J. T. Dillon
James T. Dillon is a professor of education in the School of Education, University of California-Riverside, Riverside, CA, 92521, USA. He has been pursuing basic questions about teaching since Personal Teaching (1971), through Questioning and Teaching (1988), down to Jesus as a Teacher (1995). He also studies questioning and discussion processes; his books on these themes include Using Discussion in Classrooms (Buckingham: Open University Press, 1994) and Deliberation in Education and Society (Norwood, NJ: Ablex, 1995).
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Against the view that good teachers should use diverse styles of teaching, I propose that no teacher can possibly do so and still engage in the act of teaching. I hold to this proposition: it is practically and conceptually impossible for a teacher to use diverse styles of teaching. First I review the arguments promoting the use of diverse styles of teaching, and then I adduce arguments against it. Although the arguments in favour are appealing, the counter-arguments make for the plain impossibility of using diverse styles of teaching.
The most powerful, and probably the most effective, arguments are made by prominent teacher-education texts describing 'models of teaching' and 'approaches to teaching'.
'Models of Teaching'
One of the most widely used textbooks on teaching, Models of Teaching (Joyce and Weil 1986, 1992), describes two dozen models of teaching grouped into four distinct families &endash; informational teaching (e.g. 'advance-organizer' model [D. Ausubel]), social teaching (e.g. 'group-investigation' model [H. Thelen]), personal teaching (e.g., 'non-directive' model [C. Rogers]) and behavioral teaching (e.g. 'contingency-management' model [B. F. Skinner]). The textbook recommends that beginning teachers acquire a 'repertoire' of models, using at least one model from each of the four families. More experienced teachers are to acquire further models of the different types. Moreover, the book recommends combining the models from different families. 'Models from the four families can be combined to increase their effects' (Joyce and Weil 1992: 13). Because the different models address different aspects of learning and have different effects, there is no one all-purpose model. 'We find no easy route to a single model that is superior for all purposes' (p. 20). What is the teacher to do, then? 'The message is that the most effective teachers need to master a range of models and prepare for a career-long process of adding new tools and polishing and expanding their old ones' (p. 20).
On what grounds does the book Models of Teaching advance these proposals?
1. Given models can be used for different purposes. For example, 'many information-processing models are useful for studying the self and society, and thus for achieving the personal and social goals of education' (Joyce and Weil [1992: 7]).
2. Different models address different aspects. It does not make sense to address only selected aspects:
To attend to the personal but not the social, or the informational but not the personal, simply does not make sense in the life of the growing student. Thus, models from the four families can be combined to increase their effects. (1992: 13])
Readers should pause to note the rhetoric here: use all, not just one; address all aspects, don't be partial; make good sense; life and growing.
3. The more models a teacher uses, the better teacher he or she becomes. For example,growth in teaching skill is the increasing mastery of a variety of models of teaching and the ability to use them effectively. . . . A highly skilled teaching performance blends the variety of models appropriately and embellishes them. (Joyce and Weil [1986: 15])
The rhetoric here is: growth, mastery, effectively, highly skilled, blends the variety appropriately, and embellishes.
4. The more models the teacher uses, the more satisfaction that teacher obtains from teaching.satisfaction from personal and professional growth and exploration should be reason enough for the teacher to set as a goal not one or two basic models to use for all purposes, but a variety which he or she explores for the potential they hold for pupils and teachers alike. (Joyce and Weil [1992: 25])
These arguments come not from theorists but from practically oriented teacher-trainers in a textbook for teaching. Yet it is strange to see these arguments advanced in the face of theoretical considerations that the non-theorist authors themselves set out in the beginning of the book. In introducing the behavioral family of teaching models, Joyce and Weil (1992: 10) state that 'a common theoretical base . . . guides the design of the models in this family'. And that is also the case with all the other models in all the other families ñ as described and used by these authors: 'Each of them has a coherent theoretical basis' (p. 4).
What is that basis? First, the various models include 'many, but not all, of the major philosophical and psychological orientations towards learning and teaching' (Joyce and Weil 1992: 4). Second, 'We have grouped the models of teaching into four families that share orientations towards human beings and how they learn' (p. 5).
