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filename: T. Ed design memo #3

updated: 1/1/01

Implications of Argyris & Schon's

Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness

for Teacher Education


M. D. Gall

University of Oregon




In previous working papers, I explored the implications of Donald Schon's book The Reflective Practitioner for redesigning teacher education. A colleague (Camilla Bayliss) suggested that an earlier book by Donald Schon, co-authored with Chris Argyris, Theory in Practice: Increasing Professional Effectiveness, also might be instructive. Having now read this book, I think it has many implications for teacher education, even though it was published more than a quarter of a century ago.

In the next section of this paper, I list many quotations from Argyris and Schon's book and, after each quote, comment on its relevance to teacher education. I conclude the paper by providing a summary list of implications of Argyris and Schon's ideas for teacher education. First, though, I'd like to restate some key ideas that have emerged from my thinking and reading over the past several months (see design memos #1 through #3). They are as follows:

o Teacher education programs in universities emphasize having preservice teachers learn about teaching rather than how to teach.

o The primary goal of teacher education programs should be to develop teachers' performance in classroom instruction and their capacity and desire to engage in career-long professional improvement.

o The curriculum of teacher education programs should start from "problems of practice." In previous working papers, I suggested some broad categories into which most of these problems fall (the content of curriculum, teaching strategies, learning motivation, assessment, individual differences) and a seven-step model that can be used to help teachers develop problem-solving skills for dealing with problems of practice in each category.

o The theory of action (see below), situated learning theory, social cognitive theory, problem-solving theory, and the theory of expertise development are convergent with respect to their implications for developing teacher performance.


Some of my comments on Argyris and Schon's book refer to ways in which their ideas support or elaborate on the seven-step model that I developed in one of my earlier papers. Therefore, I summarize the model below:

1. Expose preservice teachers to a real situation involving instructional performance. An expert helps them see the problem of practice that the situation presents.

2. The expert has the preservice teachers develop solutions to the problem and compare their solutions to the solution proposed by the teacher in the real situation.

3. The preservice teachers observe how the "real" teacher put his plan into action and how students reacted to it.

4. The expert debriefs with the preservice teachers the effectiveness of the "real" teacher's solution and their own.

5. The preservice teachers study research, theory, and best practice relevant to the problem, and reflect on the implications of this literature for their own practice.

6. Repeat steps 1-5 until the preservice teachers develop an understanding of the range of situations that pose the same underlying problem, can generate one or more effective solutions, and can collect and assess data on the effectiveness of their solutions.

7. Repeat steps 1-6, except have the preservice teachers do them in their own classrooms.



Commentary on Argyris & Schon's Theory in Action

Each item in the following list presents a quote from the book. Following most of the quotes, I make a comment that starts on a new line and is bracketed at each end.



"In summer 1971, Charles E. Brown began a project of training educational administrators to enter existing schools to begin programs of reform. He asked the two of us to consider how these students might be helped to be effective in the interventions they planned to undertake…The administrative trainees, we concluded, needed to learn new theories of action in order to increase their effectiveness in school reform…We thought the trouble people have in learning new theories of action may stem not so much from the inherent difficulty of the new theories as from existing theories people have that already determine practice. We called these operational theories of action theories-in-use to distinguish them from the espoused theories that are used to describe and justify behavior." (pp. vii-viii)

[Argyris and Schon tend not to offer formal definitions of their terms. We find here that, for them, the terms "theories of action" and "theories-in-use" are equivalent. Theories-in-use are discussed later in the book.]


Chapter 1. Theories of Action

"The old ideal of a of a working relationship between research and practice has yet to be realized." (pp. 3-4)

[This continues to be an elusive goal of teacher education programs. It is a goal that our College of Education should take a leadership role in achieving.]


"The technology of rigorous research works best when it does not deal with real-time issues&emdash;for example, when scholars take years to study a decision that took several hours to make." (p. 4)

[Argyris and Schon are saying that the habits of mind that professional researchers cultivate are not well-suited for advising practitioners. Researchers live in a different world than practitioners. For me, it follows that those who purport to study teaching or to prepare teachers need to start by understanding the culture and problems of real-world practice. Researchers cannot simply assume that their theoretical constructs and research findings are applicable to practice.]


"All human beings&emdash;not only professional practitioners&emdash;need to become competent in taking action and simultaneously reflecting on this action to learn from it." (p. 4)

[For me, the term "action" is equivalent to the term "performance." Argyris and Schon are suggesting, in the above statement, is that teacher education programs need to emphasize the development of teachers' performance capabilities, not their knowledge about education. Programs also need to emphasize the development of the ability to reflect about performance.]


"Theories are vehicles for explanation, prediction, or control…But we can also regard deliberate human behavior as the consequence of theories of action held by humans…All such theories of action have the same form: in situation S, if you want to achieve consequence I, do A. (p. 5)

[Aryris and Schon are stating their assumption that human behavior does not occur by chance or instinct. It is guided by theories of action. Thus, to understand a teacher's practice, you need to understand her particular theories of action.]


