24.4955, Review: Applied Linguistics: Farrell (2012)

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LINGUIST List: Vol-24-4955. Thu Dec 05 2013. ISSN: 1069 - 4875.

Subject: 24.4955, Review: Applied Linguistics: Farrell (2012)

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Rajiv Rao, U of Wisconsin Madison
Joseph Salmons, U of Wisconsin Madison
Mateja Schuck, U of Wisconsin Madison
Anja Wanner, U of Wisconsin Madison
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Date: Thu, 05 Dec 2013 10:56:52
From: Tanya Roy [armonia941 at gmail.com]
Subject: Reflective Writing for Language Teachers

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Book announced at http://linguistlist.org/issues/24/24-181.html

AUTHOR: Thomas S. C. Farrell
TITLE: Reflective Writing for Language Teachers
SERIES TITLE: Frameworks for Writing
PUBLISHER: Equinox Publishing Ltd
YEAR: 2012

REVIEWER: Tanya Roy, University of Delhi

SUMMARY

This is a book written for all those who are currently connected or hope to be
connected in the future with language teaching, and in particular, second
language learning and teaching. This includes teachers of English or of other
languages, those taking graduate courses in English as a second or foreign
language, as well as those in administrative positions responsible for
professional development opportunities for teachers.

In ‘Reflective Writing for Teachers’, the author suggests that the regular
noting of a teacher’s thoughts on all class experiences will help the teacher
observe patterns that probably already exist but that do not come up for
objective screening, not even in the teacher’s own mind. Once these images
start taking concrete shape, the teacher can decide how to deal with them. The
author shows ways in which reflective writing can be a means of professional
development for a foreign language teacher. The process of reflective writing,
starting from the critical moment of realizing its need through years of
experience as a language teacher, is worked out in various respects throughout
the book.

In the first chapter, Thomas Farrell points out that the role of the teacher
is central in the whole process of reflective writing and professional
development. The first moment of awareness is that of ‘Waking Up’ (p. 10),
when the teacher realizes the need for self-reflection. Although top-down
approaches have their value, for professional development to be sustainable, a
voluntary bottom-up approach is probably more effective. Farrell then goes on
to outline five stages in sustaining professional development. In the first
stage, teachers examine their beliefs, values and assumptions, as well as
their goals. They then move on to the second stage, which includes “reflecting
with their students” (p. 24). The third stage includes reflecting with their
colleagues, while the fourth stage makes the reflection more complete by
encompassing school/institute administration. Finally, the fifth stage advises
forging a link with the most relevant professional organizations in the
teachers’ areas like TESOL and MLA in the USA or other such organizations in a
different country or region. He concludes the chapter by reiterating the
importance of the individual teacher’s role in beginning and achieving
professional development for it to be ‘meaningful and lasting’ (p. 26).

The second chapter, “Reflective Practice”, discusses different types of
reflective practice activities that teachers may follow and develop in their
careers. These are action research, teaching journals, concept mapping,
teacher development groups, classroom observations, teacher metaphors, maxims
and beliefs, and critical friendships. The author points out that after
following one or more of these forms of reflective practice, every teacher can
work out his/her own philosophy of teaching. The next step is comparing that
with what s/he actually does in the classroom. As in the first chapter, here
too, the author stresses the importance of being ready for this process of
self reflection and development. He also notes that even though this book is
about writing as a form of self reflection, it may not be the preferred or
ideal form for all teachers.

After having discussed various forms of reflective practices, Farrell goes on
to look at “Writing as Reflective Practice” in the third chapter. The first
question that comes up is “Why Write?” (p. 56). An answer that Farrell quotes
throughout the book is “How do I know what I think until I see what I say?”
(pp. 6, 58). Writing helps us step back and look at what we are thinking and
doing, which can initiate a process of changes that we bring about in
ourselves. Thus, reflective practice can be a powerful tool for teachers.
Farrell then examines whether writing is a product or a process. Looking at
writing as a reflective process necessarily emphasizes the process of writing
and formation rather than just the end product. In terms of how to get over
the initial obstacles and actually start writing, Farrell suggests
“Brainstorming” (p. 71) and “Freewriting” (p. 71). In the process of writing,
revising and writing multiple drafts, while keeping in mind both audience and
objective, are crucial steps. The author concludes the chapter by saying “The
main reason I write is to see my own thoughts, so I can slow them down a bit,
step back from them, and then reflect on where I am and where I want to go
next” (p. 79).

The fourth chapter looks at the “Reflective Teaching Journal”. Farrell talks
about keeping journals, as well as forms of journal writing, and goes on to
describe a case study of three teachers and a facilitator keeping a teaching
journal, which helped them see their thoughts (p. 87). Regarding the case
study, he gives excerpts from the writings of the three teachers, along with
some possible explanations of their writings. In one of the case studies, the
teacher was concerned with evaluating her teaching and with events that gave
rise to problems in her teaching. She then tried to find solutions to the
difficulties that she encountered. One of her difficulties was finding an
acceptable modality of correction of language errors. She also mentioned her
feelings regarding her own solutions and her concerns with respect to her
teaching procedures. In the second case study, the teacher was mostly
concerned with decision making in the classroom and possible spaces for
teacher training. Farrell ends the chapter by advocating that teachers write
in journals and also tries to answer some specific questions that will help
focus our attention on our own teaching.

