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Becoming a language teacher

Wayne Trotman reviews a study of the socialisation of trainee-teachers

Social Interaction in Language Teacher Education

Fiona Farr, Angela Farrell and Elaine Freeman

Edinburgh University Press, 2019

ISBN: 9781474412643

This book uses empirical data, i.e. data based on actual observation, to demonstrate how novice and early career teachers pursuing MA and doctoral studies can be understood both as a community of themselves alone, and as apprentices to the world of English language teaching. Such understanding is gained by discourse analysis of a carefully created corpus.

However, as the findings that outline the processes through which student teachers are able to form their identity and become socialised into the community of English language teachers are not immediately clear without detailed reading, I initially felt the most likely beneficiary of such a study would be those researching this area.

Chapter One introduces the context in which the data in the corpus was gathered, ranging from institutional, classroom, on-line and academic discourse. Following this, the theoretical and pedagogical arguments for a data-led approach to teacher education are presented. As the latter deals with aspects such as socio-cultural theory and Vygotsky’s much mentioned ‘Zone of Proximal Development’ (each explained in the necessary glossary at the start of the book), this section requires close reading; no more so than when the work of Donald Freeman, that giant in the education of second language teachers, is discussed.

Table 2.2 outlines the generations involved in studying the mind of the budding language teacher. It describes how research on trainee teachers has moved from considering them as people with individualistic minds – ideas that were initially explored using Behaviourist methods such as Audio-lingualism and Suggestopedia. The current generation of research appears to view trainee teachers as socially situated and involved in complex, chaotic systems. Yet what these systems are is not really made clear.

Chapters four and five provide the most direct value to the teacher-educator, as they describe and draw on the data to provide a snapshot of the ways teachers are socialised into the ELT community. This includes an exploration of what are described as a ‘shared repertoire’ of sub-categories of the metalanguage and topics constantly arising among novice teacher talk. Findings show how topics such as educational theory and practice were much more likely to be discussed online than in face-to-face tutorials. This was reflected, although to a lesser degree, in the sub-categories of linguistics and learning contexts. Helpfully, pointers for both trainers and supervisors are provided. For example, suggestions that in teaching practice feedback sessions the focus should perhaps be more on professional norms than individual student-teacher performance.

“Topics such as educational theory and practice were much more likely to 
be discussed online than in face-to-face tutorials.”

Chapter Six explores the complex field of language teacher identity – ‘ …a construct of how I see myself and how I think others see me’ (page 103); and describes pronoun usage among novice and experienced student teachers. The data shown here indicates how the former tend to be more preoccupied with their own experiences and sharing them with others, with language such as, ‘I was’ / ‘I think’ / ‘I had’ at the top of the list.

The penultimate chapter focuses on the language of reflection where, along with questioning and reasoning, the functions of narration, cognition, stance and evaluation were core features. It is also pointed out how narration, and questioning and reasoning, tend to re-occur as teachers seek to better understand themselves.

The closing chapter on conclusions and implications underlines key findings concerning metalanguage and topic, language teacher identity and reflective practice. For example, how the types of mediation and guidance that lecturers, teaching practice supervisors and peer tutors provide may need to take into account trainees from international backgrounds. It also considers the vital nature of creating opportunities for novice teachers to engage in collaborative dialogue with experienced colleagues.

Although largely theoretical in its early chapters, close reading of the remainder of this title provides much food for thought for those interacting with trainee teachers on a daily basis.

Image courtesy of SHUTTERSTOCK
Wayne Trotman
Wayne Trotman
Wayne is a teacher educator at Izmir Katip Celebi University in Izmir, Turkey. Wayne has been involved in language teaching both in the UK and overseas since 1981. He holds an MSc in TESOL from Aston University and a PhD in ELT and Applied Linguistics from the University of Warwick.
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