From Utopia to Reality: Trans-Formation of Pedagogical Knowledge in English Language Teacher Education

June 2019

Source: Profile: Issues in Teachers’ Professional Development, 21(1), 27-42

(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The author of this study had as a purpose to foster, through a pedagogical intervention, some sensitivity towards the social and critical dimensions of language education in contexts that were immediate to its participants.
This aim called for an inquiring attitude about some trans-formations concerning views and practices of language education and learning, and the way those transforming views and practices, in turn, shaped a group of student-teachers’ formative research projects.
The question that guided the study was:
How are English as a foreign language (EFL) student-teachers’ formative pedagogical and research experiences portrayed in a transformative and critical outlook for initial teacher education?
The objectives of the project as described by the author were: To characterize student-teachers’ formative pedagogical and research experiences, and to analyze the innovations that student-teachers show, as such, from their own perspective.

The EFL teacher education program of Universidad Distrital receives students, men and women, who are mainly young adults.
The five participants in this study were taken from a group of fourteen future English teachers who participated in the academic courses Interdisciplinary Seminar and Pedagogical Project.
The participants were selected by the author from those who had completed a number of eight reflections about the readings discussed in class and were completing their pedagogical and research proposals.

The study was descriptive and interpretive qualitative. A process of data management and analysis was developed by the researcher within a reflective and critical atmosphere fostered through the pedagogical intervention.
Data collection was done by the author in two points in time:
(a) reflections and perceptions through diaries and interviews during the intervention, and
(b) conceptions through monographs, after the intervention took place.
The participants wrote reflective diary entries as one activity following discussions about reading materials on the subjects of Interdisciplinary Seminar and Pedagogical Project.
The interviews were conducted soon after the courses ended.
The monographs-degree works that reported on pedagogical and small-scale research studies were selected based on two criteria:
(1) relevance to the concept of innovation and coherence with the idea of practical realization of alternative views about language, pedagogy, and
(2) learning previously identified in diaries and interviews.

After analyzing data, the main emerging themes found by the author were “Going Back and Forth from Utopia to Reality” and “EFL Student-Teachers as Novice Critical Researchers”.

Going Back and Forth from Utopia to Reality
The author describes how the participation of the EFL student-teachers became a stroll between utopia and reality: In pedagogy, they undertook negotiations with themselves, with their academic formation and with their pupils; in research, they engaged in applications of the qualitative paradigm to projects oriented to knowing their students and projects that involved parents.
Going back and forth between the dialogical and dialectical dimensions of pedagogy (Kincheloe, 2004) during the teaching practicum was reflected in the internal and external negotiations of the student-teachers.
The former were understood as the questioning of their own beliefs as compared with theory and practice; the latter were related to decision-making and innovations within the classroom, negotiations between the knowledge derived from experiences and the knowledge received during the academic formation.
The author notes that being in contact with literature on critical pedagogy led the student teachers to identify controversial aspects of educational practices inside and outside the language classroom.
They reported on a dynamic, in contrast to a static, feature of education by referring to pedagogical practices as tasks that involved naming educational phenomena, reflecting, and acting on them critically.
Focusing on the dialectical dimension of critical pedagogy, the student-teachers faced challenges and dilemmas that led them to search for a bridge between theory and practice of language pedagogy as a situated activity. In other words, language pedagogy became a set of alternatives to establish connections between language and their real-life issues.

The author noted that the emergence of tensions was mediated through negotiation. Negotiation became a change in the lifestyle of the participants.
The dialogical dimension relates to the attitude of the teachers towards knowing the students, establishing a dialogue through strategies and instruments that facilitate a direct interaction between the people involved in educational events. This is what in critical pedagogy is called “dialogue as a human phenomenon” (Freire, 2002, p. 87).
This constitutes an innovation for the participants of this study since their conceptions about language undergo a transition from seeing it as a system of linguistic forms and abilities to see it as revealing, constructing, and transforming relationships between people (Pennycook, 1994).

EFL Student-Teachers as Novice Critical Researchers
This study shows some features of formative pedagogical and research projects contained in degree works (i.e., monographs) completed by the student-teachers which illustrate the shape that innovation took in the EFL teacher education program of Universidad Distrital, and that led them to position themselves as critical authors and actors of their projects.
The degree works that were considered here by the author can be characterized as instances of qualitative research studies that focused on going beyond the implementation and evaluation of the effectiveness of EFL instructional strategies.
Overall, the student-teachers’ proposals emerged from their personal interest in exploring and understanding the causes and consequences of pedagogical practices that they had either experienced or observed in their classrooms during their teaching practicum.
In relation to the pedagogical component of the novice teacher researchers’ projects, the author states that most of them had a pedagogical intervention design. It was closely related to the role of participant observers in their teaching settings.
They acted as assistant English teachers at some public schools with learners from different grades, but they were allowed to design a syllabus and lessons that considered a set of instructional objectives and a variety of activities that helped to create an environment that served a dual purpose: language development and data collection.
More than a mere description of findings, the analysis of the data in each degree work revealed the researchers’ interpretation and discussion of the relationships among themes with relevant support from an array of authors and research projects.
In addition, the author perceived that in this section of the reports there was a constant acknowledgement of the participants’ voices, placing them, their life experiences, and their views regarding different topics at the core of the studies.
In fact, some of the researchers did use literal phrases to name the categories of analysis and to show their participants’ perceptions more accurately.
The author found that either in their reflections, in the literature review, or in the design of the pedagogical content of their projects, the student-teachers mentioned learning through language, rather than learning about the language; to move from mechanical transactions to real communication, and to reach a higher level of interaction, discussion, and analysis inside their classrooms.
The teaching students reflected upon the possibility of transforming their teaching practices by considering language as a means for social construction, for the empowerment of learners to take active part both inside and outside the classroom, and for taking into consideration the social context in which they and their learners were immersed. Thus, the author found that they saw themselves and their pupils as social transformers willing to construct knowledge, rather than as passive people who were there to reproduce sanctioned patterns and ideas.

Concluding Remarks
As a way to answer the question posed for the study, the author asserts that the implementation of trans-formations mediated by pedagogical and research agendas, such as the ones shown in this study, were alternatives with high levels of sensitivity towards the socially associated issues in language education.
They were alternatives that led the participants to perform as teachers without using infallible recipes, typical of traditional.
The concept of language education was transformed by adopting a reflective-critical approach, where the student-teachers took an active, participatory, and critical position (Kincheloe, 2004). They evaluated their beliefs about language, teaching, and learning.

Freire, P. (2002). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York, US: The Continuum International Publishing Group.
Kincheloe, J. L. (2004). Critical pedagogy. New York, US: Peter Lang.
Pennycook, A. (1994). The cultural politics of English as an international language. London, UK: Longman. 

Updated: Aug. 08, 2019