THE FOUNDATION MODULE - UNIT
By the end of this introductory unit, you will have clarified for yourself your understanding of your current position with regard to your motivation, your allocation of time and space for study, the availability of resources for study, and your possibilities for networking with other participants on this course. You will have considered your view of yourself in the role of teacher, professional, researcher, theorist, and academic, and you will be ready to begin a structured attempt to keep a professional diary as an aid to study and as way of anchoring outcomes in an explicit record of experience. (This diary-keeping experience is the recommended basis for the FND evaluation which will be a required portfolio entry.)
So, what we are looking for here is a shaking-down and a coming-together. If you have thought through most of the points I raise in this unit, then please bear with me - you know what first lessons are like. These are the issues that seem important to me, and I want us to have some common ground as far as they are concerned.
Working through the tasks should put you in a position to be able to:
o formulate a perception of self-in-context.
o formulate personal aims and motivations.
o draw up an individual study timetable.
o draw up an individual plan of resource availability.
o draw up an individual network of peer contacts.
o begin a professional diary.
o reflect on and evaluate the unit.
What are your feelings as you walk along a corridor to meet a group of students for the first time?
Do you feel a sense of nervousness? (What if things go wrong?) Or is it rather a feeling of anticipation? (This should be interesting!) Or is it neither of these? Are your feelings underpinned by the confidence arising from your previous experience and success? Or do you feel a little weary because you know that you have to go in there and do all those same old things again? Do you feel a little fed up because you are going to be required to prove yourself all over again? Or is it rather the case that all such considerations are blanked out by a sense of blind panic as you prepare to present yourself once more for the scrutiny of another set of strangers?
Do you recognise any of these emotions? All of them? None of them? Or would your response be more along the lines of, 'Well, it depends,' ? Is it possible for you to generalise, or is it different every time? Or do you find the question more or less meaningless?
Take a few minutes to think about the question at the beginning of the previous section and jot down a few notes of response.
It is worth it. Trust me. You might be thinking that these tasks-in-the-text are such a bore, and anyway, you haven't got a pencil with you, but why not go along with this one? What have you got to lose? This is a new start and you might learn something by opening up to a technique, even if you never liked it before. And if you really haven't got anything to write with, we have already identified an excellent learning opportunity: Always, always, have something to write with. Writing is now one of the things that you do, it's a commitment, and you never know when a good idea, or a connection between two ideas, will pass through your head.
And so we have made a beginning. It took me an hour and a half to write that first section in its first draft form. Or you could say that it took me twenty-seven years, which is how long I've been involved in TESOL; or forty-eight years, which is how long I'd been alive at the time of first writing this unit in January 1997.
What I now want to do is to look back at the unit so far and use it to introduce several points of interest to me and, I hope, to you.
Let's start by looking at my two subheads: Beginnings and A beginning. I've made a deliberate shift from a generalisation to a specific. We started off talking about beginnings in general, and now we are talking about this one. What is the relationship between these two sections?
Sometimes, the relationship between specific and general is that of exemplification. I might say that a common mistake among Arabic-speaking learners of English when coming to grips with relative clauses is that they insert a pronoun object which English (unlike Arabic) does not feature. For example,
This is the painting I was telling you about it.* (* = non-standard English)
But exemplification of the general is not the only role of the specific. What
is actually important to me in this discourse of ours is this specific beginning
that we are making together. The generalisations were used rhetorically as an
introduction. Let me say now something that I shall say often and at greater
length in Unit 4. On this course, we are very interested in specifics. When
you feel that a generalisation is in order, we shall certainly expect specific
examples to back it up. But in addition to this, we are very interested in the
investigation of specific instances themselves. I expand on this comment in
the next point.
We would all expect that different people might give different answers to my opening question about one's feelings when approaching a first class, a first communication. The point of asking the question could not be to find out what the correct answer is - there is no correct answer as such. So, what was the point?
Bear with me here, and see if you can let this style of reading-and-letting-me-teach work for you.
Please jot down your ideas on my possible motivation for starting this unit, this module, this higher academic degree, in the way that I did.
Well, first and foremost, I needed a way to begin. I, personally, find beginnings
difficult, and one methodological ground-rule that has helped me along for some
years is: If something is proving problematical, make it the topic of the lesson.
I have more to say about this in Unit 3 (MET).
Secondly, a main cause of difficulty in beginnings is that we have no established common ground on which to build our discourse, by which term I mean both our on-going exchange of meanings, and the world of meanings which we shall build through this exchange. By raising as a topic an experience which I believe we will all have shared and responded to one way or another, I hope to create a first stepping stone of common ground on which we can meet. More on this in Unit 2 (TDA).
Thirdly, I raised this topic in the form of a question, because I wanted to involve us as directly as possible in an interaction. To the extent that a writer can, I wanted to engage you, the reader, quite explicitly in the creation of this discourse together with me. A question demands an answer, even if it doesn't always receive one - and even the absence of an answer is a response of some kind. More on the study of meaning in interaction in Unit 5 (IIC).
Fourthly, I wanted to draw a parallel between that shared experience of beginning a new class and our situation now, in order to emphasise that what you are reading is my teaching. The medium is different, but the purpose is the same. I have just walked along that corridor. I have just had my mix of those emotions. It is now my responsibility to give you the sense that a learning experience is being organised for you in such a way that it helps you go where you want to go (including when you change your mind), gives you support when you need it, space when you need it, and the quantity and quality of feedback which will help you decide what it is that you need at any particular time. (Not for the first time in my writing, I am struck on re-reading by the pervasive influence of Earl Stevick. Compare here Stevick (1980: 33). More importantly, read that chapter, anyway.)
This text can only be a part of that process, but it is meant to be an important part. And like any teacher, I can hope to improve only if I get feedback from course participants. It is my good fortune that you, as my course participants, are also fellow professionals on whom I can rely to give me that feedback, but that does not take away from my responsibility actively to seek it if I wish to continue to develop as a teacher.
