Creating teacher community: research and practice in language teacher education

 Griechische Mythologie

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Three times since 1999, the University of Minnesota has organized a small, carefully planned opportunity for language teacher educators to meet—the International Conference on Language Teacher Education. 1 It is special for many reasons; due to its
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  1 Creating Teacher Community: Research and Practice inLanguage Teacher Education Martha H. Bigelow and Constance L. WalkerThe International Conference on Language Teacher Education Three times since 1999, the University of Minnesota has organized a small, carefullyplanned opportunity for language teacher educators to meet—the International Conference onLanguage Teacher Education. 1 It is special for many reasons; due to its size, it supports a great dealof exchange among participants, and it is focused, which generates in-depth conversation on issuesthat are most important to teacher educators. One of the main aims of the conference is toestablish an ongoing interdisciplinary dialogue between scholars and practitioners who often workin very different academic departments and educational settings. For instance, conference attendeesoften come from departments of Education, Linguistics and Foreign or World Languages. They areteacher educators preparing teachers for many diverse settings, including: ESL/EFL;foreign/modern/world languages; bilingual; immersion; indigenous and minority languages; andless commonly taught languages. This conference is a unique opportunity to pool the expertise of educators with the common goal of deepening our knowledge of language teacher development. Itis an exciting meeting to be a part of because it creates a forum for veterans and newcomers in thefield to share ideas of practice and research in teacher education.Creating Teacher Community was an apt title for the conference of 2003 for a number of reasons. In 2003, there were 256 participants from 31 states and at least 12 countries. A largenumber of the attendees presented papers and there was much participation by graduate students,both in attendance and presenting. Many said that it was exhilarating to be among others whoshare similar questions, challenges and passions. The conference hosted papers and symposia onvarious critical issues in language teacher education, encompassing themes that addressed thefollowing questions: What should language teachers know? How is language teacher educationaffected by formal and informal decision-making bodies? How do all members of the professionalcommunity join together to prepare teachers? How is the knowledge base conceptualized andoperationalized in teacher preparation and development?The papers in this volume all srcinated as presentations at the conference. The selectionprocess involved an editorial pre-selection of papers which were then sent out for blind review to anumber of recognized teacher educators. These chapters, with roots in different instructional  2settings, offer a window into many of the issues touched upon at the conference and suggestdirections for future discussions in the field of language teacher education. This volume is organizedaccording to three themes of the conference: a) The Knowledge Base of Language TeacherEducation, b) Social, Cultural, and Political Contexts of Language Teacher Education, and c)Process of Language Teacher Education. I. The Knowledge Base of Language Teacher Education  What do language teachers need to know and be able to do to conduct their practice? Howdo they learn to teach, and once they begin to practice their craft, how do their knowledge andtheir practice develop and change? What makes a language teacher an experienced practitioner?These questions and others related to socialization, professional development and the nature of disciplinary knowledge describe the knowledge base of teacher education. Constructing thisknowledge base has been the task of teacher development in second language education, but thenature of the knowledge base has differed somewhat for the various contexts in which secondlanguage teaching and learning takes place. Teacher preparation in foreign language, ESL, EFL,bilingual, and immersion education programs has followed separate paths, and only recently havewe seen the stakeholders communicating across boundaries in order to identify common purposesand common practices.Cochran-Smith and Lytle (1993) describe both knowledge-for-practice and knowledge-in- practice as key categories of teacher learning. Knowledge-for-practice describes the particularformal knowledge that is characteristic of teacher development: subject matter content,instructional strategies, and effective classroom practices. Generally knowledge-for-practice gets itsdirection from national professional curriculum guidelines for content areas, accreditationguidelines for teacher education programs, teacher certification program requirements at the statelevel, and unique characteristics of a particular post-secondary institution in terms of the way inwhich teacher development is structured. Knowledge-in-practice refers to a kind of knowledgeexperienced   through actual classroom contact with learners.   This “in practice” type of teacherlearning comes from “the particularities of everyday life in schools and classrooms,” (p.262) andvalues the experience of practitioners who live their work through daily action in the classroom.The ways in which teachers reflect on and modify their practice (Schön, 1987, 1991) ischaracteristic of the knowledge-in-practice paradigm. Most importantly in the field of teachereducation research, the voices of teachers have moved much more to center stage in the discussionsabout what makes sense for teachers to know and be able to do (Johnson, Golombek, & Richards,  32002; Sharkey & Johnson, 2003). Fortunately for second language education, teacher educators inour field have begun to examine the research on teacher development and have begun to explorethe extent to which the questions posed in that field generally can be applied to the varied contextsof teaching and learning language(s).In second language education, questions concerning knowledge-for-practice have dominatedthe field historically: which particular instructional practices produce and promote languagedevelopment/competence/proficiency? The field has, in fact, devoted decades to this question. Onlyrecently we have begun to address the questions raised by a focus on knowledge-in-practice : Whatdo effective teachers and learners do that promotes successful language development? What uniqueexperiences and interactions take place that foster successful language learning outcomes? What isthe unique interplay between language learning context, teacher, and learner and what canparticipants in other contexts take from these experiences?Content and curricular knowledge refers to the grounding of educators in contentknowledge and the ways in which knowledge is constructed. Teachers with content and curricularknowledge are able to make the content of the curriculum meaningful to learners. Pedagogicalknowledge is the ability of educators to plan, implement, and evaluate teaching and learning. Inthis volume, the researchers who contributed to the section focused on the teacher knowledge basepresent the complicated interplay between content/curricular knowledge required of teachers andthe pedagogical knowledge