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Towards reflective practice and practical
research: narrative groundwork and
theorisation in teaching practice
C.L.A.E.H. (Centro Latinoamericano de Economía Humana),
I.P.A. (Instituto de Profesores 'Artigas'), Montevideo, Uruguay.
Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, University
of Hamburg, 17-20 September 2003
This paper deals with narrative as a main tool for understanding and researching
teaching practice in a practical research mode. It is assumed that 'understanding practice'
refers to teacher development as a real and broader background for teaching practice
and therefore for teaching practical research. However, it is also assumed that 'reflective
practice' is closely and uniquely linked to practical research (and so to practical problem
awareness), being reflection the very principal methodological tool for teacher-
Narrative is then introduced in this paper as a privileged way for a deep
understanding of teaching practice because it turns teaching action intelligible. If we
accept that teaching practice has a double-epistemological framework, the
theoretical/mimetical saying (i.e. narratives) about anything related to teaching practice
refers both to the practice epistemology and to the epistemology of the subject
knowledge. Furthermore, the three-timed nature of teaching practice is approached as
supporting different narrative deployments, meaning themselves better understanding
for doing and for thinking in teaching practice and improvement.
1. Understanding, reflecting about and researching into teaching practice.
Because educational circles had assumed for a long time that teachers do not think,
and that the realm of thinking and understanding practice was only for experts and not
teacher's business, then when someone dared to say that teachers think, educational
sciences were shocked (most policymakers are still trying to be convinced about). The
challenge is then, not to argue about teachers' own thinking, but to turn this fact into the
improvement of teaching practice and not into a domain for outside experts. We are
aware that this is a real risk. Just now, and for the last ten or fifteen years, ambiguity has
characterised many educative speeches, where broadly employed polysemic terms
impede better understandings of teaching practice. This paper intends to be a strictly
semantic viewpoint concerned with principal key concepts in this matter.
The enthusiasm produced by this good news about teachers thinking encouraged
academic studies and a lot of publications have been produced in the recent times in
Europe and in America. In a certain way, in this research ('about' educational issues
learners and learning have lost the principal place that they used to enjoy. Time for
teachers and teaching has arrived. I think that if only a term could be kept from these
papers, without any doubt, 'reflective teachers' and their 'reflective practice' would be the
However, we the teachers have learned that reflection implies a high degree of
understanding our practice. We are aware that it is possible and indeed necessary to
distinguish understanding from reflecting, being 'understanding' a larger concept and
'reflecting' a more specific one. Then, reflecting supposes understanding, but
reversibility is not possible here. As confusions and misunderstandings in this point are
quite extended, I should state here that reflection -as a conversational and moving
accomplishment- is itself closely linked to the arising of a teaching practical problem,
and therefore to teaching research practice (or teaching practical research, or educative
action-research...). We must accept that teaching practice is not always necessarily
under research, if we mean practical research (academic ways are not considered here).
Practical research is promoted by the arising of a practical problem, and practical
problems are themselves personal feelings about wrong-happenings in teaching practice.
Hence, practical research always looks for improvement, which in the end means the
improvement of teaching practice as well as the teacher personal and professional
improvement (i.e. the very sense of 'development'). It is precisely this involvement of
the subject of the action in the action itself which claims for reflection, which is a
methodological tool, the main one perhaps, for practical research into teaching practice.
If reflection is needed, it means that the practical problem was already known (felt
and made conscientious) by the teacher. Deep understanding of his/her own practice
supports the arising of this event that he/she calls 'problem'. Only a deep understanding
of ones' own practice is able to capture the distortion between theory (the world of
words and thinking) and practice (the world of action) that problem represents. Then,
understanding practice runs earlier than just reflecting, timely and logically speaking. It
does not imply the problem-reflection-practical research triad, that always comes later.
Too often, outsiders think that the understanding of teaching practice (meaning
sometimes 'reflection') is something natural and spontaneous for teachers, assuming that
practice speaks by itself. (Ricœur, 1986. See also Kemmis' prologue to Carr, 1990)
Teacher development requires solid self-understanding. This is much more than
being well read or having studied a variety of disciplines required in teacher education
programs. Hence, taking into account that the teacher (meaning the individual) is
involved in teaching practice, understanding practice has to do with both understanding
the teacher as an individual and understanding teaching as a practical action (involving
teacher and practical context, e.g., learners, society, institution, the knowledge that is
taught, economy, politics, etc.). Becoming an 'understanding-teacher' (I support this
teacher is not yet a 'reflective' one, because the problem is not yet visible, that is, self-
perceived) is hard work. Formative mediation is indeed possible, by teaching teachers
or student teachers, but at last, understanding does satisfy some teacher personal need.
