In the most direct terms, transformative pedagogy is about creating and sustaining mutual
respect, understanding, and cooperation between the home, community, and school. This
tripartite system recognizes the value of learning that takes place outside the confines of
the classroom walls, seeks to integrate the knowledge generated from each element of the
system, and expose its validity to students in an effort to maximize the educational
experience for a post-modern global society. According to McCaleb (1997),
transformative pedagogy "attempts to facilitate a critical capacity within the classroom
while promoting the integration of students, families, communities, and the world." She
lists the following concepts by way of elaboration:
Teaching and learning take place in a sociohistorical context.
Education takes place within the context of community.
Teaching begins with student knowledge.
Skills and voices develop out of a need to know and to act.
Teaching and learning are both individual and collaborative processes.
Teaching and learning are transformative processes.
Teaching and learning take place in a sociohistorical context
McCaleb (1997) points out that prior to coming to the classroom, what “the” culture is to
a student is whatever he or she knows from family and whatever the existing norms for
his or her local society are. Transformative pedagogy builds on the diversity of students
to explore the culture of our society that is not monolithic in nature, but rich in varied
beliefs and traditions.
Readings (1997) makes the point that the university today in America no longer has the
role of acting as the model for society. That is, the university is no longer the place where
the future leaders of society go to learn about what the “culture” is, as if it is a definite
thing that can be given from the master to the student. Instead, Readings makes the point
of saying that the university is just one more place among many where the question of
what the culture is can be asked and kept open. Its primary function to support this
mission is to be “just” in doing so. The university is a place for dialog, a place to share
opinions and views of the role of individuals and students in relation to the rest of
society. This is different than it being a place where the mode of operation is one-way,
from teacher, expert, or master to pupil, student, or sycophant. This allows for the student
to bring his or her culture to the foreground, giving it validity as a base for knowledge
To Giroux (1996), the issue is a matter of recognizing the “increasing hybridization of
large segments of the population” and opening dialogue to the histories of these segments
in an effort to provide
learning conditions both in and out of the school that develop those social capacities
in students in which the struggle for democracy becomes a primary narrative told not
just through the „great documents of rights‟ but also through the voices of those
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 2
groups that have constantly fought throughout history and continue to make history in
the ongoing struggle to expand civil liberties (145).
Once students learn about each other they can recognize similarities in each other, finding
common ground and work together toward common goals. This is the same whether
talking about ethnicity, learning preferences, or any differences that may crop up.
Education takes place within the context of community
Even at a university level where students and teachers may not always identify
themselves with the specific geographic location of the brick-and-mortar entity that is the
school, there is value in embracing the community in which the school is set. Making an
effort to become a part of the local community helps create a bond and sense of trust
between the student and the teacher. Exploring, studying, sharing and using local
resources together helps students and teachers alike know and love themselves and each
Transformative pedagogy does not draw or recognize clear boundaries, rhetorical or
physical, between the dynamic elements of the educational system: student, teacher,
school, and community. Therefore, it is necessary to discuss how these elements,
particularly community, are conceptualized.
Social constructionist thought places “language at the center of our understanding of
knowledge and of the authority of knowledge” (Bruffee, 1986). A social constructionist
relies on the metaphor of the discourse community to explain how meaning is created and
negotiated socially through language. That is, what we know is determined through
discourse within the social groups we associate ourselves. It is possible however that this
metaphor for the observation that we often find ourselves moving between groups of
greater and lesser shared contexts may be too limited to explain or support the dynamic
educational system required in a post-modern era.
Kent (1991), discussing Davidsonian externalism (Davidson, 1984), identifies three
problems with the concept of discourse communities. The first problem is that relying on
Kuhn for a basis of claiming the existence of discourse communities as “incommensurate
conceptual schemes” is a self-refuting claim. Kuhn (1996) claims that social and
psychological factors have profound and revolutionary effects on what scientific
communities accept as truth or fact and that adherents to existing paradigms cannot
adhere to contradictory paradigms at the same time. Social constructionists extrapolate
from this the idea of discourse communities, but this contradicts the recognition that
people can and do belong to and move between groups of greater and lesser shared
contexts. That is, if discourse communities are incommensurate conceptual schemes
equivalent to Kuhn‟s scientific communities then we would not be able to recognize one
when belong to another, much less move effortlessly from one to another and back again.
