05 April 2010

Readings on teacher (language teacher) cognition

It is my hope that research and analysis on the subject of 'teacher cognition' can provide insights to improve teacher education and development. Here are some suggested readings to get started.  

Click on the titles to link to the full paper online (also available for download as .pdf at ScienceDIrect)

1.  Exploring language teachers’ mental lives (book review)

Karen E. Johnsona, E-mail The Corresponding Author The Pennsylvania State University, 305 Sparks Building, University Park, PA 16802, United States

Intro (except):

I cannot count the number of times a graduate student or colleague has asked me for an article or book that provides an overview of the research on language teacher cognition. In fact, these sorts of requests have been so common in recent years that I even toyed with the idea of writing such a book myself. Thank goodness Simon Borg has finally written that book. In Teacher Cognition and Language Education: Research and Practice, Borg provides a comprehensive overview of the research to date on what language teachers think, know and believe and the complex relationship to their instructional practices. In doing so he brings a greater sense of unity and coherence to a somewhat disparate body of research that has focused on “the complex, practically-oriented, personalized, and context-sensitive networks of knowledge, thoughts, and beliefs that language teachers draw on in their work” (p. 272).

2. Teacher Cognition and Language Education: Research and Practice, Simon Borg. Continuum, London (2006). 314 pp. (book review)

Magdalena Kubanyiovaa,
E-mail The Corresponding Author School of Education, University of Birmingham, Edgbaston, Birmingham B15 2TT, United Kingdom

Intro (excerpt):

Over the past decade, applied linguistics research focusing on language teachers has shown that what teachers do in the classroom is inextricably linked to what they know, think and believe. As a result, recent investigations on language teachers and teacher education have moved away from focusing exclusively on teachers’ observable behaviours and towards exploring the links between their mental processes and their classroom practices. An impressive and ever-growing volume of studies has been published on the subject with numerous cognitive constructs investigated, ranging from teachers’ knowledge, beliefs and conceptions to their images, perceptions, maxims and personal theories. Because of this variety, it can be a rather overwhelming experience to try and make sense of the results and to find one’s way around this rather perplexing domain of inquiry. Simon Borg fully recognises the fragmentation of the field, so the overview he offers in this book comes as a much needed ‘spring-cleaning’ project. Not only does he manage to fulfil his aim to “impose some structure on this field” (p. 280), but what the reader ends up with as a result of Borg’s meticulous re-organising, untangling and de-cluttering is a clearly-marked and easy-to-navigate map of the language teacher cognition territory.

The text is divided into two main parts, the first dedicated to conceptual issues while the second part surveys and critically appraises the methodological options available to researchers in this domain. In the introductory chapter of the conceptual part, Borg provides a detailed historical overview of the development of the field in both the mainstream education and language teacher education literature, followed by a list of key readings. He categorises studies in language teacher cognition into four types (each covered by one chapter), the first two exploring cognitions of pre-service and in-service teachers, respectively, and the latter two investigating teachers’ cognitions in relation to specific curricular areas, namely grammar and literacy. Borg’s classification system works well and, along with compact summaries throughout the book and highly useful thematic tables describing lists of studies, the coverage fulfils its purpose and does the field justice.

3. Language teacher cognitions: Complex dynamic systems?

Anne Feryok
Corresponding Author Contact Information, a, E-mail The Corresponding Author
University of Otago, Department of English, PO Box 56, Dunedin NZ 9054, New Zealand


Language teacher cognition research is a growing field. In recent years several features of language teacher cognitions have been noted: they can be complex, ranging over a number of different subjects; they can be dynamic, changing over time and under different influences; and they can be systems, forming unified and cohesive personal or practical theories. However, as yet there is no single theoretical framework for studying language teacher cognitions. In this article I propose that complex systems theory might offer such a framework. I offer an exploratory investigation of the applicability of complex systems theory by focusing on the re-analysis of a previously published case study of the practical theory of an English language teacher teaching EFL in Armenia. I do this by discussing and presenting evidence of heterogeneity, dynamics, non-linearity, openness, and adaptation, which characterize complex systems, and are displayed by the EFL teacher's cognitions. I conclude by suggesting that complex systems theory is compatible with other lines of research, is able to be developed in field-specific ways, offers several lines of research as well as different methodological approaches, and has practical implications for language teacher development.

Keywords: Language teacher cognition; Complex systems theory; Language teacher development; Teacher beliefs; Practical theory; EFL; English language teacher; EFL in Armenia

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