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You Have to do Something New: Learning Teaching as an Interpretive Process

Acknowledgement and Author Bios

Etta Ruth Hollins, PhD


We would like to acknowledge the powerful influence of Dr. Etta R. Hollins, whose scholarship and mentorship led all of us to develop understandings of the importance of rethinking processes of teacher education to better serve urban and African American students. Dr. Hollins is Professor Emeritus at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Her corpus of work on urban education is world-renowned and has won her numerous prestigious awards including the American Educational Research Association Fellows Award (2018) and Lifetime Achievement Award (2016), and the Outstanding Book Award from the American Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (2016).

Author Bios:

Kindel Turner Nash, PhD

Dr. Kindel Nash is an associate professor of early childhood education at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and a former pre-K-8th grade teacher and literacy specialist in urban schools. Dr. Nash’s research explores critical issues in early literacy learning–particularly how issues of race, language, and culture interface with children’s school experiences.

Connor Warner, PhD

Dr. Connor K. Warner is an assistant professor of education at the University of Saint Mary in Leavenworth, KS, and a former high school English and social studies teacher. Dr. Warner’s primary scholarly agenda centers on the interplay of teacher education policy, curriculum, and assessment—while his secondary research interests include issues of curriculum and representation in English and social studies education.

Ekaterina Strekalova-Hughes, PhD

Dr. Ekaterina Strekalova-Hughes is an assistant professor of urban teacher education/early childhood education at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Dr. Strekalova-Hughes’ research focuses on the equitable education of refugee children.

Leah Panther, PhD

Leah Panther is an assistant professor of literacy education at Mercer University in Atlanta, Georgia. Her research, teaching, and community advocacy focus on adolescent literacy in culturally and linguistically diverse urban schools.

Rhianna Thomas, M.A.

Rhianna Thomas is a doctoral candidate and instructor of early childhood education at the University of Missouri, Kansas City. Thomas’ research interests include young children’s conceptions of race, and equity issues in early childhood education

The way education is cannot be how you teach. So, I mean, just hearing in no uncertain terms that we have to do something different. There are things that we can take in and that are still good, but really none of the models we see are exemplary, and we have to think in a completely different way. Because trying to integrate all of this different stuff we were learning . . . I was like, okay that sounds great, but how in the world would you do that? Because we never see it and it’s impossible right now. You have to do something new.

-Beverly, Teacher Candidate

Beverly[1], a teacher candidate, was student teaching in an urban high school when she remarked, “the way education is cannot be how you teach.” In her weekly journals she detailed dilemmas she faced: giving students choice in the classroom or stick to a one-size-fits-all curriculum? Use the provided resources to teach To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) or supplement the novel with diverse voices? For the predominantly African American students she taught, Beverly could not teach in the same ways she had seen modeled in her own life attending predominantly white, suburban, private Catholic schools. Within a different context, with different students, and different life experiences, Beverly knew “you have to do something new.”

In this post, we describe the ongoing process to name and enact something new—a way to prepare future teacher candidates for the complex work of teaching that does not replicate the traditional linear, process-product conceptualization of learning teaching, a paradigm Hollins (2015b) labels “learning teaching through representation and approximation of practice” (p. 15) (LTRAP). Learning teaching as representation and approximation is the traditional approach to teacher learning. In its simplest form, a more accomplished teacher provides a model of effective instruction that the novice replicates with guidance and feedback until it is mastered. Proponents of this approach include Grossman (2011), Lampert (2010), Rust & Clift (2015), and Zeichner (2016). However, as Beverly alluded to, there are serious challenges to this approach: limited models of good practice in urban schools and a lack of learning outcomes to prove the model’s effectiveness for urban and other underserved students (National Council of Education Statistics, 2017).

In contrast, we have taken up Hollins’ theory of learning teaching as an interpretive process (LTIP). Hollins (2011, 2015) asserts that teaching occurs in cycles of “planning, enacting, interpreting, and translating” known as the teaching cycle (2012, p. 84) (Figure 1). Teacher candidates complete teaching cycles in authentic settings, thus planning with specific learners in mind, enacting the plan to adjust for learners’ needs in the moment, interpreting learners’ responses, and translating the meaning of those responses for future lesson planning. Teaching is centered on adjusting to students’ responses to better facilitate learning, making the LTIP model promising for preparing teachers to foster high academic performance for African American students, who most often attend urban schools.

Figure 1. The Teaching Cycle (Hollins, 2015b).


Preparing teacher candidates to engage in the teaching cycle presents a different challenge: the candidates must be prepared to learn about their students and ways to adapt instruction to meet their contextualized needs. Shifting from relying on expert teachers to developing “habits of mind related to interpreting and translating knowledge about learning, learners, pedagogy, and subject matter into meaningful, purposeful, and productive learning experiences” requires new practices (Hollins, 2015, n.p.). Hollins (2015) recommends three epistemic practices—focused inquiry, directed observation, and guided practice. These practices help foster the “habits of mind” for teacher candidates to effectively actualize the teaching cycle.