"A practice is a sequence of actions undertaken by a person to serve others, who are considered clients….A theory of practice, then, consists of a set of interrelated theories of action that specify for the situations of the practice the actions that will, under the relevant assumptions, yield intended consequences." (p. 6)

[The implication is that if we wish to understand improve teacher performance, we will need to consider all the various tasks they are called upon to perform, and then the different theories of action (i.e., theories-in-use) that inform the performance of those tasks.]


"When someone is asked how he would behave under certain circumstances, the answer he usually gives is his espoused theory of action for that situation. This is the theory of action to which he gives allegiance, and which, upon request, he communicates to others. However, the theory that actually governs his actions is his theory-in-use, which may or may not be compatible with is espoused theory; furthermore, the individual may or may not be aware of the incompatibility of the two theories." (pp. 6-7)

[The frequent incompatibility of theory-in-use and espoused theory in professional practice is a major theme of this book. The implication for teacher educators is that we need to help preservice teachers make public both their espoused theories and their theories-in-use. Within the problem-solving model presented above, we can do this by asking preservice teachers (and the expert teachers whom they observe) to state (1) the rationale underlying their proposed solutions to problems of practice and the (2) the rationale underlying their actual implementation of the solution in the classroom.]


"Theories-in-use include knowledge about the behavior of physical objects, the making and use of artifacts, the marketplace, organizations, and every other domain of human activity…Clearly, specifying the knowledge contained in our theories-in-use would mean codifying the entire body of informal beliefs relevant to deliberate human behavior." (pp. 7-8)

[Argyris and Schon are saying that a teacher's theory of action might contain all sorts of beliefs that come from all sorts of experience and formal or informal study. We should not assume, then, that a teacher's theory of action comes from their university coursework or that all teachers rely on the same body of knowledge and experience to inform their theory of action.]


"What are the ground rules for inferring theories-in-use from behavior? If the manifesting behavior does not, in some instances, appear, how can we infer the theories-in-use?…Inferring explicit theories of action from observed behavior has problems comparable to inferring principles of grammar from observed speech. The task is to devise progressively more adequate constructions of theories-in-use that account for regularities of behavior, deviations due to external or internal inhibitions, and behavioral manifestations of inconsistent theories-in-use." (pp. 10-11)

[Argyris and Schon are saying, in effect, that the task of inferring a teacher's theories-in-use is not easy, but it can be done by a skilled person over a period of time. This view suggests that preservice teachers need a group of teacher educators who follow them over time, so as to be able to discover their theories-in-use. Short-term instruction or observation is not sufficient.]


"Skill is a hybrid term that refers both to a property of concrete behavior and to a property of theories of action." (p. 12)

[Argyris and Schon are saying that any skill (e.g., writing on a blackboard) involves a physical performance and also a set of cognitions that underlie the performance (e.g., I have to decide whether the blackboard is sufficiently clean for my writing on it to be visibly clear to students. In subsequent paragraphs, Argyris and Schon go on to say that "learning to put a a theory of action into practice and learning a skill are similar processes" (p. 12). "In both processes, it is essential to practice, to develop and draw on tacit knowledge, and to be in a learning situation that permits a reinforcing cycle of feeling and performance" (p. 14). The implication for teacher education is that we need to provide good, safe opportunities for continual practice if we want preservice teachers to learn new behaviors and beliefs (i.e., theories-in-use).]


"What, then, is the advantage of explicitly stating the theories-in-use we already hold? If unstated theories-in-use appear to enable the agent to perform effectively, there may be no advantage. But if the agent is performing ineffectively and does not know why or if others are aware of his ineffectiveness and he is not, explicitly stating his theory-in-use allows conscious criticism." (p. 14)

[The implication is that teacher educators need to provide many opportunities for preservice teachers to make explicit their theories-in-use. We cannot just let them practice in field settings or tell them what they are doing right or wrong.]


"Theories-in-use are means for getting what we want…Theories-in-use are also means for maintaining certain kinds of constancy. Certain governing variables interest us (for example, energy expended, anxiety, time spent with others), and we try to keep the values of these variables within the range acceptable to us…Theories-in-use are the means of maintaining specific constancies, but they also come to be valued in their own right for the constancy of the world-picture they provide." (pp. 15-16)

[Argyris and Schon assume that people have a major need for constancy in their life, including their professional life. Therefore, they desire to keep certain key variable, which they call "governing variables," constant. "…certain governing variables (for example, level of anxiety, vitality, or self-esteem) seem to be at stake in virtually every action, constraining the directions that action may take" (p. 16). The implication is that if we wish to help preservice teachers acquire new performance skills and theories-in-use, we need to ensure that we do not raise their anxiety level, attack their self-esteem, or take other key governing variables beyond a certain level.]


