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New ELT Book – Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education edited by Jack C. Richards & Anne Burns

Posted by Tutor on July 24, 2009


Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education

Anne Burns and Jack C. Richards

One of the simple facts of life in the present time is that the English language skills of a good proportion of its citizenry are seen as vital if a country is to participate actively in the global economy and to have access to the information and knowledge that provide the basis for both social and economic development. Central to this enterprise are English teaching and English language teachers. There is consequently increasing demand worldwide for competent English teachers and for more effective approaches to their preparation and professional development.

This book brings together key issues and debates in teacher education for language teachers. To provide an orientation to and overview of the book in this section, we will examine the major trends in second language teacher education today and identify some of the key issues that are shaping the way second language teacher education (SLTE) is currently conceptualized and realized.

The field of SLTE has been shaped in its development by its response to two issues. One might be called internally initiated change, that is, the teaching profession gradually evolving a changed understanding of its own essential knowledge base and associated instructional practices through the efforts of applied linguists and specialists in the field of second language teaching and teacher education. Much of the debate and discussion featured in the professional literature in recent years and in this volume, for example, is an entirely internal debate, unlikely to interest those outside the walls of academic institutions. The emergence of such issues as reflective practice (Chapter 30, Burton), critical pedagogy (Chapter 3, Hawkins and Norton), knowledge about language (Chapter 12, Bartels) and teacher identity (Chapter 17, Miller), for example, arose from within the profession largely as a result of self-imposed initiatives.

At the same time, the development of SLTE has also been impacted by external pressures, for example, by globalization and the need for English as a language of international trade and communication, which has brought with it the demand by national educational authorities for new language teaching policies, for greater central control over teaching and teacher education, and for standards and other forms of accountability (see Sections 1 and 2). The Common European Framework is an example of the profession attempting to respond to external pressures of this kind.


The field of TESOL is relatively new and, in the form that we know it today, dates from the 1960s. The origins of specific approaches to teacher training began with short training programs and certificates dating from this period, designed to give prospective teachers the practical classroom skills needed to teach new methods such as Audiolingualism and Situational Language Teaching. The discipline of applied linguistics dates from the same period, and with it came a body of specialized academic knowledge and theory that provided the foundation of the new discipline. This knowledge was represented in the curricula of Masters programs, which began to be offered from this time that typically contained courses in language analysis, learning theory, methodology, and sometimes a teaching practicum.

The relationship between practical teaching skills and academic knowledge and their representation in SLTE programs has generated a debate ever since (Chapter 2, Johnson). In the 1990s the practice versus theory distinction was sometimes resolved by distinguishing teacher training from teacher development, the former being identified with entry-level teaching skills linked to a specific teaching context, and the latter to the longer-term development of the individual teacher over time. Good teaching was seen as the mastery of a set of skills or competencies. Teacher-training qualifications such as the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) were typically offered by teacher training colleges or by organizations such as the British Council. Teacher development, on the other hand, meant mastering the discipline of applied linguistics. Qualifications in teacher development, typically the Masters degree, were offered by universities, where the practical skills of language teaching were often undervalued.

Recently, the contrast between training and development has been replaced by a reconsideration of the nature of teacher learning, which is viewed as a form of socialization into the professional thinking and practices of a community of practice (Chapter 19, Tsui; Chapter 20, Singh and Richards). SLTE is now also influenced by perspectives drawn from sociocultural theory (Lantolf 2000) and the field of teacher cognition (Chapter 16, Borg). The knowledge base of teaching has also been reexamined with a questioning of the traditional positioning of the language-based disciplines as the major foundation for SLTE (Chapter 1, Freeman; Chapter 2, Johnson). At the same time, it has also been affected by external factors – by the need to respond to the status of English as an international language and the demand worldwide for a practical command of English language skills.


A common observation is that there is a much higher level of professionalism in ELT today than existed previously. The meaning here is threefold: ELT is seen as a career in a field of educational specialization; it requires a specialized knowledge base obtained through both academic study and practical experience; and it is a field of work where membership is based on entry requirements and standards (Chapter 6, Barduhn and Johnson; Chapter 7, Katz and Snow). The professionalism of English teaching (Chapter 5, Leung) is seen in the growth industry devoted to providing language teachers with professional training and qualifications, in continuous attempts to develop standards for English language teaching and for English language teachers, to the proliferation of professional journals and teacher magazines, conferences, and professional organizations; to attempts in many places to require nonnative speaker English teachers to demonstrate their level of proficiency in English as a component of certification (Chapter 9, Kamhi-Stein); to the demand for professional qualifications for native-speaker teachers; and to the greater level of sophisticated knowledge of language teaching (Chapter 14, Hedgcock) and language acquisition (Chapter 13, Ellis) required of English teachers. Becoming an English language teacher means becoming part of a worldwide community of professionals with shared goals, values, discourse, and practices but one with a self-critical view of its own practices and a commitment to a transformative approach to its own role.