According to Hollins, (2015b) focused inquiry includes “reading the research and theory that supports [a] particular area of practice; examining documented accounts and descriptions [of that area of practice]; and interviewing practitioners and participants” (p. 120). For example, candidates in a secondary literacy methods course might perform a focused inquiry on text selection by reading and discussing Tatum’s (2005), Teaching Reading to Black Adolescent Males, viewing and discussing videos from the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards’ (NBPTS) ATLAS (2018) database, participating in a #disrupttexts Twitter chat, and interviewing English teachers in local high schools.

After completing focused inquiry into a particular element of teaching practice, teacher candidates then complete a directed observation of teaching, noticing how specific elements of the topic of study are manifested, and, more importantly, how individual learners in that environment respond to instruction and make progress toward the intended learning outcomes. For example, after the focused inquiry into text selections, teacher candidates would visit classrooms in local high schools to gather information about instructional purposes, the texts used for those instructional purposes, and the learners’ responses.

Candidates then compare their directed observations to what they learned during their focused inquiry and consider how teaching practices for those specific learners in that specific context might be improved or adjusted to facilitate learning outcomes. Initially, an instructor facilitates discussion comparing what the candidates had observed to what they had learned in their focused inquiry, and considering possible ways instruction could be adjusted or improved in those specific contexts. For example, this may include identifying ways to mediate and adapt required texts, such as To Kill a Mockingbird (Lee, 1960), to include more agency and choice for students through a text set that pairs key excerpts of the required text with diverse authors, perspectives, and experiences across time periods, genres, and modes that also meet the learning goals.

Next, candidates engage in guided practice, attempting to enact a scaffolded “learning segment under the close supervision of an experienced teacher” (Hollins, 2015b, p. 120), with teacher candidates asking themselves the same questions about learners’ responses to their practice that they asked about others during directed observations. For example, once candidates develop an annotated text set, they would have an opportunity to work with a small group of learners in a literature circle to record the learners’ responses to the texts and questions they have about those responses. The lingering questions would lead to new focused inquiries into interrelated elements of teaching, and the cycle of epistemic practices continues, constantly generating new questions and new lines of inquiry.

“You Have to do Something New”

As colleagues, we have been investigating the use of LTIP across multiple urban teacher education programs across the United States (Warner et al, 2017). We’ve found teacher candidates who consistently engaged with LTIP’s instructional tools (Table 1) throughout their programs move from simplistic to more complex understandings of teaching. Furthermore, they analyze teaching in more context dependent ways deeply connected to students and student outcomes.

Beverly initially asked a question that represents many teacher candidate’s concerns about effective teaching: “how in the world would you do that? Because we never see it and it’s impossible right now.” We offer our experiences with LTIP as part of a commitment to preparing teacher educators to meet the contextualized needs of urban students—something new that students deserve.

Table 1. Tools for Learning Teaching as an Interpretive Process.


Grossman, P. (2011). A framework for teaching practice: A brief history of an idea. Teachers

College Record, 113(12), 2836-2843.

Hollins, E. R. (2011). Teacher preparation for quality teaching. Journal of Teacher Education,

62(4), 395-407.

Hollins, E.R. (2015a). Culture in school learning: Revealing the deep meaning. New York,

NY: Routledge.

Hollins, E. R. (2015b). Rethinking Field Experiences in Preservice Teacher Preparation:

Meeting new challenges for accountability. New York, NY: Routledge.

Lee, H. (1960). To kill a mockingbird. Philadelphia, PA: J.B. Lippincott & Co.

Lampert, M. (2010). Learning teaching in, from, and for practice: What do we mean? Journal

of Teacher Education, 61(1-2), 21-34.

National Board of Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS). (2018). ATLAS. Retrieved from

National Council of Education Statistics (2017). Our Nation’s Report Card. Retrieved from

Rust, F. O. & Clift, R. T. (2015). Moving from recommendation to action in preparing

professional educators. In E. R. Hollins (Editor). Rethinking Field Experiences in Preservice Teacher Preparation: Meeting new challenges for accountability. New York: Routledge.

Tatum, A. (2005). Teaching reading to black adolescent males: Closing the achievement gap.

Portland, ME: Stenhouse.

Warner, C. K., Nash, K., Thomas, R., Strekalova-Hughes, E., Panther, L., Atiles, J. (2017)

Reconceptualizing Context and Complexity in Teacher Education. The SoJo Journal. 2(1) 59-74.

Zeichner, K. (2016). Advancing social justice and democracy in teacher education: Teacher

preparation 1.0, 2.0, and 3.0. Kappa Delta Pi Record, 52(4), 150-155.

_______________________ [1] Pseudonym.

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