"The stars are indifferent to our opinion of them, and the tides are independent of our theories about. Human behavior, however, is directly influenced by our actions and therefore by our theories of action. The behavioral world is an artifact of our theories-in-use. Theories of the behavioral world are, in Simon's (1969) phrase, theories of the artificial." (p. 17)

[Argyris and Schon go on to observe that our theories-in-use create our environment, including our professional workplace, which then binds us to particular behaviors. In other words, we create our human environment, but then it "creates" us by expecting certain constancies of behavior within it. It follows, then, that "one cannot set about trying to construct a better theory-in-use without also trying to construct the behavioral world that is conducive to the development of that theory-in-use" (p. 18). An implication of this view is that teacher educators might advocate certain practices, but they won't be implemented if preservice teachers encounter a behavioral world that is inconsistent with it.]


"We can…distinguish two kinds of behavioral learning: we can learn to adopt new action strategies to achieve our governing variables; and we can learn to change our governing variables. This distinction is similar to Ashby's (1952) distinction between single-loop and double-loop learning…In single-loop learning, we learn to maintain the field of constancy by learning to design actions that satisfy existing governing variables. In double-loop learning, we learn to change the field of constancy itself…Single-loop learning enables us to avoid continuing investment in the highly predictable activities that make up the bulk of our lives; but the theory-builder becomes a prisoner of his programs if he allows them to continue unexamined indefinitely. Double-loop learning changes the governing variables (the "settings") of one's programs and causes ripples of change to fan out over one's whole system of theories-in-use." (pp. 18-19)

[The distinction between single-loop and double-loop learning is a major theme of Argyris and Schon's book. An example of single-loop learning might be actions by teacher educators to improve the preservice curriculum within the constraints of university course designs, schedules, and rules about acceptable instructors. Double-loop learning might occur if one decided to ignore those constraints and design curriculum around improvement of preservice teachers' performance and theories-in-use.]


Chapter 2. Evaluating Theories of Action

"Whether theories-in-use tend to create a behavioral world that constrains or frees the individual depends on answers to the following questions: Are the theories-in-use and espoused theories internally consistent? Are they congruent? Are they testable? Are they effective? Do we value the worlds they create?" (p. 20)

[These questions point to the criteria for judging the quality of a theory-in-use.]


"The second basic problem of testing theories of action is their self-fulfilling nature. Here are two examples. A teacher believes his students are stupid. He communicates his expectations so that the children behave stupidly. He may then 'test' his theory that the children will give stupid answers to his questions by asking them questions and eliciting stupid answers. The longer he interacts with the children, the more his theory will be confirmed…The so-called testing brings the behavioral world more nearly into line with the theory, confirming for all concerned the stupidity of the students…We call such a theory self-sealing." (p. 26)

[Self-sealing is an important construct in Argyris and Schon's view of professional behavior. They believe that professionals conduct evaluations of their performance in such a way as to maintain the status quo of the profession and their own level of competence. An important task for teacher educators is to figure out ways to break free of self-sealing actions. Argyris and Schon say that one way to do this is to "regard any theory as tentative, subject to error, and likely to be disconfirmed; one must be suspicious of it" (p. 27). This stance is difficult, because at the same time, "one's theory-in-use is his only basis for action. To be effective, a person must be able to act according to his theory-in-use clearly and decisively, especially under stress" (p. 27).


"Theories of action are theories that can be expressed as follows: In situation S, if you intend consequence C, do A, given assumptions a1 … an. Theories of action exist as espoused theories and as theories-in-use, which govern actual behavior. Theories-in-use tend to be tacit structures whose relation to action is like the relation of grammar-in-use to speech; they contain assumptions about self, others, and environment&emdash;these assumptions constitute a microcosm of science in everyday life.

Theories-in-use are vehicles for achieving and maintaining governing variables within acceptable ranges; the governing variables constitute the field of constancy in which deliberate behavior takes place." (p. 30)

[The above quote and the rest of the section in which it appears provide a good summary of Argyris and Schon's views to this point in the book.]


"…the kind of theory-building that involves both change in the governing variables and double-loop learning tends to be convulsive, taking the form of infrequent, discontinuous eruptions that are initiated by dilemmas…Dilemmas consist of conflicts of requirements that are considered central and therefore intolerable." (p. 30)

[This statement supports the idea that teacher educators should identify critical problems of practice that stimulate preservice teachers to think and act in new ways. In subsequent paragraphs, Argyris and Schon identify various types of dilemmas: dilemmas of incongruity, dilemmas of inconsistency, dilemmas of effectiveness, dilemmas of value, and dilemmas of testability.


Chapter 3. Diagnosing Theories-in-Use

"A central skill for developing theories-in-use is describing directly observable behavior." (p. 38)

[This should be a central feature of our teacher education programs. Do we teach this skill?]


