01 SES 05 B, Perspectives on the Professional Learning of Science and Language Teachers
The discussion of the nexus between teaching and research in higher education originated in the Humboltian University traditions of the early 1800s (Simons & Elen, 2007). It is commonly accepted that research engagement can help teachers understand, explore and interpret their teaching practice (Borg, 2006; Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1999; Hargreaves, 2001; Kincheloe, 2003; Sato & Loewen, 2019) and develop a sense of agency in their working lives (Atay, 2006; Everton, Galton, & Pell, 2000; Xerri, 2017). In reality, however, we find too often that the worlds of educational research and practice remain divorced, especially in the traditionally practice-based fields such as TESOL (McKinely, 2019; Shkedi, 1998).
There are some studies into how teachers read and use research. Zeuli (1994) found that teachers’ beliefs about educational research may strongly influence their understanding and use of research. Bartels (2003) discovered that teachers and academics validate and use the information in journal articles in distinctly different ways. Rankin & Becker (2006) suggested that reflection on classroom practice, in tandem with the results and suggestions of the literature, produced change. However, a notable regret is that, these studies all came from researchers rather than grassroots teachers.
My research aims to examine a language teacher’s professional development (my own) by engagement with research. Drawing upon Activity Theory as theoretical framework and autoethnography as research method, this research seeks to answer two questions: What contradictions did I face in my engagement with research? What corresponding actions did I take to solve these contradictions? The primary data include my research journals, learning reflection, reading notes, conference notes, and email exchange with academics and practitioners.
Activity Theory has evolved through three generations of research. The concept of ‘activity’ as mediating between the individual and the social dimensions of human development originated from Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory, which emphasized that all social activities are structured and gain meaning in historically and culturally situated ways (Leont’ev, 1981; Vygotsky, 1978). The central tenet of sociocultural theory is mediation, commonly expressed as the triad of subject, object, and mediating artifact.
Based on Vygotsky’s work, Activity Theory was further developed by Leont’ev (1978, 1979, 1981), who proposed that individual or group actions are embedded in activity systems which are collective and social in nature.
Leont’ev’s concepts have been further elaborated by Engeström (1999), who proposed a complex model of an activity system, known as the third generation of Activity Theory. This model includes six essential elements of human activity: subject, mediating artifacts, object, rules, communities, and division of labor.
In the third generation, the basic model is expanded to include minimally two interacting activity systems. A central principle involves contradictions, which manifest themselves as problems, ruptures, conflicts and clashes between two or more elements of the system. Engeström (1999) emphasized that the essential and inevitable nature of an activity system involves contradictions because human activity does not and cannot exhibit consistency and stability. These contradictions are ubiquitous in every activity system and indicate potential for development.
Over the past decade, there has been increasing interest in teacher professional development from the perspective of Activity Theory, such as studies on teachers learning in different situations including daily teaching context (Cross, 2010; Kim & Zhang, 2013; Mak & Lee, 2014), teacher development program (Feryok, 2009; Lee, 2013) and school-university partnership (He & Lin, 2013; Tsui & Law, 2006; Yan & Yang, 2017; Yang & Fu, 2014). In addition, Meng & Chen (2015) explored college English teachers’ engagement with discipline and literature, and Yang examined her own professional journey as a teacher educator (Yang, 2018) and as a researcher (Yang, 2019).