Fifthly, because the question sets out to elicit individual responses, it helps me emphasise early our desire on the Aston team to work with real diversity. In this, we take our place in the overall TESOL enterprise, for all of us in TESOL find this diversity in the contexts in which we work, in the people we work with, in the language that we describe, in the ways we learn of describing language, in the accounts and explanations of language acquisition we discover, in the ways our students learn English, in the ways we teach it, and in ourselves.
Finally, because the introduction seeks to exemplify the need to gather data from participants in a situation (in this case, yourselves) as a basis for activity and exploration. We shall return repeatedly to issues of data and collection, most especially from Unit 4 (Action Research) on.
At this point, it could be interesting for you to compare the notes that you wrote in the boxes above both with my response and with the notes written by colleagues. That latter comparison may be easy for you to do, or it may require some considerable effort. We believe that the ability to network, to communicate, to keep in touch with your peer group, to get to know each other, to appreciate and respect diversity, to establish collegiality is, however, of arterial importance to your further study and professional growth. This is not to say that one cannot do the work for the MSc more or less by oneself, it is a deliberate move on our part to share with you some of the values which underpin our approach at Aston to this programme. I shall have more to say in this area in the next section.
You have just spent some time thinking about my motivation in starting this unit in the way that I have. I also want you to spend some time thinking about your own motivation in deciding to take part in this programme. You may well have done this already in some detail, or you may have moved generally into the idea of a master's because it seemed to be the next thing to do. Whatever the case is, I am encouraging you to make an explicit record of your motivation as you understand it right now.
Having an idea of what motivates you gives you a way of checking whether or not you are getting what you want from the way you spend your life. And as time passes, your motivation might change; that can be a very interesting process, but you can't really track it unless you have a record of how you felt before - a record that was made at that time.
This doesn't have to be a daunting, formal process, but there are some terms you can use to help you think through the area, terms that you might well be familiar with from talking, thinking or reading about language learner motivation.
For instance, is there extrinsic motivation operating here? Do you see opportunities in your local or broader career context which motivate you to get a higher degree? Do you feel an intrinsic motivation to be involved in the kind of work that you foresee doing during this course, because the field itself is so interesting? Are you motivated by an instrumental view of a master's degree as a tool with which you can do things and get things? Is there a specific short-term or long-term purpose that you have in mind? Do you feel an integrative motivation, in the sense that you want to belong to a community of people who have developed an attitude to their work which you find attractive? Do you expect to find some kind of personal or professional fulfilment through the work? Is there professional or social pressure on you to have a master's degree?
I am not suggesting that you need to write answers to any of these questions. I offer them as ways of starting to think about your motivation.
What I do want you to do is to take a few minutes and to make some notes regarding your motivation as you begin this degree programme.
Make the notes now and we'll come back to them later (in Task 5).
You are bound to have given a great deal of thought to issues of time before starting the MSc. One of the most frequently asked questions regarding the course is how much time it takes. As you were probably told then, there are at least three reasons why this question is so difficult to answer:
o It depends on how much you already know, what you have already done, what you have already read, what you have already written.
o It depends on how far you want to go. There is, metaphorically speaking, a floor to the MSc house, but no necessary ceiling. That is to say, it is our responsibility at Aston to ensure that certain minimum standards are met. This can sometimes be the downside of the job. It is also our responsibility to see that participants can develop to their own potential. This is exultantly the upside of the job. It is not our place to make ethical judgements as to whether participants should do more or less than they do, it is simply clearly the case that it will take the same person less time to meet minimum standards than to reach their full potential. More on this under Purposes, below.
o The work tends to infiltrate your life. This is true in a positive sense, in that much of the work involves an investigation of what you are doing professionally anyway. It can also be true in a negative sense, and partners and family can suffer. More on this under People, below.
Despite the thinking you have done about time, I urge you now to ask yourself
whether it might not be useful to formalise that thinking. A big danger is that
one starts off wanting to do something and with a commitment to "fit it in somehow."
But most of us are expert at finding excuses for why we can't do something exactly
now. Then, as the pressures build up, one runs into friction with family and
friends and still has to settle for doing less than one had wanted to on the
work front. One gets the passing grades, so that's "all right," but the deeper
kind of satisfaction and motivation starts to evaporate like, (in that wonderfully
evocative expression from a Coppola movie with Natasha Kinski), like spit on
How much of a pattern is there to your week already? Can you see spare time in that pattern? Can you organise your activities in order to create some spare time?
Alternatively, can you see something that you are going to give up doing? Do you want to make a conscious decision to give up for a couple of years some of the television you watch, or the daily paper, or a regular social activity?
Another angle is to look for time that is lying fallow at the moment. If you have a daily bus journey, can you seriously count it as potential reading time to help you keep up with journal articles, for example? If you have free lessons in a timetable, can you spend more of them in the staff work area and fewer in the social room?
Have you made every effort to talk to your employers about what you are trying to do and make them see how this is going to feed into their teaching operation? Might they cut you a little slack in your contact hours, or agree to arrange them more conveniently? Your Course Tutor will be very happy to send back-up letters to support this kind of bid.
Similarly, at home, is it clear to everyone how important this work is to you, and what it involves in terms of commitment? Is it clear to you how people at home feel about that? Have you agreed some blocks of time in which you will be able to concentrate, on your writing, for example?
Some people get by well on frequent little bursts of work, others need substantial blocks of time in order to get going. You probably know yourself that well - you have to plan to maximise your own strengths.
Draw a week's timetable.
The task is to go through your week (a regular week or any one week - all seven days) and find, say, ten to twelve hours which you can dedicate to the MSc..
As with any plan, the crucial part is then to monitor to what extent you can keep to it, or modify it as you go along, in order to keep to that time commitment. Just as with a lesson plan, the purpose is not to straightjacket what you do, but to give you a way of learning about how well you can organise yourself and your life when you want to.
