Kicking Things Off

road to horizon

Welcome to my thesis blogging project! If you have recently followed this blog in response to an invitation to participate, thank you and welcome! If you’ve been following for a while or just happen to be reading this one post, I’m glad that you’re here!

To kick things off, I thought it would be useful to give you a bit of a clearer idea of some of the concepts underlying this project. We will start with its purpose.

As mentioned in my last post, I intend to use this project to examine the potential for blogging as a means to bridge the gap between research and practice in language education. According to Light and Gnida (2012), part of the reason for the state of disconnection between the two is that researchers often focus “too one-sidedly on formal [theoretical] knowledge” (p.307), while overlooking the value of teachers’ personal stores of practical knowledge. In other words, the research is often presented in ways that are not accessible or readily applicable for language teachers. In order to bridge the gap, second language acquisition (SLA) research should therefore be presented so as to offer teachers principles that will be useful in the language classroom (Light & Gnida, 2012). Furthermore, Light and Gnida assert that researchers should “engage teachers as critical consumers [of research]” and be considerate of the hectic schedules teachers have by seeking to “present modified, accessible summaries or versions of research against which teachers can compare their classroom practices” (p. 142). Posts on this site are intended to follow these recommendations.

Moving beyond the “why” of the project, I also want to offer an explanation of the theoretical basis for two of the ways in which this blog may help to stimulate professional development for language teachers. Of course, if you are not a language teacher (or a teacher at all), I hope and expect that you will still find some useful thoughts and ideas.

The first way in which reading posts on this blog is expected to foster professional development is through self-reflection. In reading posts about different topics and determining whether or not you are in agreement with ideas presented by the writers, you will inevitably engage in some degree of reflection about your own viewpoints and practices. You may even go so far as to reevaluate them, which may or may not result in any concrete change–it’s up to you.

The value of reflective practices is well-attested throughout the literature on education, both as a whole and within the narrower field of language education. At a base level, they are useful for the processing and comprehension of information. Fisher and Kim (2013) found that one group of pre-service language teachers who engaged with each other through blogging engaged in self-reflection and reflective dialogue about concepts they encountered, which was seen to enhance their understanding.

Moving to a deeper level, these students’ reflective processes also revealed increasingly complex understandings, as they questioned and evaluated their pre-existing understandings. Prominent scholars such as Paolo Friere have placed importance on the role of critical self-reflection in teaching practices; how can teachers hope to maintain an environment that is welcoming and conducive to all students’ learning if we are not first aware of the social realities underlying accepted practices and then conscious of how these realities influence our own thinking and careful to continually develop and improve our ways of thinking? Engaging in this type of reflection can help us identify areas in which we can improve our practices (see Dewey & Rogers, 2012; García, 2008).*

How can we ensure that we engage in productive self-reflection? Brookfield (1995) advises that teachers should focus their reflections through four lenses: their own experiences with teaching and learning, the perspectives of their students, feedback and advice from other teachers and peers, and scholarly research. This blog will present scholarly research and provide a space for discussion of ideas and reflections with other teachers, all of which will potentially help readers develop and refine their understandings and practices.

A second avenue for professional growth can come through the interactions that stem from blog posts in the comments section. Fisher and Kim comment that “blogs… have great potential to foster interaction and collaborative learning” (p. 144) and found that a second group of pre-service language teachers who engaged with each other through blogging used the activity for collaborative dialogue and joint construction of knowledge.

Lev Vygotsky (1969), whose work centres on the social nature of learning, was a strong advocate for the integration of collaborative dialogue into the learning process. Judging the construction of knowledge to be an activity shaped by social and cultural realities, Vygotsky argues that it should be done through collaborative discussion and feedback–both of which are embodied in language. Assuming that Vygotsky’s theories are valid, conversations that occur as you, the readers, share your  thoughts in the comments sections of posts will provide rich opportunities to deepen understandings and generate new and innovative ideas.

I hope that knowing a little about the ideas informing this project will help any teachers reading this to maximize their engagement and experience with this blogging project. Following this entry, posts will deal more directly with topics within the field of second language education; I hope that you enjoy them!

 

*See my post on Multilingual Language Awareness for more discussion on the importance of self-reflection and critical language awareness for teachers.

Memo: Are you a language teacher? Your feedback is needed! Please consider aiding this research by filling out a short (10-15 min.) anonymous survey about your experience on Ramblings of a Linguaphile. Click here to begin the survey. For more information about the research, click here. Thank you for your participation!

 

Please note that the Ramblings of a Linguaphile site is currently being used for thesis research. Between June 14, 2017, and November 30, 2017, any comments made on posts to this site may be used for research purposes. The identity of the person who posted the comment will be kept anonymous. For more information about the study, please see the About page. By commenting, you consent to participate.

 

References

Brookfield, S. (1995). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Dewey, J & Rogers, M. L. (2012). The Public and Its Problems: An Essay in Political Inquiry. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Fisher, L., & Kim, D. (2013). Two approaches to the use of blogs in pre-service language teachers’ professional development: a comparative study in the context of two universities in the UK and the US. The Language Teaching Journal, 41(2), 142-160. DOI: 10.1080/09571736.2013.790130.

Freire, P. (2000). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Continuum.

García, O. (2008). Multilingual language awareness and teacher education. Encyclopedia of Language and Education (2nd ed.), Vol. 6, (pp. 2130-2145).

Light, J. & Gnida, S. (2012). Mind the gap: How a project in Alberta attempted to narrow the gap between classroom teachers and language education research. TESL Canada Journal, 30(1), 139-150. Retrieved from http://www.teslcanadajournal.ca.proxy3.library.mcgill.ca/index.php/tesl.

Vygotsky, L.S. (1978). Mind in Society:  The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Image:

(2017). Just-Do-Something.org. Retrieved July 30, 2017, from http://www.just-do-something.org/how-you-can-start/.

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