"To study the model-constructing process, we have experimented with role-playing and with group discussions, both tape-recorded and video-taped. However, we have emphasized the use of case studies written by participants according to a common format because these studies are most readily accepted and administered." (p. 39)

[By "model-constructing process," Argyris and Schon mean the process by which someone, e.g., a teacher educator, might work with a client, e.g., a preservice teacher, to help the client create a public representation of his (the client's) theory-in-use and espoused theory. The rest of the chapter presents examples of the case-study approach that Argyris and Schon developed for this purpose.]


Chapter 4. Model I

Argyris and Schon created a model (Model I) that describes the behavior of a group of professionals whom they studied: secondary school and university administrators; professionals in the humanities and arts; business executives; graduate students in education, the arts, and the sciences; and OD professionals (p. 40). Professionals whose theories-in-use correspond to Model I tend to:

1. Unilaterally define goals and try to achieve them. (p. 66)

2. Maximize winning and minimize losing. (p. 66)

3. Minimize generating or expressing negative feelings. (p. 67)

4. Are objective and intellectual, suppressing feelings and avoiding being

emotional. (p. 67)

5. Unilaterally protect themselves and others. (p. 71)

6. Believe that it is a win/lose world. (p. 79)

7. Believe that public testing of assumptions is intolerably risky. (p. 80)

"Model I leads to a kind of hybrid world&emdash;a pre-civilized, competitive, hostile, defensive, win/lose world onto which the supposedly civilizing safety valves of repression, containment, and deviousness have been grafted" (p. 81).

[As teacher educators, we need to examine whether we display Model I behavior, whether we prepare preservice teachers in Model I behaviors, and whether the behavioral world of schools manifest the operation of Model I behaviors.]


Chapter 5. Model II

In this chapter, Argyris and Schon present a "model of theories-in-use that is free of the dysfunctionalities of model I" (p. 85).

The central governing variables of model II are:

o Maximize valid information. "Maximizing valid information…means that the actor provides others with directly observable data and correct reports so they may make valid attributions about the actor" (p. 86).

o Maximize free and informed choice. "A choice is free to the degree to which the individual making it can: define his own objectives; define how to achieve these objectives; define objectives that are within his capacities; and relate his objectives to central personal needs whose fulfillment does not involve defense mechanisms beyond his control" (p. 88).

o Maximize internal commitment to decisions made. "Internal commitment means that the individual feels that he, himself, is responsible for his choices" (p. 89).


Action strategies for achieving model II theories-in-use are:

o Make designing and managing the environment a bilateral task.

o Make protection of self or other a joint operation.

o Speak in directly observable categories.


Model II theories-in-use are not self-sealing, because they involve double-loop learning.


[One of the key characteristics of Model II theories-in-use is the emphasis on empirical data: "In the behavioral world of model II, participants will tend to test publicly the assumptions of their theories-in-use; they will tend to be open to possibilities for change in behavior that may result from that testing. Attributions will tend to be formed openly and on the basis of directly observable data" (p. 91). As teacher educators, we need to determine what kind of data we, or preservice teachers, should be collecting to maximize their professional development.]


Chapter 6. Transition from Model 1 to Model II

This chapter suggests activities that might help professionals change from Model I to Model II behavior.


"The basic design characteristics of the learning process [are]: (1) free choice to move toward model II based on valid information about the effectiveness of one's behavior; (2) little inconsistency within the espoused theory, within the theory-in-use, or between the espoused theory and the theory-in-use; and (3) a learning environment that produces valid information about each participant's espoused theories, theories-in-use, and any inconsistencies within each theory as well as among them." (p. 97)

[The concept of valid information is particularly important in Argyris and Schon's teaching/learning approach. This raises the question for teacher educators: What constitutes "valid information" for preservice teachers?]


"Valid information makes dilemmas recognizable, which creates tension to resolve them. This tension motivates learning." (p. 97) "Learning must be based on the discovery or surfacing of dilemmas." (p. 99)

[This point is consistent with my seven-step model, presented at the start of this paper, which has as its starting point "problems of practice."]


"Whenever the instructor intervenes to examine behavior, he should begin by identifying the behavior in directly observable categories (by repeating what the person said or by playing back a tape-recording) and then helping the participant to: (1) look forward&emdash;that is, to predict consequences of such behavior on himself and his environment; (2) look backward&emdash;that is, examine the governing variables of the behavior; and (3) identify the feedback that keeps the actor resistant toward change." (p. 99) "When the individual begins to design new behaviors, the same three steps are useful for learning about the consequences and effectiveness of the new behaviors." (p. 99)

[This process is a nice elaboration of the solution-generating process specified in the seven-step model.]


"At first, participants will experience dilemmas, ineffective behaviors, and failures; they may naturally begin to feel discouraged and helpless, which may lead them to push the instructor for resolutions to their dilemmas. Instructors will find it difficult to withhold the answers being requested and to maintain their role of helping participants design their own solutions." (p. 104)

[Argyris and Schon are suggesting here that preservice teachers should attempt to design their own solutions to problems of practice. This is consistent with the seven-step model and also with Gagné's views on how to develop problem-solving skills.]