So, how does it look?
Finally, on this topic, we are very keen to know how long you do spend on studying for this degree. If you succeed in keeping a note of time spent, even in rough terms, please do let me know how long you spend on this foundation module. Making individual allowances for the various points I made above, it is my aim to provide input and stimulation for about one hundred and fifty hours of work, not including the preparation of your portfolio of work for assessment. Is that realistic?
A lot of people have to get their MSc work out when they want to study and put everything away again when they have to stop. But if you can create some dedicated space, be it ne'er so small, it may well be a much bigger help to the work than it might look to an outsider. The fact of being in a place created for concentration on particular goals itself seems to help that concentration.
As a working teacher, you probably have some professional space both at work and at home, and that may be enough for these purposes. But if there is an extra desk in the staffroom, or some shelf or cupboard space which you could ask for while it is not otherwise needed, this might also be of great help. Physically, these arrangements mean that you can leave books and papers in place while you are engaged elsewhere. Psychologically, it might help you maintain a clear sense of the importance of what you have in hand. Socially, so long as collegial relationships are otherwise healthy, it can help colleagues come to terms with the extra work you have taken on. It may even motivate someone to take an interest which might itself lead to further professional development.
In general, the same points regarding desk, shelf and cupboard space apply at home, too. I feel the danger of my seeming to want to tell people how to arrange their domestic lives, here, and I had better stop soon! But for many of us, our early university study was done under very different social circumstances than our master's degree and it is my job, at least, to encourage you to think about the need for arrangements before the lack of them becomes a problem. One thing is almost certain - during the course of the MSc programme, you will collect so much material of one kind or another that it will outgrow whatever space you allowed for it in the first place. The more space you can clear (or start to negotiate for) now, the better!
You will, of course, individually receive our core teaching materials direct from us. They represent our explicit work as teachers, in which we want to introduce you to our areas of special interest and involve you in an enthusiasm for them.
We cannot, however, provide all the resources and references which make each area the rich source of experience and learning which it can be. To have been accepted on the course, you must have assured us that some sources of relevant books and journals are available to you. Once again, I urge you to formalise that information. Make lists of accessible institutions that have relevant resources, and of which important resources you know that they have. I don't mean that you should start to duplicate library catalogues! I mean that if you discover that one library subscribes to, say, Educational Action Research, make a clear record of that fact so that you don't have to go searching for it again in the future. Talk to librarians and see if it is possible to have some books kept on reserve, or if you can make arrangements for postal borrowing. Do they offer inter-library loan, on a local, regional or national basis? Is there a photocopying service? Do they welcome suggestions for books to purchase or journal subscriptions?
As many of you will know from your own teaching, providing lists of references and reading lists is a double-edged sword. If one gives short lists, one decreases the likelihood that participants will be able to find the items listed. If one provides long lists in order to increase availability, one risks inducing panic at the length of the list and demands for more specificity. The teaching materials will indicate how essential a source is. As a working rule of thumb, and with the exception of books such as Bloor & Bloor (1995), or Edge (1992), where one is required to do work from the book, there is no such thing as an absolutely essential reading. So much has been and is being written in our field that there is always another useful source to turn to.
References which one cannot access are like all unattainable objects of desire - they seem so absolutely necessary in their absence. But the central point to remember is that the most important references are the ones that you have got and can get - use them well!
One final point here, to be continued below: the more you can collaborate with colleagues to share resources, the more likely you are to be able to access a wider range of them, and the more those resources are likely to be enriched by the opinions about them which you exchange.
As I have already mentioned (and to no one's surprise, I am sure), people, and communication with people, are at the heart of this programme.
First of all, your family and friends need to know what it is that you are trying to do if they are to help you, at least with their understanding of your occasional absences. The other side of that bargain is that it is up to you to recognise when enough is enough and to put the work aside. In most of the areas of study with which you engage, there is no obvious end to any piece of work. Classroom problems are not solved in any final or general manner; language use will not be comprehensively described and explained in any way which is beyond dispute from another perspective. You may more often find yourself having to put a stop to your assignments than feeling that you have actually finished them in a way that you find fully satisfactory. Don't think of that as a problem of yours - it is par for the course, it is a sign of the seriousness with which most participants try to make their study a meaningful part of their professional lives. But the point I am trying to make here is that we have to reach out to those who love us and enlist their support, while being sure that we do not exploit them.
Keeping in touch with the peer group in terms of Aston participants is a must for most people. These are the people who truly understand the impossible demands that are being made on you, who share the agony and the ecstasy and the occasional feeling that it just isn't worth it. Everyone goes through bad periods individually, but we do not all have them at the same time - that is where the group comes in. Everyone also goes through periods of enlightenment and inspiration - that is when one can spare a little energy to help others in the group.
Keep clear records of the names, addresses, phone numbers, fax numbers and e-mail addresses of other participants with whom you come into contact, or who you might contact. We will help you with data regarding people in your geographical area and people who are engaged on the same modules as you are. It remains everyone's right, of course, not to have their contact information shared around, and we will always respect that right. In terms of our own purposes, however, the furtherance of local and international collegiality ranks high, and we shall be encouraging it. As you develop your own records, keep track of colleagues and the module pathway they follow. Even if you take different paths for a while, you may coincide again later, and you may be able to offer advice and support in the meantime.
And if this is good advice, don't just nod it through. How are you going to keep those clear records of names and addresses? On computer? On file? In a dedicated address book? Act on these ideas now. Start putting systems in place early - you will be really pleased later on.
Some of your roles
In the previous section, I have written, and encouraged you to think, about various features of you in your context. In this section, I want to turn our attention to other aspects of yourself as a participant in the MSc programme.