In the fifth chapter, “Narrative Reflective Writing”, the author continues to
explicate how reflective writing can be of use to teachers. He suggests that
as every teacher has a story to tell, writing a narrative about such incidents
can allow him/her to unfold all that happened and what he/she interpreted from
the incident. He gives readers a framework of four steps in narrative
reflective writing -- orientation, complication, evaluation and result -- and
proposes writing about critical incidents in one’s career and describing case
studies as a part of narrative reflective writing that will help teachers to
get perspective on their teaching. Farrell also suggests that it would help
teachers to describe case studies as he himself has shown in the previous
chapter. By doing so, teachers would be able to get perspective on their own
teaching.

Moving towards the final chapters, Farrell discusses “Reflecting in the First
Year(s) and Beyond”, where he describes the different stages a teacher’s
career may go through (i.e. the teacher’s career life cycle, p. 134). This is
based on Huberman’s model (Huberman 1993) and contains the following phases:
the career entry stage; stabilization; experimentation; diversification;
reassessment; the serene affective stage; and maybe conservatism and
disengagement. It is important to start reflecting early in one’s career so
that the habit is built into one’s repertoire from the beginning. It is also
important to realize that, even after years of teaching, no teacher knows it
all, and thus, can never afford to stop reflecting on his/her work.

In the last chapter, “Reflecting For Action”, Farrell emphasizes the
importance of the role of teachers and not only that of researchers. We need
to know what teachers from schools and other institutions face every day in
the course of their work and  the fact that even today almost all published
work comes from the university and leaves a lacuna in the research and
teaching experiences that we can easily access. Often, language teachers think
of themselves as nobodies who have nothing significant to contribute to
language education. However, we all need to know and understand what is
actually happening in language classrooms every day. Many school teachers do
not even know how they could contribute to research and that research could be
part of their work. To give an example of some such work that has been carried
out, Farrell first describes Language Teacher Research in Europe (Borg, 2006)
and then a Language Teacher Research Comparison Over Six Continents. Regarding
the research carried out by Borg, Farrell says “the four main areas of
research focused on training teachers for action, using technology in language
teaching, students attitudes to learning, collaborative learning, learning and
teaching styles and language teacher competence” (p. 146). About the research
conducted across six continents, the majority focused on writing development
and greater learner independence and autonomy. Summing up the results of both
of the research projects, Farrell notes that work in Europe concentrated
mostly on “improvement and development of learning methods and styles” (p.
148) as well as the professional development of teachers, whereas in Australia
and New Zealand, teachers focused on culture and language learning. He ends on
the note that, hopefully, more and more teachers will get involved in
research.

The book ends with words about the necessity for reflective teaching, so that
teachers may reach out more effectively to their students.

EVALUATION

This volume takes a teacher through various steps, from his/her critical
moment of waking, to the need for self-reflection through years of teaching,
to the continual need for self reflection, all of which lead to sustainable
professional development. The book is well written and proceeds in a
step-by-step fashion that is particularly useful for newly graduated school
teachers about to step into their own classroom for the first time. From the
first to the sixth chapter of the book, the author concentrates on describing
what he means by reflective writing, when a teacher should start reflecting,
and how to go about reflective writing. After that, in the latter part of the
book, it seems that the desire of the author is to get school language
teachers not just to start reflecting, but also to get actively involved in
researching and publishing their work. The aim is that of helping teachers
help themselves to teach their students better (p. 154). I would like to make
a suggestion to carry this discussion a bit further. Language teachers at any
level (school or university), and of either a second or a foreign language,
can reflect on their work by keeping journals and also by documenting and
analyzing what their students are saying and writing, i.e., by collecting
learner corpora. This would give them objective data on which to base their
thoughts on how effective their teaching has been. It is also important to
note that, while in this book all examples of case studies, reflective
journals and other data are taken from teachers of English as a second/foreign
language, these activities may be extended to all foreign language teaching.

I find the earlier chapters on “Reflective Practice” and “Writing as
Reflective Practice” very interesting, as they show how to harness our own
daily experiences as teachers. By keeping a journal, our own feelings and work
become a text to go back to, for ourselves and for others to consult at
different points in time. Older experiences and thoughts are often forgotten,
so until we have the means to revisit them, we do not realize the value of
cyclical thought and the possibility of building on earlier thoughts after
having looked back at them from the perspective of time and distance.


ABOUT THE REVIEWER

Tanya Roy is an Associate Prof. in Italian at the Department of Germanic and
Romance Studies, University of Delhi. She has been teaching Italian in India
since 1994. She has coordinated and taught a Teacher Training Course run in
her department for French, German, Italian, Spanish and Portuguese. She is
interested in making linguistic research and classroom teaching meet in what
in Italian is called Didattica Acquisizionale. She thinks that linguistic
research starts from data collected in the classroom and then goes back to the
classroom for verification. This makes the role of the classroom teacher a
central one.








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