Chapter 7. Learning Model-II Behavior

This chapter provides more ideas about how an instructor can design seminars to help professionals acquire Model II behavior.


"…during the first stages of the seminar when each participant is striving to diagnose his theory-in-use, fellow participants can be an important resource. Although each person may be unaware of his own theory-in-use, he may be more aware of others' theories-in-use. Participants may be more willing to listen to fellow participants who are in the same boat, than to the instructor, whose competence may cause feelings of ambivalence and hostility." (p. 114)

[Argyris and Schon build an argument for having preservice teachers learn professional skills thoough a collaborative process.]


"As a next step in the seminar, a case study can be presented for group discussion." (p. 114)

[This statement starts a section of the chapter entitled, "Generating and Surfacing Dilemmas." We see again the importance of dilemmas, which I call "problems of practice," as a starting point for teaching preservice teachers new skills.]


"The next stage of the group process consists of individuals taking the initiative to experiment with new diagnostic strategies…to build a model of the problem implicit in a case…" (p. 125)

[This statement points to a process similar to the first step of the seven-step model that I presented above.]


"…this stage…is when someone designs a new intervention based on his understanding of model II." (p. 128)

[This statement appears similar to the second step of the seven-step model.]


Argyris and Schon's model for learning model-II professional behavior is summarized in Figure 4 (p. 135):

1. Search for inconsistencies based on valid information.

2. Explore new models to reduce inconsistency and increase effectiveness.

3. Test behavior (a) publicly but tentatively and (b) publicly and for real behavioral experimentation of new behavior. Depending upon the results of the test, the learner might loop back through steps 1 and 2.

4. If the new behavior is effective, internalize and feel responsible for it. Testing of the new behavior (step 3) should continue to occur.

[This process is similar to the seven-step model. Argyris and Schon refer to a process of internalization, which can be added to the seven-step model to connote the need to keep repeating the cycle until a solution, or solutions, to a problem of practice is internalized and can be implemented at a high level of mastery.


Chapter 8. Issues in Professional Education

"Critics of education in both architecture and law agree that the student becomes a competent professional in the office after graduation rather than in school. Depending on the critic, this is taken as cause for alarm or the natural order of events." (p. 143)

[Teacher educators and others sometimes are rather critical of the effectiveness of preservice programs. In fact, our programs may be as good&emdash;or as bad&emdash;as those of other professions.]


"…in law, as in many other professions, the split between scholars and practitioners has precluded the development of a community for learning about competent practice." (p. 145)

[In redesigning our teacher education programs, we should think about this split and whether/how we should go about closing it.]


"…the professional school is hardly the place to initiate reform since it tends to be divorced from the real world of professional practice." (p. 144)

[Professors of education need to get closer to practice. How can this be done, though, given other demands placed on professors, especially those relating to tenure and promotion?]


"A profession…not only has a practice but also a theory of action in which that practice can become a reproducable, valid technique. This means that the job of professional education consists not only in teaching technique but in teaching the methods by which behavioral worlds in which techniques can work can be created." (p. 149)

[This statement suggests that teacher educators not only need to teach preservice teachers a set of instructional techniques, but also a set of techniques for creating a classroom environment in which those techniques can be implemented. Some techniques that we teach preservice teachers may be impractical, because they can't be implemented in schools as they currently exist.]


"With the rise of technique in the nineteenth century, the professions have tended to refine and develop the technical aspects of their paradigms and to concentrate on the development of second-order techniques to create the artificial environments in which their techniques will work predictably….These artificial environments tend to contain the underlying properties of model I: they are designed to enable the professional to realize objectives as he sees them, control the task, render the behavior of others predictable, and thereby control it." (pp. 151-152)

[Universities, which control teacher education, have created an artificial environment that probably are not well-suited to prepare teachers who can deal effectively with the problems of practice. Public schools are another artificial environment whose constraints may not be well-suited to best practice of teaching and learning.]


"Professionals who behave according to model I may not be able to engage in the double-loop learning required to change their paradigms. In a self-sealing world, professionals may find it difficult or impossible to recognize the limits to their ability to predict new professional role demands." (p. 153)

"…the professions betray the original values of their paradigms (health, truth, justice) as technique becomes progressively more central to them. That pattern, pointed out by Illich and others, according to which the provider of services defines as client needs whatever his techniques enable him to provide, may be recognized as a professional version of the self-sealing processes of model I." (p. 154)

[These statements lead me to wonder whether teacher educators can pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, as it were, to improve teacher preparation. Are we just finding new ways to preserve the status quo, or are we genuinely pursuing the profession's "ideological goals" (p. 152)?]