This kind of motion is hardly the series of “intellectually violent revolutions” that Kuhn
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 3
The second problem Kent identifies is that of global skepticism. If we claim that a
conceptual scheme such as a discourse community acts as a mediator between our minds
and the minds of others or between our minds and how we know the world, how can we
be sure of what we know? That is, if we let a conceptual scheme or “structure of norms”
(Fish, 1980) between us and what we want to know, we are conceding to a filter that will
change the meaning for us and that we accept the meaning the filter provides. Why
should we accept this filtered meaning? What assurances are there that this mediated
meaning is indeed all that we know about the world? Kent claims that there is no
question-begging response to this skepticism. Recognizing that social norms exist and
that we use them is not a satisfactory response.
Relativism is the third problem Kent identifies with social constructionism. This grows
from what Kent describes as the solipsism intrinsic in the view that knowledge and
meaning have no essential authority outside a given discourse community. That is, there
is no way presented by social constructionism to provide a way of valorizing or
distinguishing between one set of truths and another as they change over time or other
circumstances. For example, how does a person know what set of practices or beliefs to
adopt if all that matters is that he or she be situated somewhere within some discourse
community with some set of beliefs or practices? Kent does not suggest that social
constructionists mean to say that one set is as good as another, but what he is saying is
that social constructionists do not provide an answer to the question of authority in
regards to one over another.
Kent is not completely averse to what social constructionists have to say. He turns to
Davidson (1984) for a way to support anti-foundationalism while rejecting subjectivism
and to thereby address the problems of the conceptual scheme, global skepticism and
relativism. Davidson‟s premise is that mental states are the result of “triangulation,”
which is the interaction of a “someone who thinks, other sentient beings, and a world
they know they share.” There is no mental state without all three elements involved in
communicative interaction and one cannot possess knowledge of one of these elements
without possessing knowledge of the other two. This “coherency theory of truth and
knowledge” suggests that “the only justification we posses for a particular belief are the
beliefs we already hold with others.” Therefore, there is no need for conceptual schemes
such as discourse communities or social norms to mediate between our minds and the
minds of others or the world around us. Accepting that making meaning takes place in a
social context merely recognizes and accepts that all communicative acts require
Unlike social constructionists who rely on “negotiation” using the same language to come
to meaning, Davidson relies on “interpretation” between individuals who speak differing
languages. For an externalist there is no need to learn a new grammar or what we
normally might think of as an interpretive framework in order to communicate. There are
no pre-existing community language rules or sets of beliefs to adopt before
communication can take place. Instead, all that is necessary is that each interlocutor share
flexible “passing theories” to interpret the utterances of the other for the duration of the
communicative event. This is not to dismiss the possibility of some shared contexts prior
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 4
to the communicative event in question. Indeed, Davidson addresses this possibility with
what he calls “prior theories.” A prior theory is the interpretive strategy a person brings to
a communicative event and consists of the belief he or she has about the other‟s ability to
interpret the communicative event. But the emphasis is on the passing theory because
prior theories inevitably give way to passing theories with each new utterance. By relying
on passing theories of interpretation rather than on adopting whole sets of pre-existing
conceptual schemes to act as mediators between the minds of interlocutors and the world,
Davidson externalism relieves the interlocutors of the problem of global skepticism. Once
the filter between the interlocutors and the object of discussion are removed, the
uncertainty is removed as well.
Regarding the problem of relativism, externalists make no claim that the beliefs of one
discourse community are relative to another‟s. This is because they don‟t recognize
conceptual frameworks in the first place and the split between subjective and objective
this recognition carries with it. Externalists have nothing to say about universal truth,
relying only on the truth of the communicative event. As stated earlier, Donaldson‟s
position relies solely on coherency to support truth and knowledge. “The only
justification we posses for a particular belief are the beliefs we already hold with others.”