As consequence of this, only teachers do look for it, in spite of syllabuses, Didactics
teachers, mentor teachers, those in the academy, policymakers or administrators' good
will and effort.
I am supporting here that the understanding of teacher practice can be grounded
in narrative about practice. It is because of this, that this paper is concerned specially
with teachers' narrative groundwork. As a History and Didactics of History teacher-
researcher (i.e. practical researcher), I have learned that building narrative is a
privileged way to unveil living theories and embodied values guiding teaching action,
being at the same time, real opportunities for teachers' teaching theorisation becoming
explicit. Then, now we shall explore narrative throughout its dialectic relationships
between teaching action, time, subject, feelings, public/private words and thinking.
Individual, social and professional identity (identities?) are finally the mother and father
of action and thought about it, by means of 'sense construction' (Barbier's sens construit)
and 'significance offer' (his offre de signification) (Barbier, 2000), concerning both with
the individual and his/her teaching action.
2. Building some narrative groundwork about teaching practice .
a. About narrative
Narrative turns action intelligible. When someone gives some sense to an action then
he turns it intelligible, i.e. understandable for human thinking. However, action itself
has undeniably some narrative pattern, because actors conceive, perceive and act
following narrative schemes in their minds. Then, narrative and human action may be
considered mutually mimetical. This is because action may be thought, and thinking
may be thought as being acted. Didactics is largely indebted to this conceptualisation
(taken and unfolded by Paul Ricœur from Aristotle's Poetics), which provides it with
some theoretical worthy tools for thinking/doing teaching.
The very roots of narrative are in practical comprehension. Paul Ricœur calls
semantics of action the conceptual net that subjects master in order to understand and
to tell action. This conceptual net includes, e.g., purposes, motives, circumstances,
interactions, consequences -wanted or not-, etc. Though if may seem too obvious, this
conceptual net plays as symbolic mediation when some meaning for facts and events
(whatever nature they could be) is required. Certainly, meaning is always something
new, something never said before, but components of meaning were part of familiar
language practices (pratiques langagières) of individuals and societies. In this way,
meaning is a composition (com-position, i.e., some particular and perhaps original
arrangement of concepts and ideas).
Furthermore, temporal issues are always involved in action (in our concerns,
teaching action). Teaching action and thinking must always be thought as something
rather complex. In this field, are, were or will be are superimposed on each other. Saint
Augustine's idea of triple present (taken and unfolded by Ricœur from Saint Augustine's
Confessions), seems to have been tailor made for Didactics. Teaching always happens
in a quite simultaneous three-timed living/thinking action.
When narrative mimetises action, facts and events have been arranged, because
narrative is not a copy but a creative re-presentation of action. Then, intelligibility
requirements of narrative (and of understandings) claim for an order, which is not
necessarily a chronological one. Intelligibility of narrative means that the narrative may
be followed (followability) because the linking of facts and events allows and assures
comprehension. Action becomes then storied in a plot.
The world of action provides facts and events, as well as motives, intentions,
consequences, interactions, etc. simultaneously. A semantic conceptual net assures early
and perhaps naïve comprehension of it (Ricœur's practical comprehension), but
narrative is the one who organises the emplotment, by telling the whole action, word
after word, idea after idea. In this way, narrative is different from semantics. It has
syntactic rules for com-position, which arranges facts and events of action world. So,
synchronic things in the action world become diachronic words and ideas in terms of
When teaching action becomes narrative, some special circumstances must be
taken into account. Most of the times Ricœur's Time and Narrative framework supposes
someone giving narrative form to an action world that is not his own, but a
comprehensible one because of human cultures large similarity. However, given the fact
that teachers' narrative has to do precisely with a world of action where the subject of
the action is both an actor and a narrative producer, some special considerations are
needed then. Ricœur's Oneself as another and The practical reason
appropriate tools about action theory, which are indeed helpful in order to understand
and theorise teaching action. Teachers actually plot their teaching action (following
some previous narrative emplotment for it), and after this they re-plot it in some
narrative form, perhaps a written one, but quite surely a spoken or a thought one.
Didactics does ground its whole work in this dialectic relationship between teaching
action and its discourses, which precisely turns it intelligible. Certainly, Sociology,
Psychology, Anthropology or History may give some intelligibility to teaching
practices, whether they consider or not teachers' narrative, but they are not Didactics, so
they are differently related to teaching practice and its improvement.
b. About self-narrative
Self-narrative, i.e. the actor's one, may be analysed from Ricœur's framework
referring both to the text and to the action. Even though fictional and historiographical
narratives are mainly focused and theorised by Ricœur at 'Time and Narrative', much
more than autobiographical or self-telling narratives, the tools provided about text are
indeed invaluable. Perhaps one's practice narrative could be considered as concerning
with microhistorical genre, specially from some methodological issues. On the other
hand, Ricœur's 'From text to action' includes many specific concepts in order to
understand the close relationships between the text (meaning even self-telling) and the
human action (as teaching action actually is).
