Is my teaching good enough? Is your teaching good enough? I believe that good enough teaching and learning are practices of radical hospitality that are needed more than ever today in a political climate of American exceptionalism, increasingly divisive civil discourse, and passionate if conflicting longings to be “great.” While ...
Luis S. Villacaňas de Castro, an assistant professor in the department of Language and Literature Education at the University of Valencia in Spain, wrote Critical Pedagogy and Marx, Vygotsky, and Freire as a companion volume to his earlier book The Copernican Turn and the Social Science, which was published in Spanish in 2013. Villacaňas de Castro writes extensively in epistemology, critical pedagogy, political philosophy, and language education and publishes in both Spanish and English.
This volume has three sections and an introduction. In the introduction, the author explores the Copernican turn, which involves paradigm-shifting theories. He argues that four scientific theories qualify as Copernican turns: Freud’s psychoanalysis; Marx’s works in sociology; Neo-Darwinism; and the Theory of Relativity. Villacaňas de Castro explains that “a Copernican turn thus involves two kinds of knowledge: about the object and the subject; knowledge about specific realities; and also new knowledge about how human beings should understand themselves in relation to those four objects” (2). He argues that each Copernican turn creates epistemological obstacles, and he engages these obstacles through the lens of the German concept Erscheinungsformen, which he translates as phenomenal forms. The author explores “the threats and difficulties that the Erscheinungsformen pose to teaching and learning, and how educators should negotiate these obstacles” (5). Villacaňas de Castro uses the works of Marx, Vygotsky, and Freire to translate the epistemological obstacles into pedagogical problems and then engages pedagogical approaches to solve the problems (7). The author argues that these pedagogical approaches justify participatory action research as the most effective educational approach.
The first section deals with Marx, Freud, and pedagogy. In Chapter I, Villacaňas de Castro introduces the major concepts of Marxist sociology and Freudian psychoanalysis in terms of pedagogical approaches to address the epistemological obstacles. Section II explores epistemology, critical pedagogy, and the liberal principle. The two chapters in this section engage concepts from Marx and Vygotsky to unpack and engage Erscheinungsformen. Villacaňas de Castro argues that this chapter reveals “a theoretical blind spot in Vygotsky’s pedagogy…which it is in the interests of critical pedagogues to resolve” (46). The work of Freire becomes key as Villacaňas de Castro develops this critical pedagogy in the form of social democracy.
The last part of the book, Section III, explores the theory and practice of educational action research. Using Freire’s pedagogical approach and John Elliott’s liberal pedagogy, the author concludes “that John Elliott does not provide educators with a liberal pedagogy, but rather an appropriate method for them to fulfill their main critical goal: to help students understand the nature of the key subject matters that determine their life in society” (114). This supports Villacaňas de Castro’s argument and he concludes that participatory meta-action research is “an effective measure to break the vicious circle both students and I have fallen into” (144).
This book is a very complex and abstract argument. Villacaňas de Castro’s academic writing style will throw off many readers. His sentence structures are very long (including a 141-word sentence on pages 86 and 87) with many embedded clauses. This makes attempting to unpack the already difficult concepts of Marx, Vygotsky, and Freire more challenging. However, the author develops a solid case for a stronger critical pedagogy rooted in participatory action research.
Theological libraries that support programs with components of theological methodology should add this text to their collections. In addition, faculty and graduate students who are working with participatory action research should read this book to explore the epistemological foundations of their methodology.
On election night last year when Donald Trump won the presidential election, I was traveling in Greece visiting the historical and religious sites. Several days before the election, I visited the Acropolis and climbed up Mars Hill where Paul delivered his sermon to the Athenians (Acts 17:22-31). The fact that ...
From Dewey (How We Think [Boston: D.C. Heath,1933]) to Schön (Reflective Practitioner [New York: Basic 1983]), and most recently Palmer and Zajonc (The Heart of Higher Education [New York: Jossey Bass 2010]) and Barbezat and Bush (Contemplative Practices in Higher Education [New York: Jossey Bass, 2013]), reflective practice has a long pedagogical history, especially in clinical training. Reflective practice calls for revisiting one’s past or present experiences in order to analyze, reconsider, and mine the learning in them for use in the future. Reflective practice is increasingly being employed in higher education along with the use of contemplative practices as a means by which to increase student use of critical thinking skills and embodiment of “competence, compassion, collaboration, and a tolerance for ambiguity in the face of uncertainty” (Peterkin, 3).
