Locating and exploring teacher perception in the reflective thinking process

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In the phenomenological study from which this theoretical article derives, 18 middle school teachers were asked - during an unstructured interview or by writing a lived-experience description - to describe moments when they recognized and responded to a student who did not understand something during an instructional activity. Based on my analysis of the data, I identified an essential meaning structure and 10 patterns of meaning that describe the structure. In this article I explicate the essential meaning structure, highlight the patterns of meaning I identified, and then illuminate one of the four patterns of meaning specifically related to recognition - perceiving body language. I use the verb illuminate to indicate how I 'shined a light on' one aspect of the phenomenon. In doing so, I could then reflect theoretically and practically on this aspect. To illuminate in this article, I use Merleau-Ponty's notion of perception as a blending of perspectival views and some of Dewey's thoughts on reflective thinking to theorize the perceiving body language pattern of meaning. Based on this theoretical reflection, I describe how teachers might perceive their students' bodies during instruction and consider how these perceptions can: (1) launch a reflective thinking process, and (2) become coordinated with reflective thinking within bounded pedagogical situations. To close, I draw on some well-established strategies in teacher education to discuss ways in which coaches and teachers might locate and explore teacher perception, especially as such perceptions relate to teachers' recognition of moments their students do not understand something during instruction. These strategies include: designing lessons, analyzing video-taped teaching episodes, and writing experiential anecdotes and fictional-variation-in-imagination accounts. Locating and exploring teachers' perceptions is important for teachers, researchers of teaching, and teacher educators, because such perceptions serve as the catalyst for a reflective thinking process, oftentimes can get lost in the process, and are constantly present. Moreover, I argue that this location and exploration is not about isolating perception as part of a linear sequence. Rather it is about identifying moments of the blending of perspectival views that Merleau-Ponty describes. Teachers are always, already perceiving during their teaching; and although particular perceptions might serve as starters for a particular reflective thinking process, these moments merely provide openings into the ongoing blending that is always partial and will never cease. To this end, the location and exploration I speak of is about: (1) capturing glimpses of perceptions that appear to prompt and continue to inform the reflective thinking process, and (2) opening them up to try make some sense of them - so that the primacy of perception does not get lost in the reflective thinking process.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)579-599
Number of pages21
JournalTeachers and Teaching: Theory and Practice
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 2009

Bibliographical note

Copyright 2011 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • Perception
  • Phenomenology
  • Reflective teaching
  • Teacher education


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