How do You Respond? Teacher Action, Discourse, and Development

Writer(s): 
Steve Mann, Aston University

The JALT99 conference theme, "Teacher Action, Teacher Belief: Connecting
Research and the Classroom" is an exciting one for me, perhaps because
it sets off so many resonances with my work at Aston University as module
specialist for methodology. Classroom methodology is determined by a teacher's
action and beliefs, which often have an unconscious and reflexive relationship.
Part of my work involves enabling teachers to see that teaching routines
are a product of beliefs about language learning and education and helping
them to begin a process of articulation.

Awareness and Action

Awareness and teacher development depend, then, in the first instance,
on connecting actions with corresponding beliefs. As much of our teacher
behaviour is routinized (Altrichter et al., 1993), this can have two benefits:
(a) rediscovering what was once conscious but has now become routine, and
(b) seeing (for the first time) aspects of teaching which have never been
considered consciously.

It is clearly essential to connect teacher action with teacher beliefs.
What about the other connection inherent in the conference theme? Read one
way, "Connecting research and the classroom," echoes the kind
of worrying theory and practice distinction (academic theorists distinct
from teachers) which results in "a hierarchy of kinds of knowledge"
(Schon, 1983, p. 36) and in the application of theory to the classroom.
Having reached the end of the century (if not the rainbow), it is clear
that TESOL has now recognized the influence and importance of action research
in the shaping and articulation of classroom practice. So, if we are talking
about connecting teachers' action research with other teachers' action research,
let us increase these connections.

Teacher development is inhibited when teachers leave the responsibility
for research to others and adopt the stance of consumers. Sustained teacher
development can only take place when teachers take responsibility for their
actions. Responsibility can sound heavy and dutiful but it is the responsive
part of responsibility that is important. How do teachers respond to the
needs of learners? How do teachers respond to the ideas of other teachers?

Personal Methodology and Action Research

My teaching and research work all start with a recognition of the importance
of the link between developing personal methodology and action research.
I am particularly interested in the ways teachers develop a sense of awareness
and sense of plausibility (Prabhu, 1990) for their teaching actions. This
growth in awareness may arise from individual thinking and reflection (learning
from one's own experience), reading (learning from the experience of others),
and interaction with other teachers.

Thinking and Groping

Evidence from working with teachers on the Aston master's program who
are beginning a process of action research suggests that developing connections
between what Wallace (1991, p. 14) calls "received knowledge and experiential
knowledge" is facilitated by specific tools for thinking and reflection.
Mann (1997) suggests the complementary use of focusing circles (Edge, 1992)
and mind mapping (Buzan, 1996) as two thinking techniques that have proved
helpful for teachers in establishing a focus for research. However, for
many teachers, beginning a process of small-scale research is not a simple
matter. Clearly time pressures are a perennial block, but also research
steps may not be immediately clear. Barnes (1975, p. 13) says that in order
to ". . . frame the questions and answer them, we must grope towards
our invisible knowledge and bring it into sight." Recognition that
it is teachers who have this "invisible knowledge" and that action
research is the best vehicle for revealing it is the key to teacher development.

Connecting through Articulation

In addition to thinking and reflection, teachers benefit from opportunities
to talk out ideas with other teachers. I have deliberately used the phrase
"talk out," because a great deal of professional teacher talk
does not create the conditions for articulation: a process of making
sense and making things explicit.

I prioritize articulation because normal teacher discourse is characterized
by argument and evaluation, which are less conducive to the development
of a teacher's sense of plausibility. O'Keefe (1977) established the different
senses of making arguments and having arguments, and this
is a useful working distinction. Having the space to talk out or make an
argument depends on resisting the temptation to have an argument or to continually
evaluate.

Conclusion

My current research interest is primarily focused on the exchanges teachers
have in different generic teacher meetings, and I believe we can experiment
with the discourse of our professional meetings to better support the kind
of articulations which feed and support action research. I want to develop
these ideas at JALT99. I look forward to understanding your ideas too. As
the Manic Street Preachers say--This is my truth, tell me yours.

References

Altrichter, H., Posch, P., & Somekh, B. (1993). Teachers
investigate their work: An introduction to the methods of action research.

London: Routledge.

Barnes, D. (1975). From communication to curriculum.
Harmondsworth: Penguin.

Buzan, T., & Buzan, B. (1996). The mind map book:
How to use radiant thinking to maximise your brain's untapped potential.

London: Plume.

Edge, J. (1992). Cooperative development. Harlow:
Longman. Mann, S. (1997). Focusing circles and mind mapping. IATEFL Newsletter,
136,
18-19.

O'Keefe, D. J. (1977). Two Concepts of Argument. Journal
of American Forensic Association, 13,
121-128.

Prabhu, N. (1990). There is no best method--Why? TESOL
Quarterly, 24
(2), 161-176.

Rogers, C., & Freiberg, H. (1994). Freedom to learn.
New York: Macmillan.

Schon, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: Toward
a new design for teaching and learning in the professions.
San Francisco:
Jossey Bass.

Wallace, M. (1991). Training foreign language teachers;
A reflective approach.
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Website developed by deuxcode.com