Friday, April 6, 2007

Inés K. Miller on Exploratory Practice

Some features transcend national boarders. As I learned more about Inés K. Miller (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil) in the Oxford-Kobe Seminar, I just kept recalling the good teachers I meet in Japan, like TAJIRI Goro, for example. They’re all so enthusiastic, eager to convey something to us, always smiling, and ever trying to entertain us intellectually. Those who are good at teaching must share a lot of features in common no matter where they live.

Inés K. Miller was also a brilliant theoretician. Her presentation on Day 1, “Bringing Exploratory Practice into Teacher-Learner Development,” was full of insightful clarification and useful references. The following is my partial reproduction of her presentation material. I thank Inés K. Miller for her generous permission to publish this report on this blog. Any errors in this reproduction are of course mine.

Miller sees Exploratory Practice primarily as ‘work for understanding.’ She justifies this view by quoting the statement by Allwright (1997) that “understanding is the logical pre-requisite to any intelligent problem-solving or change for improvement, and that focusing on trying to solve a problem or change a situation before it is properly understood is a recipe for expensive mistakes.” She then extends the notion of Exploratory Practice as “discursive space that offers learning and/or awareness-raising opportunities for involved practitioners – learners, teachers, teacher-consultants and teacher-learners.” (cf. Allwright, 2005; Miller, 2001)

According to Allwright and Miller, Exploratory Practice “aligns itself theoretically with human, non-technicist, non-reductionist, as well as developmental, process-oriented views of education.” Exploratory Practice, therefore, is in line with a number of theoretical perspectives such as:

(1) The sociointeractional perspective on ‘what is going on’ in human interaction (Goffman, 1974) and interactional inferences (Gumperz, 1982)
(2) The inherent complexity and idiosyncrasy of classroom life (Gieve and Miller, 2006)
(3) The ‘situatedness’ of human learning (Lave and Wenger, 1991)
(4) The inextricability between participant involvement and understandings in knowledge-making (Bourdieu, 1977, in van Lier, 1994; van Lier, 2000).
(5) Learning as social interaction (Gieve and Miller, 2006) or as a process of participatory inquiry (Reason, 1994, 1998), in communities of pracitce (Wenger, 1998)

With these theoretical backgrounds, Miller claims “the teaching practice component of a teacher education course appears as a privileged moment for recontextualising the Exploratory Practice principles and for bringing a reflective, human and non-technicist posture—into teacher development.” She wishes to “engage future teachers in thinking of pedagogic practice as ‘work for understanding’, and as a way of ‘being’ in the classroom and of valuing the ‘quality of life’ experienced in it.” She also wishes to create space in which a critical and reflective posture, curiosity, courage, creativity and trust for personal professional ‘intuition’ are encouraged. This is to “familiarize future language teachers with such notions as ‘the post-method condition’ (Kumaravadivelu, 1994), teachers’ ‘sense of plausibility’ (Prabhu, 1990), the ‘tact of teaching’ (Van Manen, 1991), and with the move from ‘teaching points’ to ‘learning opportunities’ (Allwright, 2005).”

In Inés K. Miller, I see an excellent example of a teacher-researcher who listens to the voices of learners and colleagues. I very much enjoyed being with her, as much as other participants of the seminar did. Being together. Isn’t this most important in life?


Allwright, D. 1997. “Exploratory Practice.” Unpublished manuscript.
Allwright, D. 2005. From Teaching Points to Learning Opportunities and Beyond. TESOL Quarterly, Alexandria, Virginia. 39, 1: 9-31.
Gieve, S. and Miller, I. K. 2006. Understanding the Language Classroom. Hampshire, United Kingdom: Palgrave Macmillan.
Goffman, E. 1974. Frame Analysis: An essay on the organization of experience. Harmondsworth: Penguin.
Gumperz, J. J. 1982. Discourse Strategies. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Kumaravadivelu, B. 1994. The Post-method Condition. TESOL Quarterly, 28, 1:27-48.
Lave, J. and E. Wenger. 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Miller, I. K. 2001. Researching Teacher-Consultancy via Exploratory Practice: A Reflexive and Socio-Interactional Approach. Unpublished Ph.D. diss., Lancaster University, United Kingdom.
Prabhu, N. S. 1990. There is no best method – why? TESOL Quarterly, 24, 2:161-176.
Reason, P. (ed.) 1988. Human Inquiry in Action. London: SAGE Publications.
Reason, P. (ed.) 1994. Participation in Human Inquiry. London: SAGE Publications.
van Lier, L. 1994. Some Features of a Theory of Practice. TESOL Journal, 4, 1:6-10.
van Lier, L. 2000. From Input to Affordance. In J.P. Lantolf (ed.) Sociocultural Theory and Second Language Learning, 245-259. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Wenger, E. 1998. Communities of Practice: Learning, Meaning, and Identity. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.

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