A fourth problem that Kent does not mention regards the possibility that if scholars
identify themselves with distinct discourse communities that do not include other
elements of the educational system dynamic (students and members not in the immediate
scholarly community), that it might impede the creation of knowledge. In order to
participate as an equal in the educational process, must one first adopt entire conceptual
schemes that include specific discourse rules? Social constructionism as discussed earlier
would seem to indicate that this is so. On the other hand, Davidson would disagree.
Geertz (1983) suggests that scholars act as ethnographers within their own disciplines to
help themselves learn how they construct knowledge in an effort to get them to recognize
for themselves how ingrown they are and how their language, career patterns, and
maturation practices define their disciplines. One result of following Geertz‟s advice
might be a greater cross-disciplinary sharing between individuals. Geertz also claims that
“the problem of the integration of cultural life becomes one of making it possible for
people inhabiting different worlds to have a genuine, and reciprocal impact on one
another.” He calls for accepting differences, understanding what the differences are, and
working out a common vocabulary so that the differences can be “publicly formulated”
allowing everybody to “give credible accounts of themselves to one another.”
It is possible that allowing conceptual schemes such as discourse communities to
determine communicative events in the educational system actually creates new barriers
and perpetuates existing ones between members of otherwise complementary scholarly
disciplines and interested lay people. Davidsonian externalism might provide a way to
break down conceptual barriers and allow unfiltered communicative events between all
potential participants in the educational dynamic by recognizing the value students and
people outside the classroom hold for contributing to the educational process or the
making of meaning that have not been explored widely in the past.
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 5
For transformative pedagogists, the community is not a conceptual scheme that
encompasses specific sets of rules for activities or beliefs to learn and identify with. It
does not obligate the teacher to inculcate his or her students into any social norms. Rather
it is a place that defies rules and beckons the teacher to explore with his or her students.
Communities are dynamic places that are ever evolving and offer unlimited resources for
learning if only the teacher and the school would recognize its potential as partner in the
communicative event that is the educational process.
Teaching begins with student knowledge
In a 1992 study, the Institute for Education in Transformation at the Claremont Graduate
School (IET) observed that
most students, particularly after fifth grade feel that many of their classes require
them to learn or memorize irrelevant things they perceive are not connected to
their lives (p. 32).
All the information they learn in school, the tasks they are asked to perform, particularly
the more formal or standardized classroom activities become irrelevant to their lives.
Often, they do not see the knowledge they possess that pre-dates or is generated outside
the school environment represented in school. This causes many students to doubt or
even dismiss the validity of the content of what is being taught in school. For some
students, it leads to invalidation of non-school-generated knowledge and consequently of
self worth as knowledge is irrevocably bound with their senses of identity. For some
students, this means abandoning non-school-generated knowledge in order to achieve
success in school; for others, the choice is too difficult to make and they drop; still others
learn to straddle precariously between the two types of knowledge, the two types of
culture. Further, teachers often share their students‟ frustration as they experience the
pressure to teach mandated curricula and focus on preparing students to score well on
Freinet (1993) uses the device of a fictional dialogue between Matthew, a farmer living in
a small village in France shortly after World War II, and Mr. Long, a teacher from the
local schoolhouse, to discuss his positions on science, progress, and pedagogy. This
dialogue begins with a lengthy discussion about the value of non-school-generated
knowledge, the dangers of ignoring it, and the need to incorporate it into school curricula.
The dialogue begins after an argument between Mr. Long and Mrs. Long, also a
schoolteacher, after the latter took the advice of the local villagers to see Matthew about a
pain in her foot that the doctor could not heal. Mrs. Long, playing on her husband‟s pride
in being a logical and scientific man, suggests the he speak to Matthew about his ability
to effect healing when physicians cannot.