In my subhead, I used the expression some of your roles, and in the previous sentence, I wrote, aspects of yourself. I sense a shift there and I am hard-put to pin down the distinction. I suppose I want to emphasise in passing that I find it dangerous to separate the person from the teacher. Who we are (and how we are) will express itself in any and all of what we might wish to call the roles that we take on.
What I want to do here is to invite you to respond to the ideas behind some of these roles/aspects and to compare your thoughts with mine. We could start with a term which I used in the first sentence of this section: participant.
What does it mean to you to be referred to as a participant? Would it make any difference to you if you were referred to as a student, or as a course member, or a CM - all of which terms are used on similar courses at different British institutions? It makes a difference to us on the staff here, and we spent some time talking about it. That's to say, we all agree that it does matter what names we give to things, because the names we give take on a role in our understanding of the nature of what is being referred to. We can see the evidence of this all around us: this is why putting people out of work came to be referred to as making people redundant and is now presented to us as rationalisation.
In our own specific case, the outcome we finally agreed to is based on the following thinking:
o We found course member too much of a mouthful, and we already have enough acronyms to live with without taking on CM.
o Student remains the most neutral term, and one which the university administration will doubtless continue to employ in its communications with you and about you.
o Despite this, student as a term has to stretch a long way in order to cover yourselves, the undergraduate body here at Aston, and the language learners that you teach. Furthermore, and most importantly, the whole nature of our programme is committed to the principle that we are not fundamentally engaged in sending you information for you to study; we are engaged in helping you investigate your own working contexts, and only to the extent that you participate in such a guided investigation can either you, or we, or this whole programme succeed. Participant is also a bit of a mouthful, but every time we say or write it, it functions as a reminder, an awareness-raiser, perhaps, of what it is that we are all meant to be about.
I have listed below some other terms that I find it useful to think about at this stage.
Before you read on to discover what I have to say about them, please do take the time to jot down your own responses to the words.
What do they mean to you?
Are they roles of yours/aspects of you?
Do they relate in any way to the motivations you listed above in Task 3, or to yourself in terms of your private or professional aspirations?
What do you think of when you hear these words?
How do you react?
As you will know from my previous comments, the reason for the tasks is not
that I believe I can make you write anything. They are there because I passionately
believe that if you take the time and trouble to make some notes now, you will
learn more, and you will think more, and you will learn more about what you
think than if you just simply pass by with a shake of the head and an ironic
smile. What you will also do is create some facts, some baseline data, a written
record of now which you will be able to use later.
Let's put it this way, if you have a conversation about these terms with a fellow participant in a couple of weeks, what you say will be based on your thinking at that time. If your thinking has not changed from this time to that, that is fine (in a slightly disappointing sort of a way). But can you be sure, even in your own mind? How could you hope to demonstrate the fact? If you can point to the notes that you made at the time and say, "Look, this is what I wrote at that point, and I still maintain the same positions now," then you have really made your point, supported by data. If, on the other hand, you find that your thinking has changed, you are in a position to characterise those changes by a comparison between what you said then and what you think now.
In either case, by using the data in these ways, you have turned them into evidence for an argument or for the development of a position. Without the data, you have no evidence to show other people, or to be sure about yourself.
Here are my responses to the words listed above. You will notice that I don't come to final conclusions, nor am I writing in order to convince you of anything. My purpose here is to share with you some ideas of mine for you to consider along with your own. I also indicate readings which I consider relevant to these issues. If the ideas interest you and you can obtain the references, then follow them up. Remember, too, that you must learn to use well the literature which is available to you, and avoid becoming depressed about what is not.
With regard to the term, teacher, one frequent and worthwhile response is to subdivide it into component roles. From previous reading and study, you may be familiar, for example, with Harmer's (1991: 235-255) characterisation of the teacher as controller, assessor, organiser, prompter, participant, resource, tutor and investigator. Harmer (ibid: 254) also invites us to think of other roles which the teacher takes on. We probably can. In some cases, we may discover that we have defined something which Harmer missed. Or, we may discover that our 'new' role actually overlaps with one or two of Harmer's. We may wish to argue that our categorisation is better, or we may concede that Harmer's is, in fact, more useful because it is more explanatory and concise than our own. Whatever the outcome, please note the way in which we have been using the literature of our field to help us clarify and further our own thinking. That is what the literature is for. It gives us shared reference points and a developing bank of ideas to work with. One demand that we will make of you during the Aston programme is that you show familiarity with the current debates in our field - in other words, that you refer to papers in recent journals as well as to well-established texts.
The most important points about the term teacher for me, at this point in my working life, are the following:
o Teaching cannot be defined except in conjunction with learning. At least, I often say that, but then it does not always seem quite so straightforward. Here are two of the points I muse on:
o A teacher is someone whose work is dedicated to helping others learn. By definition, teaching = helping learn. On the one hand, it is astonishing to have to spell this out, but so much has been written about distinctions between lecturing, teaching and facilitating (e.g. Underwood 1993) and between teacher-centred, learner-centred and learning-centred teaching (e.g. Nunan 1995) that it clearly is necessary to make this statement again and again. And at the same time, I have to admit to a wry smile when I think that there is some kind of a truth behind the staffroom complaint, 'I've taught them that point I don't know how many times and they still haven't got it!'
o A teacher is not simply a bundle of classroom functions. Teachers are whole people-who-teach. They have 'outside' lives and, in some cases, forty-year careers in teaching. Their lives, and those of their families, are in (sometimes great) part formed by the fact that they are a teacher. For this reason, while it is true to say, 'One can learn without a teacher, but one cannot teach without learners', this piece of cleverness conceals the truth that one is a teacher, a person-who-teaches, also at those times when one is not in direct contact with learners.
o The term teacher does not define a category of worker which excludes the roles we shall discuss next. It describes rather a context of choice in which the following roles also become possible.
In a simple but important sense, we are professionals in the sense that we do what we do for money.
