What’s your Paradigm?


‘What’s your paradigm, if you don’t mind me asking?’

I’m using some good material at www.erm.ecs.soton.ac.uk: (an e-learning resource about research) in talking about this particular Elephant.

Paradigms can be characterised through their: ontology (What is reality?), epistemology (How do you know something?) and methodology (How do go about finding out?) (Guba (1990), These characteristics create a holistic view of how we view knowledge: how we see ourselves in relation to this knowledge and the (methodological) strategies we use to un/dis/cover it.

In order to get to grips with this, we need to clarify what these terms mean.

The original resource has been written for researchers and if it’s true for researchers maybe it’s true for teachers too. I’ve refocused this article for you as a teacher, where your interest is pedagogy rather than methodology. I’m taking pedagogy here to include your view of knowledge, how you find out about it, your relationship to it and how you represent it, to and with your students.

Ontology is what exists and is a view on the nature of reality.

Are you a realist ? if so you know that reality is something ‘out there’, as a law of nature just waiting to be found.

Are you a critical realist? You know  things exist ‘out there’ but as human beings our own presence as researchers influences what we are trying to measure and explain.

Or, are you a relativist ? You know that knowledge is a social reality, value-laden and it only comes to light through individual interpretation.

Epistemology is our relationship with the knowledge we are un/dis/covering. Are we part of that knowledge or are we external to it?

Your view will frame your interaction with what you are teaching and will depend on your ontological view. For example your approach will be objective if you see knowledge governed by the laws of nature or subjective if you see knowledge as something interpreted by individuals. This in turn affects your pedagogy.

Pedagogy refers to how you go about finding out knowledge as a person and a teacher, the teaching of it to students, whether your relationship with students is of relevance and what results in terms of their education. It is your strategic approach, rather than a set of techniques and skills. Some examples of pedagogical methods are:

  • Didactic
  • Dialogic
  • Dialectic
  • Ideological

Mark K. Smith www.nfed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/ gives a useful outline of the development of the idea of pedagogy over time. In the U.K. at present the term carries such a wide range of meanings as to be of limited use, unless we take care to limit the range of the particular aspects of ‘pedagogy’ we are talking about. For example the ‘pedagogy of teaching’ is most often taken to mean teaching the basic components of education to the student using logic and facts; it’s not about ‘teaching as entertainment’, it is about presenting a topic in a way that a student can learn it. The teacher presents the information, and the student listens and takes notes. This would be more accurately described as didactic pedagogy (Hamilton, D. (1999). ‘The pedagogic paradox (or why no didactics in England?)’, Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 7:1, 135-152) and refers back to John Amos Comenius’s book The Great Didactic [Didactica Magna] (first published in Czech in 1648, Latin in 1657 and in English in 1896).

Dialogic pedagogy involves interchange between different points of view and dialectic pedagogy, testing the strengths and weaknesses of opposing points of view to get at the truth of a matter.

I am particularly interested in the effects of pedagogy on students’ thinking expressed through Imaginative Inquiry and through my work within the solution focused paradigm. Teachers who have been trained in this approach often express their delight in broadening their pedagogical base in this way.

Understanding the meaning of pedagogy and consequently being able to make pedagogical choices is strengthened by knowing which paradigm you’re in. In turn your ontological and epistemological understanding are practically useful when it comes to making pedagogical choices. It seems that in the USA and UK at least education is in the grip of didacticism, which would not be a criticism if it were an informed choice. Dr Richard Paul https://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/dr-richard-paul/818 reinforces the need to understand where you are as a teacher:

‘Knowledge is discovered by thinking, analyzed by thinking, interpreted by thinking, organized by thinking, extended by thinking and assessed by thinking. ….. There is no way to take the thinking out of knowledge, neither is there a way to create a step by step path to knowledge that all minds can follow.’ http://www.criticalthinking.org/data/pages/31/75b0624ef03956ca540026f3bd0884b85136312571895.pdf

So what is your paradigm, if you don’t mind me asking?


2 responses to “What’s your Paradigm?”

  1. Nina says:

    Thanks for this interesting post. I would also add axiology to your building blocks of paradigm, just because the value level decisions are the ones that define your other choices. I wrote a blogpost about the dimensions of teachers’ learning process to clarify my thinking about that. http://notesfromnina.wordpress.com/2014/01/01/teachers-learning-process-has-three-dimensions/

    It seems to me that you are using information and knowledge somewhat interchangeably, and I was hoping you could clarify the connection between procedural/declarative knowledge in your thinking of pedagogy.


    p.s. Your link http://www.nfed.org/mobi/what-is-pedagogy/ is not working.

  2. admin says:

    Nina thanks for this – I’ll reply fully later. Geoff

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