so important to successful teaching. They describe for us what theybelieve to be a mandate for language teacher education: the need to ensure that we as teachereducators, as well as our teacher-learners, engage in a reflective process that considers the widerimpact of language teaching, the multiple stakeholders whose voices need to be heard in theprocess and the unique context involved in any language instructional setting.Claire Kramsch has long been a strong voice for considering language teaching and learningin a cultural context. In her contribution as a keynote speaker to the conference, she took on thechallenge of examining language teacher education from its most global implications to what onesingle teacher might do in actual practice. Framing the task required of language teachers, ClaireKramsch and Paige Ware in their chapter posit “In a world of increased multilingualism andmulticulturalism, foreign language teachers seem to be called upon less to be authoritativetransmitters of linguistic or pragmatic knowledge, and more often mediators between variousidentities, discourses and worldviews. Language study is finding itself in the crossfire of politics andideology.” What does this mean for language teachers? Kramsch and Ware take on this question byexploring the challenges and the paradoxes in language teacher education, and ask us to consider  4what this might mean in our global society in which language and culture are often fluid andalways politically charged. They argue for giving language teachers a more critically grounded andsocio-politically sensitive knowledge base such that they might understand the large scaleimplications of their practice—“an awareness that reaches the global level of geopolitics.” Beyondthe immediate goals of language proficiency and cultural “competence,” language instruction thusserves a larger purpose, and language teachers need to be prepared from a knowledge base thatconsiders the learners’ need for bilingualism as well as society’s need for individuals with thecapacity for cross-linguistic, -cultural, -social, and -political boundaries. But are learners with us inthis goal? The authors cite one study (Chavez, 2002) indicating that “fifty percent of the studentsresented learning about culture in language classes altogether and resented even more being testedon cultural knowledge, as indicated by their comments that the course was one on language, notculture, and that culture should be separated from language class.” It is clear we have a tremendous job to do in our field. If researchers and teacher educators are calling for a larger canvas on which toimagine language teaching and learning, and half of our students dismiss the exploration of cultureas irrelevant to language study, there is clearly a vast divide in teacher versus learnerconceptualizations of what language learning should entail. The focus of our work as languageteacher educators is on the larger canvas, with “teachers called upon to be linguistic/culturalmediators, methodological mediators and professional mediators.” In Chapter 2, Kramsch and Ware consider the knowledge base as six different savoirs (knowledges) (Byram & Zarate, 1994),distributed across the three roles that teachers play, and delineate a “horizon of what languageteachers might hope to understand about themselves and their lifelong teaching goals within amulticultural society like the United States and a multilingual global world.”Discussions of what teachers need to know have been of interest to teacher educators foryears. Freeman and Johnson (1998) draw from the work of Kessels and Korthagen (1996) in orderto distinguish teachers’ conceptual knowledge (known as theory) and their perceptual knowledge(known as practice), applied to language teachers. In their framework, both types of knowledgeinform teachers’ practices. Freeman and Johnson argue against strict divisions between learning of subject matter and learning about learner. Instead, they see much interplay between the variousfacets of “the complex terrain in which language teachers learn and practice their craft” (p. 406).In this volume, Anne Dahlman argues that there has been little research on theinterrelationships between teachers’ learning processes and their beliefs about theoreticalknowledge. She explores the role of theoretical knowledge in preservice teachers’ learning aboutteaching and how a more careful examination of such processes and beliefs might help to explain  5the discrepancy between theory and practice so often witnessed in the language classroom. TheDahlman study seeks to clarify the relationship between teachers’ attitudes toward what they learnin their courses and the ways they do or do not use such knowledge in their own teaching.Dahlman presents three case studies of preservice ESL/foreign language teachers in a cohortprogram working toward their first teaching license. Utilizing a lesson plan assignment and twoextensive individual interviews, she analyzed the data of 12 preservice teachers, choosing three toreflect the differing profiles of the preservice teachers in the program. Three very differentindividuals, all presented with the same theoretical information, each made choices as to how suchtheoretical background informed their instruction. One demonstrated a very successful relationshipbetween theory and practice, whereas another participant clearly struggled with drawingmeaningful connections between theory and practice; she does not believe that theoreticalknowledge affects her development as a teacher, and clearly mines course material for lessonexamples which are in a ready-to-use format, which she can then apply directly or modify. Thethird participant exhibited a mixture of success and difficulty in linking theory to her practice. Shedoes not believe that she will write lesson plans when she is teaching, because she perceives thatthey confine her creativity; with lesson plans she feels “cornered.” Applying a framework based on Bloom’s Taxonomy (Bloom, 1956), the study digs moredeeply into the knowledge base for teachers, attempting to ascertain the kinds of cognitiveprocesses participants were engaged in when exposed to theoretical information, i.e., whether theydemonstrated application of the theoretical knowledge they received or perhaps even synthesis andevaluation. Dahlman describes this as an exploration of their “cognitive mindset or habits of mind.”The window into thinking and the application of knowledge to actual practice is a fascinatingcharacteristic of this study. It underscores the need for preservice teachers to see the variouscomponents of a teacher education program as contributing to a unified whole. Deeply embeddedbelief systems have led preservice teachers to expect a chasm between theory and practice. Whenthis is reinforced by veteran teachers with whom they apprentice, attempts to establish new ways of thinking about one’s own professional development are difficult. Donald Freeman, Karen Johnsonand Jack Richards, in a number of publications, (Freeman, 1996a, 1996b, 2002; Freeman & Johnson, 1998, 1999; Freeman & Richards, 1993) urge that teacher education focus on teacherknowledge and experiences, building a carefully constructed web of teacher skill based upon beliefs,observation, reflection, and practice. This web crystallizes during the teacher development process.Teacher education must work from the center of the web, in essence, starting with the personal
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