Indeed, a great deal of TESOL is carried out for very straightforward commercial reasons and in ways which do not fit comfortably with visions of the practice of, say, medicine and the law, perhaps the two examples of 'the professions' which spring first to mind. Notoriously, TESOL is a form of employment into which some people move without any form of training or qualification and, furthermore, there is no professional body which oversees our work in TESOL and sets its own standards. With regard to these last points, there is often a useful distinction to be made between people who teach English in the context of their own formal education system, and those who travel the world as a part of the international TESOL community (Holliday 1994, pp.11-13). The former will usually be subject to formal demands on their qualifications in a way that the latter need not.
It is difficult, therefore, to refer to TESOL in general as a profession. On the other hand, we do know what we mean when we talk about a desire to be professional, and the term is widely used - carrying positive overtones - in the sense of: serious, responsible, reliable, and ethical. Here, it does draw on collocation with lawyer and doctor, and I use the word in this sense below when I refer to 'fellow professionals' in the section on Voice and relationships. We expect such people to be informed about what is going on in their field, to have opinions which they can substantiate by reference both to experience and to an acknowledged literature, to be able to make plans, implement them and learn from the results, and to be engaged in bringing on the next generation of practitioners.
Tempting as it is to end on such a resounding note, we might pause to think of the generally low level of respect in which lawyers are held in many countries. One acknowledges that they make a lot of money, but that only brings us back to the first characteristic of professional that we looked at. What we have here, perhaps, is the idea of the professional as a person with restricted, specific expertise for which large sums of money can be charged. This is not the experience of many TESOL professionals.
It may be that a small number of ESP teachers in the area of business consultancy in rich countries manage to establish themselves in such positions. At a national level, government agencies involved in language planning and the implementation of large-scale projects might also deal in such terms. In part, the fees which people are paid in these circumstances are perhaps as much for the responsibility which they take on, and for an ability to make and implement decisions in the absence of certainty, as for any actual expertise as such. Welker (1992) is very interesting on the subject of the extent to which teachers are, or should wish to be, experts in this sense of the holders of separate and privileged knowledge.
Finally, in this section, we might think about what it might mean for TESOL if professionalisation were to take place in the fuller sense I have alluded to above, with professional bodies, rules of conduct, and clearly demarcated levels of qualification. We could hope to isolate the irresponsible TESOL operations which employ unqualified teachers and take money from unsuspecting customers with little obvious outcome in terms of language learning. We could hope to offer a more structured career possibility to people entering TESOL with serious purpose. On the other hand, we would have to be careful that we were not, under the cover of professionalisation, simply laying the dead hand of bureaucracy on what is a lively and exciting way to earn a living. We would have to be careful that we were not creating a closed club to which only the usual candidates on the correct track were allowed entry. For anyone interested in this topic of the professionalisation of teaching and its socio-political significance, Popkewitz (1994) would be a good place to start.
This is one of the words that we wish to claim for our own use. I say 'claim', because I feel that it has been lost to us. Research has come to be associated with large-scale projects - perhaps in the hard sciences within an isolated world of laboratories, or in industry, to mean preparatory work carried out before production. In our sense, however, research is not isolated from everyday living, or thought of as prior to, or separate from, teaching. Being a teacher-researcher means being the kind of teacher who is engaged in exploring his or her teaching context.
If you want to progress beyond an "it works" relationship to teaching, you need to learn how to go about investigating the context you work in. What would be a worthwhile question to explore in your context? What would count as evidence? How could you collect it? How would you make sense of it? So what? - What difference does it make? How can you tell? Which books and articles are relevant to what you are exploring? How can the reports of other teachers in different contexts relate to yours? How does your contribution fit in? This is what we mean by research.
There are strategies and skills to be learned and there will certainly be extra demands on your time. These are in the nature of your studying for a higher degree and attaining a new level of professional ability. What we are aiming for as an outcome, however, is that you will be in a position to evaluate a research-based approach to teaching from a position in which you see research as a part of your province, to the extent to which you wish to claim it.
You will need to function as a researcher in order to gain your MSc. In the longer term, you may also wish to make research an element of your teaching, and teaching a context for your research.
Initially, you may be concerned that your research is trivial - you will almost certainly be wrong. The researching of actual teaching contexts and experience is exactly what is missing in our field, not only for the purpose of improving professional practice, but also for the building of pedagogic theory. See the next sub-section.
Theory and theoretical are terms which cause problems in British culture, at least. Take an everyday use:
'Theoretically, these showers should arrive tomorrow evening,
but practically, they might already turn up in the afternoon.'
Suzanne Charlton, BBC TV weather forecast, 19 May 1996.
So, should one take one's umbrella according to the theory, or according to
the practical possibility? Is the difference just one of likelihood? It really
is difficult to see what type of theory is being invoked here. The point is,
I think, that theory is seen as something divorced from what actually happens.
Things which are 'all very well in theory,' are, by implication, unlikely to
work out in everyday experience, when the 'theory' is 'applied'.
This is not at all a vision of theory or theorising to which we subscribe. Teaching is not a science in the sense that one learns abstract theories which one then applies in practice. There certainly are some general principles of which one needs to be aware, but learning to teach is very much about learning to understand and respond to the various ways in which learners interact with their contexts, with each other, with their teachers, and with the diverse bodies of knowledge and ability which they want to acquire.
The type of theorist which we want to encourage is the person who struggles to articulate statements which make sense of that person's own experience. Theory, in this sense, is the understanding which arises from practice, and the theorist is the person who gives voice to it. Theory is evaluated according to its usefulness in helping a person account for what is happening, and in planning future action. That is why we are interested in the specifics of a local situation, and why our participants need to be researchers in order to formulate local theory.
At the same time, in order to appreciate the significance of what one comes to understand, one needs to know what others have said in other situations. And in order to formulate and communicate one's understanding, one needs to be in control of appropriate ways of speaking and writing. For both these reasons, one needs to be able to function at some level in the relevant discourse community.
