Pedagogical Judgment

I’ve spent a lot of time at math teaching conferences over the past few years. It’s left me a bit cynical about professional learning. Of all the sessions I’ve been to, only a handful have changed my practice. And many times I’ve been the person up front presenting. What have I been doing with all that time and energy?

This summer I learned about the idea of pedagogical judgment via Darryl Yong at PCMI. Ilana Horn and Sara Campbell write in their paper:

Teachers need frameworks to work nimbly in the commonplace situation where students do not respond to activities as expected. For this reason, our learning goal was for novices to develop pedagogical judgment. Perennial puzzles of teaching – whom to call on, how much time to spend on a topic, whether to proceed with a lesson as written or attend to an unanticipated student misunderstanding – often have indeterminate answers and rely on teachers’ pedagogical judgment built on their situated knowledge of their particular teaching context. Pedagogical judgment is at the very heart of ambitious teaching practices.

[A] hallmark of sophisticated pedagogical judgment is ecological thinking about the classroom. That is, teachers accomplished in ambitious instruction reason about situations in ways that keep in mind the interconnectedness among things like classroom climate, teaching moves, student participation, mathematical activities, and student learning.

Horn & Campbell, 155

Here’s a tension I’d love to explore. In professional learning spaces, presenters try to get some idea across to teachers. But teachers aren’t blank slates; we come in with beliefs about learning, knowledge of our students, and knowledge of our context. How can professional learning engage productively with the ideas that teachers bring with them?

I think of pedagogical judgment as a core part of what makes the teaching profession unique. Nothing anyone shares at a conference works everywhere. Teachers need to adapt ideas to their context and the practicalities of their classroom. If we see teachers and classrooms as interchangeable, we share ideas in ways that assume teachers can apply them regardless of context. But if we respect the knowledge that teachers bring to professional learning spaces and build learning from that knowledge, we recognize how critical it is that teachers apply sound judgment in bringing new practices into their classrooms.

Are there professional learning spaces that value pedagogical judgment? What do they look like?

11 thoughts on “Pedagogical Judgment

  1. Geoff

    I’d agree that it’s rare that a single conference session changes practice. That’s not really why I go to ’em. I consider a session a success if it introduces an idea that can be expanded on at a later date. I always make sure to provide follow up materials via a print out or online as I feel that’s where practice will (eventually) change. Or not.

    1. dkane47 Post author

      That makes total sense! I don’t think it’s reasonable to ask every conference presenter to change. But I also wonder about structures at conferences — building in time for reflection or followup conversations, encouraging teachers to come as teams. I’m sure there are other awesome things different conferences are doing too.

    1. dkane47 Post author

      I just came up in a casual conversation, it wasn’t part of the program this summer. I’d love to engage with that — and there is more on pedagogical judgment in the article linked above.

  2. Xavier

    Here (Spain) it is the same: most of all training seminars are bad, very bad. We don’t learn anything useful. I have learned more hearing #MTBoS comunity than attend to this courses.

  3. teachmathculture

    I hope this is an example: Nadav Ehrenfeld and I (and others on our team!) have been delving into the ways teachers monitor pairwork and groupwork. We broke their monitoring into four micro-decisions and shared the representations with them. We asked them to reflect on the patterns they see and consider the ways these decisions shape students’ opportunities to learn mathematics:

    1. dkane47 Post author

      That’s awesome! It seems like an important element of centering pedagogical judgment might be to focus on moments when there is no script for a teacher to fall back on, and teachers have to make decisions in the moment. I think sometimes it’s easier to focus on other parts of classroom teaching that are easier to script and make decisions about ahead of time, and emphasizes a different conception of what effective teaching looks like.

  4. blaw0013

    A brief takeaway–conference presenters and others doing professional development for teachers should practice what they preach. Easy to say, harder to do. How do we engage the audience social, cultural, and academic funds of knowledge with the aim for a roomful of people to come to know what the speaker/teacher aims for?

    1. dkane47 Post author

      Yea that’s something I think folks hear over and over again in the PD world.

      Here’s one challenge I’m thinking about – it’s risky! It requires giving up control and accepting uncertainty. And that’s something that lots of folks who give PD, myself included, struggle with.


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