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Teaching and Its Predicaments

Teaching and Its Predicaments

David K. Cohen
Copyright Date: 2011
Published by: Harvard University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Teaching and Its Predicaments
    Book Description:

    Since Socrates, teaching has been a difficult and even dangerous profession. Why is teaching such hard work? In this provocative, witty, sometimes rueful book, Cohen writes about the predicaments that teachers face and explores what responsible teaching can be. He focuses on the kind of mind reading teaching demands and the resources it requires.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-06278-8
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xiv)
  4. 1 Improve Teaching?
    (pp. 1-3)

    The developed world has seen a remarkable escalation of ambition for schools. Policy makers and some educators in the 1980s began to say that schools must offer intellectually challenging instruction that is deeply rooted in the academic disciplines. Under Margaret Thatcher, John Major, and Tony Blair, British schooling was revamped to exert much greater pressure on academic work. Reformers and policy makers in the United States also urged more thoughtful and intellectually ambitious instruction and argued that students must become independent thinkers and enterprising problem solvers.

    Ambitious changes in politics and policy were made to achieve these goals. The British...

  5. 2 Human Improvement
    (pp. 4-23)

    Teaching seems plain enough. An older or more educated person holds forth to those younger or less knowledgeable. Children sit at small desks, adolescents slouch in lecture halls, and grown-ups gather in semicircles. The older or more learned person almost always stands in front and almost always talks. So when I ask, “What sort of endeavor is teaching?” the answer seems simple: one in which knowledge and skills are transmitted.

    All true, but not all that is true. One might also say that teachers try to improve their students’ minds, souls, and habits. There are many important differences among such...

  6. 3 Teaching
    (pp. 24-48)

    To teach is always to teach something. If we thought that a chef was instructing an apprentice, it would be because we observed the exchange of knowledge about cooking. If we saw them reading the newspaper or discussing baseball, we would doubt that there was instruction about cooking. Knowledge in transit is essential for teaching, a view that observers reflect when they describe situations in which there is none. Then they say that teachers seem to be “going through the motions” or doing “nonteaching.”¹ The lack of knowledge in transit empties teaching of an essential ingredient.

    But if knowledge in...

  7. 4 The Social Resources of Teaching
    (pp. 49-103)

    Teaching is typically seen as the work of an individual, but it is thoroughly social. One reason is that individual work requires social resources, including norms of appropriate work, the knowledge and know-how required to do the work, and standards of quality. Occupations cannot practice—only individuals or groups of individuals can do that—but those individuals cannot work without the specialized knowledge, skills, and common vocabularies that occupations foster and collect, the education, structured at least in part by the occupation, that prepares workers to practice, and standards for work that occupations help set. Some version of these social...

  8. 5 Knowledge and Teaching
    (pp. 104-130)

    Learning is an ordinary human endeavor. Anyone reading this page has learned many things, including how to dress, how to speak English, and perhaps how to drive a car or cook a meal. Some have learned more unusual things, like a foreign language or algebra. Presumably they have learned how to make sense of sentences like these. But if such learning is utterly commonplace, it also is quite remarkable because, almost by definition, it requires us to do things that we do not know how to do. I could not have learned to swim unless I got into the water...

  9. 6 Instructional Discourse
    (pp. 131-163)

    Knowledge is essential for instruction, but it is not enough. It becomes part of instruction when it joins a discourse in which learners encounter teachers and content. Instructional discourse is a socially organized means to extend and exchange knowledge, and it takes many different forms; lectures and small group discussions are only two examples.¹ Some consist of direct social interaction (for example, conventional lectures or discussions), but others are indirect interactions (for example, televised lectures, correspondence courses, distance learning, and computer networks). In the first kind, learners and teachers encounter each other face-to-face, but in the second, learners encounter teachers...

  10. 7 Teachers’ Acquaintance with Students’ Knowledge
    (pp. 164-188)

    Teaching and learning are two distinct practices. Though they are often related, often they are not. How they are related and how closely depend partly on how teachers and students regulate the connections. I discussed two domains for that regulation in chapters 5 and 6: some approaches to extending knowledge or organizing discourse increase the opportunities to connect teaching and learning, while others reduce them. Teachers’ acquaintance with students’ knowledge is the third domain.¹ The more teachers learn about what students know, the more learning can be implicated in teaching, and the more sophisticated the practice that teachers can devise;...

  11. 8 Improve Teaching
    (pp. 189-206)

    One reason that I did the research for this book was to improve my understanding, and I hope that of others, of teaching and its sister occupations. Another was to figure out why teaching practice—work with students that is intellectually demanding, attentive to students’ work, and conducive to thoughtful conversation—has been so difficult to achieve and sustain in the United States. If I could do these two things, I might be able to shed some light on two other questions: what would it take to make teaching practice more available, and why have many recent reforms been disappointing?...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 207-224)
  13. Index
    (pp. 225-234)