But, having identified the theoretical bases for the distinctions made among the models and families of models, the authors proceed to nullify them throughout the rest of the book. For it is the thesis of the textbook that a teacher should develop a repertoire of teaching models from each of the four families. Joyce and Weil tell a teacher to adopt all four orientations to human beings and to learners, that is, the major philosophies and psychologies of teaching and learning.
To my mind this is a stupefying position and an anti-educative recommendation to teachers. Yet the authors calmly remark that 'the four families of teaching models we have discussed are by no means antithetical or mutually exclusive' (Joyce and Weil 1992: 13). And that marks the end of theory and its role in practice in this textbook for teachers. Theory is largely dead, and readers are only on page 13 of the book! The remaining 500 pages will deal with practical matters. For instance, the book will show how to use the panoply of teaching techniques taken from the two dozen different models of teaching, each with its own coherent theoretical basis, grouped into four distinct families of models according to their orientation towards human beings and how they learn, and including the major philosophical and psychological orientations towards teaching and learning. The underlying advice seems to run: 'Let's go use all of those techniques. Let's act as if the theories, orientations, philosophies and psychologies didn't matter.'
Despite how badly the authors of this textbook treat theory and how technically they treat practice, much worse is the treatment that is given to theory in another book, this one by philosophers of education.
'Approaches to Teaching'
Approaches to Teaching (Fenstermacher and Soltis 1992) advances the same propositions as Models of Teaching, but in even stranger terms. It describes three approaches to teaching &endash; 'the executive', 'the therapist', and 'the liberationist'. Each approach is depicted as taking distinctly different stances on the purpose of teaching, the subject matter taught, and the activity of teaching. Even more, the authors declare that 'in fact, we will display these approaches as basically incompatible and in conflict with each other' (p. 5). Despite this declaration, the authors warn the reader that they really do not quite believe in the incompatibility of the approaches. They urge the teacher not to select only one approach, even if the teacher sees 'overriding reasons for adopting one stance over another' (p. 5). Indeed, they urge the teacher to use all three approaches, in alternation or in combination.
Alternation: 'You can, for example, be an executive at times, a therapist at others, a liberationist at still others' (p. 58).
Combination: 'We believe you must try to put these three approaches together somehow' (p. 59).
What are the grounds advanced for these propositions?
1. A good teacher uses all three approaches.(a) 'In our view, all three approaches to teaching are critically important to being a good teacher' (p. 60).
(b) 'Then you truly will have become a teacher' (p. 61).
2. A sensible human being uses all three approaches.'Be a sensitive, rational, flexible human being in concrete educational situations while trying to balance worthy multiple goals' (Fenstermacher and Soltis 1986: 57).
3. The fullest benefits for students requires the committed teacher to use all three approaches.'If you are committed to having your students gain to the fullest extent possible from their experiences of schooling, we believe you must try to put these three approaches together somehow' (p. 58).
4. The differences among the three approaches are only theoretical.(a) 'These are, after all, only approaches: different ways of thinking about the same thing, teaching' (Fenstermacher and Soltis 1992: 58).
(b) 'You must remember, however, that these approaches are conceptions of teaching. They are ideas about what teaching is and should be' (p. 4). That is to say, they are only conceptions, 'not immutable reflections about the way the world really is. As such, they are also open to appraisal and criticism, adoption, rejection, or modification' (p. 4).
5. In practice, all approaches can be used ñ even if in theory they cannot.(a) 'Thus we believe that while there may be contradictions among these approaches at the level of concept or theory, there need be no such opposition at the level of practice' (p. 61).
(b) 'They do rest on theoretical and ethical ideas that seem logically opposed to one another. Yet we believe that the logical boundaries that separate these positions as scholarly constructions, as ways of thinking about teaching and education, need not be barriers to practical action' (p. 58).
What an amazing set of antitheoretical, even anti-intellectual, arguments from professors of the philosophy of education! The approaches may be contradictory in theory, but a teacher should go ahead and use all of them in practice; theory is no barrier to practical action. These philosophers and professors are instructing teachers that theory is, after all, only theory; it does not count, in the end, for practice. Free your mind of theory and get down to practice!
