Metaphors we teach by
Uncovering the structure of metaphorical lay theories of teaching
Teaching is a complex activity that people often discuss metaphorically, as when a professor is described as a sculptor molding impressionable students. What do such metaphors reveal about how people conceptualize teaching? Previous work has addressed related questions largely via researcher intuition and qualitative analyses of teacher attitudes. We sought to develop a more principled method for mapping the entailments of metaphorical concepts, using teaching metaphors as a case study. We presented participants with one of four common metaphors for the teacher-student relationship (identified in a preliminary study) and asked them to rate the degree to which a series of teacher attributes fit the metaphor. We then used iterated exploratory factor analysis to identify a small number of dimensions that underlie people’s conceptions of teachers and examined whether the metaphors systematically differed along these dimensions. We found that teaching metaphors bring to mind distinct, coherent clusters of teacher attributes and different intuitions about teacher responsibility and power – a finding we replicated in a larger, pre-registered follow-up study using a new set of participants. This work provides a novel method for mapping the entailments of metaphorical concepts and sets the stage for educational interventions centered on shifting lay theories of teaching.
Keywords: metaphors, lay theories, concepts, teaching
Published online: 08 September 2021
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