First, I should consider the idea that narrative is a natural component of improved
(and improvable) teaching practice, but not an ornamental, bureaucratic or
administrative requirement, as some people do believe. Long-time prestigious and
powerful academic backgrounds of teaching practice understanding have got the effect
that practice would be seen indeed as an outcome of suggestions and ideas of the
academic world. The place of academic thought in practice thinking and doing is quite
relevant, and it will probably never be moved out. However, despite its aims, the
Academy itself is not the one who decides its role in teaching practice. Most of the
times, teachers' narratives do not have academic weight and they are not the result of
any search of information about the teaching practice or the practitioner. Even though, I
think that the naturalness of narrative in teaching practice must be argued in an
academic way, but from the perspective of the teaching practice itself.
Why am I referring to telling about practice if practice is something to be done? In
some way, teaching practice is always told about (for ears, for eyes or for minds),
because senseless and meaningless actions are rather unacceptable ones for rational
people. Even under alienation, practices are not senseless or meaningless for the subject
of the action, because of sense and meaning, whatever they could be, do not consist in
form fulfilling. Everybody is clear that teachers do not produce any meta-knowledged
statement entitled, for instance: 'I am speaking about the sense or the meanings of my
teaching practice'. Much more, when this arrives in this way, it is not meta-knowledge
but -rather frequently- a ritual expression looking for and asking for the
acknowledgement of community and authorities. Low reliability and high hermeneutics
work are claimed for before considering these statements as teachers' thinking truth.
Words and effects revealing teachers' sense and meanings of teaching practice appear
everywhere. No special times, or places or circumstances are required, but only proper
theoretical tools to seize teachers' thinking.
Ricœur's action semantic conceptual net and the symbolic mediation of language are
the very background of this personal practical comprehension of teaching practice.
However, given the fact that the teacher is the one who teaches (i.e. he/she is the actor
of the action), teaching action does not only involve him/her as an actor but as an
individual, as the person he/she truly is. Then, I should state here that, being teaching
practice both a practice of teaching and also a practice of the person who teaches ,
when teaching practice is understood, meant, provided with some sense, told, etc., the
teacher is also understood, meant, provided with some sense, told, etc. This main
acknowledgement claims for special theoretical backgrounds beyond Ricœur's
J-M Barbier (Barbier & Glatanu, 2000; Barbier, 2000) suggests that the key is to
look for a theory that joins a theory of action and a theory of identity/subjectivity
(Barbier himself has deep Ricœurian roots). The singular nature of action claims for
some theoretical tools, which are not conceivable from outside the actor of the action
(the practitioner, the teacher...). If action implies its own representation, then action and
narrative are inseparable; and if action representation implies the representation of itself,
besides actor and context representation at the same time, then subject and action are
. A whole approach to this theoretical background requires one more
component. Affect is indeed the very linking substance that enlightens cognition, sense,
meaning, subject, action and narrative (from action semantics to real words, making
sentences, logical linking and, in the end, the emplotment of lived action)
However, things are not so simple. Narrative practices and skills of teachers are
different from the writings of the historians, philosophers, or any other professional
writer. Most of the times, teaching practice implies reading books, etc. about teaching
contents, and speaking about them to the pupils. Sometimes some written reports are
also required, quite surely about pupils and learning... The teachers' voice speaking
about themselves because, either they need or they want to do it, is something really
unusual. Two main reasons back up this fact: first, when something about teaching has
been claimed to be said, 'experts' had always had a legitimated voice to be taken into
account, but not teachers; second, teachers have long been aware by many different
ways both about their conceptual and ideological powerlessness and about their
convenient discourse to be accepted in order to get/keep some professional
acknowledgement. Thus, teachers' voices have become more and more worthless.
Because of this, to dare some didactical purposes growing out of teachers' narrative is a
rather complex and hard venture. Indeed, tough act to follow.
We certainly all agree that many teachers and their teaching practice can perhaps
be changed (i.e. improved). However, as teachers are the very subjects of the teaching
action, nobody but themselves may accomplish significant changes into the matter.
Forgetting and rejecting ritual, servile and nonsense language about teaching practice is
only half of the work to be done. Another narrative -perhaps more authentic and honest-
does exist in teachers' minds, as well as Ricœur's action semantics, but social and
institutional contexts do not usually introduce it as any positive representation
(représentation finalistante). Personal perspectives are hardly welcome there, meaning
that affective questions often impede teachers' public narrative to be authentic.
Everybody is clear that some encouragement and some institutional support are required
to reverse this situation. This is because professional (and so personal) development
involves a lot of formative mediations throughout the whole life of the teacher persona.
