The Teaching As Principled Practice Project (TAPPP)
A partnership between the University of Georgia English Education program and the UGA-Network for English Teachers and Students (UGA-NETS) mentor teacher group
Statement of Principle and Purpose
What We Are
The Teaching As Principled Practice Project (TAPPP) is an educational partnership dedicated to the preservice education of prospective English teachers. We see our project as a local, emerging structure that engages a variety of cultural and political forces as well as sometimes contradictory theoretical positions in order to critique the taken-for-granted ways in which teaching and learning in secondary English Education have become normalized. Our work draws on sociocultural, critical, feminist, and postmodern theories of human engagement and development. By taking an approach that relates practice and theory, we engage our teacher candidates (TCs) in thoughtful and critical reflection on their lived experiences in schools.
Who We Are
From UGA, TAPPP includes English Education faculty members Mark Faust, Peg Graham, Bettie St. Pierre, and Peter Smagorinsky, and doctoral students in the English Education program. TCs include both undergraduates (taught by the team of doctoral student teaching assistants) and master’s degree students (taught by the tenure-track faculty) working toward certification to teach secondary school English.
TAPPP collaborates with a dynamic group of English teachers in the surrounding
counties, primarily those affiliated with the UGA-Network for English Teachers
and Students (UGA-NETS) mentor teacher group. UGA-NETS includes a community
of school-based teachers who seek professional growth both among themselves
and as mentors to UGA preservice English teachers. The "mentor teacher
group," as they call themselves, first met in the summer of 1994 to co-design
a new teacher education program based on year-long field experience connected
to campus courses, teacher research, and collaborative inquiry and professional
growth across school settings and time. Over 60 teachers in 11 high schools
have served as mentors, with a core of approximately 35 who participate in major
ways each year. Together, members of the group have written articles and a book;
presented at conferences of local, state, national, and international organizations;
supported seven members through the National Board certification process for
English Language Arts by the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards
(NBPTS); engaged in staff development projects and credits; and read, discussed,
argued, and grown as a maturing group of professional colleagues.
How We Work
TAPPP originates on the UGA campus, where TCs take the general UGA and College of Education programs before entering their year of course work for English Education certification. During the fall of their year in TAPPP, TCs take the initial certification course sequence, which is an integrated block of courses taught by Professors Faust, Graham, St. Pierre, and Smagorinsky and a team of doctoral student teaching assistants. At the undergraduate level these courses address the topics of Young Adult Literature, Teaching Writing in the Secondary School, Teaching as Planning in Context, and Teaching Reading in the Secondary Schools. Master's degree TCs take course offerings from their specific program menu (master's degree plus certification, master's degree plus alternative certification) at their own pace and schedule.
The undergraduate TCs also have a field experience that encompasses the whole academic year, primarily under the mentorship of an UGA-NETS mentor teacher but also in an alternative (usually middle school) site. During these field experiences, they establish relationships with practicing teachers, observe classes, assist teachers with a range of professional responsibilities, attend various school meetings and functions, and teach lessons.
Finally, the undergraduate TCs participate in the TAPPP Into the Community initiative, a relationship the English Education program has established with the Pinewood Estates trailer park community in North Athens. Pinewood Estates is a Latino/a community made up primarily of immigrants from Mexico and their children. TAPPP TCs contribute time as tutors; collect donations of food, clothing, household goods, and other assets for community residents; and engage in fund-raising activities to support Pinewood's building initiatives.
We place great value on field-based experiences, understanding that preservice teachers benefit from carefully examining them in order to identify the politics and ideologies that structure them. Therefore, we provide multiple opportunities (e.g., a research inquiry, the design of a conceptual unit of instruction, a cross-course portfolio) for TCs to engage school-based experiences theoretically and thoughtfully in order to evaluate the quality of those experiences. The practicum experiences are related to the courses that TCs take concurrently at UGA. TCs are expected to inform their campus class discussions and class assignments with observations they make in the field. At the same time, they inform their field experiences with ideas they bring from their UGA classes. This reciprocal relationship is designed to strengthen the quality of both experiences and integrate theory and research in synergetic ways.
Principles of Practice
In both their own teaching and scholarship, and in the teaching and scholarship of their students, TAPPP faculty are committed to the notion of principled practice. We borrow this notion from Arthur Applebee, who used it to describe teachers’ understanding of the rationale or purpose underlying instructional decisions. Those committed to principled practice, while involving exposure to various teaching methods, are dedicated to the development of a theoretical understanding of when and why teaching practices are appropriate, rather than viewing teaching practices prescriptively. Teaching according to principled practice means that teachers do not simply learn methods, but learn their conceptual underpinnings so as to understand why they work as they do in particular circumstances.
The Teaching as Principled Practice Project bases its work on the following principles:
Classes are designed so that TCs learn principles of instructional practice and the teaching methods that follow from them. They should emerge from the program with a principled set of teaching ideas, and the knowledge of when and where they are suitable. They learn methods of teaching and conducting research, principles of unit and lesson design, approaches to teaching writing, literature, and language, and other pragmatic aspects of teaching. Moreover, they learn how to think theoretically so that they can develop new approaches in response to situations that arise in their teaching.
The program faculty bring extensive years of middle and high school teaching experience to their work. Professors Faust (11 years), St. Pierre (7 years), and Smagorinsky (14 years) all taught extensively in public schools and use these experiences to bring practical knowledge and experience to their preservice certification classes. Moreover, all have spent many hours in secondary schools during their university appointments, further deepening the experiential grounding that informs their instruction.
