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Talking about a Revolution

The Languages of Educational Reform

Jacqueline Cossentino

Publication Year: 2004

Talking about a Revolution tells the story of school reform from the perspective of teachers engaged in it, illuminating the complexity of teachers’ roles in transforming policy into practice. Al, Brian, and Camille teach at a large, comprehensive high school in a suburb of a major mid-western city. They use the languages of educational reform to inspire new ways to think about teaching, to shield themselves from the confusion of contradictory understandings of reform, and to construct a shared understanding of what reformed teaching might mean.

Published by: State University of New York Press

Title page, Copyright page

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pp. ix-xii

The current era of educational reform calls for nothing less than a “revolution” in expectations for student learning and teaching practice (Cohen, McLaughlin, and Talbert, 1993; Elmore, 1990; Graham, 1995; Guthrie, 1990). This call is issued with a powerful and prescriptive (if not always coherent) rhetoric. Instruction should be student centered as well as direct; content should be accessible to diverse ...

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pp. xiii-xiv

Writing a book can be a profoundly lonely experience, but I would not have been able to do it were it not for many people who contributed their time, expertise, and love. I am grateful, first, to the students, faculty, and administrators of Oakville High School. Most especially, I am indebted to Al, Brian, and Camille for allowing me access to their lives as teachers. Their candor and generosity made ...

PART I. Introduction

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ONE. Teaching and Meaning

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pp. 3-20

This book is about the role of symbolic action, particularly language, in educational reform. It tells the stories of three teachers, all self-described reformers, all in the midst of revolutionizing their teaching, all straining to transform the public call for reform into the private practice of their classrooms. I characterize this strain as a quest to make reform meaningful; it is a quest that is both revealed and ...

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TWO. How Reform Means

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pp. 21-32

In concentrating on the role of language in making reform meaningful, I am positing a dynamic and developmental relationship between the public social languages of reform and private, pedagogical action. For well over a decade research on policy and practice has attributed the halting progress of instructional reform to teachers’ failure to grasp the “inner intent” (Sykes, 1990) of reforms ...

PART II. The Languages of Educational Reform

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THREE. Exhibition as Test

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pp. 35-48

For many teachers, understanding the concept of exhibition begins with the interpretation of exhibition as test. The literature most prominently defines exhibition as an “exit event” (Sizer, 1984), and for many, this image aligns with the traditional final exam. Al, Brian, and Camille made this connection as well. They often compared exhibitions to tests or exams and, in the classes I observed, all ...

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FOUR. Exhibition as Pedagogy

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pp. 49-66

The interpretation of exhibition as test is closely tied to that of exhibition as pedagogy. For Al, Brian, and Camille, assessment is an important piece of their teaching, and they found that exhibition brought the two even closer together. When they thought of exhibition as standing for the whole of their teaching (as distinct from their approaches to assessment or the content of their courses), they were almost ...

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FIVE. Exhibition as Curriculum

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pp. 67-78

If the interpretation of exhibition as pedagogy represents both a deeper and a more abstract understanding of the practice than that of exhibition as test, exhibition as curriculum is even more elusive, but for different reasons. Where the strain in understanding exhibition as pedagogy seems to revolve around an unwieldy array of purposes—freedom, expression, individualism, self-esteem—exhibition ...

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SIX. Exhibition as Rite of Passage

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pp. 79-94

As the three previous chapters demonstrate, teachers ascribe multiple understandings to the concept of exhibition. Often, those understandings overlap, seeming to be parts of a whole rather than distinct theories. At times they are also contradictory. Each implies a different purpose for schooling and a different role for teachers. Reconciling those differences, it turns out, is a chief task of Al, Brian, and Camille. ...

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PART III. Teacher as Coach: Revising Roles, Transforming Practice

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pp. 95-98

As I hope the previous chapters demonstrate, the roles of gatekeeper, curriculum maker, and facilitator resonate for all three teachers, despite the tendency for each to gravitate toward one or another. In fact, I view these roles less as distinct identities than as dimensions of the overarching role implied by the CES slogan “teacher as coach.” In various ways, each teacher is attempting to act out a version ...

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SEVEN. Teacher as Designer

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pp. 99-106

What does designing have to do with coaching? In this chapter I argue that designing entails the foundational skills of teachers who aim to be coaches. I also propose that the role of designer or “curriculum maker” (Clandinin and Connelly, 1992; Schwab, 1969) presents special challenges for teachers because it implies both a modified view of curriculum and a new understanding of practice. Implicit ...

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EIGHT. Teacher as Manager

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pp. 107-116

When teaching and learning revolve around personalized “projects,” meaning most students are working independently, familiar challenges of classroom management assume new dimensions. Traditional measures of successful classroom management—time-on-task, productivity, civil interactions between students and teachers—are undermined when the teacher is no longer the primary source of ...

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NINE. Teacher as Critic

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pp. 117-126

McDonald opens his 1992 study of the “uncertain” profession of teaching with a brief description of coaching: “As soon as I finished teaching the first class ever taught, I asked my supervisor what he thought. He told me he thought I had taught as if speaking from the next room through a tube. He was a good coach. With a single sentence, he oriented me toward the real thing” (p. 1). The ...

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TEN. Conclusion: Policy, Practice, and a New Role for Language

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pp. 127-134

In examining how teachers talk about the “revolutionary” practice of exhibition, I have attempted to illuminate the conceptual complexity of the process of reform and the function of language in making sense of that complexity. Al’s, Brian’s, and Camille’s talk reflected the multiple agendas evident in public as well as private discourse about education. What has variously been labeled “competing ...

APPENDIX A. Methodology

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pp. 135-144


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pp. 145-154


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pp. 155-156


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pp. 157-166


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pp. 167-169

E-ISBN-13: 9780791485439
Print-ISBN-13: 9780791460191
Print-ISBN-10: 0791460193

Page Count: 184
Illustrations: 1 table, 1 figure
Publication Year: 2004

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Teacher effectiveness -- United States -- Case studies.
  • School improvement programs -- United States -- Case studies.
  • Teachers -- United States -- Attitudes -- Case studies.
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