These mediations are connected to the fact that throughout their teaching careers
teachers' trust and self-confidence are usually undermined and need to be recovered.
Real lived life is precisely what provides each subject with experiences, interactions,
values, feelings, identity and alterity sense, knowledge and wisdom, besides some
projects for future... all along each subject 'formative stage' (Ferry's trajet de formation).
The practicum expresses personal and professional 'form', despite it does not matter if
teachers are able or not to think or to put it in words.
Didactics teachers have a role that has to do with improving teaching practices (even
though, they shall never be awarded as main actors, but perhaps as simple support
roles). Teaching interaction with those who will be teachers or those who want to
become teacher-researchers, introduces narrative practice into the syllabus, as formal
work. Then, an opportunity is given to accompany the singular -and so the personal-
process through which the individual (the student in my classroom) translates a part of
is/her life into words. I have learned that people face this challenge differently. Some of
them look as if they had waited for this moment for a long time. Words and plotting-
doing are quite pleasant and peaceful for them. They enjoy being shown, to themselves
and to the others. Otherwise, some teachers or student teachers feel well because they
have achieved order and sense into their teaching practice. Whereas some people do not
like narrative. Sometimes they make great effort to evade it. They feel they are invaded
in their privacy and in their intimacy, because they cannot find any reason to say some
things to others, and perhaps even to him/herself. Some people prefer to speak, because
writing on paper terrifies them; others, prefer writing (as Cicero said, 'Epistola enim non
Since I began working this way -i.e. searching for a way of professional and personal
development from teachers' narrative deployments- I have learned the difficulties it
implies. First, it is assumed that the required essential interpersonal relationship linking
Didactics teacher and each student teacher, is possible, when we know that in
interpersonal fields nothing is simple, nothing is to be pushed, nothing is to be imposed
concerning certain expected outcomes. Second, it is assumed that this special
interpersonal relationship is able to be developed along prescribed institutional times.
Third, this quite special relationship involves two individuals, so besides student
teacher, the Didactics teacher must also be taken into account. My own history with
self-narrative and professional development, and my own difficulties with trying to
make sense by imposing, listening, reading, analysing and finally marking other's
teaching self-narratives, are the essential counterpart in this issue, because
'interpersonal' implies at least two. This means, therefore, that every consideration about
narrative as a teaching content for Didactics teachers lies into an interpersonal
relationship, historically, ideologically and autobiographically situated for everybody in
it. Consequently, the more this kind of situations is understood, the clearest it is that
predictive assumptions are always razed by the human factor.
I think that teaching Didactics of... (i.e. Didactics of Didactics of...) is still a little-
researched field. Once again, learners and learning (in this case, student teachers and
professional growth) have long forestalled the whole attention of Didactics and
educative sciences, and only later teachers and teaching (in this case, Didactics ones
and teaching Didactics of... History) became visible as actors in learning/professional
growth environments and relationships. Research about teacher education and
development is still indebted to Didactics teacher actions as formative mediation in
teacher development. (Classical approaches to teacher development are not considered
here because of their epistemological weakness and ethical difficulties).
As narrative is indeed a privileged way to better understand teaching practice,
and understanding is required for later eventual practical research, narrative may be
considered itself as a teachers' professional development groundwork. We will then
intend some deconstruction of narrative throughout both practical theorisation about
teaching practice (epistemology of practice) and practical theorisation about the subject
knowledge (e.g. epistemology of History, or Chemistry...). I support this is a main
question, too frequently neglected by means of focusing either only-teaching practice
questions, or only-subject knowledge questions. Insistence in this point will never be
enough, because of the very double-epistemological roots of whatever teaching practice
we may consider.
c. Self-narrative and practice theorisation
Finally, what can be found in teachers' narratives? Despite theoretical/mimetical
nature, i.e. to say real world in order to turn it intelligible, you can be sure that no
psychological or sociological theories -nor any other academic one- will be found here,
unless in their book-styled appearance. Instead of this, indeed, teachers' narrative tells
teaching practice theoretically, from their very teaching practice theory. We need to call
this theorisation by its proper name, so I mean that it should not be forgotten that
Didactics means the teaching theory (but not any academic outcomes about teaching)
and it is done by teachers themselves.
We have just seen that practical comprehension is the first step into a larger
work looking for sense and significance for teaching practice, as well as for plotting it
in search of some intelligibility. However, the three-timed nature of teaching actions
must be taken into account in order to reach some deeper and broader understanding
about it. Even the most unprofessional teacher does not come into the classroom
without any idea about what can be done there, because teacher action is always
prefigured as if it were happening in the teachers' mind. Perhaps Augustine's idea of 'the
present of the future' (taken by/from Ricœur) would be theoretically more than
profitable for Didactics.
