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Archived Content from Conference Held in May 1999 

Building on our Strengths:
Second International Conference on Language Teacher Education


Three major processes and the appropriate design criteria for developing and using them

Dick Allwright, Lancaster University

The three major processes, and two key terms

  • Contemplation for understanding
  • Action for understanding
  • Action for change

The two key terms here that seem to me to cry out for comment are "understanding" and "change."

I am using the term "understanding" in a relativistic sense, meaning something like "having an adequate sense of how things work for the purpose of making practical decisions about how to proceed."

I am using the term "change" in a fairly narrow sense, to capture something different, and less cerebral, from the necessary change that any reaching of an "understanding" must bring. I am talking more of observable situational change (e.g. the establishment of different ways of working in the language classroom).

A minimal analysis of the three major processes, and how they may relate to each other.

The three processes set out above correspond, very, very roughly, to three sets of practical proposals for what teachers (and, I would suggest, learners) can do to further their own development: Reflective Practice, Exploratory Practice, and Action Research.

An accompanying flowchart will set out graphically my conception of how they may be internally analysed - in terms of stages and decision-points. It will also set out how they may be seen to relate to each other in terms of a linear sequence and in terms of the notion of progressive inclusiveness. That is: how contemplation for understanding may stand on its own, but action for understanding logically necessitates contemplation, and action for change necessitates both prior contemplation and prior action for understanding (as those notions are presented here).

Crucial to this overall analysis, though not strongly indicated by the flowchart, is the contention that contemplation and action for understanding may themselves suffice, and will not necessarily lead to action for change.

A number of design criteria that any proposal to promote these processes among language teachers (and/or learners) must seek to meet:

  • Understanding must be put before/instead of action for change.
  • There must be no hindrance to language teaching/learning, and preferably a positive contribution to it.
  • Whatever is to be the subject of work for understanding or change must be seen to be relevant by those centrally involved.
  • Whatever work is involved must be indefinitely sustainable, not conducive to early "burn-out."
  • Whatever is involved must bring people together (teachers with teachers, teachers with learners, learners with learners, teachers with researchers, etc., etc.) in a positive collegial relationship.
  • Whatever is involved must promote the development (seen in terms of developing understanding) of all concerned (teachers and/or learners).

The context of my own work in this area.

The work I am drawing upon here to raise issues I see as important in teacher education is work I have undertaken or been associated with for nearly a decade principally (but by no means exclusively) in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and mostly in the context of a major English language teaching institution there - the Rio Cultura Inglesa, a very large (hundreds of teachers, many thousands of learners) Brazilian not-for-profit educational establishment.

My own connection with the Cultura in Rio has been very informal, offering me a chance to visit Brazil about once every two years. On those visits I have typically been involved in conducting courses and workshops for Cultura headquarters staff, branch managers, and teachers.

It is important to my account of my work there that the Rio Cultura has been extremely successful over the decades with an avowedly hierarchical structure for all its work, including its very considerable contribution to the development of its teaching staff. But it is even more important to note that in recent years it has been looking for a less hierarchical way to proceed. I was fortunate to be involved as far back as 1990 in the Rio Cultura's search for a non-hierarchical way to go about its teacher development work.

NB: "Exploratory Practice" has been developed (and is still developing) in response to the perceived needs of the situation in the Rio Cultura, and has drawn its principles and practices mainly from the working practices of teachers in the Cultura there. More recently the ideas are being used in work with and by teachers in the "Imunicipio" public school system. The ideas are also at the centre of three doctoral projects currently in progress in Rio. (See Dick Allwright and Rosa Lenzuen, 1997: "Exploratory Practice: work at the Cultura Inglesa, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.Ó Language Teaching Research, 1/1, pp. 73-79).


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