My IATEFL Glasgow Diary Part 10 – Willy Cardoso on Sociocultural Perspectives to Teacher Training

Wednesday, 21st March 2012, Glasgow Conference Centre.


If there was one session that I went to this IATEFL conference that really pushed me to think, if there was one session that I went to that made me want to stand up and cheer by the end of it, if there was one session that I went to that I think no one should have missed, it’s Willy Cardoso’s ‘Dialogue in Teacher Training: A Socio-Cultural Perspective’.

Exploring the way teachers learn to teach and the theories behind them, Willy reminds us that nearly everyone has ideas about what teaching should be like because we all have had experience of being a student at some point in our lives. It is such Apprentice of Observation (Lortie, 1975), alongside theories that show how cognitive development is mediated by social activity (Vygotsky), that clearly point towards the fact that learning (whether learning a language or learning to teach) is a dialogic experience, i.e. I cannot make sense of anything unless I am in co-existence with someone else.

Quoting the following, Willy demonstrates the connection between the socialization process, one’s cognitive processes, and the way they conceptualise teaching and what one does in the language classroom:

‘The socialization processes prospective teachers experience during practicum can have a powerful influence on their conceptions of language teaching and of what it means to be a language teacher.’ (Borg, 2006:57)

‘It is not that social activity influences cognition…but that social activity is the process through which human cognition is formed.’ (Lantolf & Johnson, 2007:878)

‘how external forms of social interaction become internalized psychological tools for thinking.’ (Johnson, 2011)

Teachers are learners themselves, and they should always be constant learners of teaching. Their epistemological stance is therefore important in determining what underpins their classroom practices and even the meta-language used to describe what they do. Take for example language like ‘The learner is slow’ or ‘the teacher is dynamic’. Such discourse has a history of usage in our field and it is vital that we examine what we mean when we use them, and how the acquisition of such discourse fits our social contexts.

Such is the discourse that we export to the rest of the world when we export our teaching methodologies and approaches through teacher training courses. Yet, teachers are clearly NOT contextually isolated technicians. They are not machines that copy techniques they have learnt in one context and apply them without regard for the appropriacy of such practices in a different culture or context.

So if we do agree that social processes and cultures could influence cognition, which in turn could influence the way we learn or expect to learn, surely, reflective practice is the key to continual professional development?

Surely, the deepening of knowledge and understanding of the applicability of the techniques and discourse we acquire can only take place through having space for reflection and examination of our beliefs?

Surely, reflective practice is itself learning how to teach?

If so, then, why do we spend hours upon hours on input and planning in teacher training courses?

How often do we expect our trainees to simply ‘copy and paste’ the techniques and discourse into their teaching practices (regardless of the contexts they will teach in)? Is that why we do demo lessons?

Why do we spend such little time on feedback and reflection?

Why is the feedback session to teaching practice lessons only 30 minutes long?

While Dogme is a way for us teachers to allow for more reflective practice and adapt content and structure to context, what about teacher training?

Do we build upon the prior experience of our trainees as learners and as people?

Do we allow space for them to adapt and reflect?

Are we training them to be technicians? Or reflective practitioners?

Encouraging us to use the following framework suggested by Borg (2006), Willy pushes us to ask the following questions as trainers:

  • What are the characteristics of trainee’s classroom practices during the training course?
  • What influences underlie these practices?
  • How do trainees’ exit mindset, pedagogical principles, and scientific concepts compare to those they entered with?

Without doubt, a session that has left us trainers breathless and inspired.

In the communicative era of teaching, we constantly preach a student-centred approach to teaching. We constantly preach that context is most important. We constantly preach that student talking time is what matters.

Hence, when it comes to teacher training, should we not push for a more trainee-centred approach?

Should we not focus our attention on ways our trainee teachers can adapt what we give them and shape it into what would suit different contexts while making it their own?

Should we not allow for more trainee talking time where they could engage in dialogue with not just their tutors, but their colleagues and their students, to help them make sense of their learning process and mediate their development?

Maybe it’s time for a communicative approach to teacher training.