Canagarajah (2012) defined autoethnography by explaining three terms: ‘Auto: This form of research is conducted and represented from the point of view of the self, whether studying one’s own experiences or those of one’s community. It values the self as a rich repository of experiences and perspectives that are not easily available to traditional approaches. Ethno: The objective is to bring out how culture shapes and is shaped by the personal. In turn, one’s experiences and development are perceived as socially constructed. Graphy: There is an emphasis on the creative resources of writing, especially narrative, for generating, recording, and analyzing data.’ Autoethnography is an avant-garde method of qualitative inquiry which has captured the attention of more and more scholars from a variety of disciplines. Currently enjoying a boom in the academy in general and also within ELT and language education, autoethnography offers a fantastic opportunity for conducting rich, insightful and thick cultural studies by covering a diversity of topics, such as teaching experiences (Arikan, 2015; Jee, 2016; Wilson, 2011), learning experiences (Casanave, 2012; Godfrey-Smith, 2015; Hamdan, 2012), work experiences (Canagarajah, 2012; emerald & Carpenter, 2014; Empson, 2013; Szwabowski, 2018; Meng, 2018; Winkler, 2012). By exploring their own professional journeys, scholars in the field of language teaching have delineated the evolvement of second language reading (Grabe, 2017), task-based language teaching (Long, 2015), applied linguistics (Canagarajah, 2016) and second language acquisition (Gass, 2016). In particular, Yang’s personal experiences of undertaking a doctoral degree (Yang, 2016), becoming a teacher educator (Yang, 2018) and undertaking qualitative research (Yang, 2019) showed that language teacher professional development was an ongoing journey full of observation, participation, and reflection. All these autoethnographies used the personal to provide insights into wider cultural phenomena, particularly the hidden aspects of life that are all but impossible to research using other methods. Autoethnography has tremendous potential for building sociological knowledge by tapping into unique personal experiences to illuminate those small spaces where understanding has not yet reached (Wall, 2019). Personal experiences of individuals, especially when viewed from an informed perspective of a researcher’s awareness, can create profound insights that may contribute to better understandings of broader social, cultural and political concerns (Ellis, 1999; Pearce, 2010). In this respect, the significance of my research lies in its attempt to invite people to enter the world of a grassroots teacher and to use what they learn to understand and reflect on their own lives.
While each person’s experience is unique, there are similarities in the journeys undertaken by all, and so mine should resonate with others. By making grassroots teachers’ voices and views heard, I am hoping to inspire and empower my fellows, motivate conversations between practitioners and researchers, and help institutions and decision-makers better understand how to facilitate language teachers in their professional development.
Canagarajah, A.S. 2012. Teacher Development in a Global Profession: An Autoethnography. TESOL Quarterly，46(2): 258-279. Empson, L. 2013. My Affair with the “Other”: Identity Journeys across the Research-Practice Divide. Journal of Management Inquiry, 22(2): 229-248. Gass, S. 2016. The Path I Took. Language Teaching, 49(4): 578-591. Grabe, W. 2017. Shaping an Agenda through Experience(s). Language Teaching, 50(1): 120-134. Huhua, O. 2004. Remaking of Face and Community of Practices: An Ethnography of Local and Expatriate English Teachers Reform Stories in Today’s China. Beijing: Peking University Press. Huhua O. 2011. Teacher Chat, Teacher Development: An Action Research Report on How a Teacher Learns to Do Research. Contemporary Education and Culture, 3(1): 87-95. Huhua, O & Muqiao, C. 2019. Baishi: Exploring an Indigenous Approach to Teachers’ Practical Knowledge in China. Foreign Languages in China, 16(6): 12-17. Long, M.H. 2015. First Person Singular: Building the Road as We Travel. Language Teaching, 48(4): 561-574. Luxin, Y. 2016. Doctoring Myself: Observation, Interaction, and Action. heep.unipus.cn. Luxin, Y. 2018. From a Researcher to a Teacher Educator: A Self-narrative Study. Foreign Languages and Their Teaching. 4: 54-64. Luxin, Y. 2019. Contradictions and Actions in Foreign Language Teachers’ Professional Development: A Self-narrative Study. Foreign Language Education in China, 2(4): 16-22. Mirhosseini, S-A. 2018. An Invitation to the Less-Treaded Path of Autoethnography in TESOL Research. TESOL Journal 9(1): 76-92. Seaton, L. & Schuck, S. 2008. Working with Gandalf: Professional and Personal Learning in a Doctoral Student-Supervisor Relationship. In: Aubusson P., Schuck S. (eds) Teacher Learning and Development. Self Study of Teaching and Teacher Education Practices, vol 3. Springer, Dordrecht. Winkler, I. 2012. Moments of Identity Formation and Reformation: A Day in the Working Life of an Academic. Journal of Organizational Ethonography. 2(2): 191-209.
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