Teacher Craft Knowledge in the Dominican Republic: A building-on-strengths approach to improving teaching and learning in the Hispanophone Caribbean

By Sophia M. D’Angelo

A key objective of CLAREC’s mission is to forefront local knowledge from Latin America and the Caribbean. As someone committed to research on teacher effectiveness in the region, I am particularly interested in understanding the knowledge that teachers construct through their lived experiences. Research on teacher effectiveness often seeks to impose Western notions of ‘what works’ despite a growing body of literature that recognises that there are no magic bullets to improve teaching and learning. In the 1960s and 1970s research on teacher thinking gained prominence, and scholars began to recognise that the ‘practical knowledge’ teachers hold is based on their own classroom experiences (both as students themselves and while teaching), and that this practical knowledge varies starkly from the more theoretical or conceptual knowledge that they learn in their pre-service training (see Calderhead, 1991, for example). 

In my presentation next week, I will present some of my PhD findings which centre the voices of Dominican teachers and students, their personal and professional experiences, and the knowledge that they have constructed through those experiences. Below I present several pieces of literature that have influenced my PhD research over the years.  In particular, I look at Donald McIntyre’s work on ‘craft knowledge,’ through his seminal work with Brown and Cooper. Two books, Making Sense of Teaching (Brown & McIntyre, 1993) and Effective Teaching and Learning: Teachers’ and students’ perspectives (Cooper & McIntyre, 1996) were some of the most influential pieces of work around which my thesis was designed.


In these books, the authors describe ‘craft knowledge’ as ‘professional knowledge which teachers acquire primarily through their practical experience in the classroom rather than their formal training, which guides their day-to-day actions in classrooms, which is for the most part not articulated in words and which is brought to bear spontaneously, routinely and sometimes unconsciously on their teaching’ (Brown & McIntyre, 1993: 17). Craft knowledge was later described by Graber (1998: 148) as the ‘context specific, highly pragmatic, and profoundly personal understandings that teachers develop about their students and about workable pedagogical practices’ (emphasis added). Therefore, though craft knowledge is a concept that was born out of the Global North, its unique emphasis on local context and personal experiences validates it as an entry point to examine what effective teaching and learning looks like in countries of the Global South, including the Dominican Republic.

Next, Robin Alexander’s (2000) book Pedagogy and Culture provides an elaborate comparison of what effective teaching and learning look like in England, France, India, Russia and the United States. This cross-cultural comparison indicates that sociocultural patterns, national and subnational policies and contexts all play a role in shaping pedagogy. Alexander argues that “educational ideas do not just migrate, in speaking to different cultural histories and conditions they also change’ (p. 546). The book itself is over 600-pages long, but below I also list some of Alexander’s more accessible work which further argues that a more nuanced and holistic analysis of pedagogy is critical to improving teaching and learning across contexts.

Building on the work of Alexander, many researchers have critiqued the growing popularisation of learner-centred pedagogy and its imposition in the Global South. Learner-centred pedagogy, along with its constructivist theories of teaching and learning, have been promoted through competency-based curricular reforms, many of which are funded by international development agencies as a means to promote economic development in these ‘developing’ nations (see Anderson-Levitt, 2007 for example). Yet many researchers continue to problematise this one-size-fits-all approach to improving teaching. For example, Michel Schweisfurth (2011) published an article titled, ‘Learner-centred education in developing country contexts: From solution to problem?’ followed by a book two years later (2013) titled, Learner-centred Education in International Perspective: Whose pedagogy for whose development? These titles summarise the key argument that, although learner-centred pedagogy may effectively lead to learning in some contexts, it continues to be problematic, inadequately implemented, misunderstood or simply inappropriate, unsupported by the strikingly different contextual realities of some Southern contexts (e.g. the lack of teaching and learning materials which is a core characteristic of learner-centred pedagogy). 

Therefore, rather than making assumptions about what works in a particular context, I believe, like Cooper and McIntyre (1996: 3) that the starting point of research on teacher effectiveness should be ‘the attempt to understand what people in classrooms are trying to do, and how they go about trying to do it effectively.’ My findings from research conducted in Dominican schools is that learner-centred pedagogy may not be the be-all and end-all of effective teaching and learning. Rather, I argue — as other authors have (Barrett, 2007; Vavrus, 2009; Altinyelken, 2012; Vavrus & Bartlett, 2012) — that a more appropriate approach to teacher effectiveness in the Dominican Republic may require blending pedagogies and adapting to the cultural and contextual realities of Dominican teachers, students, schools and classrooms. As O’Sullivan (2004) argues, certain teaching strategies or methods may not seem learner-centred at first, but this does not mean that they are not learning-centred. By exploring the voices of teachers and students — those most intimately involved in everyday pedagogical practices — we can thus examine how local knowledge and experience shape teaching and learning, ultimately maximising teacher effectiveness.

Youth negotiating exclusion and belonging at the urban periphery in Chile

By Consuelo Béjares Casanueva

In our launch event and first open meeting, I will be presenting my work on youth experiences of belonging and democratic participation in marginalized spaces in Santiago, Chile. Here, I recommend some readings and resources that tackle issues at the base of my research questions. 

As a more general reading, I want to recommend two old books that I first read as a sociology undergraduate and I have look back at them now that I´m trying to understand/explain Latin American identities from the U.K. They are both written as essays more than in a very academic way and analyze aspects of the Mexican and Chilean identities that are tight to coloniality. The first one is “El Laberinto de la Soledad” [The laberith of solitude] from 1950 by Mexican writer Octavio Paz, Nobel Prize in Literature. Even though is focused on Mexico, there are many aspects that resonate with Latin America as a whole. The second one is “Madres y Huachos” (sadly, no English edition) from 1991 by Chilean anthropologist Sonia Montesinos, which focused on the Chilean case and the figure of women as single mothers. 

            My old copy of Laberinto de la Soledad

Something I have struggle with during my PhD research is trying to explain the Latin American context and processes through theories that not always fit. Regarding marginal or peripheral spaces, I found very useful the introduction “Locating marginality in Latin American cities” by Felipe Hernández, in the book “Marginal urbanisms: informal and formal development in cities of Latin America” (2017). It explains how marginality has been part of Latin American cities from colonial times, determining social relations into the present, and also relates marginality in Latin America with conceptual developments based on other contexts, for example, Wacquant´s advanced marginality

Considering that students’ movements have been the major force leading social change in the post-dictatoship years in Chile, I recommend this chapter by Sofía Donoso “When Social Movements Become a Democratizing Force: The Political Impact of the Student Movement in Chile” in the book “Protest, Social Movements and Global Democracy Since 2011: New Perspectives” (2016). The chapter is very useful to understand the context and possibilities of political participation in Chile and the role of recent students’ social movements in policy reform and democratic change.

Lastly, I invite you to listen the song “El Otro Chile” [The Other Chile] by Chilean rapper Portavoz. Popular culture and arts are always a very interesting way of approaching social problems because they usually embody and shape the direction of social change (way before academia unfold analyses of it). This song is from 2012 and talks about the peripheral Chile that constitutes the majority of the people, expressing many of the demands that led to the Chilean Revolt of October 2019. You can watch the video with English subtitles here

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