The discussion moves quickly from Matthew‟s abilities as a healer to Matthew‟s
(Freinet‟s) position regarding why it is so hard to accept the possibility that someone
without a medical degree can possess an ability to heal when a physician cannot, or for
that matter why anyone lacking officially sanctioned credentials, can possess an ability to
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 6
perform a task that someone with credentials in the same field cannot. In so many words,
Matthew‟s claim is that majority beliefs prevent individuals from exploring alternatives
and presenting ideas that conflict with prevailing opinion. For example, the likely
reaction by the professional society of chemists to one of its members who spoke up
publicly about the dangers of a particular chemical would be quite negative indeed. The
same would be true of a doctor who espoused an alternative medical technique that was
not recognized by the medical society. Continuing along those lines, he suggests that Mr.
Long would face similar a reaction if he were to attempt pointing out “widespread follies
and to oppose them vigorously” and that he would likely be thrown out of the school
system for trying to reform it. Interviews of teachers, students, administrators, parents,
and even classified staff members in the IET study mentioned in the beginning of this
section may support Matthew‟s position. Indeed, these interviews revealed that while
members of these groups all agreed that reform was necessary, no action was being taken
first because nobody felt anyone would listen to them. That is, (1) dialogue was never
initiated because of false assumptions regarding assumed opposition that did not exist
among their own group members and (2) that members of the other groups would not
listen to their ideas. These assumptions were based on misconceptions gleaned from
popular media reports and what was being published by experts that had never asked
them for their opinions on the subject.
Matthew goes on to criticize science in general and “pseudo-scientific” pedagogy in
particular, that work very much like politics because each changes with the fashion of the
day, “laying claim to every scientific quality needed to inspire [the] confidence.” Then,
when fashion changes, all the errors committed in the name of the previous fashion are
disclosed in order to discredit it and create support for the latest fashion. This leads to his
claim that “leading figures are not always leaders in everything” and that they are
“isolated by the environment that produced them.” Referring again to the IET study
interviews, one of the conclusions by the authors was that “multiple reports about, and
proposed solutions to the problems of schooling ... either missed critical issues or named
problems only marginally related to those experienced inside schools.” The result of
missing crucial issues is to perpetuate continued publication of more reports offering
solutions that only peripherally address issues of most concern to educational
This pattern of pedagogy changing like politics or fashion from vogue to vogue, suggests
Matthew, is a result of researchers taking too narrow a view of the issues they study, and
building curricula that are based on continued practice of this kind of activity. The result
is a habit of valorizing forward-looking progress that neglects to consider the value or use
of past successes borne from practices that they or their colleagues did not have a hand
in. Here Matthew is suggesting that scientific research and the practices that develop
from that research are only valuable when a subject is considered within the context of its
environment. That is, a human is not something that can be studied in isolation in a
laboratory, but must be considered within a social context. That social context does not
begin when the researcher enters the scene nor does it end when he or she leaves. He is
complaining about arrogance and distortion of reality that comes about as a result of
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 7
isolating oneself from the dynamic subject, the subject that is a living organism in a
This is what the authors of the IET study are referring to when they conclude that there
exists “a tremendous gulf between life inside schools and the perceptions of that life by
academicians, policy makers, media, and community leaders.” The reason that the
research that resulted in the IET report took more than a year and involved interviewing
teachers, students, parents, and others who are part of the educational dynamic was
because the researchers wanted to take a look at the issue of “problems of public
education” from the perspective of those directly involved in the process as they went
about their activities. Researchers identified the following issues as inextricably bound up
in the educational dynamic:
Race, culture and class.
Values (honesty, hard work, beauty, justice, democracy, freedom, decency, and the
need and desire for a good education).
Teaching and learning.
Despair, hope, and the process of change.
This led the IET researchers to conclude that if there is going to be worthwhile change in
the educational system in this country, three things must occur:
1. The national conversation about educational reform must change from a discussion of
consequences (underachievement, discipline, and shortcomings in teacher education)
to a discussion of problems, listed above.
2. The voices of students and other members of the school community must be involved
in the process of reshaping individual schools.
3. Problematic policies and practices that sap the energy and attention away from
allowing teachers to focus on students must be dismantled.