I point out that none of these arguments is theoretical. All of the theory-sounding assertions are rhetorical. Other arguments are merely rhetorical. Although disreputable, rhetorical arguments can be expected from textbook writers and other proponents of a selected practice. Here are two sets of rhetorical arguments:
(a) If you use all three teaching approaches you will be a good teacher, a true teacher, a sensitive and flexible human being (Fenstermacher and Soltis).
(b) If you use all four families of teaching models, you will grow in teaching skills, become a highly skilled and effective teacher, and gain great satisfaction from teaching (Joyce and Weil).
These arguments propose to persuade and to move teachers to using diverse teaching styles because they would be praised as good professionals and sensible human beings, and gain satisfaction to boot.
Here is another argument, equally fallacious:
1. There are many goals of education, and many aspects of human beings and human life to serve &endash; especially in young and growing students.
2. (a) No single style of teaching (approach, family, model) can satisfy all worthy goals and purposes of education, nor can it address all important aspects of students, nor yet provide students with the fullest possible gains from their experiences of schooling.
(b) It makes no sense, or it is not proper, for educators to satisfy only some goals, to address only some aspects, to provide only partial gains and experiences.
3. Therefore, a teacher should use all styles of teaching.
The fallacy here is easy enough to detect, only a matter of a single slip. Grant for purposes of making only this one point here, that the two premises are true and wise. What follows is not the conclusion as drawn but another conclusion:
Therefore, all styles of teaching should be used by educators and schools.
That is, the conclusion holds that it is proper for all teaching styles to be used in the school by the range of teachers in the school, and to be found in the experiences of schooling or learning by the range of students in the school. For instance, a given school might have all four families of teaching or all three approaches to teaching ñ each style used by some teachers. But it does not follow as argued, that each teacher use all styles.
Indeed, I hold that the mistaken conclusion is an impossibility, not just in theory but equally in practice.
I hold that it is impossible, practically as well as theoretically, for any one teacher to use all four families or all three approaches to teaching, whether in alternation or in combination. To specify:
(a) I do not say that it is not desirable; rather, it is not possible.
(b) I do not say that it is impossible in theory but a way can be found to do it in practice; rather, it is as impossible to do in practice as it is impossible in theory. That is, a teacher can neither conceive nor act the different styles of teaching.
(c) I do not say that there is only one way to teach, nor that one teacher can use only one technique. Certainly there are various ways and techniques of teaching something ñ within the same frame or model or approach to teaching. Rather, a teacher cannot use ways and techniques from more than one 'family of teaching models' (Joyce and Weil) or more than one 'approach to teaching' (Fenstermacher and Soltis).
(d) I do not say that only one model or approach to teaching is worthy of being used, nor that all models and all approaches are not desirably used. It may be that they are all desirable, and all of them may be worthy of being used, of being found in a school's practice or in a student's experience. This issue I have avoided discussing and, without prejudice, I make no proposal on it here. Rather, I propose that no one teacher can, even in practice, use more than one of the presumably worthy and desirable models or approaches.
That is a statement of this position. The theoretical and practical bases that underlie this position will be set out next.
The theoretical bases for the various styles of teaching, as proposed by these authors, include:
major philosophies and major psychologies ofteaching and
how they learn;
conceptions about what teaching is and
what teaching should be, and
what students should eventually become.
For a teacher to use several, even if not all, of the distinct families of models and approaches to teaching would require that teacher to assume not just different but even opposing and contradictory as well as contrary stances, and to hold them in practice. For instance, a teacher would have to assume opposing views of the nature of human beings and their character as learners; and the teacher would have to hold those contradictory stances while teaching the students in from of him or her. Or a teacher would have to hold one view of the students on one day and an opposing view on another day. Those are the two cases of using various styles in alternation or combination.