Anyway, the action which is prefigured in 'future' teaching practice ontologically
involves both teacher and teaching. Therefore, fictional narratives about tomorrow's
lesson include simultaneously a representation of the actor and a representation of the
action, this including the actor as well. We may be induced to consider this time before
the lesson as time '0', and the lesson as time '1', but -we will soon be aware- things are
neither so simple nor lineal. Actually, each time is both a '0' and a '1'. The time wherein
a teacher is projecting future action (time '0') is also 'the present of some past' (time '1'),
which 'time 0' is his yesterday's lesson... This means that any action could be accurately
considered as a time-rootless one. In the same way, the future is always concerned and
considered, either being an action or being some words for or about an action. We have
just learned that this be-in-time and be-in-the-world are major sources for individuals'
. There are also fantasy sources to be considered afterwards.
Oral or written pieces concerning tomorrow's narrative are themselves rather
complex temporal compositions, not only because the future is assumed as being
present, but also because the present is assumed as being future. That means that the
lesson that I am thinking for tomorrow is felt as happening now, as well as I am now
living as if it were tomorrow already... Didactics often does wake up the temporal
complexity conscience, by turning obvious what it seemed not so obvious. Amazing
past-times traces can be found in this narrative. In this point, identity theories such as
Bourdieu's habitus idea (1997) comes in Didactics help in order to provide a proper
theoretical framework for these temporal and not lineal interactions. Present times have
for everyone a constructed sense of past times, half-remembering made and half-
forgetting made. When tomorrow's lesson is thought -and put down into words- past
times (sense constructed, remembering and forgetting) turned into theoretical corpus
guiding the possible (desirable) and the impossible (undesirable) in a binary code of
'yes' (I would...) and 'no' (I would do not like...). Lundgren's idea of 'hope' to mean text
of action (1992), strictly metaphoric I think, could be extended to fantastic (dreaming)
roots of fictional views of action and individual setting in narrative projects for future
lessons. Augustine's triple present idea surrounds over and over again...
Claudine Blanchard Laville (1996) claims that we indeed consider our pupils as
some projection of ourselves when we were pupils. Then, temporality and
identity/alterity are also deeply linked in teaching action, and so in teaching emplotment
(being this plot either for the narrative guidance of future action or for the narrative
rescue/sense giving of the past action). In this perspective, who teaches and who is
taught mean much more than different bodies in different places in the classroom.
Early non-technological Didactics theorisation, e.g. Lawrence Stenhouse (1991) or
Ulf Lundgren (1992), focused distance between narrative guidance of 'text', i.e.
'curriculum' (being either teacher-made or authorities-made) and its happening, as a
main issue for educative research. But even if we allow ourselves to consider
'curriculum' (in the sense of official syllabus) something that can be plotted by
individual teachers, 'happening' or 'context' slips through one's fingers if no narrative
does turn it the present of the past.
The Didactics classroom has a lot to do in this teachers' narrative-based
perspective. Sometimes it can be felt as a Socratic maieutic, especially when the
Didactics teacher helps to state explicitly different living theories supporting simple
sentences and statements. Besides, living theories include some arrangement of learned
formal theories, e.g. curriculum theories, or psychological, sociological, political ones.
The individual values and ideological backgrounds are very difficult to be separated
from living theories. They are not exactly coextensive ideas but they are quite
interactive ones. They both play as a set of rules for action and for action understanding
guidance. A few sentences from a student teacher about his/her tomorrow's lesson
(project + script
) are perhaps the best raw material for Didactics teaching and learning
about the author's beliefs, feelings, hopes, fears, fantasies, learned knowledge, trust,
personal and professional wisdom, interpersonal perspectives, theoretical assumptions
(living theories or alienated discourse)... and of course, epistemological perspectives
about the knowledge that is taught.
Indeed, until epistemology of 'taught knowledge' is not included, sources of
teaching theorisation will not be totally complete. The what in the emplotment is not
only teaching, but also History, or Chemistry, or some other subject. Teaching is not
made of 'being in front of learners talking and talking', meaning this 'talk' irrelevant
aspects of the matter. Therefore, subject knowledge is a component of teaching practice
not only concerning teaching contents but concerning the teacher itself as a person and
as a professional. Reasons for teaching History (for example) may be searched both
from social, political, ideological aims, and from personal perspectives of teachers
(individuals, citizens, subjects, intellectuals...). As every History teacher, I am a History
teacher because I love teaching and also because I love History. If I did not love History
but Biology, I would be a Biology teacher. If I did not love teaching, but History,
perhaps I would be a historian.
