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Teaching Core Practices in Teacher Education

reviewed by Courtney Rath

coverTitle: Teaching Core Practices in Teacher Education
Author(s): Pam Grossman (Ed.)
Publisher: Harvard Education Press, Boston
ISBN: 1682531872, Pages: 224, Year: 2018
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In “Teaching Practice: A Cross-Professional Perspective” (Grossman, Compton, Igra, Ronfeldt, Shahan, & Williamson, 2009), the authors examine the preparation programs for three different relational professions—teaching, clinical psychology, and ministry—in order to develop a framework for instructing novices in their professional practices. These fields require “complex practice under conditions of uncertainty” (p. 2058), which means practitioners must be able to exercise professional judgment and adjust quickly to changing circumstances. Teaching Core Practices in Teacher Education expands on this work. In their introduction to the volume, Grossman, Kavanagh, and Dean situate this collection as part of a turn towards practice that simultaneously recognizes that teachers-to-be need support in putting knowledge into practice in the classroom and resists reducing teaching to “long checklists of competencies” (p. 2).

The first four content chapters in this volume expand on three necessary components in teacher education identified in the introduction: representation, decomposition, and approximation. Novice teachers are introduced to the practices of the profession by means of many types of representation; for example, teaching candidates consider narrative, photographic, and video accounts of classrooms, teaching practice, and practitioner thinking, and spend time observing classrooms directly. Approximation involves low-stakes opportunities for novices to practice the components of the profession, particularly as these allow them to make and learn from mistakes. As opportunities for learning, however, both representation and approximation require decomposition, the breaking of teaching practice into component parts in order to “develop professional vision” (p. 9), which involves exposing novices to the technical language of the profession. Chapters Two and Four provide general discussions of representation and approximation, respectively, offering overviews and surveying various instructional practices that center each component. Chapter Three focuses on one type of representation, modeling, and Chapter Five focuses on one type of approximation, rehearsal. By representing the component broadly and then decomposing one ‘high leverage’ example of it thoroughly, the text itself works as an example of the pedagogies of practice being discussed.

This text will be primary useful in the preparation of teacher educators. To the extent possible for a text, this one admirably enacts what it prescribes; each of the four central chapters represents and decomposes lessons from teacher education classrooms. Each chapter also describes activities that, while requiring fairly extensive preparation on the part of teacher educators, can be implemented relatively immediately, particularly in methods courses. Another potential use for this volume would be as part of a program review; committees or faculty study groups could use this text to inform their work restructuring teacher preparation programs to be more practice-based. Chapter Six, in which various teacher educators share stories of practice about identifying and teaching core practices, and Chapter Seven, which describes field-based mentoring and coaching models, would be particularly useful as fuel for program reform and redesign conversations. A third and perhaps less obvious use for this text would be as a case study of collaborative research in a research methodology course. The range of practices and teaching contexts covered by the chapters in this volume speaks to what is possible when researchers collaborate across disciplines and institutions, and the final chapter offers narratives of lessons learned from various educational researchers involved in this collaboration.

My two concerns about this work are both identified by the authors themselves, one in the introduction to the volume and one in an introduction to a special section of Teachers College Record on teaching practice (Grossman, 2011), and I would hope they would provoke discussion wherever this book is used. The first concern is a theoretical one involving the seemingly uncritical use of representations. How we describe things has consequences: something is made real in the world when we describe a student as at-risk or a school as failing or a teacher as low-performing. While Grossman (2011) notes that “no representation can be complete,” she does not develop this concern further, instead asserting that “the important questions in looking at representations of practice include the nature, range, and use of these representations across a professional curriculum—what they enable novices to see and learn and what they leave opaque” (p. 2838). While these are indeed important questions, they should not displace other, perhaps more fundamental ones. Which representations count as pedagogically useful? Who gets to decide? What does it mean to construct a knowledge base on a foundation of representation, given how thoroughly representation has been problematized in social science research? What becomes visible when we consider any representation as constitutive of one particular reality to the exclusion of others and notice that this constitution is not inevitable?

The second issue is presented by Grossman, Kavanagh, and Dean in the introduction to this volume:

The [Core Practices Consortium] takes the view that teachers’ actions are consequential for countering longstanding inequities in the schooling experiences of children, particularly youth from marginalized communities. An emphasis on core practices does not preclude a critical examination of the structures that have shaped schooling in the US or the deeply relational and contextualized ways that teachers make decisions and support children’s learning. (p. 13)

And yet this text offers minimal representation of how a critical examination of structural issues can and should be entangled in the pedagogies of practice described here. That is, while teaching toward social justice is discussed in various places in the later chapters, in the four chapters that model the pedagogies of practice, there is only one example that focuses directly on equity (“Approximations Using Fishbowls,” pp. 65-69), and that example primarily involves text selection. That there is no teaching outside of structures of inequity is part of what makes teaching practice so complex and uncertain, and I hoped for more specific examples of how teacher educators are embedding examinations of these structures in their representations, decompositions, and approximations of teaching practice.

As someone who has followed the scholarship of Pam Grossman and many of the contributors in this volume, I appreciate how this text both collects and synthesizes the research on practice-based teacher education and how it is positioned as a starting point or work in progress (p. 161). As the landscape of schooling, teacher education, educational research, and educational policy continue to shift, work such as this—emerging, responsive, and, most of all, deeply thoughtful—is critical. I look forward to thinking about my own teaching practice in terms of the ideas presented here, as well as seeing how other teacher educators and scholars will be provoked by them.


Grossman, P. (2011). Framework for teaching practice: A brief history of an idea. Teachers College Record, 113(12), 2836–2843.

Grossman, P., Compton, C., Igra, D., Ronfeldt, M., Shahan, E., & Williamson, P. W. (2009). Teaching practice: A cross-professional perspective. Teachers College Record, 111(9), 2055–2100.



Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22536, Date Accessed: 11/20/2018 11:51:09 PM

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