In March 2009, thirty teachers of English in Argentina graduated from similar ILTE programmes agreed to participate in a small scale study in which they were asked to answer only the question below.

The study

What balance between theory and practice do you think is best in a training programme? Explain.

Theory: __________% because…

Practice: __________% because…

Participants were contacted via e-mails and submitted their answers likewise. It should be also mentioned that the participants had around ten years of experience and had completed their initial language teacher education programmes in the late 90’s.

Data analysis and discussion

On theory

According to the scores obtained, the modes as regards theory were 40 (N=6) and 50 (N=6). However, the lowest score was 15 (N=1) and the highest was 70 (N=1). In sum, the mean for this answer was 45.6 %, that is, theory is slightly less central than practice in ILTE.

Most respondents justified their answers, scores in brackets, by expressing that:

 

‘Teachers are intellectual workers and theory improves trainees’ language skills’ (score: 70)

 ‘It’s necessary to read, do research and analyse before practising’ (score: 50)

‘Reading nurtures teachers’ (score: 50)

‘You need background knowledge so as to know what you’re doing’ (score: 45)

‘The need of background before entering a topic’ (score: 40)

‘It gives us the bases’ (score: 40)

                   ‘To get answers about what trainees are interested in’ (score: 15)

These answers show that teachers regarded as important the role of scholarly disciplines and research in teacher education as a step before the practice of the profession. These quotes also show that participants acknowledged positions which are related to the applied science model and the art-craft view. This could be explained in terms of the developmental position or in Grenfell’s Triangular Model which combines aspects of both models (Grenfell 1998). Nonetheless, we can also claim that while one model is expected during ILTE programmes, that model is replaced by the craft view when trainees start to work at schools.

One participant commented on this theory-practice divide as follows:

‘I’d say 50-50, if that’s possible. Nowadays young people tend to feel so self-sufficient that they think their own ideas and strategies are enough. I think theory is useless if it’s not put into practice, and practice is limited without a sound grounding in theory. The history of English teaching and its theories are so rich, so many people have taken such great pains to develop and test theories, that it’d be unwise not to profit from that; it’d be like always starting all over again, having to come up with one’s own ideas and strategies and test them... Of course we do come up with our own ideas and strategies as we teach, but we always need a starting point...’

This view shows that over the years there seems to have been a stress on teacher cognition (Johnson 2006, 236) and reflection, a source which the respondent acknowledged but took some distance from it when it is encouraged in detriment of research-driven disciplines (Bartels 2004,128-129; Grenfell 1998; Tarone and Allwright 2005,8-10; Yates and Muchisky 2002, in Freeman and Johnson 2004,119-120). On the other hand, the participant tried to narrow the apparent gap between theory and practice by saying that both aspects need to inform each other so as to construct a solid conception of education. However, at the very end of his reflection, the participant situated theory before practice as if imagined in a linear process.

On practice

As for practice, the modes were two, 50 (N=6) and 60 (N=6). The highest score suggested was 85, while the lowest was 30. All in all, the mean was 54.4 % for practice concerning the theory-practice balance.

Most respondents justified their scores, in brackets, with some of the following reasons:

‘Since noticing and reflecting are a first priority for me’ (score: 85)

‘The more practice, the more comfortable you’ll feel in the classroom’ (score: 60)

‘We learn more from teaching than studying’ (score: 60)

`To check theoretical ideas’ (score: 50)

‘To prove that theory is reliable’ (score: 50)

 ‘As feedback for the theory’ (score. 30)

First, only one participant suggested 85% with the justification that with that amount of practice, noticing and reflection may be further explored to become a valid source in teacher education. This participant was the only teacher who mentioned the role of reflection in the questionnaire. It could be argued, then, that, even if it was encouraged in trainees, its impact was not important for respondents to mention.

Second, practice, for some teachers, was seen under the light of theory, a view which agrees with participant 13’s comment above. Some participants suggested that practice was more important than theory, but the former actually plays the role of confirming or rejecting what the latter asserts. Only one participant stressed that practice may act as feedback, that is, as one source to be incorporated in theory, that is, scholarly as well as research-driven disciplines.

Last, one participant connected the reason behind the relevance of practice over theory with the craft model, a model which permeates through several aspects of the data collected. For this teacher, effectiveness comes from teaching mainly. This observation, according to Grenfell (1998) is what prevents teachers from developing as their views are extremely context-bound and only concerned with strategies for the classes they teach on a regular basis.

Comments

Hola Dario,
Your post made me think whether the results would be same if the experience of the teachers was less than 5 years. For example, I am teaching at the department of English Language Teaching in Turkey and our students tend to believe that a lesson should be practice-based. I can't give a percentage as I haven't made a study about it but I'm curious if the views of the students change as they are getting more experience. Not sure if there is a longitudinal study covering views of the students before and after their teaching careers but a study like this could provide us a good info about this. ;)

There are a couple of cross-sectional studies and case studies looking at what student-teachers think about this 'divide'. But I agree that teachers`views naturally change according to their years of experience. Maybe it's also related to the type of programme student teachers are taking, some are more of a recipe while others tend to be more of the Applied Linguistics part where the practicum does not play a big role. We'll have to look into it.
Thanks!
Dario

Can you give us links to these studies. They interest me too.

Hi!
I haven´t got any links, but here are some useful references of studies which sort of illustrate my views.
Cheng, M. (2005)'Understanding Teacher Professional Development during the Field Experience Period Using a Sociocultural View of Learning.’ Teacher Development 9/3:347-367.
 
Cheng, M., Chan, K., Tang, S. and Cheng, A. (2009) ‘Pre-service teacher education students’ epistemological beliefs and their conception of teaching.’ Teaching and Teacher Education 25/2:319-327.
 
Gutiérrez Almarza, G. (1996) ‘Student foreign language teacher’s growth,’ in D. Freeman and J. Richards (eds.) Teaching Learning in Language Teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kroll, L. (2004) 'Constructing constructivism: how student-teachers construct ideas of development, knowledge, learning, and teaching.’ Teachers and Teaching: theory and practice 10/2:199-221.

Van Zoest, L. and S. Stockero (2008) ‘Synergistic scaffolds as a means to support preservice teacher learning.’ Teaching and Teacher Education 24/8:2038-248.


 

 

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