Argyris and Schon suggest a paradigm of professional behavior based on self-actualization as a goal for both professional and their clients (pp. 154-155). For example, in the Model-I paradigm, criteria for success are set by the profession, whereas in a Model-II, self-actualization paradigm, "Criteria for success are changing; it is important to be influenceable by both clients and other professionals" (p. 154).


Chapter 9. Implications for Professional Competence and Practice

"Whatever competence means today, we can be sure its meaning will have changed by tomorrow. The foundation for future professional competence seems to be the capacity to learn how to learn (Schein, 1972). This requires developing one's own continuing theory of practice under real-time conditions." (p. 157)

[Teacher education programs need to be examined to determine whether they teach preservice teachers the meaning of profession-long learning.]


"Models I and II show that there are certain criteria for an effective theory of practice. (1) The theory should not be self-sealing. It should permit detection of and response to its own inconsistencies, ineffectiveness, and ultimately to its degree of obsolescence. (2) The theory should make the interaction between client and professional conducive to mutual learning. (3) The theory should enable the professional to seek out, identify, and respond to new kinds of clients. (4) The theory should include a theory of reform of the profession that describes methods of transition from present to desired behavior. (5) The theory should be conducive to creating a professional community that undertakes explicit, public, cumulative learning. (6) The theory should make professional practice increasingly compatible with self-actualization…" (p. 157)

[We might ask whether our teacher education programs satisfy these criteria.]


"Building one's own theory of practice includes diagnosis, testing, and accepting personal causality." (p. 158)

Diagnosis. Argyris and Schon illustrates diagnosis by the example of an architect designing a university dormitory. To "diagnose" the task, the architect must interact with and collect data from relevant "cultures": administrative committee, student groups, the community, contractors, and workmen. "The practitioner cannot increase his responsiveness by reading or hearing or theorizing about other cultures. He must draw his own theory from unstructured information gained through his own interaction with others." (p. 159)

Testing. "To avoid self-sealing theories of action, practitioners must learn to test their theories and assumptions" (p. 159). "This kind of testing process does not conform to the criteria of laboratory-based experiments, but it is capable of achieving a kind of intermediate rigorousness that can be learned only by experiencing it" (p. 162).

Personal causation. "The practitioner must be willing to take responsibility for what he does" (p. 162).

"The espoused values and principles of today's professionals may conflict with clients' demands. Over the last ten to twenty years, practitioners have been asked to participate in the reform of institutions&emdash;they have been asked not only to learn the prevailing values but to change them." (p. 163)

[Argyris and Schon's view of professionals is not of people who are trained to do a job well, but as people who are constantly improving their skills and the clients and institutions whom they serve.]


"Technical theories state which techniques the practitioner will use in the substantive tasks of his practice. Interpersonal theories state how the professional will interact with clients and others in the course of his practice." (p. 164)

[This distinction might be helpful in analyzing and designing teacher education programs.]


Argyris and Schon's summary of the chapter: "Professional competence requires development of one's own continuing theory of practice, which must consist of both a technical and interpersonal theory if it is to be effective…Theory-building for professional practice requires practitioners to have the special competences related to diagnosis, to the generation and testing of solutions, and to the experience of personal causality in implementing solutions." (p. 172)

[This view of professional competence maps well onto the seven-step problem-solving model that I described above.]


Chapter 10. Redesigning Professional Education

"Chapter Ten draws guidelines for the redesign of professional education from the preceding discussions." (p. 173)

Argyris and Schon discuss three types of problems that appear in professional education: incongruities between espoused theories and theories-in-use; consensual espoused technical theory and technical theories-in-use are obsolete or nonexistent; the existence of few espoused theories but many effective theories-in-use.

They use the field of education to illustrate incongruities between espoused theories and theories-in-use. One is the new-math movement, which "focused on teaching the more basic aspects of mathematics" (p. 174). Teachers learned about new math curricula in "ineffective, understaffed workshops" and "they had never satisfactorily learned the new math themselves" (p. 174). Thus, "their technical theories-in-use tended in their classrooms to become highly incongruous with the espoused theories." (p. 174).

Another example is team teaching, which calls for teachers to be "an interdependent, co-equal, cohesive team" (p. 174) "Unfortunately, such interdependence rarely occurs because, in many cases, the senior teacher takes over, other teachers are unable to confront this, and they react by overtly complying with the senior teacher but teaching as they wish" (pp. 174-175).

Other examples involve the idea of treating every child as a unique individual and the idea of trusting in the child's capacity for organic development.

Argyris and Schon attribute the lack of acceptance of these new ideas and materials largely to ineffective interpersonal theories-in-use: "Ignored were the feelings, attitudes, value that had developed around the old curriculum, the group norms that protected them, and the bureaucratic arrangements that had evolved over the years to protect individual feelings and values as well as the group norms" (p. 175).

[Argyris and Schon's analysis rings true. If we wish to redesign teacher education, existing theories-in-use must be carefully analyzed and understood.]


