Definition of epistemology

  1. : the study or a theory of the nature and grounds of knowledge especially with reference to its limits and validity

Origin of epistemology

Greek epistēmē knowledge, fromepistanai to understand, know, from epi- + histanai to cause to stand — more at stand (Websters.)
First Known Use: circa 1856

Yesterday, as a sub-teacher, I taught a lesson to first-graders on a book about masks. The book had masks from Korea, Japan, Africa, the American Northwest and Mexico. From the pictures we were able to pick out the blue tile roofs common to Korea, the face of Buddha from Japan, the carved wooden mask of Africa and the eagle from the Native Americans, probably from Washington State. We were able to explore (briefly) geography, culture and nationalities. We talked about totem poles of the NA people and that eagles, bears, fish and mountain lions were all made into images. We discussed Dia De Los Muertos and what that was (Day of the Dead) and what masks students had worn on Halloween.

Touching briefly on the subjects brings the study of geography and culture into the classroom and adds an element of inclusion for students who come from those cultures. Although none  knew where totem poles came from, many of them knew all about costumes for Dia De Los Muertos. Students like to feel included in classroom activities and that their personal backgrounds count and matter. Also, that these cultures have value and merit and therefore, they have value and merit.

Relective practice is “A moving beyond the acquisition of new knowledge and understanding, into questioning [of] existing assumptions, values, and perspectives (Cranton 1996, p. 76). Four elements are central to critical reflection: assumption analysis, contextual awareness, imaginative speculation, and reflective skepticism (Brookfield 1988, p. 325). (Imel, 1998.) Reflective practice is central to my style of teaching. 

Diversity training that I have received over the years has given me a greater understanding and perspective on the vast array of cultures and nationalities that come together in this state in particular and this nation. It is not just enough to teach students that we live in California, and Oregon is north of us and Washington State is north of that. What does that mean and why is it significant? It is important to teach students more than just a bunch of facts. In order to develop a comprehensive schema and understanding of the world, students need to learn connectivity between the things that surround them.

Reflective practice in all classes should consider whether students are engaged in the material, interested in what they are learning and whether or not they are demonstrating increasing and developing command of facts and skills.

Educators have become familiar with the concept of reflective practice through Donald Schon’s (1983, 1988) writings about reflective practitioners. Schon’s work has an historical foundation in a tradition of learning supported by Dewey, Lewin, and Piaget, each of whom advocated that learning is dependent upon the integration of experience with reflection and of theory with practice.  (Osterman 1990). (Imel,1992.)

However, Osterman (1990) maintains that an important part of reflective practice is developing the ability to articulate that tacit knowledge. The competent practitioner must be able to 1) describe the event 2) analyze the event) theorize about it and 4) take action. And, again and again, the practitioner (teacher) has to ask himself or herself the question “Is this working with this class?

I was once a long-term sub for Job Corps in Sacramento. They had an expensive and complicated Reading 180 program. The class had an abundance of computers and tons of level reading books that should have been interesting to the students. The teacher had been extensively trained for the program. However; some smart psychologist decided the students lost interest easily, so a timer would ring every 15 minutes. Then, students had to get up and move to another work station. Great in theory and horrible in practice. Students hated the program, probably because they hated being herded around like cattle. The teacher nearly lost control of that class because of the negative emotional reaction from her students.

My personal epistemology would be that developing the whole mind schema is important for students in terms of how well they ultimately do on college entrance exams and also, for them to develop a well-rounded interest and curiosity in their world. Time and time again, I find students have more tucked up their sleeves than I would have thought. But, that information does not come out if I do all the talking. I once had a nine year old boy tell the class that the dinosaurs died because an asteroid hit the planet. He stole my line! Students need to become gradually more responsible in class for constructing their own learning and developing their own instruments for teaching others. Whether that be papers, Power Points or drama skits; students need to demonstrate their acquisition and command of knowledge their own way.

“Learning is the change in performance that results from experience and interaction with the world.” Students need to demonstrate what they learn. Standardized tests are one way to demonstrate learning, but they are not the only way and teachers need to develop tools in the classroom to assist their students in their ability to demonstrate their own learning. (Driscoll, 2005.)

Dweck talks about the mindset where students interpret their performance as a ‘setback’ or a ‘failure.’ Student who learn to evaluate their efforts as setbacks rather than abject failures are more likely to exercise persistence in the face of challenge. Students who ‘catastrophize’ every small thing into being a ‘big thing’ are more likely to give up and throw in the towel at the least little bump in the road. (Dweck, 2006.)

No large successes in school or any other endeavor will ever be accomplished without setbacks and it is our jobs as teachers to give students the permission to ‘reframe’ their reference points for self-evaluation and give themselves permission to ‘fail’ so that they will eventually succeed.


Driscoll, M. P. (2005). Introduction to theories of learning and instruction. In Psychology of     learning for instruction (3rd ed., pp. 1-15). Boston, MA: Pearson.

Dweck, C. S. (2006). Mindset: The new psychology of success (pp. 3-11). New York, NY: Ballantine Books.

Imel, S. (1992).  Reflective Practice in Adult Education.(Eric Digest No. 122. ED346319). Columbus, OH: ERIC. Retrieved from

Imel, S. (1998). Transformative learning in adulthood. (ERIC Digest No. 200 ED423426). Columbus, OH: ERIC. Retrieved from

Merriam-Webster: Dictionary and Thesaurus. Retrieved Internet: