There is a consensus that the action-reflection model has been the most influential mentoring model in Norway. The model has been developing since the 1980s with Handal and Lauvås (1983, 1990) as originators. The model became the guide for a whole generation of Norwegian mentors (Skagen 2004:31) through the national plan for counselling studies in Norwegian university colleges. Of particular note is the model’s influence on early childhood educators starting in the early 1990s (Carson and Birkeland 2009).
The model was developed during a time when mentors were facing criticism for taking too much control over the student teachers’ practicum. It was assumed that the student teachers had to follow the mentor’s wishes, since the final certification of teacher candidates was ultimately the mentor’s decision. As a result, some were of the opinion that the teacher education primarily produced dependent teachers (Skagen 2004:31). The action-reflection model was hence developed as a counterbalance to a hierarchical tradition of apprenticeship, which was central in the Norwegian teacher education through to until the late 1980s. This apprenticeship model emphasized the master’s work as an example to be imitated (Carson and Birkleland (2009: 68). Characteristics
“Practice theory” is an important term in the action-reflection model. It can be defined as the values, experiences and knowledge that determine the person’s actions or plan of action. “Practice theory” refers to every person’s subjective notion of practice and preparedness for practice. With the term, Lauvås and Handal (2000) assume that every person has a personal, cognitive action strategy which builds on knowledge and experience with other people. These strategies and ideas are arranged according to values that we consider relevant. For most people the practice theory is rather cluttered, random and filled with discrepancies.
The focus of the mentoring is on helping the mentee become better at understanding her own practice theory. The mentoring focuses on the theory behind the practice. The goal is to create awareness about core values that direct our actions. The mentee can achieve an increased understanding of these core values when asked to justify and explain her own actions. A greater awareness of what the theory consists of makes it possible to expand the mentee’s repertory of actions. Since the core values in practice theory are often contradictory, it is essential to create self-awareness in the mentee.
Questions such as what we stand for as professionals or what the values are behind our actions, can contribute to strengthening our professional identity. Carson and Birkeland (2009:72-73) describe practice theory as follows:
– “Practice theory” is ever-changing because we continue to make new experiences. This may lead to a change in values, even though values have a tendency to be more resistant to change than knowledge.
– Everyone has a “practice theory”, even those who are new to professional life.
– “Practice theory” is largely unconscious and difficult to formulate. People are often unaware of the values that guide their actions.
– “Practice theory” is often incoherent, and the values can be in opposition to each other.
In the action-reflection model, the focus is on planned, formalized mentor-mentee conferences, as opposed to the apprenticeship model, where the focus is rather on informal mentoring in the ongoing daily interaction. The mentoring is based on the mentee’s expressed needs, and the mentee is usually asked to develop a mentorship plan for practicum. This is a document that will help both mentor and mentee prepare the mentoring.
Originally the model was geared towards the mentoring of student teachers regarding topics related to teaching. Today, the model is also used in the mentoring of experienced teachers, and the mentoring varies depending on how long the teacher has been teaching. Newly certified teachers, for instance, might need mentoring to acquire a clearer professional identity. More experienced professionals might use mentoring to avoid stagnation and burn out (Carson and Birkeland 2009:72-75).
Theoretical sources of inspiration
Handal and Lauvås describe the action-reflection model as humanistic and dialectic. Amongst the authors that inspired them was Ole B. Thomsen. Thomsen argued that student teachers should be joint participants in developing the criteria for good teaching. They were also influenced by Carl Rogers’ ideas of self-realization and personal growth (Skagen 2004: 32). Donald Schön’s emphasis on the teacher’s capability to reflect over her own actions is yet another inspiration for the model.
The action-reflection model has been criticized for several reasons. Firstly, some believe that the model serves to weaken the mentor’s professional authority because of the focus on dialogue.Secondly, some question whether there is too much emphasis on individual differences and preferences, and not enough emphasis on the ability to adapt to the specific mentoring tasks. Thirdly, some suggest that the theoretical basis for the model is unclear. By emphasizing reflection, we might lose the focus on proper actions. The model will also favour students with good verbal skills (Skagen 2004: 124). Søndenå (2004:16) finds it problematic that all practical theories are considered equal. In our eagerness to develop the mentee’s ability to reflect, we might forget what should be the purpose of our reflection.
– Carson, Nina og Åsta Birkeland (2009). Veiledning for førskolelærere. Kristiansand: Høgskoleforlaget
– Handal, Gunnar og Per Lauvås (1983). På egne vilkår: en strategi for veiledning med lærere. Oslo: Cappelen. Revidert utgave fra 1999 er tilgjengelig i full versjon.
– Handal, Gunnar og Per Lauvås (1990). Veiledning og praktisk yrkesteori. Oslo: Cappelen. Hele boken elektronisk
– Skagen, Kaare (2004) I veiledningens landskap. Kristiansand: Høgskoleforlaget.
– Søndenå, Kari (2004). Kraftfull refleksjon i lærerutdanningen. Oslo: Abstrakt forlag.