3.3 From theory to practice
A common concern of students on initial teacher education courses is that they have read all about maintaining classroom discipline or participated in university workshops on challenging behaviour but cannot seem to use the understandings from these to effect in the classroom while on placement. Eraut (1994) argues that it is a false assumption ‘to talk as if knowledge is first acquired and then subsequently, if circumstances permit, used’ (p. 33). He makes two claims: first, that ideas develop and become meaningful through use; and secondly, that learning does not easily transfer from one context to another:
The ability to use certain ideas about teaching in academic essays or school documents does not greatly increase the probability of being able to use those ideas in the classroom.
(Eraut, 1994, p. 33)
Eraut points out that university education is typically front-loaded – effort is put into conveying ideas, which are often competing perspectives, and there is little time to help individual students to reflect on experiences. This is, of course, a generalisation, but perhaps it is common enough in initial teacher education. In contrast, social work education has a long tradition of using experienced teachers to help students to reflect on their practice and to interpret theory and research in the context of practice issues.
The idea that learning is more effective if the learner is actively involved is associated with, amongst others, the educationalist David Kolb (1984) whose cyclical model of experiential learning is outlined below in Figure 1. This model has become very influential in education and training circles. In fact, David and Alice Kolb have compiled a bibliography of references which includes 990 separate works on experiential learning written between 1971 and 1999.