Alternation of styles On Monday, for example, the teacher would view the students as organisms responding to external contingencies, and he or she would teach them by some behavioral model of teaching. On Tuesday the teacher would view the students as autonomous, intrinsically motivated and self-developing persons; and he or she would teach them by some personal model of teaching. Or the students would be taught one subject or lesson at 9:30 am by the teacher using one model, and another lesson at 10:30 am by the same teacher using an opposite model. Or, as is now common, the students would be disciplined by behavioral techniques while at the very same time their appreciation of self and others, culture, heritage, literature or art is being enhanced by anti-behavioral techniques from a personal model or therapist approach to teaching. Or they might be taught important, hard subjects like science and mathematics by an informational model as if they were either empty containers to fill or receivers to be transmitted to, or more commonly these modern days, as if they were data-processing computers; while they would be taught the softer, less crucial subjects like history, literature and civics by (1) therapist/personal models as if they were hurting or needful but precious defective beings, or perhaps budding flowers to nurture and flourish, or by (2) social methods as if they were responsible members of a society in search of affiliation and resolution of affairs, or by (3) the executive approach, as if they were subordinates to control and keep in line, or workers to manage at their industrial work posts. It is not possible for any teacher to take these opposing stances, much less hold them in practice.
Combination of styles Here the teacher would gather all sorts of techniques by turning in all four orientations and running up all three approaches. Then the teacher would apply this assortment to the children in the classroom as if they were ñ what sort of human beings? A mix of four opposing views or three contradictory stances? Or no view at all? Would the teacher have any idea of what he or she is doing?
In order to teach in the various styles, whether in alternation or combination, a teacher would have to be able to think and to act in multiple and contrary ways. I believe that what this proposal ñ the use of all styles ñ actually advocates is for the teacher not to think about teaching, not to hold views about it. That is not to imply that the proponents do not want teachers to think while they are teaching, for they do want teachers to have their wits about them. But the thinking that is proposed is, like the techniques used, a procedural and technical sort of thinking. I am pointing rather to some other thinking that the teacher, on this proposal, would have to forego.
I believe that the proposal to use various styles advocates the outright rejection of the place or role of theory in practice, and it represents the outright dismissal of the mind of the teacher. It says: 'Never mind what theory says, it's not important; and never mind what you might think, it doesn't matter ñ just go and do this, use this technique'. I suspect that that is how many teachers are being trained today, and that is how they are being evaluated for job security and pay raises ñ by their assiduous application of specified techniques and proper procedures in the right order at the right time. The evaluation is as technical as the action. Of course, the proposal does not actually say the very words, 'never mind theory, never mind what you think', but those are the actual lessons it communicates.
What could possibly be the view of teaching and learning, of human beings and students, that might be capable of underlying such a practice, of informing it, or inspiring it? What conceptions might such a teacher have of, for example, the children in the classroom? the aim of education? the purpose of teaching? the educational milieu? the matter to be taught and learned? the student activity to learn it? the person and role of the teacher? These are the commonplace categories of student, aim and intention, milieu or context, subject matter, learner activity, and teacher. If the activity of the teacher is to consist of actions or techniques or methods drawn from all sorts of models and approaches to teaching, what must the teacher's notion be of all these other aspects of teaching (the other categories just specified)?
Take the category of student, for instance. What conception could the teacher possibly have of the children as human beings and as learners? No conception, as far as I can understand. The teacher could not have a view of the children or their learning. No view would be conceivable, no one can think such a thought or even dream one up. It is conceptually impossible to use the various styles of teaching, as far as I can understand.
The positive recommendation to use the various styles of teaching requires the teacher to hold multiple, contrary or contradictory views on an entire range of matters (the categories of teaching), holding them all together in some kind of mix or jumble, or holding them now but not later, for this subject but not that, or holding now one and now the contrary one. It requires the poor teacher to hold contradictory views, which no one can do, and then to shift to the contrary complex of views, which no one can do either. Or it requires the poor teacher to accomplish the feat of construing some one view that would encompass or combine all the contradictory views in all the contrary and multiple respects, which is something else that no one can do. It is conceptually impossible to use all styles of teaching. It is not practical, either.
One set of practical considerations has already been treated. I refer to the scenarios sketched in a previous section wherein a teacher uses contrary actions at alternate times for teaching different subjects to the same students who are transmogrifying at every turn. It is interesting to ask after the other categories of teaching here. For instance, does the teacher have contrary purposes, opposing educational aims and contradictory objectives for teaching various subject matters to these transmogrified beings at various times in these contrary styles?
Another set of considerations relates to techniques of teaching. Teaching in various styles entails the use of techniques drawn from opposing conceptions and orientations, opposite philosophies and psychologies of human beings, learning and teaching. Because the proposal is based on a rejection of theory and the dismissal of the teacher's view or conception, the use of various styles reduces teaching to brute acts, to the application of techniques.