This is another word that is frequently marked for negativity in its everyday uses:
'Some Sinn Fein candidates will certainly be elected, but
that will be quite academic as they won't be allowed to attend the talks.'
James Naughtie, The Today Programme, BBC Radio 4, 21 May 1996
'Blackburn raised their game from a canter after Wise put Chelsea ahead after 35 minutes. At once, Sherwood headed in the splendidly direct Wilcox's centre from the left and before the hour was up McKinlay, with a cleverly taken header, and Fenton with a volley had effectively settled it. Spencer's late reply proved academic.'
Frank Keating, The Guardian, 6 May 1996
Academic, in these examples, seems to mean something like, of no
But academic is also a word on which we want to lay a claim. One of the purposes which we hope you will embrace as long-term TESOL professionals working on a higher degree, is the ability to take part in the kind of well-informed and precise statements and exchanges of opinion which can add to the body of knowledge available for TESOL. We are committed to high academic standards in these senses of information and precision, and academic itself is a word that we want to appropriate and make positive in these ways.
Perhaps one of our motivations for wanting to use this word with regard to our work together is that we want to disassociate it from a necessary connection with work that is done in an academy. The kind of research and theory-building that I have sketched above can't be done in an academy, it can only be done in a working context. In order to gain for this type of work the respect which we think it deserves, we have to insist on high academic standards and the ability to function in an academic discourse community.
It may be the case that you are involved in this programme because you aspire to be a researcher, a theorist, and an academic in the field. If so, we can simply get on with it. But my main motivation in writing this section arises from the fact that these words are frequently seen as embarrassing in British teaching culture. You may not want to think of yourself as a researcher, a theorist, or an academic. What we ask for the time being is that you stay open to the potentially positive meanings which these terms can carry, and open to the suggestion that these are aspects of yourself which will grow if you are to develop to the full as a teacher and a professional.
Making a net work
You need people to talk to as you study for your MSc. Ideally, you will communicate with fellow participants engaged on the same module as yourself, fellow participants engaged on different modules, Aston MSc graduates, participants and graduates of other master's programmes, fellow teachers who have no experience of such programmes, non-teachers who have experience of further study, and people who just care about you. All these strands of a network need putting in place and they all require effort to keep in place.
If you have carried out the tasks I have suggested in this unit so far, you have information and thoughts on various topics to share. It is now up to you to start sharing.
Establishing a record
I have made the point a couple of times that we need to collect data and establish a record of that data as we go along. This gives us something tangible to go back to later on, when our perspectives might have changed. Let's dig just a little deeper at this point into what I'm saying here.
First of all, that word tangible which I decided to use in the previous paragraph. I could have used the word objective, but that is a word to be careful with. If you have made some notes on your response to the word academic, then those notes are there as an object to which you can return. There is no difficulty with this usage. The notes you made are, of course, notes of your own subjective opinions, that is the point of them. They are not objective in the sense of what one might think of as the objective facts of the hard sciences. We shall return to this issue in depth in Unit 4, but let us put this marker down here.
We rarely deal, in this master's programme, only with simple objective facts in their own right. Let us imagine for a moment a classroom in which the teacher says to the students, "Put the chairs in rows." Given the presence of some kind of recording, the saying of these words can be established pretty unproblematically as objective fact. But why do we choose to make a point of noting this action? Did the teacher regard it as significant? Did the students? How do we interpret it? Do we make a note in the margin that Teacher X is a traditionalist who likes to have students sitting in straight lines, or that X is a sensitive teacher who thinks it worthwhile to move the classroom furniture around for specific activities? Altrichter et al (1993:72f) have a useful activity based around the idea of a 'ladder of inference,' which aims to help us keep a handle on the status of the data that we collect. Please look it up.
Or, on another tack, if we were to ask a teacher and a student what happened in a particular class, there would be differences between their responses, not because one was right and the other wrong, but because they simply perceived the experience of the lesson differently. The teacher might report on a group task designed to increase learner independence; the students might report that the teacher was tired and left them to get on with things by themselves. Seeking out inter-subjective understandings of learning and teaching is very much what we are about. And just as perceptions differ between people, so do they also differ in the same person across time. That is why we need tangible records. And why you need to keep a diary.
For a fuller explanation of what is at stake, as well as sound practical advice, you should read the first two chapters of Altrichter et al. (1993). A recorded discussion of diary-keeping in the context of TESOL-oriented research is also provided, and you can follow this up by checking the index entries under diary and diary-study in Bailey & Nunan (1996). Further references to diary studies in TESOL for those who wish to take a deeper interest in this area are: Bailey 1990, Brock et al. 1992, Campbell 1996, Jarvis 1992, Numrich 1996, Peck 1996, Richards 1992. Note that terms such as diary, journal and log are used in overlapping ways by different writers. What we have in mind in our case is a document private to each person, not to be read, and certainly not assessed, by anyone else.
The simple proposition being made here, then, is not that you study diary-keeping, but that you keep a diary - a diary of your time on the Foundation Module.
A basic approach would be as follows:
o Dedicate a large-format book, or A4 file, or computer folder to the purpose.
o Leave a large left-hand margin on each page.
o Dedicate the last part of each study session and/or (section of a) unit to the diary. Make an entry of your thoughts and feelings, both specific to that session or unit, and also cumulatively as you move through the module. Be explicit. Wherever possible, explore your justifications for what you say. This may well be difficult at the beginning. Remember that no one else will read what you have to say - just do it.
o Periodically, perhaps on a weekly basis, read through what you have written and make any notes that occur to you in the margin, perhaps in a different colour, pen or script. (You may notice patterns occurring in the notes you have written; you may feel differently (for better or worse!) about some earlier activity; you may find that an earlier intuition is turning into a firm conviction.)
It is not easy for most of us to keep up the discipline of maintaining a regular
diary, but I am convinced that it is worth the effort, for four very important
1 Simply taking the time to reflect on what you have been doing in a study session is helpful in terms of being aware of what you are doing, of evaluating the work, and of integrating the work into your ongoing professional life.
