The role of canonical narratives of practice in shaping workplace learning

Carey Philpott

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


This paper reports on research into the ways that canonical (Bruner 1991) narratives of professional practice shape what, and how, participants learn from their professional practice. The paper develops Wertsch's model of socioculturally situated narrative templates as ‘co-authors’ (Wertsch 2008a) of personal narratives of experience. These narrative templates have a tendency to be "transparent" (Wertsch 2009: 130) in that "they are largely inaccessible to conscious reflection" (2008b: 49) and "those who use them typically do not recognise their power to shape the interpretation of events" (Wertsch 2007:30). In this way they act as an 'invisible infrastructure' for the professional learning that takes place. The specific context of this paper is the learning during school placements of students on a PGCE course at an English university. The data included in the paper are transcripts of conversations between student
teachers, school based mentors and university based tutors as they collectively make sense of, and therefore learn from, episodes of teaching in which they have all participated. The paper outlines how this data was initially used to develop Wertsch's framework for application to the specific context of
professional learning in schools in England. The paper then uses the data to explore the processes by which narrative templates (or canonical narratives) of professional practice "shape the interpretation of events". In this process of shaping the interpretation of events they construct a view of legitimate
professional knowledge and practice and construct a professional identity for the beginning teacher. At the same time the 'invisible infrastructure' of the narrative template excludes other possible constructions of professional knowledge, practice and identity.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Event8th International Researching Work and Learning Conference, University of Stirling - , United Kingdom
Duration: 19 Jun 201322 Jun 2013


Conference8th International Researching Work and Learning Conference, University of Stirling
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom


  • canonical narratives
  • Wertsch
  • workplace learning

Cite this