"Brooks (1967) points out another dilemma in professional education. Discipline-oriented faculty may espouse values and needs that are not always compatible with the values and needs of the professional who plans to go into service." (pp. 177-178)

[This incompatibility is a problem in teacher education programs that is difficult to solve.]


An example of few espoused theories, but effective theories-in-use: "The school administrator cannot specify an espoused theory about how he senses when particular schools are in difficulty but, on the basis of visits and informal discussion, shrewdly diagnoses what is wrong in the climate of the school" (p. 178). "Mystique is central to such professionals, since the practitioner does not try to make his technical theory explicit" (p. 178).

[Some practitioners who become involved in teacher education programs as instructors or as model cooperating teachers may fit this description.]


Argyris and Schon state that the three types of problems described above require faculty "to surface inconsistencies, incongruities, and conflicts…encourage the exploration of the underlying value conflicts…to surface implicit issues, publicly test hypotheses, identify self-sealing processes, and value double-loop learning…" (p. 179)

[These seem to be valuable activities, but teacher education faculty generally are too pressed for time to engage in them.]


"Insofar as clinical experience is aimed at helping students to develop interpersonal theories-in-use along the lines of model II, it should be designed so that it: produces behavior in directly observable categories; enables inferences to be publicly examined; requires hypotheses to be tested publicly and reduces self-sealing activities…[Argyris and Schon continue on with additional criteria]." (p. 180)

[Argyris and Schon's criteria might be used as a basis for judging the current design of our field experiences.]


"There are three perspectives on the relationships among basic theory, theory of practice, and skills that lead to sharp disagreements on which tasks are appropriate to the school and which to the office."

1. "One school of thought regards theory of practice as deriving from basic theory and as testable without recourse to practice…This school of thought holds that teaching about practice is a diversion from the essential academic tasks; the school should develop and convey basic theory relevant to professional practice, and the office should provide opportunity to acquire professional skills." (p. 183)

2. "Some professionals and educators advance the notion that effective practice involves intuitive knowledge that is not amenable to explicit formulation, even in principle. This is the position of the adherent of professional mystique…" (p. 183). This mystique might be learned "by a kind of osmosis through proximity to a master, as in apprenticeship" (p. 184.

3. "The third school of thought says that the professional school should teach the student to think like a professional&emdash;for example, to think like a lawyer, a city planner, or a physician." (p. 184)

"Each of these three positions seems to us to be flawed. The relevance of basic theory to practical competence can be determined only through the intermediary of theory of practice." (p. 185)

[Teacher education programs, it seems, incorporate all three perspectives&emdash;and they're all flawed, according to Argyris and Schon.]


"…learning to think like a professional now requires learning to build one's own theory of practice, which in turn, requires engaging in situations of practice." (p. 186)

[Argyris and Schon firmly center teaching and learning on the preservice professional as an active learner. We cannot expect preservice teachers to learn simply through observation, university coursework, and uninformed practice. They need to keep developing and testing theories-in-use in response to problems of practice. Of course, ideas and solutions for these theories-in-use can come from observing others and taking university courses.]


"Simulation is valuable because it can be slowed down, diagnosed, and repeated; it offers practice under the control of the student and with the easy intervention of the faculty; it is psychologically safe for the student; and it protects the clients from being misused in the name of education. The disadvantage of simulation is that it is a game whose correspondence to reality in the crucial respects is always questionable….a simulation may be useful for the experienced practitioner who wishes to examine why certain actions are not usually effective or wishes to learn new concepts and skills." (pp. 186-187)

[This is a good critique of the major shortcomings and benefits of simulations.]


"The formal structure required by field activity [a few paragraphs earlier, Argyris and Schon refer to "field activity" as "field experience"] does not match the structure of semesters, courses, and departments. Faculty tend to resist the intrusion of field work into the curriculum, or, at any rate, tend to carry on the academic program parallel to field work as though the latter does not exist." (p. 187)

[This characterization of field experience applies, it seems to me, to teacher education programs.]


"The objective of the field experience, like the objective of all clinical experience, is to learn to become more reflective under real-time conditions so that effective ad hoc theories of action can be created and tested" (p. 188). Argyris and Schon go on to describe the functions of field experiences and features of field experiences that support these functions (pp. 189-191). The functions are: filling in gaps between university-taught applied theory and actual practice; translating verbally taught information in universities to real-life settings; and internalizing complex sets of skills so they can be executed smoothly; and developing skills in the diagnostic, testing, and personal-causation aspects of theory-building.

[It is not clear that field experiences in teacher education programs emphasize the preservice teacher's emerging theories-in-use.]


"However the situations of practice may be designed, practice must be made central to professional education rather than peripheral to it…The peripheral position usually occupied by clinical experience in professional schools is indicated by clinical faculty tending to be part-time, young, without tenure, of lower academic status, and to have high mortality." (p. 192)

[Argyris and Schon proceed to suggest ways to incorporate practitioners into professional education programs.]