2 Making yourself articulate the outcome of your reflection, no matter how informally, actually helps you to understand and develop the thoughts with which you are working.
3 You create a bank of data which will help you interpret and deal with the intellectual and emotional processes you are going through.
4 You have the basis of an evaluation of the Foundation Module, which you will be required to provide in your FND Portfolio. You can paraphrase, or quote selectively from your diary if and as you find it appropriate.
Finally, in this section, I am obliged by a sense of principle to point out
to you that no one is going to check whether or not you have kept a diary: it
is not a condition of the programme. I hope that you have been persuaded that
it is worth making every effort to come to terms with this very powerful aid
to aware study.
As back-up reading in this area, we provide Bailey (1990) and Burke (1995). Bailey's chapter is usefully about diary studies, and may help you appreciate the breadth, as well as depth, of their use. Burke's paper exemplifies the ongoing use of a teacher's log in her development of her teaching, as well as providing an example of how data drawn from such a log can give substance to a description, and provide evidence for an argument, when writing about one's teaching.
Rather like diary-keeping, assessment by portfolio has generated a literature of its own and I include here further references for those who wish to pursue the idea (Barton & Collins 1993, Carroll et al. 1996, Johnson 1996, Wade & Yarbrough 1996, Winsor and Ellefson 1995).
As with diary-keeping, you are not called upon to study portfolios, simply to provide one. We are working with the basic concept of a portfolio of work, perhaps as a painter, or a photographer, or an architect might understand it. The portfolio gives you the chance to provide samples of what you can do across a range of possibilities. The tasks we set for the portfolio are specifically marked as such. They are meant to be well-defined and professionally relevant. We rely on you to tell us if they are not. The tasks are also meant to allow leeway both for diverse situations and individual creativity, so you should not feel that there is a model answer out there waiting for your approximation to it. Unlike diary-keeping, the compilation of the portfolio is compulsory.
You do not submit the portfolio until you have completed it. I do strongly urge you, however, to carry out each portfolio task as you come to it, unit by unit. When you come to the end of the module, look back over the tasks and review your work. I then advise you to choose your response to one of the tasks and send it in for formative evaluation. We will give you feedback on the individual task and a clear indication as to whether you appear to be hitting the right standard. At a time of your choosing, you then send in the whole portfolio. Following the next submission dateline, we will give you overall summative feedback on the portfolio and, in almost all cases, I trust, you will proceed to your next chosen modules on the programme.
It is up to you to evaluate this module in terms of the aims spelled out for it, both in overall terms (in the Study Companion) and unit by unit here. It is up to us to evaluate your portfolio in terms of the general FND aim, 'to enable participants to demonstrate their ability to proceed immediately with their master's level studies,' and in terms of the specific abilities demanded by the tasks.
Voice and relationships
We are coming to the end of this introductory unit and I want to make some retrospective comments now on the way in which I have been addressing you. In terms of academic content, this issue could well be handled under TDA or IIC, but it is relevant across the whole module, and the whole degree, so it seems appropriate to raise it here.
I am writing to you in what I think of as my written-teaching voice. This is neither completely formal writing, such as you will find in our academic journals and books, nor is it the completely informal writing of, for example, the newsletters we send you. I hope that this voice proves appropriate for my purpose in writing these materials, which is to engage you in potentially complex and intriguing issues in a way that is, in itself, not off-puttingly remote, or simplistic, or idiosyncratic. Just as different teachers teach in different ways, you will find that my colleagues and I write in different ways in order to be the best teachers that we think we can be. As you progress through the modules, these questions of voice and teaching style are some of the areas in which we look forward to your feedback.
Remember, too, that the voice and style of written teaching is not likely to be appropriate for the writing of assignments. In other words, my writing here is not a model for your writing on the programme. Indeed, one of the outcomes that we desire for you is that you discover and develop your own style of public, written expression. As you read the articles in ELT Journal, Applied Linguistics, TESOL Quarterly and other professional journals, you will see that a wide variety of accents is acceptable in our field.
We at Aston see our relationship with you as one of fellow-professionals in TESOL, in which you have access to specific knowledge, and we have prior familiarity with a general field of knowledge. We aim to help you expand your knowledge and your abilities through study and action, as well as develop your capacity to articulate your outcomes to various audiences.
As well as developing one's own voice, a writer in a professional field also pulls in other voices from the literature, and I would like to finish this section by introducing a quotation from Stevick (1982: 201), which, while initially addressed to readers first entering TESOL, also provides very wise and powerful advice for anyone entering a new phase of challenge and disturbance in the status quo of their professional lives:
'Teaching language is only one kind of teaching, and teaching and learning are only two limited aspects of being human. I therefore hope, first of all, that you will take time to sit down and read again whatever philosophical or religious writings you have found most nourishing to you.'
I now want to use this statement as a vehicle for some related comments on
the use of other peoples voices, i.e. quotations.
I have used a quotation here because I want to draw on the authority of the writer in the presentation of my own position. I find Stevick's advice to be highly relevant to, and in line with, my own comments about the teacher-as-person. (I could achieve the same end by quoting someone in order to disagree with them. One is still drawing on their authority - there is no point in taking the trouble to disagree with an idiot.)
Also, in order to justify the use of a quotation, I have to feel that the person quoted has expressed a particular point particularly well, with such conciseness and elegance that a paraphrase plus acknowledgement would not do them justice. This is to a great extent an aesthetic judgement and one to keep in mind when reading and using quotations.
I find it very satisfying to see how Stevick, in giving this advice, stays completely true to the principles he outlines for language teaching, and for teaching in general, with regard to the relationship between control and initiative (Stevick 1980: 16-33). His advice here is clear and unambiguous in terms of recommended action, thus exercising the teacher's legitimate control in terms of taking responsibility for organising what might usefully be done. In the secure environment thus structured by the teacher/adviser, we have the absolute freedom to exercise our own initiative in the choice of the texts which we do find nourishing in our own lives. By offering this quotation, I also hope to offer access for some readers to this broader vision.
