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Enlightening, but not to be taken at bedtime

Wayne Trotman recommends small doses of this new work from a giant of language education

Educating Second
Language Teachers
Donald Freeman, Oxford Applied Linguistics;

The several key texts by this author on language teacher education over the last quarter of a century have perhaps had more effect on teachers and teacher educators around the world than those by anyone else currently involved in the profession. He admits, however, that undertaking this book project, which gathers and organises his ideas, was at times an arduous task. Curiously, its subtitle, ‘The Same Things Done Differently’, (an ongoing belief I’m sure many teacher educators with Freeman’s experience in ELT would concur with) hints at a healthy degree of scepticism.

This title examines theories, concepts and processes in order to understand how second language teachers use what they know in order to do what they do in the classroom. The first part frames the problem of language teaching as Freeman sees it, while part two examines implications of the ways in which learning to teach has been conceptualised. Part three concerns the core ideas of the thinking, knowing and reflecting teacher, all issues that ‘undergird the way we approach educating teachers in this field’. Part four points to ideas for designing teacher education programmes, while the appendices include applications of Freeman’s points and theories. As such, this title, with its many figures and tables, cannot be regarded as bedtime reading, and is probably best delved into in very small doses in quiet moments in the staffroom when colleagues are long gone to the chalk face (or whiteboard marker-face). It’s not meant to be read from cover to cover, and I’ll admit that while some parts baffled me, many others were extremely enlightening.

Part one lays out the core ideas of the book – learning to teach a second language is a social process that depends on a set of understandings the author calls ‘social facts’. It then outlines central challenges in second language teacher education. Summarised ‘chapter arguments’ that begin and end each chapter tend to make the text more accessible, and so do the several interesting narratives that Freeman provides in order to illustrate aspects from his own classroom career, which he admits, like many other teachers, he fell into. Part two concerns learning to be a language teacher, and looks firstly at arguments as to whether or not ‘teachers are born’ or ‘made over time’.

Part four looks at how teacher thinking became part of language teaching; chapter eleven here is particularly interesting as it delves into teacher reflection, an aspect of professional development that is becoming of increasing interest. Freeman draws upon earlier work by Schön and Dewey to illustrate how critical reflection by teachers can trigger deeper understanding of what it is they do on a daily basis.

Containing tables, figures and scenarios, appendices A–C would be most useful for teacher educators wishing to put together a course involving activities based upon the thoughts gathered by Freeman throughout his illustrious career.

Wayne Trotman is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Çelebi University, Turkey