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Critical Pedagogy and Marx, Vygotsky and Freire: Phenomenal Forms and Educational Action Research
Date Reviewed: August 22, 2017
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 ...
Portfolio to Go: 1000+ Reflective Writing Prompts and Provocations for Clinical Learners
Date Reviewed: November 30, -0001
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.
Reflective Teaching in Higher Education
Date Reviewed: April 15, 2016
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.
The Plugged-In Professor: Tips and Techniques For Teaching With Social Media
Date Reviewed: February 26, 2015
This volume is designed more like a handbook than a piece of prose. Aside from the preface that details how the volume is arranged and how each successive chapter is outlined, each chapter (twenty-five in total) represents a stand-alone essay that describes how an instructor can integrate a piece of social media into her or his curriculum and assignment portfolio. The essays are divided into four parts. The essays in Part 1, “Research, Writing and Information Fluency,” focus on applications of social media that challenge students to develop effective research and writing skills. The essays on “sharing” sites are of note because they offer instructors insight on how to use social media sites that students are already using to share research through bookmarking cultural artifacts.
Part 2, “Communication and Collaboration,” is divided into two sections. The first section focuses on instructional communication through social media. Each social media outlet examined in this section is a communicative tool (for example, Wimba or YouTube) that can be re-allocated for educational purposes. The second section of Part 2 concerns issues of collaboration in terms of students working together on educational projects through social media tools such as Google Docs, study blogs, and group-designed wikis.
Part 3, “Critical Thinking and Creativity,” is also divided into two sections. The first section considers how students can demonstrate critical (and, I might add, culturally perceptive) thinking through social media outlets such as Tumblr and Facebook. Students are challenged in these sections to examine social trends and personal expressions offered by users of these social media outlets to ascertain how persons learn and demonstrate social ethics or personal and professional development. The second section focuses on creative final course projects such as digital storytelling or video streaming presentations.
Part 4, which concludes the volume, focuses on integrative learning, on integrating research, communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity into one social media project. The final essay is of note here because it describes how students conducted a “social media campaign” through Twitter (xxvii). The students researched a client, communicated with opinion leaders in the client’s field, and promoted the client’s cause through critical reflection and creative engagement.
The Plugged-In Professor clearly articulates that learning can be promoted in a host of ways through the use of social media. Therefore this is a valuable resource. The social media savvy instructor will be able to wade through the technical language with ease and find projects that he or she can use in class. However, the digital immigrant or digital alien may be overwhelmed at first. This volume can be read straight through, but one is likely to get bogged down in the various approaches and creative projects. It may be more helpful to read this volume like a tasting menu, sampling this Twitter-based exercise or that exercise for Google Docs. Perhaps it could be seen in a similar light as the Teaching Theology & Religion “Teaching Tactics.” Regardless of how one reads the material, the instructor should be careful to assess each project’s usefulness before implementing a social media project. The only real limitation to this volume is that the field of religious studies and theology was not represented, but religion and theology faculty can adapt these projects for their courses. For example, I was challenged by some of the essays in Part 1 to develop a wiki group project for my Pentateuch course. That said, it would be have useful and encouraging to see at least one sample of how social media has been used in a religious studies or theology course.