The focus on professionalism may mean different things in different places. In some it may mean acquiring qualifications recognized by local educational authorities or by international professional organizations and attaining standards mandated by such bodies. It may also mean behaving in accordance with the rules and norms that prevail in their context of work, even if the teacher does not fully support such norms, such as when a teacher is told to teach to the test rather than create his or her own learning pathway. However, recent years have seen a wide variety of procedures through which teachers can engage in critical and reflective review of their own practices, for example, through developing personal practical knowledge (Chapter 15, Golombek), peer- and self-monitoring (Chapter 27, Bailey), mentoring (Chapter 26, Malderez), teacher collaboration and support groups (Chapter 24, Johnston), and action research (Chapter 29, Burns).


As noted previously, there have traditionally been two strands within the field of SLTE one focusing on classroom teaching skills and pedagogic issues, and the other focusing on academic underpinnings of classroom skills, namely knowledge about language and language learning. The relationship between the two has often been problematic. This issue has sometimes been clarified by contrasting two differing kinds of knowledge knowledge about and knowledge how. Knowledge about, or content knowledge, provides what is the established core curriculum of SLTE programs, particularly at graduate level, where course work on topics such as language analysis, discourse analysis, phonology, curriculum development, and methodology is standard. Language-based courses provided the academic content, and methodology courses showed teachers how to teach it. An unquestioned assumption was that such knowledge informs teachers’ classroom practices. Recent research, however (e.g., Bartels 2005), shows that teachers in fact often fail to apply such knowledge in practice.

The distinction between explicit knowledge and implicit knowledge throws some light on the concepts of knowledge about and knowledge how. Implicit knowledge covers a wide range of terms (e.g., principles, practitioner knowledge, personal theories, maxims) that have been used in the literature to refer to the beliefs, theories, and knowledge that underlie teachers practical actions (Richards 1996; Chapter 16, Borg). Central to knowledge how are concepts such as pedagogical content knowledge (the capacity to transform content into accessible and learnable forms) and practical knowledge, both of which refer to the knowledge and thinking that teachers make use of in facilitating learning in their classrooms and that belong to a third strand that has often been missing from formulations of the core content of SLTE namely, the nature of teaching itself. Rather than the Masters course being a survey of issues in applied linguistics drawing from the traditional disciplinary sources, course work in areas such as reflective teaching, classroom research, and action research now form parts of the core curriculum in many TESOL programs and seek to expand the traditional knowledge base of language teaching.


A focus on the nature of teacher learning has been central to a rethinking of both the content and delivery of SLTE programs. Teacher learning from traditional perspectives was seen as a cognitive issue, something the learner did on his or her own. Traditionally the problem of teacher learning was hence often viewed as a question of improving the effectiveness of delivery. The failure of teachers to acquire what was taught was seen as a problem of overcoming teachers resistance to change (Chapter 20, Singh and Richards). A focus on teacher learning as a field of inquiry, however, seeks to examine the mental processes involved in teacher learning and acknowledges the situated and the social nature of learning (Lave and Wenger 1991).

From this perspective, learning takes place in a context and evolves through the interaction and participation of the participants in that context. Teacher learning is not viewed as translating knowledge and theories into practice but rather as constructing new knowledge and theory through participating in specific social contexts and engaging in particular types of activities and processes. This latter type of knowledge, sometimes called “practitioner knowledge, is the source of teachers practices and understandings.

While traditional views of teacher learning often viewed the teachers task as the application of theory to practice, more recent views see teacher learning as the theorization of practice; in other words, making visible the nature of practitioner knowledge and providing the means by which such knowledge can be elaborated, understood, and reviewed (Chapter 11, Graves). In practical terms this has led to a reconsideration of traditional modes of teaching in SLTE programs and a focus on context involving communities of learners engaged in social practices and the collaborative construction of meanings. Key to the teacher learning processes are the roles of participants, the discourses they create and participate in, the activities that take place, and the artifacts and resources that are employed. All of these shape the nature of the learning that occurs. Learning is seen to emerge through social interaction within a community of practice.


Sociocultural perspectives on learning emphasize that learning is situated, that is, takes place in specific settings or contexts that shape how learning takes place. Teacher learning contexts, whether in the course room (Chapter 20, Singh and Richards); through distance education (Chapter 22, Hall and Knox); the school (Chapter 21, Legutke and Schocker-v. Ditfurth); or virtually, through technology (Chapter 23, Reinders) are settings for patterns of social participation that can either enhance or inhibit learning. Learning and the development of expertise (Chapter 19, Tsui) also occur through the practice and experience of teaching. Both involve induction to communities of practice, Lave and Wenger (1991) concept for learning that takes place within organizational settings, which is socially constituted and which involves participants with a common interest collaborating to develop new knowledge and skills. For novice teachers, their professional development involves socialization into the profession and adjusting their roles according to the teacher learner needs (Chapter 18, Farrell).