Most of the times the epistemology of the subject matter (e.g. History) is approached
as the consequence of a 'didactic transposition'. This term is quite ambiguous, and
sometimes it means that knowledge turns different in order to become 'easy' for pupils. I
know that epistemological considerations may be offered about how historians, teachers
and pupils approach knowledge from different interests and perspectives, but those are
not behind common beliefs about 'didactic transposition'. I think that to become
understandable for children or young pupils does not imply to become a different
knowledge, even if some teachers believe so and act accordingly. When taught History
is approached only from the perspective of historians things are not so different taking
into account how easy or not it is to learn it for pupils. In addition, educative studies are
too often biased by supposing History as a lot of given, definitive and invariable names,
dates, facts and events about past times in the world. It is a common belief that if things
were like this, teaching History (and so Didactics of History) would be indeed easier.
But historians do not tell us about what happened in the past, they make it intelligible
(De Certeau, 1993; Ricœur, 1986). Facts, dates and events are not still History: the
historian's work turns them History. History, the same as any other taught knowledge, is
a thought. Hence, teaching History is teaching part of what historians thought and
wrote about the human past.
If by History we mean some kind of knowledge, then epistemological issues
ought to be concerned when it is taught. No teaching History project will be accepted
saying only: 'Tomorrow I will teach the French Revolution'. Anyway, 'what is French
Revolution?' Certainly, it happened, but it has not been only remembered but plotted by
so many different historians. We must then accept that -for us- the French Revolution
only happened throughout historians' work, thought and writings. Concerning subject
knowledge, this is the very starting point of teaching History, even if it remains either
explicit or implicit in the teacher's mind or in the lesson.
Historians offer us a lot of historical information, whose arrangement turns it into
concepts and causal relations. Their narrative composition in a historical emplotment
helps us to follow and to understand the 'story' in the 'History'. But the narrative
compositions of the historians are sometimes very different from each other. Certainly
Columbus arrived in America on October the 12
, 1492, and that is not the matter, but
what it means... for historian A or B. Teachers are taught by historians about their
conclusions concerning the historical human past. Then, pupils will be taught by
teachers about historians' thought. But, as nobody is able to copy a thought, teachers
offer a personal and faithful re-creation of the thought of historians, in the same way
that historians' emplotment of past times is not a copy but a creative imitation of the
. Naturally, if teachers were also historians, they would teach about
their own work, but most of them are only teachers. When teachers are also researchers,
they research teaching History, but they do not research History. These questions are so
often confused that it is necessary to insist on them. Furthermore, even though it is
possible to consider separately the double epistemological roots of teaching practice in a
theoretical way, they are always dialectically linked when real teaching practice is
Consequently, the narrative about teaching practice (as well as the teaching
action itself) cannot avoid becoming engaged with epistemological features of subject
knowledge. Distance and differences between 'researched' and 'taught' knowledge are
currently focused by Didactics not only in practical ways but also in metatheoretical
approaches. Once again, then, the teaching action subject is called to speak by
him/herself, now about teaching contents. First question: 'why do I want to teach
History?' Second question: 'what History (meaning historiographical and
epistemological issues) do I want to teach?' Third question: 'How do I think I could
teach it honestly?' Fourth question: 'who is concerned with this accomplishment and its
possible afterwards? Note that no impersonal answers are admitted. Coherence among
every answer is also specially required.
The real answers to these questions are under the same living-theoretical conditions
that we have already seen. Everyone's story with History speaks about books, teachers,
historical subjects and characters, academic success/failure, as well as many other
affective highlights along the whole life of the individual
. In spite of styles and
appearances, teachers are passionate, not only concerning teaching but concerning this
dear knowledge they teach everyday (sometimes under the most awful conditions that
anyone could imagine).
Too often, teacher narratives hide remarkable contradictions between statements
about epistemological issues (related to teaching, and also to the knowledge that he/she
teaches) lying on the lesson project and its script for the real lesson. This apparent
sophisticated distinction between project and script (unthinkable from classical
Didactics framework) widely extends former didactical perspectives about the thought
lesson (even about curriculum as a whole, or planning...). In fact, project supplies a
broad background for teaching thinking and understanding, and script translates it into a
step-by-step thought action. Even though deep coherence is required between project
and script (and inside each of them, of course), persistent inheritance of ritual and
senseless discourses about teaching and about teaching History usually introduces some
distance between teachers' words (ruling concepts and ideas into the project) and
teachers' thinking (confessed in the script). Perhaps its worst effect would be the
tendency to evade individuals and subjective issues into practice narrative. For many
people 'I' writing is a huge challenge, as well as putting down in words affective roots of
decisions and choices that have to do with teaching planning and doing. Long
experience in this way has taught Didactics teachers that most 'distances' that can be
found in teaching practice (project-script, project-practice, script-practice or largely
said, theory-practice) are born from 'I' difficulties. The need to unveil the personal and
the epistemological nature of teaching is -nowadays- the very nitty-gritty work in
Finally, it must be said that Didactics works with different-momented narrative.