An in-depth discussion of these issues is not the goal of the current document. Instead,
they are presented to illustrate that the educational dynamic goes far beyond any myth
that might suggest that education is simply a matter of inculcating children into the ranks
of those with minimally equivalent abilities in reading, writing, and arithmetic. Rather, all
these issues play significant roles in the process because each has its own part to play in
the education of students. Further, each of these issues already has a history, a pre-
existing knowledge, attached to it in the mind of each student before he or she ever enters
the system. That pre-school and non-school knowledge must be recognized and used as
an integral part of the educational process. Any suggested changes in the educational
system that ignores this by addressing consequences rather than causes will result in no
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 8
A “rootless child” is Matthew‟s way of describing a student who is a product of an
educational system that does not recognize the past as a starting point for the present and
future. The complaint is that the current educational system uproots children from the
nourishing soil of their non-school culture and attempts to replace it with an artificial
culture that is manufactured by school policy makers who do not take into consideration
the complexity of the educational dynamic, a complaint that is corroborated by the IET
report. The result is that students are educated only to desire and appreciate the artificial
culture. This includes students who eventually become policy makers themselves,
policymakers who in their attempts at educational reform suggest changes based on
research into observed consequences of problems rather than their causes.
Transformative pedagogists act to involve students with the creation of curriculum,
asking students to share what they already know about a subject and how they came to
know it. Through sharing the answers to these questions, students find that their answers
are not always the same as those of their peers, which leads to further reflection and
generating of more questions. These sessions of validation, inquiry, and reflection are the
foundation for a process of collaborative curriculum development that helps give students
validation for what they already know and what they have already learned before entering
the class. These sessions also lead to research topics or paths of inquiry that generate
course content and helps students develop a sense of the value of dialogue, strengthening
their commitment and belonging to that part of their community that is the school as well
as encouraging a belief in the value of active participation in a democratic society.
Skills and voices develop out of a need to know and to act
Placed within the context of the need to know, students learn more readily. This is true
for any human. As mentioned earlier, students who are adults or becoming adults resist or
at least resent learning or schooling that does not seem relevant to their lives.
Transformative pedagogists listen to their students in order to find out what matters to
them and what they want to learn. Once students can find common ground, they can see
common problems or goals. This will lead to student-defined projects and activities
where what was play becomes work (Dewey, 1997). This is not to say there is no place
for play in the classroom, but the coherency of actions to goals that leads to satisfaction
has to be the result of the students discovering for themselves what they need to learn and
working together to create ways of achieving those goals.
The dominant theme that runs throughout Doll‟s A Post-Modern Perspective on
Curriculum (1993) is the complexity theory concept of self-organizing systems, or a self-
organizing process. Doll suggests how students, teachers, and “curriculum theorists”
might participate in a self-organizing process that is the “key ingredient in a post-modern,
transformative pedagogy” (p. 149). Doll cites a number of scholars and works from pre-
modern, modern, and post-modern times to make his case but relies mostly on the works
of Piaget, Prigogene, Bruner, Dewey, and Whitehead to construct a post-modern
“curriculum matrix” as an heuristic for others to consider.
Piaget‟s most important contribution to Doll‟s curriculum is the position that interaction
is necessary for growth. Doll begins his discussion regarding Piaget in relation to Piaget‟s
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 9
world view as a biologist. Piaget recognizes that living systems “assimilate and
accommodate” in an attempt to maintain balance within their environment. This leads to
discussion of Piaget‟s model of equilibrium (equilibrium-disequilibrium-reequilibration).
Doll makes the point that a biological model for human development is a more
appropriate model than that provided by Newtonian physics because the unique
characteristic of living systems is that they interact, that the parts that make up a living
system cannot be discussed in isolation from one another. They exist only in relation to
each other and in relation to the system as a whole.