In formal terms, please note that I used the surname of the author, followed in brackets by the year of publication of the text I am citing and the page number on which the actual quotation can be found. At the end of this unit, you can look up the name in an alphabetical list and get the full reference. All this is standard practice, and we ask you to follow it. The conventions regarding exactly how this information is given do vary. We do not mind which set of conventions you decide to use, but we do demand that you adopt one and that you are consistent in its use.
The conventions I have just referred to might seem to be an example of just the sort of nit-picking triviality which leads to words such as academic having the negative associations that they do. But the conventions are there to protect principles of behaviour very important to a community which lives by the exchange of ideas through words. The fundamental principle is one of respect. If I use an idea which I have consciously taken from someone else, I pay respect to that person by acknowledging them accurately. And similarly, with regard to the reader, if I refer to another work which I think is relevant to my topic, it may be that my reader will want to pursue that reference. Out of respect to my reader, I must make sure that the reference I give is precise and fully detailed. I did not observe this convention when referring to the film by Coppola in the section on Time, above. Did you feel uncomfortable about that? I did.
All in all, then, always acknowledge the sources of the ideas that you use - this is one of the demands of the educational culture that you are now working in - and use quotations sparingly when there is good cause. What we want to hear is your voice appropriately contextualised in our shared community of discourse.
Please read through this section now, and then come back to it when you have finished with the unit. You might usefully refer to it again when you complete the FND and write your evaluation.
Go back to the opening page of this unit and re-read the statement there of Aims and Objectives.
Look back through the tasks in the unit.
How did you feel about them?
What do you think now?
Do you feel that the unit has kept its promises?
Is something missing?
Do you feel that you have participated in ways that enable you to make the most of the materials offered?
Your responses to these questions might form potential diary entries.
You might like to make some interim notes here before doing the recommended back-up reading, doing some broader reading of your own, networking with some colleagues, and writing up your diary.
How long do reckon you have spent on this unit altogether?
We have begun.
Altrichter, H., Posch, P. and Somekh, B. 1993. Teachers Investigate Their Work. London: Routledge.
Bailey, K. 1990. The use of diary studies in teacher education programmes. In Richards, J. and Nunan, D. (Eds.) 1990. Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: CUP. Pp. 215-226.
Bailey, K. and Nunan, D. (Eds.) 1996. Voices from the Language Classroom. Cambridge: CUP.
Barton, J. and Collins, A. 1993. Portfolios in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education. 44/2: 200-210.
Bloor, M. and Bloor, T. 1995. The Functional Analysis of English. London: Edward Arnold.
Brock, M., Yu, B. and Wong, M. 1992. Journaling together: Collaborative diary-keeping and teacher development. In Flowerdew, J., Brock, M. and Hsia, S. (Eds.) 1992. Perspectives on Second Language Teacher Education. Hong Kong: City Polytechnic. Pp. 295-307.
Burke, H. 1995 Discovering and taking action on the 'adult/child persona' conflict within low-level students. In Edge, J. (Ed.) Teacher Development in Action. Aston University: Language Studies Unit. Pp. 20-36.
Campbell, C. 1996. Socialising with the teachers and prior language learning experience: a diary study. In Bailey and Nunan. Pp. 201-223
Carroll, J., Potthof, D. and Huber, T. 1996. Learning from three years of portfolio use in teacher education. Journal of Teacher Education 47/2:253-262
Edge, J. 1992. Cooperative Development: Professional Self-Development through Cooperation with Colleagues. Harlow: Longman.
Harmer, J. 1991. The Practice of English Language Teaching. 2nd. ed. Harlow: Longman.
Holliday, A. 1994. Appropriate Methodology and Social Context. Cambridge: CUP.
Jarvis, J. 1992. Using diaries for teacher reflection on in-service courses, TESOL Journal 46/2: 133-143.
Johnson, K. 1996. Portfolio assessment in second language teacher education. TESOL Journal 6/2: 11-14.
Numrich, C. 1996. On becoming a language teacher: Insights from diary studies. TESOL Quarterly 30/1: 131-151.
Nunan, D. 1995. Closing the gap between learning and instruction. TESOL Quarterly 29/1: 133-158.
Peck, S. 1996. Language learning diaries as mirrors of students' cultural sensitivity. In Bailey and Nunan. Pp. 236-247.
Popkewitz, T. 1994. Professionalisation in teaching and teacher education: Some notes on its history, ideology and potential. Teaching and Teacher Education 10/1: 1-14.
Richards, K. 1992. Pepys into a TEFL course. TESOL Journal 46/2: 144-152.
Stevick, E.W. 1980. Teaching Languages: A Way and Ways. Rowley, Mass.: Newbury House.
Stevick, E.W. 1982. Teaching and Learning Languages. Cambridge: CUP.
Underwood, A. 1993. Lecturing, teaching and facilitating. Teacher Development 24/1-2.
Wade, R. and Yarbrough, D. 1996. Portfolios: A tool for reflective thinking in teacher education? Teaching and Teacher Education 12/1: 63-79
Welker, R. 1992. The Teacher as Expert. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
Winsor, P. and Ellefson, B. 1995. Professional portfolios in teacher education. The Teacher Educator 31/1: 68-91.
Bailey, K. 1990. The use of diary studies in teacher education programmes. In Richards, J. and Nunan, D. (Eds.) 1990. Second Language Teacher Education. Cambridge: CUP. Pp. 215-226.
Burke, H. 1995 Discovering and taking action on the 'adult/child persona' conflict within low-level students. In Edge, J. (Ed.) Teacher Development in Action. Aston University: Language Studies Unit. Pp. 20-36.