Thursday, May 01, 2008

Literature Review for a Metaphor Analysis of a Teacher's E-mail Correspondence with Parents About a Student


People use metaphors, consciously or unconsciously, to make sense of the world around them. The choice of metaphors indicates how the person perceives a situation. In teaching, a teacher may profess a particular ideology or philosophy, yet the metaphors the teacher uses in his/her daily discourse may contradict the conscious declaration. In this study, metaphor analysis is used with a teacher's email parent correspondence to see how her beliefs about education are enacted in written text to parents. The literature review will focus on an overview of metaphor analysis, metaphors in education, and how teacher's express their beliefs through metaphors.

Metaphor Analysis
Metaphors are Embedded in Language

Lakoff and Johnson's (1980) seminal work, Metaphors We Live By, changed the paradigm of how we think about metaphors. They say that the most fundamental values in a culture will be coherent with the metaphorical structures of the most fundamental concepts of the culture. However, the metaphorical structures are often under the surface of thought and action. Metaphor is primarily a matter of thought and action and only secondarily a matter of language. There are different categories of metaphors in language. Orientational metaphors organizes a whole system of concepts with respect to one another. For example, UP = HAPPY or MORE. Therefore, if something is cheerful, we say it is “uplifting” or a good day in the stock market would be called an “up trend.” Ontological metaphors show ways of viewing events, which casts the event as a thing. 
Many researchers agree with Lakoff and Johnson. William Taylor states, “Far from being a mere linguistic decoration, metaphor comes to be seen as a ubiquitous feature of our thinking and our discourse, the basis of the conceptual systems by means of which we understand and act within our worlds” (p. 5). Therefore the study of the use of metaphors is an important aspect of not only linguists, but anthropologists, philosophers, sociologists, historians, psychologists, counselors, and educators. Schmitt (2000) states, “The employment and linking of these metaphors is not a matter of chance, but an indication that patterns of thought, perception, communication and action that are consistent in themselves are here coming into play.”

Influence of Metaphorical Thinking
Not only are metaphors embedded in language and mostly unconscious, the way we use metaphors shape the way we think. Lakoff and Johnson (1980) state:
Many of our activities are metaphorical in nature. The metaphorical concepts that characterize those activities structure our present reality. New metaphors have the power to create new reality. This can begin to happen when we start to comprehend out experience in terms of a metaphor and it becomes a deeper reality when we begin to act in terms of it . . . much of cultural change arises from the introduction of new metaphorical concepts and the loss of old ones. (p. 145)

Therefore, recognition of the metaphor in use will lead to a better understanding of the person's reality. In attempting to change, a person need to imagine and articulate a new metaphor for him/herself.
Sfard (1998) agrees, “Different metaphors may lead to different ways of thinking and to different activities. We may say, therefore, that we live by the metaphors we use.” However, she goes on to contend that metaphors can have both favorable and unfavorable consequences. Metaphors allow abstract thinking to be possible, yet the same metaphor can also confine thinking.

Dominant Metaphors of Education

Metaphors have a strong influence on everyday thinking and action. It is no surprise that the metaphors used in education influence policy, curriculum, and classroom interaction. It is important to recognize the metaphors applied in order to understand the underlying belief and philosophies. Eilliott states:
Metaphors are widely used in educational discussion and fulfil a variety of functions, such as introducing fresh perspectives, making illuminating comparisons and contrasts, picking out kinds of phenomena not yet names, emphasis, illustration, enlivening dull writing, and many others. The vast majority of such metaphors are only transient waves in the sea of everyday educational reflection. (p. 39)

Marshall (1988), Aspin (1984) and Bullough (1994b) contend that the dominant educational metaphor in American education is that of the school as a workplace or factory. In this context, the student is the worker, the teacher the manager, and the principal the boss. Students are rewarded with grades for work completed and the focus of the school is on discipline and management of students, rather then learning. Both researchers site the historical basis of this metaphor in the Industrial Revolution and the stress on productivity.

Education as growth is another dominant metaphor for education, according to Elliot (1984). However he goes on to explain that in the 1960s a new metaphor of education as initiation was introduced by R. S. Peters in his inaugural lecture at the University of London and became one of the dominant metaphors through the seventies, though it no longer has the following it used to. 
In addition, Sfard (1998) believes that education is currently caught between two prevalent, yet seemingly confliction metaphors - acquisition verses participation. Under the acquisition metaphor, knowledge can be acquired and transferred or shared with others; its possession is highly prized. Lakoff and Johnson (1980) would view this under the metaphor MIND IS A CONTAINER, which can be filled. Learning as participation suggests a focus on process and knowing, activities and practice. However, each metaphor has something to offer education and to choose one over the other would create exclusivity and extremism. According to Sfard, neither metaphor can fully explain the complexities of learning and education must learn how to blend the two.