Doll discusses Prigogene in the context of Prigogene‟s positions on chaos, self-
organizing systems, and his theory of dissipative structures. Prigogene challenges both
the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, though he challenges the Second Law
most directly. Whitehead, discussed later in this section, challenges the First Law more
directly. The First Law of Thermodynamics (that the total energy in the universe is
constant) is what makes the Second Law (that all processes manifest a tendency toward
decay and disintegration, with a net increase in what is called the entropy, or state of
randomness or disorder, of the system) possible. Both assume a closed system, one at
Prigogene‟s theory of dissipative structures challenges the Second Law because it states
that transformative change cannot take place in a closed system, one at or near
equilibrium. A closed system, at equilibrium, cannot participate in an energy-matter
exchange and remain at equilibrium, closed (the energy-matter exchange makes the
Second and First laws dependent on one another). But transformative change does take
place through dissipation. A classic example is photosynthesis where the Sun, dissipating
enormous amounts of energy, allows life to exist on Earth. Open systems, patterned after
biological structures, grow through interaction, while closed systems do not.
Bruner‟s contribution to Doll‟s discussion of self-organization stems from his models of
representation. That is, intellectual growth depends on a person‟s ability to represent the
world to himself or herself. To Bruner, growth is characterized six “benchmarks” (1966):
1. Intellectual growth is characterized by increasing independence of response from the
immediate nature of the stimulus.
2. Intellectual growth depends upon internalizing events into a “storage system” that
corresponds to the environment.
3. Intellectual growth involves an increasing capacity to say to oneself and others, by
means of words or symbols, what one has done or what one will do.
4. Intellectual development depends upon a systematic and contingent interaction
between a tutor and a learner, the learner already equipped with a wide range of
previously invented techniques that he teaches the child.
5. Teaching is vastly facilitated by the medium of language, which ends by being not
only the medium for exchange but the instrument that the learner can then use himself
in bringing order into the environment.
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 10
6. Intellectual development is marked by increasing capacity to deal with several
alternatives simultaneously, to tend to several sequences during the same period of
time, and to allocate time and attention in a manner appropriate to these multiple
In each benchmark, the need for interaction is required. Bruner discusses three forms of
representation to explain how a child moves from the first benchmark to the second, and
beyond. Enactive representation is the first form and it is based on the learning of
responses and forms of habituation. Iconic representation refers to principles of
“perceptual organization” and “economic transformations in perceptual organization”
such as techniques for filling in, completing, and extrapolating. Finally, symbolic
representation means representation in words or language. These forms allow increasing
agility in social interaction, “to go beyond the information given,” and to learn from
others, what Bruner considers the “most important and unique ability” humans possess.
Dewey‟s concept of process and his position on “reflective thinking” are what Doll
focuses on because Doll seeks to right what he considers a misinterpretation of Dewey‟s
position on the subject since it was presented at a time when modernist thinking in
curriculum development was not ready to understand it. Primarily, his concern – as was
Dewey‟s – is that educators focused on Dewey‟s thoughts on the importance of process to
the exclusion of his thoughts on product. That is, while Dewey never made a separation
between “psychological process and logical product,” curriculum implementers did. The
result was emphasis in schools on process to the exclusion of product.
Whitehead‟s “philosophy of organism” questions Newton‟s position that Nature is
composed of particles, that there exists some “irreducible brute matter” of which the
entire universe is composed. Whitehead‟s position was that instead of solid particles
Nature was composed of “a structure of evolving processes.” This was aligned with
quantum physics that was teaching that an electron does not follow a continuous path, but
rather “appears at a series of discrete positions in space which it occupies for successive
durations of time.” The implication here is that there is no physical continuity of linked
atoms to hold together a stable-state universe.
Doll‟s curriculum matrix consists of “four R‟s” (to replace the familiar “three R‟s” of
“Readin‟, „Ritin‟, and „Rithmetic”):
Richness refers to what Doll refers to as the “right amount” of indeterminacy, anomaly,
inefficiency, chaos, disequilibrium, dissipation, perturbations, and lived experiences.
Recursion refers to the ability to organize, combine, inquire, and use something
heuristically. Here Doll revisits Dewey‟s reflective thinking where a student‟s secondary
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 11
experience is a matter of reflecting back on primary experience to reconsider possible
Relations refers to (1) pedagogical relations, connections within the structure of a
curriculum, and (2) cultural relations, connections outside the curriculum, with the
community within which the curriculum is embedded.