We have a first narrative deployment concerning specially the present of the future, e.g.,
tomorrow's lesson. We have just seen that this narrative is itself a past-present-future
one, because thought -more than facts and events- rules times in human mind. Then, we
can consider the action itself as a narrative emplotment, because it may be understood
and followed as a story. Even sometimes an action itself is told while it happens ('now I
am introducing this concept that will be needed and asked for along this lesson and
perhaps also in next ones'). Also, for Didactics purposes (teacher development) lessons
are often analysed throughout oral or written narrative. This final emplotment gathers
past teaching action, such as former narratives including project and script for future
. Rather than successes and failures, this narrative looks for sense and possible
significance to be offered to others concerned with a social or teaching context. As any
narrative, this one implies some teaching facts and events arrangement by the narrator
who is at the same time, the actor.
Growing out of this narrative groundwork, Didactics has made some Copernican
turn, moving from reading, learning and speaking about generalities or ideal situations,
academically conceived, thought and spoken, to thinking, speaking and reading about
our own practical roots (i.e. personal ones), involving what has been learned and what
has been felt, wanted and fantasised as well. However, I must add that this way -in spite
of its undeniable goodness and its ability for teaching improvement-, it is indeed harder
(not necessarily unpleasant) than any other former one. It requires not only time and
broad knowledge, but also deep personal commitment. The teachers' world provides
3. Narrative and teaching practical research.
If narrative were not useful except for teacher development, it would be enough. But
in certain current perspectives about Didactics, teacher development means also teacher
researching teaching practice. From this point of view, teacher development naturally
flows into practical research. Even though this paper is not exactly concerned with the
relationship between narrative and practical research, some ideas will be stated about
how narrative sets teacher development 'towards' practical research.
As it has been seen, narrative groundwork supports practice understandings.
When a teaching practice problem is reckoned by a teacher, it means that actual
understanding has failed. Failure awareness is indeed some kind of understanding, but
anyway, things are wrong (wrong doing? wrong thinking? wrong understanding?...).
The arising of a practical problem into the teacher's conscience means that no
emplotment of facts and events arrangement can be accomplished. Causal relations and
logical support disappeared, and the past-present-future harmonic structure cannot be
recovered. A problematic situation cannot be captured out of its own problematic nature
(i.e. nonsense, wrongness). For tragic and fictional writers those situations are the raw
material for literature, but teachers belong to real life. There, problems are not a kind of
tragedy or poetry, but something that they need to try to solve.
The methodological steps into teaching practical research are grounded in different
narrative tools and skills. Conscience and thinking need words, ideas, concepts that
narrative organises into an intelligible plot. When problem turns it impossible, reflection
comes handling a singular kind of narrative. It has perhaps a low followability and
plotness, because reflection is a tool for searching that is not yet found (aware and/or
done). Anyway, reflection manages the full three-timed nature of teaching action,
searching into old narratives and putting them under suspicion, at the same time that it
makes up (fantasises) problemless situations to be considered as solving ways.
The conversational nature of reflection calls for many simultaneous narratives.
They come from the most different origins: lived life, ideological/beliefs background,
real voice of 'others' as friends, teachers, peers, formal knowledge, social or educative
commitment/involvement, non-said questions, fantasmatic characters and fears or
enemies, etc... I think that in conversational narrative plotting plays under some special
subjective conditions and disposes of a quite larger amount of elements to deal with.
Otherwise, argumentative doing (from logics) and persuasive doing (from affects) have
perhaps some different significance into reflecting narrative than into understanding
The cycle teaching-understanding-reflecting (researching) naturally accompanies
teachers throughout their development. Practical involvement and educative
commitment supply home conditions for the development of teaching research, at the
same time that teaching research by teachers themselves turns possible teaching real
improvement. A virtuous circle, indeed.
I would not like to come to an end without warning you about some unpleasant
issues about narrative. In the real world where we all live, power effects are
everywhere, even though we are not specially looking for them. Currently, anyone can
open a book or an educative review and read about teachers narrative. Some writers
might argue that teachers do not hang to them seriously either. I think that firstly, the
mighty academic world once praised this remarkable practice, that it was able to
improve teaching. Then, educational policymakers thought that it was right, and turned
it into an administrative and bureaucratic requirement (forced fulfilment of some
forms). And so, the very sense of teachers’ narrative as an improvement tool was
degenerated and became worthless. Finally, anyone who would read these narratives
will tend to mention their ritualness, their predictability, their uselessness, and their
However, narrative is too basic a tool (for teaching practice understanding and
research) to be wasted. For many teachers another narrative is possible, and this is also
the real world. Didactics must fight for it everywhere. Therefore, as everything
concerning Didactics, classrooms and educative/formative interactions are natural
settings, much more than books, reviews, etc. because Didactics has to do with teaching
action. Teacher development is also action, mastered by subjects of action who accept
or refuse mediation offered by the others in their lives. In this way, at last, narrative can
be introduced to teachers, and even it can be imposed to them, but the very sense that
narrative has for teachers, is only to do with teachers themselves.
