10 SES 01 C, Exploring Teachers' Perceptions and Attitudes
The role and relevance of theory in language teaching and teacher education have always been questioned. With regard to teacher education, it is common to hear arguments that teacher education programs offer specific kind of knowledge in such ways that do not actually represent how teachers use them in their daily classroom practices (Johnson, 1996). Similarly, student teachers claim that teacher education is too much theoretical and what student teachers are taught in their programs has no relevance to what is actually happening in a real classroom (Johnson, 1996; Sjolie, 2014).
Discussions regarding the role and relevance of theory to practice are stemmed from the difficulty of defining what is meant by theory. Darling-Hammond (2010) states that “when teachers complain that university work has often been too theoretical, they usually mean that it is too abstract and general” (p. 40). To put it differently, she interprets that teachers are critical of the very essence of the concept of theory in their own ways. Yet, what does theory actually mean to both student teachers and practicing teachers? This study tries to shed light on pre-service and practicing English language teachers’ conceptualization of theory in teaching and teacher education.
The definition, role, nature and function of theory in teaching cannot be elaborated without giving references to practice. With the simplest manner, the common conception of theory is the exact opposite of practice; while theory is abstract and too general, practice is specific and concrete; and theory stands aloof from practice, which means it is irrelevant (Cummins & Davison, 2007; Sjolie, 2014). Such an understanding represents the role of theory as only producing facts (Cummins & Davidson, 2007), which is inadequate and only scientifically oriented. A different definition of theory which is closer to practice is presented by Pring (2004) as “the articulation of the framework of beliefs and understandings which are embedded in the practice we engage in” (p. 78).
As Oonk (2009) underscores, the conception of theory falls into two parts, one is scientifically oriented conceptualization, the other one is a more personal, situational interpretation.
Indeed, these two different conceptualizations of theory might be the result of the frequently emphasized gap between theory and practice in teaching and teacher education (Hobson et al., 2008; Hascher et al., 2004; Sjolie, 2014). In that sense, teachers’ making sense of theory depends on how they define and perceive theory, in other words, their cognition after their actual teaching experiences.
Teacher cognition can be briefly defined as what teachers believe, know and think (Borg, 2009) and characterized as “an often tacit, personally-held, practical system of mental constructs held by teachers and which are dynamic-i.e. defined and refined on the basis of educational and professional experiences throughout teachers’ lives” (Borg, 2006, p. 35). In the present study, teacher beliefs are chosen as the theoretical framework. Teacher beliefs can be defined as “an individual’s judgment of the truth or falsity of a proposition, a judgment that can be inferred from a collective understanding of what human beings say, intend, and do” (Pajares, 1992, p. 316). On his comprehensive review of teacher beliefs, Pajares (1992) claims that teacher behaviors are strongly affected by their beliefs and epistemological beliefs, which are beliefs about the nature of knowledge, have a significant role in interpreting knowledge and cognitive monitoring. As a result, teachers’ beliefs and value systems have a formative power on their teaching practices. In that sense, exploring both pre-service and practicing teachers’ epistemological beliefs regarding the nature and role of theory in language teaching and teacher education is of great importance.
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