Rigor refers to indeterminacy and interpretation. Indeterminacy refers to recognizing that
one can never assume that one “has it right.” One must constantly be looking for new
combinations, interpretations, and patterns. Interpretation refers to recognizing that
because all valuations depend on assumptions, that one must be looking constantly for
these assumptions and what they mean.
Teaching and learning are both individual and collaborative processes
Students need to discover that they are competent as individuals within the collective,
that they can contribute, but also that others can help achieve common goals. Also, since
finding similarities among differences is important to sustaining a democratic society,
teachers need to create or provide learning environments that allow for interactions with
others in order to support responsible participation in a democratic society.
Understanding and participating in this context is increasingly necessary as global
Gordon Wells and Gen Ling Chang-Wells (1992) conducted a three-year longitudinal
study of Toronto city students from four ethnolinguistic groups (Chinese, Greek,
Portuguese, and English). The researchers recognize that children from ethnilonguistic
minority backgrounds are disproportionately assessed as having learning disabilities
because they tend to lag behind their monolinguistic peers on criterion-based or
standardized measures of achievement. They point to earlier studies (Edwards and
Mercer, 1987; Cummins, 1984) that found that this lag is due primarily to the students‟
inability to communicate to teachers the problem they have in trying to adapt to the
culture of the monolinguistic (English-speaking-based) classroom. That English is not the
dominant language spoken in the home is not the underlying problem. The underlying
problem is that these children are not adequately prepared in the home for the demands
that are placed upon them in the culture of the English-speaking-based classroom. A
major aim of the study therefore was
To gain a better understanding of the way in which [children from ethnolinguistic
minority backgrounds] experienced the opportunities and demands of the
curriculum, as presented to them in classrooms in which English was the sole
medium of instruction, and how their different experiences were related to their
progress and achievement (p. 7).
As a practical matter, as well as an ethical one, the researchers felt the need to involve the
students‟ teachers in the project as much as possible. Therefore, a second aim of the study
was to encourage the development of “a community of literate thinkers.” The authors
suggest that a curriculum that supports such a community include five features:
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 12
the recognition of the active nature of learning, manifested in opportunities for
learners to set their own goals, plan and carry out the activities necessary to achieve
them, evaluate the consequences, and present the outcomes of their work to an
interested audience of peers.
the recognition of the social nature of learning, manifested in the encouragement of
collaboration between learners in all aspects of their work and in the guidance and
assistance provided by the teacher through conferences with individuals and groups
while tasks are in progress as well as when they have been completed;
the recognition of the affective foundation of thinking and learning, manifested in the
positive value accorded to empathy, curiosity, caring, and risk taking;
the recognition of the holistic nature of learning, manifested in the spontaneous
integration of information and strategies from the domains of language, science,
social studies, and mathematics in the interests of action that is purposeful and
the recognition of the central role of language both as the medium through which
learning takes place and as the means for collaboration and integration, manifested in
the encouragement of learners‟ purposeful use of their ethnolinguistic resources, both
spoken and written, as tools for thinking, cooperating, and communicating in relation
to the tasks that they undertake (p. 8).
Discussion of this study is relevant here because the circumstances the project
participants found themselves in can illustrate how teaching and learning are both
individual and collaborative processes.
For example, the researchers recognized that at least initially they were an intrusion in the
routine of the teachers, particularly those teachers who were not part of the study until
after the first year. The researchers developed a set of four conditions to support teacher
involvement. The first condition was to invite the teachers to explore their own research
questions and incorporate them into the study. The researchers even offered to videotape
“episodes of interest” for the teachers to help in their inquiries. The second condition was
that accepting the invitation to the first condition must be voluntary. The third condition
was to take the time to develop trusting, respectful relationships and to take the time to
meet to plan classroom activities that would generate the “episodes of interest,” discuss
data, and share analyses. The fourth condition was that all involved had to be willing to
learn. That is, the researchers had to be as willing to learn from what their teacher-
collaborators were showing them as the teachers were willing to learn about collaborative
research itself as a means of professional development.
