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Review of Teacher Cognition and Language Education
Date: Tue, 17-Nov-2009 12:54:47 +1000 From: Drew Fagan Subject: Teacher Cognition and Language Education: Research and Practice
AUTHOR: Borg, Simon TITLE: Teacher Cognition and Language Education SUBTITLE: Research and Practice PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd YEAR: 2008
Drew S. Fagan, TESOL Program, Teachers College, Columbia University
''Teacher Cognition and Language Education'' examines the historical background surrounding the research on teacher cognition both in its genesis in mainstream education as well as the continuing interest it holds for those in language education. The book provides a comprehensive review of theoretical and, to a greater extent, empirical studies that have formed the foundation in which this field has taken root.
The author acknowledges that the research in this area is vast, and he endeavors to ease readers' understanding by dividing the book into two sections. The first part of the book (chapters 1-5) examines what is already known about teacher cognition. A comprehensive review of teacher cognition studies from both mainstream education as well as second and foreign language (L2/FL) education studies is provided. In order to also provide a more complete understanding of how teacher cognition has been situated within specific teaching domains, Borg dedicates two chapters to examination of teachers' cognition and the teaching of grammar and of literacy. The author reserves the second half of the book (chapters 6-9) for discussion and analysis of different data collection methods that have been used in teacher cognition studies. These chapters provide information on different instruments for collecting teacher cognition data. The volume ends with a summary of where the field is currently and where it could venture in the future.
Chapter 1 provides a chronological context for the analysis of teacher cognition as it originated in mainstream education. Borg first discusses the previous beliefs that teaching was a set of behaviors and that student learning was a product of those repetitive teaching behaviors. The chapter moves into a discussion of seminal works in teacher education, most notably Jackson (1968), which questioned that dominant perspective and moved research towards understanding teacher cognition (or 'teacher thinking' as it was termed) as a variable in classroom learning. Research from the 1980s found that numerous variables influenced how teachers conduct their teaching, including: (a) Elbaz's (1983) work on personal practical knowledge, and (b) Shulman's (1987) consideration of various knowledge bases that teachers need to have in order to effectively teach their subject to a specific population of learners. By the 1990s and 2000s the field was moving in various directions. Borg summarizes major works and their contributions to teacher cognition research in tables, a method which he incorporates throughout the entire book.
Chapter 2 turns the focus of the book to language teacher cognition and examines studies on the cognitions of pre-service language teachers. Borg separates the chapter into two sections. The first presents studies which have examined the cognition of teachers during their teacher education. With this first group, Borg summarizes studies that examine teachers' prior language learning beliefs, teachers' beliefs about language teaching, practicum experiences, and instructional decision-making and practical knowledge. The second part of the chapter presents studies that examine the impact of teacher education on teachers' cognitions. Borg emphasizes the discrepancies that these studies show regarding how much of an influence teacher education actually has on teacher cognition. However, Borg cautions that in assessing these discrepancies, it is necessary to note that teacher education and training programs are diverse in areas of study and therefore cannot be overly generalized. He then examines studies that exemplify specific types of training (e.g., CELTA) and how those studies collocate with the influence training has on teachers.
Chapter 3 describes studies on in-service language teachers' cognitions. The first part of the chapter discusses cognitions of novice instructors. Borg presents two main themes: first, teacher knowledge and teacher beliefs from teacher education in the classroom are not always clearly shown nor are they shown in a linear fashion; and second, knowing a subject does not necessarily mean that one can teach it. These observations further support concepts already known in mainstream teacher education literature: that teacher learning is not linear and that teachers need to have various knowledge bases in order to teach effectively. However, Borg does caution at the end of the chapter that even though he is attempting to get general themes from the extensive literature, readers of his book need to take into account that the studies cross various contexts, conceptual frameworks, and methods for data collection.
Chapter 4 takes the generic processes of teacher cognition discussed in chapters 1-3 and puts them into a specific context with regards to the teaching of grammar. The choice of grammar as a domain of investigation is a practical one and rests on the sizeable number of studies on teachers and grammar instruction specifically in the context of L2 teaching. Borg begins this chapter with a discussion of studies that have analyzed teachers' knowledge about grammar. Many of these studies have tested language teachers on their knowledge of grammatical forms with the common outcome that teachers need more knowledge in this area. A section on teachers' beliefs about grammar follows, and Borg explains how the data collection methods for the studies in this area of research have mostly consisted of questionnaires. Borg then moves on to studies comparing teachers' cognitions of grammar with their actual practice. He finds that the majority of the studies show teachers struggling with the transfer of knowledge of language and linguistics into explanations that students can understand. Borg concludes this chapter with a suggestion for more studies examining the ''relationship among teacher cognition, classroom practice, and learning'' (p. 134).
Chapter 5 also investigates studies of teacher cognition within a specific domain: the teaching of literacy. Divided into two sections, the chapter examines literacy and teacher cognition studies that have focused on instruction in reading and in writing. Within each section, Borg further divides the studies into first language (L1) and L2/FL. The methods used to collect data as well as the major findings of the studies are discussed in detail. Most importantly, Borg draws conclusions that distinguish the L1 from the L2/FL studies. Those on L1 writing and teacher cognition, for example, have focused more on teachers' conceptions of writing and how they are developed through the course of their teacher education programs. L2/FL studies have tended to investigate teachers' development of cognition in writing instruction and their practices in the teaching of writing, although only a limited number of studies have been conducted in this area.
Chapter 6 begins the second half of the book with a shift in focus towards various data collection methods that have been utilized in teacher cognition research as well as their advantages and drawbacks. This chapter details the use of self-reporting techniques, specifically questionnaires, scenario ratings, and tests. Borg discusses the usefulness of a few already developed questionnaires that have been incorporated into numerous studies' methods. Among them are the BALI (Beliefs about Language Learning Inventory) and the TORP (The Theoretical Orientation to Reading Profile). Scenario ratings, where teachers are asked to assess and rate various exemplars of practice, are also a highly utilized instrument. Finally, tests of knowledge are discussed, the most commonly used being those that focus on teachers' grammatical knowledge. Borg concludes the chapter by suggesting that the plethora of already-existing self-reporting instruments, such as those described in detail in this chapter, should be utilized by researchers in the field before attempts are made to develop new instruments.
Chapter 7 discusses verbal commentaries and various strategies for eliciting these. Diverse forms of interviewing are explored including structured, semi-structured, unstructured, and scenario-based. Each has an in-depth description of how they are constructed and how they have been appropriately (and inappropriately) used in various teacher cognition studies. Stimulated recalls and think-aloud protocols are also examined with regard to how they can provide a glimpse into teachers' thinking. Although most of the methods in this chapter are usually affiliated with qualitative research, Borg also explains how the repertory grid interview, which has the participants answer dichotomous questions, has been used in quantitative teacher cognition research.
In chapter 8 Borg stresses that it is not possible to get a complete picture of teacher cognition without investigating actual classroom practice. Various forms of teacher observation are discussed as they relate to teacher cognition studies including structured vs. unstructured and participant vs. non-participant observations. Borg states that the majority of studies on language teacher cognition which have utilized observation prefer unstructured, non-participant observation techniques. In addition to describing other studies' uses of observation and the various methods' strengths and drawbacks, Borg also discusses practical, theoretical, and ethical concerns when doing this type of data collection. He brings the reader into his own observation research experiences and provides anecdotes for how he dealt with these issues.
Chapter 9 concludes this section on data collection methods by focusing on reflective writing in order to gain an understanding of teacher cognition and its development. Four main instruments are described in this chapter: journals, autobiographies, retrospective accounts, and concept maps. As with the previous chapters, Borg details various studies that have utilized these methods and their various strengths and weaknesses. Even though he acknowledges that these forms of data could provide much insight into language teachers' cognitions, he also cautions that most studies that have used these reflective instruments have worked with pre-service teachers. Due to the practical issue of having teachers do these, a pre-service context would be the most feasible since this could be considered mandatory classwork; in-service teachers, on the other hand, may not have the time to put into this type of reflection. Thus, the uses of these forms of data collection may provide findings that are skewed to only one type of teacher population.
Chapter 10 brings together the major points from the preceding chapters and directions for the future of language teacher cognition research. Borg stresses that above all this book and the research it has discussed have exemplified the complex nature of teaching. He calls upon various subfields within applied linguistics and teacher education to collaborate in both their methodological ideologies and their areas of research to help bring a clearer understanding of what language teacher cognition entails.
Viewing the teacher as an essential component in how a classroom is organized gives recognition to teachers as an integral part of language learning. This book has verified this point by describing and organizing the many studies investigating language teacher cognition. Borg's extensive review brings together studies whose findings have considered (a) what teacher cognition entails (e.g., beliefs, knowledge, practices), (b) what should be studied to examine those areas, and (c) what methods should be used to accomplish that feat. The author successfully brings together the various factions of this field into an uncomplicated volume that allows the reader to directly go to a specific section of the text in which they have a personal interest. Within each chapter the charts that are used to characterize the various studies make it simpler to compare them in relation to methods used, teacher populations studied, numbers of participants involved in the studies, contexts within which the teaching occurred, and purposes of the studies. The literature review in the first five chapters is written in a concise way so that those reading the book for either research or practical purposes would be able to easily follow and relate to what is being said.
While the book itself is intended for researchers, teacher educators, policy makers and program and curriculum managers, the majority of the second half of the book (chapters 6-9) is written in the style of a research manual geared towards beginner researchers who are newly introduced to these various data collecting methods. Borg focuses these chapters around the methods used and their strengths and weaknesses. He provides the reader with background knowledge regarding when to most appropriately utilize these various procedures. He grounds these methodological discussions to the various studies he examines in the chapters, thus providing researchers with specific exemplars that they can refer to. This would also allow for more replications of studies, something that Borg acknowledges is not done as often with teacher cognition as it should be. Although this concentration is highly necessary and very well described for the research audience, readers who do not have this focus in mind may not find this to be as applicable to their own needs and may skip over this section of the book. If presented in a different light, such as in the form of action research, it may be more accessible to a wider readership. For example, teachers could focus on observing themselves through video and doing their own self-reflection as opposed to acting in the sole researcher position.
Overall this volume provides a clearly organized view into the many facets of language teacher cognition research. The author successful brings together studies whose connections may not have been so clear as he makes them here. Now that the foundational studies within the field have been laid out, the gaps in the literature have been discussed, and the various methodological tools have been presented, the prospects for future research in this area are laid out to help further the field's understanding of this essential component in language learning.
Elbaz, F. (1983). ''Teacher thinking: A study of practical knowledge.'' London: Croom Helm.
Jackson, P. (1968). ''Life in classrooms.'' New York: Holt, Reinhart and Winston, Inc.
Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform. ''Harvard Educational Review'' 57(1), 1-22.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Currently pursuing his doctorate in TESOL at Teachers College, Columbia
University, Drew Fagan has taught ESL and EFL and has been a TESOL teacher
educator in six countries. His research interests include teacher learning,
sociocultural influences on language learning, and teacher/student
interaction in the L2 classroom.