Looks at tools from the perspective of: Tools to enhance/transform work of teaching, and Tools to support teachers’ learning. Didn’t find much of interest in that.


Putnam, R., & Borko, H. (2000). What do new views of knowledge and thinking have to say abut research on teacher learning? Educational Researcher, 29(1), 4–15. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/1176586

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