November 11, 2012 by Willy Cardoso
Although I’m not in favor of dichotomies, and also bearing in mind that I don’t think this is going to be one, I will isolate cognition from behaviour to try to make a point here.
First things first, my claim is that (and nothing groundbreaking about it):
Cognitive change and behavioural change don’t necessarily imply one another.
In other words, changing the way you do something may not change the way you think about it. Conversely, changing how you think about something doesn’t necessarily change how you do it.
Among teachers, a common example could be:
I think teaching with authentic materials and student-generated content is more enjoyable and conducive to learning.
I do, however, teach with coursebooks most of the time, to fulfill curricular demands.
That difference being clearer now, the question is: In teacher training and development which area of change is given more importance?
Granted that the ideal answer is both. But that is not always the case in practice.
Taking a look at some best-selling TEFL courses, we can see an instructional approach that is driven more towards the reproduction of techniques than of sense-making of why we actually teach this or that way. Being able to do/perform/deliver something is more important than the ability to reflect on it.
But even in more advanced courses, like an MA for example, the usual criteria against which teachers are measured are based on the competencies they can display, commonly in the form of can do statements. Again focusing on behaviour.
Of course these courses expect and encourage teachers to engage in reflective practice, and of course without cognitive work no-one would ever pass any course. However, since it’s incredibly more difficult to evaluate thinking (in fact, I’m not sure if it’s even possible), the focus on doing is justifiable. The outcome may be a bit iffy though, since it’s pretty easy to cheat, i.e. to do what you’re expected to do instead of what you believe to be the best thing to do.
There is no doubt reflective practice has been given increasing importance in teacher education in general, for example with action research and personal journals gaining more validity in research methods. In TEFL training as well; see for example the following criteria from the Cambridge CELTA.
Assignment 2.4 Lessons from the classroom
The design of the assignment to include:
- candidates’ identification of their own teaching strengths and development needs
- reflections on their own teaching
- reflections on the implications for their own teaching from the observations of experienced ELT professionals and colleagues on the course
(Cambridge English: CELTA Syllabus and Assessment Guidelines 3rd edition, 2011)
Whereas it is believed self-reflection enhances teacher learning, trainers and trainees may have different perceptions of its affordance. As can be seen in the Cambridge CELTA specification above, the notion of ‘reflection’ serves both as mediational means for teacher learning and as an assessment tool to pass the course. Therefore, whereas trainers may wish to develop trainee’s independent reasoning, trainees themselves may be more concerned about passing the course and base their responses on what they judge to be the trainer’s favorite way of thinking. The opposite can also happen, that is, with the trainer focusing primarily on ticking boxes while the trainee is looking for a personalized form of mentorship.
Moving on to less prescriptive developmental opportunities, like in-service CPD, peer observation, etc; it is still visible the prominence given to doing. It is important to understand that the same behaviour coming from two teachers don’t emerge from the same cognition. So when attempting to change a certain common behaviour displayed across staff, it is important to understand that the people involved might be displaying the same behaviour for different reasons. And as complicatedly, when trying to motivate a new mindset among teachers, we need to be prepared to different behavioral changes.
In sum, expecting a linear relation between behaviour and cognition is plain wrong!
On the part of the teacher, as an individual working within certain social, cultural and political boundaries, there is the potentially worrisome risk of facing discrepancies between one’s beliefs and actions.
In other words [after the wordiness of the previous sentence]: The bigger the gap between thinking and doing, the bigger the dissatisfaction.
Personally, I’ve made decreasing the gap between what I believe and what I do one of the main goals of my professional development as a teacher. But I would say that in order to do that well I needed to dedicate considerable time talking to myself and to others about how I think, my beliefs and values about teaching and learning, etc. I needed to expose myself in order to develop (e.g. through blogging and conferencing); only by being exposed could I be criticised, and in turn able to co-construct my teaching self in a less isolated manner.
Also, I needed to increase my awareness, when teaching, of when my thinking and doing were contradictory. And when aware of that, as a consequence, I needed to make a decision of whether I would consciously do the ‘wrong’ thing.
It seems that this is where most frustrations come from; when you know you can do better, sometimes you even know how, but you simply don’t (for example when your paycheck is so lame that you have little motivation to be a great teacher) .
Back to developmental opportunities, I totally acknowledge the value of giving teachers practical ideas they can immediately use in the classroom, something I’ve always given and taken. But not to be forgotten is the creation of those opportunities which make one think and rethink; and appreciate those ideas that disturb. The question now is how to better create those opportunities and how to evaluate whether they make a difference or not.