"Practice is best illuminated by connecting it with theory, and faculty members are most competent in theory-building related to their subjects. Leaving the theory of practice to be formulated by the busy practitioner, who often tends to abhor explicit theory-building, causes practice to be taught at best as informed speculation and at worst in the form of war stories…dealing with the incongruity between espoused technical theories and theories-in-use only in peripheral clinical courses allows clinical courses to become isolated from the mainstream of intellectual activity of the school." (p. 194)

[Argyris and Schon here legitimate a role for academic faculty in professional education programs.]


"…clinical practice in schools of education usually means immersing the student in the field to observe a practitioner in action or to inform some task that the practitioner requires of the student. If the former, the student may take copious and complete notes and yet never have a chance to discuss them with the busy practitioner. If the latter, the student soon becomes so busy that again he no longer has time to be reflective about his activities…Such lower intellectual standards often go unquestioned by the clinical faculty…" (pp. 194-195)

[This is strong criticism of the way teacher educators design field experiences, but unfortunately it might be warranted.]


Implications of Argyris & Schon's Ideas for Teacher Education

1. In general, their theory of action provides a good conceptual framework for understanding and improving teacher education and classroom instruction. Furthermore, their theory is consistent with other theories that focus on performance: situated-learning theory, social-cognitive theories of learning, problem-solving theory, and theories of expertise development. It also supports the seven-step model for improving teacher performance that I have proposed.

2. Argyris and Schon's discussion of espoused theories and theories-in-use tells us that we (teacher educators) need to focus not only on teachers' performance, but on their beliefs about performance. Their beliefs might lead them to ineffective practices, or their beliefs might be sound but not realized in their practices. In particular, we need to focus on beliefs that involve particular actions and consequences, and the situations in which these particular actions-consequences apply.

3. Teachers can get stuck in self-sealing theories and mediocre performance if they do not learn reflective skills for improving their practices. We need to help teachers develop the type of reflective skills that result in continuous, career-long improvement of performance.

4. Teachers' beliefs and performance (i.e., their espoused theories and theories-in-use) can come from diverse sources: their own experience, professors, cooperating teachers, university supervisors, other teachers, etc. To improve teacher beliefs and performance, we need to understand their sources of knowledge and the credibility of each source for the teacher.

5. Argyris and Schon acknowledge the necessity for controlled practice in the learning of theories-of-action. We need to provide the right kind of controlled practice if teachers are to develop the capacity for effective performance.

6. Argyris and Schon claim that professionals develop practices and environments (i.e., behavioral worlds) that keep certain factors (e.g., time, energy expended, anxiety) under control. We cannot hope to improve teachers' performance unless we acknowledge the importance of these factors in teachers' lives and take them into account in developing learning opportunities within teacher education programs.

7. The environments in which teachers work (e.g., classrooms, school office, tech support centers) strongly constrain their performance. In our efforts to improve teachers' performance, we need to determine whether the skills we are teaching fit comfortably within, and are supported by, these environments.

8. Argyris and Schon's distinction between single-loop and double-loop learning is not entirely clear to me. However, it seems to reflect the difference between making minor improvements within the box&emdash;or "rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic&emdash;versus getting outside the box and creating a new way of doing business. In teacher education, we can only make marginal improvements if we accept the university ritual arrangements of term schedules, courses, grading, credits, staffing, etc. We might make more radical improvements if we could move outside these arrangements and create new arrangements focused on continuous improvement of teacher performance.

9. It would be worth discussing the extent to which our teacher education programs conform to Argyris and Schon's model I and model II, and whether a full-blown model II is as desirable as they claim it to be. One key feature of model II that I would endorse is maximizing valid information. We need to look carefully at the types of information that we currently generate about teachers' performance (CBEST, Praxis tests, work samples, course grades, TSPC summary forms for field experiences, portfolios, etc.). How helpful is such information to the teacher and us? Would other types of information be more valuable&emdash;for example, teacher-generated data that tests their espoused theories and theories-in-use?

10. Problems of practice&emdash;or what Argyris and Schon call "dilemmas'&emdash;should be an essential part of the teacher education curriculum. These problems of practice might be dealt with on an individual basis; others might be fruitfully approached through seminars and other forums that involve groups of teachers and an instructor/facilitator.

11. Argyris and Schon see problems with each of the various groups that are called upon to prepare professionals: university researchers and scholars, typical practitioners, and practitioners-with-mystique. (They do appear to legitimate a role for conventional professors of education as experts in theory-building.) However, for Argyris and Schon, the most important features of a professional education program are not the type of instructor, but rather the availability of real-life situations in which budding professionals can develop and test their theories-in-action. It seems to me that instructors with different types of expertise (e.g., university researchers and master teachers) can be helpful in facilitating the novitiate's formulation of informed theories-in-action and reflection on data that test their effectiveness.