Teachers' Metaphors and Sense of Self 
A teacher's personal teaching metaphor, whether it is conscious or unconscious, guides the teacher's curriculum choices, interactions with students and parents, and sense of effectiveness as a teacher. Many researchers believe that a person's belief about education is based on personal experience and is well established before entering preservice training, though often unspoken (Munby & Russell, 1996; Martinez, A.M, Sauleda, N., & Huber, L.G., 2001). Prawat recommends that teachers not only understand their own metaphors of teaching but also how their metaphors are embodied in the classroom (Prawat, 1999, as cited by Martinez et al, 2001). 
Robert Bullough, a Professor of Teacher Education at Brigham Young University, has done extensive studies of pre-service teacher's personal teaching metaphors. When a teacher's personal teaching metaphor is in contrast to the institutional metaphor, the teacher must learn how to negotiate the conflict. In his 1991 initial study of fifteen preservice teachers, he asked the preservice teachers to articulate their beliefs of teaching through identifying a metaphor to describe the role of the teacher. However, once they began student teaching, he found that many students' metaphors were in conflict with dominant metaphors of the students, the cooperating teacher and/or the school environment. All had to negotiate their personal metaphors and the metaphors of the environment, which caused distress as their metaphors were being supplanted. Yet, others found ways to consciously build small experiences that matched their metaphors and felt more satisfied. Bullough (1992) continued to follow two of these teachers into their first year of teaching. One teacher, who had a strongly established teaching metaphor, searched for opportunities to express his true teaching self in a traditional setting, and, having rationalized his compromise, he ended the year feeling positive about himself and his profession. The other teacher was torn between her personal teaching metaphor and the perceived requirements of the situation and ended the year questioning her choice of profession. 
Carol Briscoe (1991) proposes that before a teacher can make significant pedagogical changes, the teacher must recognize the unconscious beliefs he/she hold and how these beliefs have been constructed from past experiences. In her study, the teacher wanted to make some significant changed to the way he taught, but found it difficult to embrace cooperative and constructivist learning. The teacher's actions often contradicted his professed goals in changing his teaching. Briscoe found that he had difficulty reconstructing his metaphors and underlying beliefs to match these new practices, therefore little change happened.

Briscoe, C. (1991). The dynamic interactions among beliefs, role metaphors, and teaching practices: A case study of teacher change. Science Education, 75(2), 185-199.
Bullough, R. V. (1991) Exploring personal teaching metaphors in preservice teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education, 42(1), 43-51.
Bullough, R. V. (1992) Beginning teacher curriculum decision making, personal teaching metaphors, and teacher education. Teaching and Teacher Education, 8(3), 239-252.
Bullough, R. V. (1994b) Digging at the roots: discipline, management and metaphor, Action in Teacher Education, 16(1), 1-10.
Elliott, R. (1984). Metaphor, imagination and conceptions of education. In W. Taylor (ed.) Metaphors of Education. London: Heinemann. 
Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Marshall, H. (1988). Work or learning, implications of classroom metaphors. Educational Researcher, 17, 9-16.
Martinez, A.M, Sauleda, N., & Huber, L.G. (2001). Metaphors as blueprints of thinking about teaching and learning. Teaching and Teacher Education, 17, 965-977
Munby, H. & Russell, T. (1996). Theory follows practice in learning to teach and in research on teaching. Retrieved April 24, 2008 from
Provenzo, E.F., McCloskey, G.N., Kottkamp, R.B. & Cohn, M.M. (1989). Metaphor and meaning in the language of teachers. Teachers College Record, 90 (4), 551-73.
Schmitt, Rudolf (2000, January). Notes towards the analysis of metaphor [16 paragraphs]. Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung / Forum: Qualitative Social Research [On-line Journal], 1(1). Available at: [Date of Access: April 24, 2008].
Sfard, A. (1998). On two metaphors for learning and the dangers of choosing just one. Educational Researcher, 27(2) 4-13.
Tobin, K. (1990). Changing metaphors and beliefs: A master switch for teaching? Theory into Practice, 29(2),122-127.