On Praxis: Making teaching “real”

Thinking is easy, acting is difficult, and to put one’s thoughts into action is the most difficult thing in the world.
– Johanne Wolfgang von Goethe

How do we take our teaching to the next step? From mere classroom activity and into the wide, open world?

The world is changing so fast, we don’t even know for what world we are preparing our students who will graduate many years away. Isn’t it imperative that we invoke the “now” and put “purpose” into our classrooms? If not now, when? If we don’t effect change through our students, if we don’t get them changing the world and “doing”, isn’t all our knowledge and teaching but puffery and dross?

Praxis is a word that came up over the last few weeks in my classes. A number of teachers didn’t seem to get it, so I thought I’d write something and clarify my own thoughts about this.

To me, praxis has always been “informed action”. Thought put into action. This is certainly how Paolo Freire, the biggest proponent of “praxis” defined it. He said,

“It is not enough for people to come together in dialogue in order to gain knowledge of their social reality. They must act together upon their environment in order critically to reflect upon their reality and so transform it through further action and critical reflection.”

Crucial to this process is the realization that acting in the world is not an end of thought/knowledge/reflection, rather it is the start of more informed thought/knowledge/reflection. A truly constructivist theory of knowledge that says to all progressive educators – “if you are just being constructivist in the classroom (and your teaching has no purpose, no outside force/life), you are not constructivist, just cardboard.”

The Greeks took praxis as a form of knowledge that could not but lead anywhere but into action and into  “the practical”.   In a sense, this spirit has shone some light in ELT. We have ESP courses, we have “communicative teaching”, we have “life skills English” etc…  However, I’m not so sure we’ve really done much in terms of praxis – rather just pretended to point outside the classroom rather than go “into the world” and “enact”.

In language teaching, we play the part of “the teacher” so well. We stand and deliver, state rules and exceptions, collect assignments. But isn’t it all kind of a shadow dance, a pantomine? That unless we impact the world and our students use the word in the real world – we are just spinning our wheels and “pretending” (but collecting our paycheck).

This is where technology, the power of connecting people that is available now, steps in. We don’t need to shadow box in our classrooms anymore. Lets bring the world into our classrooms. Let’s take our students out into the streets. Here’s a previous post I have about using “live cams”. I also offer this video of a brave teacher skyping in his parents into his class. Wow! Talk about “praxis”. The Granny Cloud is also an inspiring example.

In addition, two educators I highly value in terms of how they hold up the flag of praxis are Alan November  and Kiernan Egan. Look at both their projects and how they make learning purposeful and relevant to the real world.  Let’s try in our own way to knock down the walls of our classes and schools. However, we can. Let’s embrace “Praxis” as part of our teaching philosophy and orientation. Join me…..

If you liked this post – you may enjoy my page of resources/videos on educational thinkers.

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Teacher trainer, technology specialist, educational thinker...creator of EFL Classroom 2.0, a social networking site for thousands of EFL / ESL teachers and students around the world.

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