Thanks for the references. I particularly enjoyed West’s description of Ramsden’s three general types of teaching theory. I hadn’t come across Ramsden before and would like to read more of him.
I get the sense that you and I (and West and the others) are using the term theory in slightly different ways. I meant a scientific theory, a “rational edifice built by scientists to explain human behaviour” (Cohen, Manion, & Morrison, 2011, p. 9), an objectivist stance. You adopt the other position, that of the subjectivist, and see a theories as “sets of meanings which people use to make sense of their world and behaviour within it” (ibid). Of course, both views are acceptable, but without clarifying our positions, any derived conclusions may be at cross purposes.
For example, I think that there is a danger in mixing theories (of the objectivist kind) in a single lesson plan, or in a single teacher who typically has a dominant belief about how learning occurs, as West comments, “each of us has a tendency to take a particular approach to learning” (West, 2013, p. 13). Mixing may indicate either a search for theoretical support for a belief that is already in place, i.e. cherry picking, or a lack of knowledge about how the theory works. I’ve been guilty of both of these ‘crimes’ at times. I’ll justify my extensive pattern drill practices as behaviourist-informed audio-lingual drills. The reality is that students in my university will not speak voluntarily. I’m not willing to use 20 minutes of class time for 10 out of 30 students to produce “My hobby fishin” while 20 students do nothing. Other teachers are. I ask colleagues how their class went. They say good. Upon further questioning (not always, I’m not a complete dunderheid), it transpires that the core group of 5 eager students out of 30 were more active that week than normal, or that the topic engaged those 5 well. What about the other 25, I ask? This is the reality in compulsory English first-year university education in Japan and teachers have to find their own methods of getting through the time rather than create better learning systems. My method is to drill and to ensure that all students partake. My point here is that the label behaviourism is an afterthought, dressing up a pragmatic response to a bad situation in theoretical language. The face validity the theorising gives works well on the published syllabus and gives students and their parents a sense of professionalism.
At the chalk face during class what matters is the teacher’s sense of plausibility in the method they use (Prabhu, 1990) and their beliefs regarding their self-efficacy (Tschannen-moran, Hoy, & Hoy, 1988). What matters prior to that in preservice teacher education or alongside current teacher education is how those beliefs are formed. There must be a single base scientific theory that informs all actions relating to teaching and learning. However, this base theory remains in its Platonic ideal form: no one can agree to what it should look like or what it should contain; hence the proliferation of competing theories. We live in an interesting time, and as doctoral candidates and future high-level writers and thinkers, we can shape that discussion.
Cohen, L., Manion, L., & Morrison, K. (2011). Research Methods in Education (7th ed., Vol. 55). Abingdon: Routledge. http://doi.org/10.1080/19415257.2011.643130
Prabhu, N. S. (1990). There is no best method-Why? TESOL Quarterly, 24(2), 161–176. http://doi.org/10.2307/3586897
Tschannen-moran, M., Hoy, A. W., & Hoy, W. K. (1988). Teacher Efficacy: Its Meaning and Measure. Review of Educational Research, 68(2), 202–248.
West, J. (2013). Deep and lifelong learning : When theory and SoTL intersect, 13(4), 11–20.