Locating Performance in Pedagogy

Philosophy has a radical way of approaching and dealing with knowledge – for instance, it tries to overcome doctrines which do not question themselves and to compensate for the progressive drift of using and expanding knowledge only technically. Philosophy tries to understand the world . . ..  From: Lucian Ionel

As Lucian Ionel notes, this is an important part the philosophical method of Gregory Loewen’s Hermeneutic Pedagogy.  It’s yet another way of looking at the educational process and noticing what normally flys under the radar.  Loewen’s method seems to be categorizing pedagogy into three classes: Hexis, Praxis and Phronesis.  These 3, along with Episteme and Techne, form the intellectual foundation of Greek philosophical thought.  Episteme is concerned with aspects of knowledge and Techne is about craft or skills in production, both important, but Hexis, Praxis and Phronesis seem to make up the the core ideas of Loewen’s educational processes. I’m studying his approach and think that it might fit the direction of my recent thoughts about performance assessment.  This post is preliminary, about how my previous thought might map onto Loewen’s basic framework.

The specific analysis that Loewen pursues is decidedly Marxist and I do not share this approach.  For instance in Helix (introduced below) Loewen focuses on the reproduction of capitalist repression.  It’s true that current problems with inequality are an supported by the reproduction of a political economy, (see the Piketty discussion everywhere on the web these days), but I want to focus on the need for reproduction if we are to have any kind of culture.  We can discuss what should not be reproduced, but to stop reproduction would mean stopping culture itself.  Praxis also has a Marxist interpretation in Loewen and it has been a term with a substantial history in Critical Theory, but again, extension can be more than just a method for resistance.  Extension (as praxis) and phronesis (as wisdom) can be seen as the way in which culture remains a living and growing entity, able to adapt to current and future challenges.  Thus, I like Loewen’s analytic framework, I just disagree with it narrow NeoMarxist interpretation.  Indeed, it is possible that by extending this framework to approach all aspects of a complex and multifaceted culture based reality, it may be able to reflect back and re-approach it’s original intent from a more productive direction; though it is not my intention to pursue this.


I will key Helix as repetition and re-production.  It focuses on the passing of cultural knowledge.  In current educational practice, think of Helix as represent the standardized curriculums associated with No Child Left Behind and the Common Core.  These curriculum represent the basic knowledge that is expected by all citizens (re-production) and is (at least partially) achieved through memorization and direct instruction; pedagogy that is high in repetition.  Many current educational practices can be represented by Helix.


Praxis, generally understood as practice,  here is keyed as extension.   Think of representing applied knowledge that expands and changes according to the contexts and needs of practice; the learning necessary for practical performance.  This is often considered learning transfer, but in the wake of social cultural learning theory I think of this as extending by adding new learning.  This is not emphasized in current educational practice.  You can see it in activities such as creative writing, service learning or project-based learning, but it is often conceived as an after thought, not as a core educational component.

There are 2 things that should be  included in praxis education to make it more of a core goal of educational practice.  First, at this level you still want to provide lots of structure to these activities and to link them to existing curriculum.  Educational scaffolding can be used as the glue that links the curriculum to the activity structure.  Secondly, bring measurement into these performance activities. Measurement is a core component to education practice.  The inability to satisfactorily measure performance-based practice hurts its standing.  This means development not only in educational practice, but also development in educational measurement.  Note – This does not mean standardized assessment as currently practiced.  See this post on Ontologically Responsible Assessment for more info.


Phronesis is often translated as practical wisdom and it is the second part of my take on performance-based learning.  This is what I consider to involved higher levels of cognitive learning as well as what is often considered character education.  This certainly includes the higher levels of Bloom’s taxonomy, but broken down into more socially relevant skills that are more practice oriented and more socially oriented.  Bloom’s categories are overly individualistic and do not include socially interactive and practice relevant abilities that are becoming increasingly important for today’s workforce.  This is even more true of Bloom’s Affective and Psychomotor Domains which are more closely based on outdated behavioral theory.

Some of the qualities and cognitions to include are: problem identification and solving, creative thinking, situated strategic thinking, self-motivation, persistence, resilience, metacognition and self-directed learning, collaboration, effective situated communication and the ability to form strategic relationships.  For me this is similar to the Praxis level, but it is more open ended and with less structure and less dependence on specific curriculum.  At the praxis level, scaffolding was more knowledge based and emanated from standard curriculum.  At the Phronesis level, we’re moving toward a more skill and abilities foci.  Scaffolding at this level are more socially oriented and come from teachers or peers.

This Phronesis level asks a student to explore self-knowledge; not to just use knowledge in a technical sense, but also in a consciously creative and moral fashion.  This is Lucian Ionel quoting Loewen:

What is gained through this process is what we call self-knowledge: “Phronesis sees through the practicality of repetition and extension by seeing them as rationalizations for the world as it has been. In its subtle but forceful presence, the wisdom of reflective practice asks us to stand outside of the dominion of discourse, the caveat of custom, and move ourselves into the brightest human light of self-understanding anew.”

Where helix and praxis can be scripted (at least to a certain sense in praxis) phronesis is open-ended and reflexive.  It leads to process questions such as: Why is it this way; how have we arrived at this point?  What does or does not make sense here?  Can things be different?  How would you scale a new approach?

These skills and abilities are some of the most important personal qualities in personal success, but fall mostly outside of current educational practice.  They are not only the most difficult to measure, but measures tend to serve different purposes in the educational process.  The overall process is more relational and less mechanistic than at either the Helix or Praxis levels.  These measures must be concieved in more of a joint dialogical nature and less of an automated and behavioral fashion.  This does not mean that we give up on scientific objectivity or become less empirical in measurement.  But it does mean that we do not allow narrow definitions of empirical objectivity to constrict the construct we want to measure.  Narrow (and more traditional) measures represent the “doctrines which do not question themselves” and are the ones who fail “to compensate for the progressive drift of using and expanding knowledge only technically” which Ionel mentioned in the leading quote.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *