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The Sociocultural Turn 10 Years Later

One of the more influential TESOL Quarterly articles I have read over the past decade was Karen E. Johnson's "The Sociocultural Turn and Its Challenges for Second Language Teacher Education." It helped guide me during the early stages of my doctoral dissertation. I'm revisiting now because it relates to my current position, and I wanted to see if Dr. Johnson's concerns are still valid ten years later.

Theory/Practice Versus Praxis

From my perspective, the theory-practice dichotomy is still quite prevalent in teacher education. I have entered discussions with our faculty on what should stand at the core of our ESL curriculum, which I perceive as research in applied linguistics or informal research in teaching and learning. I see this more as a applied linguistics-education dichotomy as research is on both ends, but education is more steeped in practice.

Johnson recommends praxis as a solution to this dichotomy because it "is more suitable for the preparation of teachers because it captures how theory and practice inform one another and how this transformative process informs teachers' work" (p. 240). The challenge here is that not enough attention is on this process. From my perspective, teachers go through this process nearly everyday, but researchers do not have easy access to this process for observing, recording, and measuring.

My job as curriculum coordinator situates me in this place where I do have easier access to teachers when they "make sense of and use the disciplinary knowledge that has informed and will continue to inform L2 teacher education" (p. 241). I wish more researchers in TESOL or applied linguistics could be in these types of positions where they can engage with in-service teachers and the curriculum more directly. Perhaps it takes a certain disposition of a researcher to engage equally with the research literature and the practitioners who transform the research to practice either directly or indirectly through research-informed textbooks.

The Legitimacy of Teachers' Ways of Knowing

My previous job put the legitimacy of teachers' ways of knowing at the forefront of its Center of Excellence in Learning and Teaching. It supported the reflective teaching movement, action research, and the teacher research movement. Over the last decade it seems that many universities were establishing these centers of excellence for that purpose, but many of them are seen to be places for teachers to learn more about how to integrate technology into the classroom. One reason for this is that education technology attracts a lot of administrative and publishing attention. I argue that we have to transcend this and make all ways of knowing equally important. This attention to technology gives many faculty the impression that technology is more important in terms of professional learning.

If praxis is the goal, we need communities of practice that do not threaten teachers through overt attention towards technology or through carrot-and-stick motivators to join these communities. I have found that a better motivator is handing more ownership of the curriculum or program to the faculty. If researchers and administrators can engage faculty on more equal footing then they can learn more from each other. This solution is very political and perhaps some institutions may not be able to develop this for structural, hierarchical, or reliability reasons.

With the rise of social media, web 2.0, and EdCamps, I have noticed more opportunities for teachers to gather and share stories if and when their institutions cannot or do not provide legitimate venues for teachers to share their ways of knowing. As a researcher, I am very interested in how teachers position their ways of knowing through these newer venues. As a curriculum coordinator, I encourage our faculty to find these outlets when our budget or time does not allow for professional development through the more traditional ways. This leads me to the next challenge.

Redrawing the Boundaries of Professional Development

The last decade has seen the greatest transformation here. For example, take this sentence, "In some educational contexts, top-down professional development models, in which innovations are imposed on teachers with little attention to how to integrate them into existing classroom practices, have begun to give way to alternative professional development structures that allow for self-directed, collaborative, inquiry-based learning that is directly relevant to teachers' classroom lives." The best example of this is the EdCamp, which I have blogged about earlier, and which our institution has hosted for Intensive English Programs.

Dr. Johnson also lists other types of professional development such as teacher inquiry seminars, peer coaching, teacher study groups, narrative inquiry, lesson study groups, and critical friends groups. She also mentions online teacher certificate programs, which have boomed through the advent of MOOCs and similar online courses and are now in a maturing phase of development.

Located L2 Teacher Education

This is the glocalization aspect of teacher education, referring to the fact that the English language teaching and learning contexts are quite different from country to country, state to state, and city to city. Although English language teachers should be globally minded, "located L2 teacher education begins by recognizing why L2 teachers do what they do within the social, historical, and cultural contexts within which they work and from there works to co-construct with L2 teachers locally appropriate responses to their professional development needs."

For my current job, this means helping connect the faculty in our department to research and resources that are relevant to teaching international students in a higher education setting in southern Illinois. Awareness of university, state, and local policies are essential in addition to the national standards and policies that most MA TESOL students in the US know and/or learn. We should also learn about the cultural background and educational systems of our incoming students to better transition them to the United States.

New Book 

I just learned today that Karen E. Johnson has a new book out with Paula R. Golombek on the same topic, and I look forward to reading it. I'm interested in learning to what extent ELT professionals have applied some of their ideas and suggestions to teacher education.


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