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In search of the teachable moment: A study of teacher autonomy, judgement and intuition

Knight, Benjamin



Aspects of teaching, such as those relating to curriculum development and the protocols of the teaching cycle (planning, delivery, assessment) receive much attention in literature and are regularly the focus of evaluation. Somewhat neglected by comparison is the subject of teacher action in the moment; the teachable moment (TM). Analysis of ‘delivery’ has tended to focus on the organisation of learning: didactic or dialogic, whole-class or groups, transmission or discovery for example, and is often closely linked with theoretical perspectives on learning such as constructivism and social constructivism and general principles of classroom management.
However, discussion of these approaches can easily overlook the detail of how teachers operate from moment to moment and exercise their professional judgement and intuition during the flow of classroom activity. Whatever the approach or strategy, teaching and learning can be unpredictable. This study looks at the dynamic nature of teaching and learning and how teachers negotiate solutions, guide learners and respond to uncertainty, idiosyncrasies and contextual factors in everyday practice; Teachable Moment Behaviours (TMBs). It examines factors, at classroom, institutional and societal levels, which influence TMs and TMBs.
The study examines teacher action, firstly through the theoretical lenses of Structurism, Agency and Power and later using Csikszentmihalyi’s concept of Flow and ideas about professionalism, intuition and judgement. It draws on the experience of three current primary school teachers as they reflect on their own professional practice, and analyses how teacher autonomy, judgement and intuition, which guide much of classroom discourse, can be easily undermined by the instruments of surveillance and scrutiny to which teachers are routinely subjected. The conclusions acknowledge that much of the expertise of the teacher lies in these skills, and makes recommendations about how teachers can preserve and develop them.


Knight, B. In search of the teachable moment: A study of teacher autonomy, judgement and intuition. (Dissertation). University of the West of England

Thesis Type Dissertation
Keywords teaching, autonomy, professionalism, intuition, judgement,
structure, agency