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Understanding Teaching as an Interpretive Process and Practice

Editor’s Note: Professor Hollins inspired attendees of AACTE’s recent Annual Meeting in Atlanta during the Speaker Spotlight Session. (View a video recording of her speech here, and read another version in this Hechinger Report piece, which includes the video she played during her address.) To follow up on her presentation, we invited Hollins to explore her topic in a series of blogs for Ed Prep Matters. This is the first post in the series.

The way teaching and learning teaching are conceptualized influences approaches and practices in both. For example, where teaching is viewed as an interpretive process, learning teaching also requires an interpretive process for constructing the habits of mind and deep knowledge of approaches and practices necessary for facilitating meaningful, purposeful, and productive learning experiences for students in different contexts, from different cultural and experiential backgrounds, and with different developmental needs.

Interpretive teaching practice, then, requires deep knowledge of learning, learners, pedagogy, and subject matter—and the ability to interpret and translate this knowledge into practice for teaching and learning in different contexts. For example, such practice requires deep understanding of the students being taught, including knowledge of the community in which students live, the context within the school students attend, prior academic and social experiences at the school, and everyday life experiences outside of school. This knowledge of the setting in which students are socialized informs teachers about the larger context for learning and is an important part of the text from which meaningful, purposeful, and productive learning experiences are constructed.

What constitutes such experiences?

  • Meaningful learning experiences build upon and extend what students know and have experienced, incorporate their interests and values, and are responsive to their everyday life conditions.
  • Purposeful learning experiences help students make sense of their past and present experiences, construct a vision for their future, and develop the attributes and skills necessary for taking care of themselves and their families as adults and for contributing to the well-being of the community in which they live.
  • Productive learning experiences achieve the expected learning outcomes for the particular grade level and/or subject area.

Learning interpretive teaching practice involves developing particular habits of mind related to interpreting and translating knowledge about learning, learners, pedagogy, and subject matter into meaningful, purposeful, and productive learning experiences. The habits of mind for interpretive teaching practice result from engaging in focused inquiry, directed observation, the analysis of teaching practice, and guided practice:

  • Focused inquiry refers to gathering information from different sources about particular aspects of teaching and learning, or influences on teaching including knowledge of students and ways of improving learning outcomes.
  • In interpretive teaching practice, initial teacher observations are directed at understanding students’ responses to classroom experiences as insights for making adjustments in teaching practices that better facilitate student growth and development.
  • The analysis of teaching practice is focused on better understanding and applying knowledge of the relationship among student characteristics, teaching practices, and learning outcomes.
  • Teacher candidates and novice teachers need guidance from teacher educators and expert teachers for developing the habits of mind associated with an interpretive teaching process.

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Etta R. Hollins

University of Missouri at Kansas City