Typically the campus-based program (in the case of preservice teacher education) is seen as the start of the teacher professional development, subsequent learning taking place in the school through classroom experience, working with mentors (Chapter 26, Malderez), and other school-based initiatives. In SLTE programs, making connections between campus-based and school-based learning through the teaching practicum (Chapter 25, Gebhard) is also important as student-teachers often perceive a gap between the theoretical course work offered on campus and the practical school-based component.


An interest in teacher cognition entered SLTE from the field of general education and brought with it a similar focus on teacher decision making, on teachers’ theories of teaching, teachers’ representations of subject matter, and the problem solving and improvisational skills employed by teachers with different levels of teaching experience during teaching. Constructs such as teachers’ practical knowledge, pedagogic content knowledge, and personal theories of teaching noted previously are now established components of our understanding of teacher cognition. From the perspective of teacher cognition (Chapter 16, Borg), teaching is not simply the application of knowledge and of learned skills. It is viewed as a much more complex, cognitively driven process affected by the classroom context, the teachers general and specific instructional goals, the learners motivations and reactions to the lesson, and the teacher management of critical moments during a lesson. At the same time, teaching reflects the teacher personal response to such issues, hence teacher cognition is very much concerned with teachers personal and situated approaches to teaching. In SLTE programs a focus on teacher cognition can be realized through questionnaires and self-reporting inventories in which teachers describe beliefs and principles; through interviews and other procedures in which teachers verbalize their thinking and understanding of pedagogic incidents and issues; through observation, either of ones own lessons or those of other teachers, and through reflective writing in the form of journals, narratives, or other forms of written report.


A sociocultural perspective on teacher learning posits a central aspect of this process as the reshaping of identity and identities within the social interaction of the classroom (Chapter 17, Miller). Identity refers to the differing social and cultural roles teacher learners enact through their interactions with lecturers and other students during the process of learning. These roles are not static but emerge through the social processes of the classroom. Identity may be shaped by many factors, including personal biography, gender, culture, working conditions, age, and the school and classroom culture. The concept of identity thus reflects how individuals see themselves and how they enact their roles within different settings. In an SLTE program a teacher learner identity is remade through the acquisition of new modes of discourse and new roles in and through the learning context. Teacher learning thus involves not only discovering more about the skills and knowledge of language teaching but also what it means to be a language teacher. Teacher learners negotiate their identity through the unfolding social interaction of a particular situated community, in relation to its specific activities and relationships.

Native-speaker and nonnative-speaker teacher learners may bring different identities to teacher learning and to teaching. For example, untrained native speakers teaching EFL overseas are sometimes credited with an identity they are not really entitled to (the native speaker as expert syndrome), finding that they have a status and credibility that they would not normally achieve in their own country. In language institutes, students may express a preference to study with native-speaker teachers, despite the fact that such teachers may be less qualified and less experienced than nonnative-speaker teachers. For nonnative-speaking teachers studying in SLTE programs, identity issues may lead some to feel disadvantaged compared to native-speaker teachers in the same course (Chapter 9, Kamhi-Stein). Whereas in their own country they were perceived as experienced and highly competent professionals, they now find themselves at a disadvantage and may experience feelings of anxiety and inadequacy. They may have a sense of inadequate language proficiency, and their unfamiliarity with the learning styles found in British or North American university contexts may hinder their participation in some classroom activities.


The sociocultural view of learning previously outlined moves beyond the view of the teacher as an individual entity attempting to master content knowledge and unravel the hidden dimensions of his or her own teaching and views learning as a social process. Rather than teaching being viewed as the transfer of knowledge, a sociocultural perspective views it as creating conditions for the coconstruction of knowledge and understanding through social participation. There are several forms such participation may take. One strategy is known as dialogic teaching, that is, teaching that centers around conversations with other teachers focusing on teaching and learning issues during which teachers examine their own beliefs and practices and engage in collaborative planning, problem solving, and decision making (Chapter 24, Johnston). It is often through dialog that teacher learners create and experience different representations of themselves. This may take the form of both spoken dialog in group conversations as well as through journals or online dialog.

For student-teachers used to more transmission-oriented teaching styles however, dialogic modes of teaching raise issues of identity, power, and agency. Learning how to talk is essential in order to participate in a community of practice. It involves learning to share ideas with others and to listen without judgement, and like other forms of collaborative learning, may require modeling and rules if it is to be successful. Key concepts in a collaborative approach to learning are Vygotsky notions of the zone of proximal development (ZPD) and mediation. These two constructs present a view of learning as a process of apprenticeship, where apprentices collaborate in social practices with teacher educators as well as mentors, critical friends, and peers to acquire and construct new forms of interaction and thinking (Vygotsky 1978). Working in collaboration on classroom tasks offers many benefits including exchanging ideas and experiences, developing professional discourses, and reducing isolation.