Portfolio to Go offers a multitude of questions that encourage deep reflection on clinical and personal experiences by students in healthcare training programs. Although some prompts refer specifically to clinical and medical settings (for example, “Describe the hospital corridors at 3 a.m.” ), most deal with far broader settings (“Write a story about the last time you were yelled at” ) and could be used by students in a wide range of disciplines and in classroom or small group settings. Peterkin encourages their use primarily in reflective writing such as journals, critical incident reflections, or stand-alone assignments. He identifies writing as a tool that increases awareness of feelings and thoughts about one’s work, but also as a vehicle that deepens critical thinking, enriches ethical insights in complex situations, and encourages development of one’s professional identity. Inclusion of reflective writing in student portfolios provides professors or future employers a glimpse of personal and professional learning and identity formation over time. Although Peterkin intends the book for students, it would be useful as an educator’s guide to the inclusion of reflective assignments in clinical courses.
In the opinion of this reviewer, the most valuable parts of this book are the chapters that coach and teach students how reflection and storytelling can maximize professional growth. The chapters include how to critically reflect in one’s writing, how to move from reflection to actionable practice, how to form and participate in a reflective writing group, and how to deal with internal criticism. In one chapter, Peterkin differentiates criticism (negative) from critique (positive) by noting that the former finds fault, notes what is missing, and attacks the writer, while the latter identifies strengths, looks for possibilities, and is honest but kind. In the chapter on moving from reflection to action, the author notes simple but profound elements of clinical visits that students often struggle to implement such as asking open-ended questions (“what would you like me to know about you?” or “what is one thing you haven’t asked me, yet?”), listening for patient concerns and fears, noticing metaphors in conversation and using them to expand understanding, and being aware of body language (standing, sitting, touching) and how it impacts relationship.
Educators often find assessing reflective writing and discussions difficult because of the personal and vulnerable nature of reflection. Peterkin offers a very useful rubric (118-120) that provides ways by which to measure levels of participation and reflection.
Portfolios to Go is a helpful volume for any educator interested in exploring the value of reflective practice and in including reflective assignments in a classroom or clinical training program.
A group of English, Scottish, Irish, and Australian scholars has produced a thorough and insightful resource for effective teaching in higher education that seeks “to bring together the latest knowledge and understanding of teaching, learning, and assessment in higher education” (xi). The editorial team developed the approach to reflective teaching on the basis of the ten point Teaching and Learning Research Programme (TLRP) developed in the UK. The chapters in each section refer to the relevant principles in TLRP and put forward credible arguments grounded in recent empirical research. The editors intersperse useful reflective activities and case studies throughout each chapter in order to promote reflective inquiry by individuals and groups of teachers.
The editors organized the book into five parts: Becoming Reflective; Creating Conditions for Learning; Teaching for Understanding; Reflecting on Consequences; and Deepening Understanding. Taken together, these five elements constitute a model for the development of effective teaching in higher education that is comprehensive, open-ended, and ongoing. The approach offered here functions like a dynamic spiral toward adaptive expertise. The emphases on evidence-based theory and practice, constructivism, teaching as jazz improvisation, assessment as a crucial component of learning, and robust inclusion all recommend this book to contemporary educators in higher education.
I find only two deficiencies in this impressive body of work. At four hundred pages, only the most dedicated teachers or administrators in higher education will read the work as a whole. I tried to plow my way through to the end several times, but could only make limited progress in any one session of reading due to the density of the material. I think a book half the size of the existing volume would have sufficed.
The second problem concerns the commitment of the authors to critical pedagogy. Toward the end of the book, the editors advocate ever more strongly for a largely Frierian-based approach to diversity and inclusion as the best – perhaps the only – way forward in higher education today. While I have more than a passing interest in critical pedagogy, I find the narrowing of the philosophy of education bandwidth advocated here to be overly confining and surprisingly uncritical. I would have liked to see a treatment of multiple approaches that would support the establishment of egalitarian and inclusive communities of learning in higher education.
I see four likely uses for this book. Those charged with leading doctoral seminars on teaching in higher education may find this a particularly valuable resource. I know that I will. It could well serve as a viable alternative to Barbara Gross Davis’s Tools for Teaching (2nd ed., Jossey-Bass, 2009). This book could also help new professors develop the kind of reflective practice that will enable them to become expert practitioners of the craft of teaching. Many individual chapters of the book could find use by those leading in-service faculty development sessions. Finally, academic deans or committees responsible for promoting effective teaching in faculties could profitably work their way through this resource in its entirety as a way to gain a 360° sense of effective teaching and learning in higher education today.