The 1988 International Reading Association which was meeting in Toronto provided
participants with an opportunity to put together a symposium, consistent with the first
feature of a community of literate thinkers mentioned earlier (to “present the outcomes of
their work to an interested audience of peers”). In an effort to try to “capture the essence
of the occasion”, the authors recounted some of the teacher presentations at the
symposium. It is useful to summarize these presentations here to illustrate how the third
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 13
party in the project, the students, faired in the experience. It also useful to illustrate how
the student-teacher collaboration reflected the teacher-researcher collaboration.
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 14
The Administrator‟s Voice:
The School as Center of Inquiry
Note – Cooperative learning; collaborative research; schools should exist as microcosms
of the world in which students can learn, live, and practice democratic principles.
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 15
Teaching and learning are transformative processes
Again, according to McCaleb, “Knowledge is critiqued from social and personal
perspectives, with an emphasis on taking action. What is becomes what ought to be.”
How we think and act is based on how we know. How we know is inseparable from how
we communicate. The nature of the conditions under which we choose to learn is crucial
to how we create knowledge. Taking the previous concepts into consideration, actions we
take to transform how we learn and teach must include people outside the teacher-class
construct. That is, if we are who we are because of our previous dialogues, then by
discontinuing these dialogues, or their proxies, we do our students and ourselves a great
By inviting others from past and present dialogues into our classrooms, we can learn
what the cherished values and traditions of our communities are and how we are expected
to act as responsible members of those communities. Students can get involved in
ongoing community activities to internalize what it is to take responsibility in a
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 16
Transformative Pedagogy and Knowledge Networking
A transformative pedagogy is only applicable for widescale use through technology that
has only in the last decade or less become available to the general public. A
transformative experience takes place when a person‟s relationship with his or her
environment takes place through conscious, direct, and deliberate manipulation of that
environment. This is the stuff of epiphany, and the result is learning. A transformative
pedagogy is one that supports and extends these kinds of experiences for the student
throughout the academic term and instills or sustains the habits of this kind of activity
such that the student relies on proactive manipulation of the environment for successful
interaction in the world after the academic term is finished.
Distilling the theories of authors previously mentioned to the barest of principles,
transformative pedagogy requires the following elements:
1. Students must manipulate or interact with their environment in such a way that they
discover genuine problems and solutions on their own.
2. Students must then create, express, or display their solutions in order to appreciate the
power they possess within the environmental dynamic.
3. Finally, students must share their creative interpretations with others in a process of
evaluating, testing, and revising to appreciate that the power they possess within the
environmental dynamic is tempered within a social context.
4. The role of the instructor must be as a facilitator, organizer, or even a leader, but not
as the primary source of learning from which students drink in or soak up
Just as transformative theories of pedagogy that have existed for over one hundred years
have not automatically led to successful implementation on a wide scale, extranet
technology by itself does not guarantee said implementation either. Widescale positive
results will occur only when the two are joined.
Criteria for a transformative praxis combining transformative
pedagogical theory and extranet technology.
1. An apparatus to replace or supplement the classroom that defines the parameters of
the specific learning experience. This would be the extranet, an interactive virtual
space with resources and “windows” for participants to view choices of
environmental contacts and “doorways” to pass through to make that contact.
2. A wide range of environmental contacts or contact points for students to interact with
3. Workspaces where students can experiment with or manipulate their environment
after choosing contact points.
4. Display spaces where students can view, share, and discuss the results of their
5. Opportunity to continue with current manipulations, build on what peers have done,
or look for new environmental contact points whereby they can begin the process
Ortiz / Transformative Pedagogy / 17
6. The role of the instructor must be as a facilitator, organizer, or even a leader, but not
as the primary source of learning from which students drink in or soak up
The following is an analysis of transformative praxis criteria of several Web sites. It is
the goal of this analysis to further suggest to the reader that a praxis of transformative
theories of pedagogy combined with extranet technology can allow for widescale
implementation of the kind of educational reform that has eluded public education for
over a century in this country.