In addition to collaborative forms of teacher development, professional development is also increasingly viewed as something which is self-directed, inquiry-based, and directly relevant to teacher professional lives. The site for such inquiry is the teacher own classroom, either through the teacher own efforts or in collaboration with supervisors, university researchers, or other teachers. This often takes the form of action research or other research-based activities (Chapter 29, Burns; Chapter 28, McKay).

The growing demand for SLTE courses as a consequence of the spread of English worldwide has also created a need for new ways of delivery of teacher education courses. Advances in technology have provided new opportunities for both traditional forms of campus-based teaching (e.g., Internet-based resources) as well as for distance teaching through online learning. These new forms of delivery allow for the development of teacher networks that cross regional and national boundaries, establishing globalized communities of teachers who can bring their own cultural, social, professional, and personal experiences into the SLTE process (Chapter 22, Hall and Knox).


The scope of English teaching worldwide and the subsequent growth of SLTE programs has created a demand for greater accountability in SLTE practices and in the assessment of teachers (Chapter 8, Freeman, Orzulak, and Morrisey). What constitutes a quality SLTE program in terms of its curriculum, the teaching methods that it gives rise to, and the kinds of teachers that the program produces? What competencies do the graduates of such programs possess? What competencies and forms of training do the trainers and educators of English language teachers need? These kinds of questions are very difficult to answer since there are no widely accepted definitions of concepts of quality in SLTE, and likewise there is no internationally recognized specification of English language teacher and English language teacher educator competencies (Chapter 10, Wright). One way to approach the issue of accountability is through the identification of standards for SLTE programs (Chapter 7, Katz and Snow). The standards movement has taken hold in many parts of the world and promotes the adoption of clear statements of instructional outcomes in educational programs as a way of improving learning outcomes in programs and to provide guidelines for program development, curriculum development, and assessment. Critics of such an approach argue that the standards themselves are largely based on intuition and are not research based, and also that the standards movement has been brought into education from the fields of business and organizational management and reflects a reductionist approach in which learning is reduced to the mastery of discrete skills that can easily be taught and assessed.


The field of SLTE, as with other areas of language teaching, has also been influenced by issues posed by critical theory and critical pedagogy, prompting reflection on the hidden curriculum that sometimes underlies language teaching polices and practices (Chapter 3, Hawkins and Norton). English language teaching it is argued, is not a politically or morally neutral activity. Mastery of English, it is claimed, often enhances the power and control of a privileged few, and in addition, English language teaching often consumes an inordinate amount of the scarce educational resources of many countries. Globalization and the spread of English raise the need for SLTE programs to engage teachers in an exploration of the political status of English in today world, the role it can play in maintaining positions of privilege and inequality, and the role the notion of native speaker has played in TESOL theory and practice. Language teachers have a particular role to play in promoting their learners fuller participation in classrooms and communities.
From this perspective, language teachers are not simply teaching language as a neutral vehicle for the expression of meanings and ideas, but should be engaged both in reflecting upon the ideological forces that are present in their classrooms, schools, and communities and in empowering their learners with the language knowledge and skills they need to be able to function as moral agents in society. At the practical level, critical pedagogues would argue that this involves choosing developing curricula and choosing materials and activities that raise students’ awareness of sociopolitical as well as ethical issues and problems (Giroux 1988).

In second language contexts, critical language teacher education implies raising teachers awareness of power relations inside and outside the classroom, encouraging critical self-reflection activities on teacher roles and identities, and seeking critically informed ways to enhance classroom learning opportunities.


The field of Second Language Teacher Education has expanded considerably both in breath and in depth since its origins in training approaches associated with the major teaching methods of the 1960s and 1970s (Chapter 10, Wright). Through the efforts of scholars and researchers on the one hand, the field has redefined its goals, its scope, its conceptual frameworks, and its teaching methods. And on the other hand, growing demand for effective SLTE programs in response to worldwide expansion in the use of English has highlighted the need for a coordinated organizational response, which has lead to the demand for greater accountability through standards, curriculum renewal, professionalism, and the development of internationally recognized qualifications for language teachers. SLTE today is consequently a vital component of the field of TESOL and makes a vital contribution to our understanding of what lies at the core of this enterprise, namely, teachers, teaching, and the nature of teacher education.


Applied Linguistics and Language Teacher Education (Educational Linguistics)

Teachers as Intellectuals : Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Learning

Sociocultural Theory And Second Language Learning

Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation, by Lave

Richards, J. C. (1996). Teachers maxims in language teaching. TESOL Quarterly, 30(2), 281-296.

Mind in Society: Development of Higher Psycholo


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