Contact the author: email@example.com
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According to Lawrence Stenhouse' distinction between 'educative' research and 'about education'
research. See: Stenhouse, L. (1991)
" Practical reason" belongs to "Du texte à l'action" (1986)
"Nous conviendrons d'appeler fonctions de mise en représentation des actions ou accompagnant les
actions l'ensemble de phénomènes de production et de transformation de représentations survenant
chez les acteurs que s'y engagent et ayant trait à l'organisation singulière d'activités qui les
composantes, à eux-mêmes comme sujet(s) agissant, et à leurs rapports à l'environnement". Barbier
& Galatanu (2000), p. 32
"Le point de vue adopté dans la présente contribution est sensiblement différent, notamment sur le
plan des modèles de causalité en oeuvre : hypothèse sera faite d'une intrication, c'est-à-dire d'une
relation de solidarité de présence et de développement, et même d'une relation de consubstantialité
entre phénomènes affectifs, représentationnels et "opératoires". Cette approche permettra éalement
d'aborder de façon sensiblement différente les problèmes de la transformation de soi dans l'action qui
constitue notre objet principal et dont nous aborderons plus loin différentes figures." Barbier &
Galatanu (1998), p. 47
"S'il est vrai que la pente majeure de la théorie moderne du récit -tant en historiographie qu'en
narratologie- est de déchronologiser le récit, la lutte contre la représentation linéaire du temps n'a pas
nécessairement pour seule issue de logiciser le récit, mais bien d'en approfondir la temporalité. La
chronologie -ou la chronographie- n'a pas un unique contraire, l'achronie des lois ou des modèles.
Son vrai contraire c'est la temporalité elle-même. Sans doute fallait-il confesser l'autre du temps pour
être en état de rendre pleine justice à la temporalité humaine, et pour se proposer non de l'abolir mais
de l'approfondir, de la hiérarchiser, de la déployer selon des niveaux de temporalisation toujours mois
distendus et toujours plus tendus". Ricœur, (1986), p.65
A teacher learner wrote: 'I feel as Woody Allen. I must do the project, the script, and I also must be
the actor. I think the later analysis is not included in his contract, but in mine it is.'
Aristotle's terms of 'muthos' and 'mimesis', especially that Ricœur calls 'mimesis II and III' support
this point of view. Cf. Ricœur's 'Temps et Récit', chap. 1-3.
'History has never been my greatest passion. At school, it was not the subject that I loved specially. I
have had good and bad teachers, and no one of them has been a motivation for my career. Also I do
not study History because I do not like anything else. It is not a hobby for my life. I must admit that I
believe that teaching History is something capital in order to understand our lives. I realize that I
have an existentialist point of view of History. How can we understand our place in the world if we
do not know our past? It would be like someone who has forgotten everything, specially the motives
of his existence. Remembering is the basis of human consciousness. I am interested in the past, more
than in History. I am not able to understand present situations if I do not understand my own past.
[...] I always thought that the events of the past were present in our lives and that, wanted or not, we
are the children of our past. Every Sunday, my grandfather talked me about relatives that I had never
met. Even today, I feel that I knew them. [...] Growing out of these experiences I can explain,
perhaps understand, my relationship with History through the necessity of understanding the past,
and I believe that for me, it is actually linked to the "fight against death", giving some voice to the
dead, as Michel de Certeau claims. For me, this personal feeling was extended to a collective need:
nobody would able to understand himself without knowing History. Later, time softened this too
radical idea, because people think that what they do is quite capital. Besides, to be that I call
"historical unconsciousness" often turns people less worried and perhaps provides them with some
more hopeful future image, especially in these times.' Luciana Fuques, History teacher learner at
IPA, Montevideo, 2002.
'Ce qu'importe, c'est la manière dont la praxis quotidienne ordonne l'un par rapport à l'autre le présent
du futur, le présent du passé, le présent du présent. Car c'est cette articulation pratique qui constitue
le plus élémentaire inducteur du récit'. Ricœur, ibid., p. 119
10. See, e.g.: Fendler, L. (2001) : "Réflexion des enseignants dans un palais des miroirs", in: Recherche
et formation, Nº 38, pp. 31-45
This document was added to the Education-line database on 27 November 2003
Available on: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/documents/00003385.htm