Techniques that are taken away from the theory, conception or domain that generates, informs and sustains them ñ that gives to an act its spirit and rationale ñ are mere techniques, brute acts. They have no rationale, no spirit, no informed body, no encompassing domain and no world of which they are a sensible part. They are without context, without meaning. They embody nothing.
Different sets of these lifeless gestures, these pointless tools and purposeless instruments are drawn thoughtlessly from their sources in opposing theories, conceptions and domains. Then they are all tossed together in a repertoire or toolbox or magic kit from which one and another of them is to be removed and applied in various circumstances that may arise. Nothing is left of these but their outer form and their mindless application. They are mere techniques.
That means that the teacher's use of these techniques or methods from various styles of teaching carries with it no moral agency. It is not the agency of teaching. It is not teaching. It is some other kind of activity.
The objection to these criticisms is that these techniques work, and that teachers should use techniques that work. This is a powerful objection, and an attractive one. The objection is impossible to counter because it comes from an anti-theoretical stance, and it is held by people who do not view education as a moral enterprise. I think that they see education as a technical enterprise.
People who see education as a technical enterprise or some other kind of enterprise apart from a moral one, think and act in a paradigm that forecloses all other considerations. They are led to regard all things, not just education, as a matter of taking actions to produce results. Things are therefore valued and pursued not for any goods that might be inherent to the thing or the doing of the activity but only for its payoff in outcomes, products, effects and results. All other things therefore become in their eyes instruments. The acts of teaching are instruments, tools and techniques. People who see things in life this way want to see results. So they look for techniques. By definition, techniques are applied means of producing results. These educators look all over for any sort of technique to use, and they will use nearly any technique as long as it works for them in their situation.
To counter such a technical view puts one in the undesirable social position of appearing not to want results and opposing things that work. However, theirs is not a practical view of teaching but an anti-practical view. It does not sustain and promote the practice of teaching but turns it into some other kind of practice that is not teaching ñ something along the lines of plumbing, rocketry and highway engineering. It makes teaching a matter of techniques, procedures, steps, strategies, formulas, schemes, moves and acts. And these techniques are not derived or invented in light of educational circumstance or any educational viewpoint. They are taken from all manner of other domains, providing only that they work.
Suppose that they do work. What is their working? In virtue of what good do they work? Or in respect to what purpose and for which person? One technique can cancel out the other, even though both work. The two techniques can work to contrary effect. The multiple techniques can produce an anti-educative process as well as product. What goods are being negated in the process? Which ends are not being pursued? Which means are not being engaged?
Larger questions also arise. What is the effect on the learners as the techniques work upon them to a given result? What lessons are they observing being taught to them by the adults wielding techniques? What view of life, what conclusions about themselves and others, what understandings of subject matters and which skills in which domains and in which respects are children acquiring from the very theatre of techniques before their eyes every day? ñ the years-long display of earnest, sweating adults supported by society's money, structures and desires, who flail about with their techniques, trying anything that might work here and now in a desperate effort to produce results.
I believe that children might conclude that life is a technical matter and that living is a matter of using the right technique to get the results you want. They see themselves, like other humans, as technical objects. The practice of life, the activities of work, play and love, are technical affairs. Things that are not technical are not worthy of sustained attention, appreciation or effort. After all, they played but small part in their years of schooling and watching how adults and society view life.
I conclude that this position is anti-practical. It is counter to the practice of education and selected other enterprises that are not technical in character but moral. I refer here to the very practice, the notion of practice, the pursuit and enactment of selected human enterprises. What does it mean to engage in a practice ñ e.g., the practice of teaching?
Further arguments against the use of multiple styles of teaching can be found in another book on teaching ñ an out-of-print book with the significant title of Conflicting Theories of Instruction: Conceptual Dimensions (Lamm 1976).
This book identifies three logics or patterns of instruction: 'imitation', 'moulding', and 'development'. Each is constituted of a different set of 'archetypical answers' that it gives to 'central problems' of instruction. These problems come in nine categories or dimensions (p. 224):
1. 'the nature of aims in teaching';
2. 'the nature of desired achievement';
3. 'the social significance ascribed to teaching';
4. 'the status of the learner';
5. 'the status of the contents';
6. 'the status of the teacher';
7. 'the preferred kind of motivation';
8. 'the preferred kind of activities'; and
9. 'the preferred kind of leadership'.