Theory in Practice
The principles of practice emphasized in the program are based on theories of literacy, human development, communication, and culture that stress a sociocultural understanding of teaching and learning. The strong theoretical emphasis of the program is designed to provide TAPPP graduates with tools for thinking about and addressing new questions as they arise in their teaching. Our emphasis on theory is designed to provide a generative stance toward teaching. That is, we expect our graduates to be resourceful and take initiative in thinking about schooling and teaching. We do not simply provide them with a set of practices, but rather with an understanding of why particular practices are appropriate for particular situations. While we are concerned with "what to do on Monday morning," we are more concerned with how to think about teaching and how to teach thoughtfully throughout the year.
Program faculty have the highest expectations for themselves and their students. Faculty model high expectations by their own career conduct, both as teachers and in their production of educational scholarship. Among their expectations is that each achievement is a beginning, rather than an end. Expertise is thus viewed as a chimera, given that they view their knowledge as always in transit. TCs are likewise expected to view themselves as works-in-progress, always reaching toward the next level of performance as teachers and as scholars of their field.
As required by the state, TAPPP ensures the quality of its graduates through their fulfillment of the terms of a Quality Assurance Contract. While guaranteeing the performance of a program graduate as a teacher, this standard is the very minimum expected of those successfully completing the TAPPP program.
TAPPP faculty and graduate assistants collaborate to involve their students in a rigorous set of experiences to prepare them for careers as secondary school English teachers. Our aim is not to impress upon the TCs our favorite set of teaching practices. Rather, our goal is to help TCs develop frameworks for thinking carefully about teaching in ways that are responsive to the particular needs of their students. As much as anything, we hope to encourage an attitude of continual inquiry among the TCs. From this stance, TCs are expected to know how to generate teaching practices appropriate to their situations.
This inquiry informs every aspect of the TCs’ work. They learn how to find out about their students, their communities, their schools, and other aspects of the instructional context so as to make appropriate decisions. They learn to inquire into the assumptions behind the social relationships in school and classroom so as to work toward a more democratic system. They learn to reflect on their own teaching practice so as to provide more effective and relevant instruction. They learn how to seek knowledge that will inform their work so that they will themselves continue to grow as teachers and scholars.
Inquiry is also central to the career work of the program faculty and graduate assistants. Each has demonstrated a scholarly trajectory that shows clear growth in their understanding of issues central to the field. This emphasis on inquiry strongly influences their approach to teaching preservice education courses, where their research interests are integrated into the course emphases and practices.
TAPPP faculty and TCs have the deepest respect for diversity. As such, individual faculty members and teaching assistants are encouraged to pursue and support the ideal of academic and intellectual freedom in their teaching, service, and scholarship. While teaching collaboratively, they pursue scholarly paths of their choice. This work in turn informs the program instruction, both in individual courses and in the courses as they function together. The individual interests of program faculty and their graduate assistants continually infuse the program as a whole with new ideas and perspectives, resulting in cutting-edge approaches to both course and program development and implementation.
The respect faculty share for one another’s academic freedom and time also extends to the mentor teachers with whom they work in the field. While maintaining good working relationships with the mentor teachers, TAPPP faculty also show consideration for their choices about mentoring style and professional development trajectories. By cultivating academic freedom as a value throughout the program, TAPPP members invite new ways of thinking to energize and stimulate the development of all of its constituents.
Diversity among TCs is also respected and encouraged. The principles of practice emphasized in the program are not designed to produce TCs with a single ideology and method. Rather, they are designed to produce thoughtful, informed, reflective practitioners who can adapt knowledgeably to new situations. In fact, we believe that a respect for diversity will necessarily produce conditions for resistance, an indicator that we have much to talk about and learn from each other. Throughout the program, all participants strive to learn to respect and work with those of diverse cultures and circumstances in order to stimulate TAPPP with new perspectives and directions.
TAPPP faculty proceed on the assumption that knowledge is constructed rather than static. Acting on this assumption, they view all knowledge as provisional and subject to question and critique. This stance means that the faculty do not advocate a single set of teaching methods as guaranteed and foolproof. Rather, they emphasize that the success of any teaching approach is a function of its role in the confluence of teacher, students, texts, and contexts of particular situations.
Furthermore, knowledge of subject matter is presumed to be constructed rather than transmitted. This assumption suggests a provisional, exploratory, critical stance toward texts and authorities. The program’s purpose, then, is not to transmit to TCs teaching methods that allegedly work regardless of context. Rather, it emphasizes the need to think about texts and methods and how they might serve to help TCs construct new knowledge of their own.
Program faculty and graduate assistants, as part of their own inquiry, continually seek to evaluate the effectiveness of TAPPP. As active researchers, they know that they can not make unwarranted claims about being the "best" English Education program, given that they do not collect comparative data and therefore cannot make comparative claims. Rather, they use TC course projects and their cross-course portfolios as ways of assessing the degree to which they have grasped the program concepts and can articulate them in the texts they produce. Furthermore, they base their assessment on TCs’ evaluations of their experience and preparation, mentor teachers’ assessment of TCs’ preparation, and reports on the subsequent job performance of program graduates. The faculty annually revise their own teaching based on the findings that emerge from their reflection on these data.
TCs as well are encouraged to reflect systematically and theoretically on their practice. Their goal in doing so is to teach so that they are effective in the situations in which they work. Teaching as principled practice might mean that a well-touted teaching method from the profession’s popular literature is inappropriate for particular sets of students. TAPPP graduates are expected to use systematic means of reflection to consider the quality of the education they are providing for their students. As such, they are inquirers into their own practice, viewing their classes as sites for experimentation, innovation, and learning by teacher and students. As both teachers and researchers, they therefore are continually constructing new knowledge within both the discipline of English and the field of education.