The first three dimensions refer to the direction of instruction, the next three refer to the process, and the final three to the means.
This display of factors makes it plain that what is involved in a 'teaching style' is not activity alone. Moreover, all of these factors influence each other; decisions on one dimension affect the kinds of decisions possible on other dimensions. In my view, that means that a decision about teaching style cannot take into account only one or two of the dimensions, nor can it fail to take into account the decisions made on one and another dimension while seeking to determine decisions on yet further dimensions.
Different stances on these dimensions yield the three logics or patterns of instruction &endash; 'imitation', 'moulding', and 'development'. All three of them are attractive to my mind as worthy styles of teaching. Yet, as the book's title alone would warn, nobody can use all three of these styles &endash; they are 'conflicting theories'. The book's position on this issue is clear, it is emphatic and it is uncompromising and unyielding. But is it correct?
It is not possible to teach according to all the logics of instruction simultaneously; nor is it possible to teach according to all these logics alternatively. (Lamm 1976: 58)
This same proposition is repeated, almost mercilessly, on other pages (e.g. p. 54).
But why not? Why can't these three styles of instruction be used together or one after another? What are the grounds that this book adduces in support of this proposition? Here, too, the author's words are plain enough to carry the argument for themselves.
1. 'Conflicting theories of instruction' (as stated in Lamm's title) &endash; the three alternatives are mutually contradictory.
2. 'Teaching acts governed by one style negate, or at least diminish, the possible influence of acts governed by a different style' (p. 59). For instance: 'Imitative techniques can destroy all hope of learning by moulding or development, and moulding and developmental procedures can damage the ability to learn by imitation' (p. 54).
3. 'Each style of instruction also involves a special kind of relationship between teacher and pupil and a special kind of psychological climate in the learning group' (p. 59). For instance:The same teacher cannot, at one and the same time, be an authoritarian autocrat, an authoritarian representative of given values, and an antiauthoritarian seeking to create an atmosphere of freedom in his class . . . . What is quite impossible is to maintain simultaneously three conflicting psychological climates in the classroom. In instruction, unfortunately, you cannot have it all ways. (pp. 59-60)
4. 'Every decision in favour of one style of instruction involves the risk of losing the possible advantages of the other styles' (p. 60). That is: 'It is not simply a choice of the good; it is, at the same time, a renunciation of another good' (p. 60).
5. 'The assumption that the same goal can be reached by different methods of instruction is generally mistaken' (p. 61). 'Instruction is not a neutral technique . . . . When means change, goals also change' (pp. 61-62).
Finally, as a way of helping readers to appreciate the differences involved in these styles of instruction and their contradictory character, consider these three intriguing questions posed by Lamm (he answers them on pp. 50-52).
(a) 'What did the pupil who learned reading or algebra by imitation learn?' (p. 50)
(b) 'What has the pupil who studies reading or algebra according to the logic of moulding learned?' (p. 51)
(c) 'What has the pupil learned when he learns reading and algebra by developmental instruction?' (p. 51)
These three questions appear very helpful to my way of thinking. Even if the series of five propositions by the author did not convince a reader, surely it would be a challenge and a fruitful activity to explore the answers to these questions about three different and conflicting styles of instruction.
I agree with Lamm (1976) in holding that no one teacher can use the three logics or patterns of instruction either simultaneously or alternatively, no more than any teacher can use the four families of teaching models (Joyce and Weil 1992) or the three approaches to teaching (Fenstermacher and Soltis 1992). It is plain impossible, both practically and conceptually, for a teacher to use diverse styles of teaching. What a teacher should do, then, is a question still deserving of some serious thinking and acting in education
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FENSTERMACHER, G. D. and SOLTIS, J. F. (1992) Approaches to Teaching, 2nd edn (New York: Teachers College Press).
JOYCE, B. and WEIL, M. (1986) Models of Teaching, 3rd edn (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon).
JOYCE, B. and WEIL, M., with SHOWERS, B. (1992) Models of Teaching, 4th edn (Boston, MA: Allyn & Bacon).
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