Monday, October 7, 2019

Using digital technologies in low-resource ELT context: A narrative beginning

Yes, I'm back to the classroom! Time surely flies. I must say my MPhil experience has impacted me a lot, especially my research project. I can't stop thinking about the experiences of the teachers I worked with in the project - their success stories and struggles of using technology to teach language in their own unique contexts, and what these mean for them personally and professionally.

I've been doing lots of readings and deep reflections lately, and I feel the urge to put my thoughts in writing so I can get back to them when I need to. In this post, I'd like to share what I call as - to borrow Clandinin's (2013) term - the 'narrative beginning.' I plan to make this a series of posts on using digital technologies in low-resource ELT context, where I'll try to share my reflections from my readings as well as observations, conversations with teachers and students, and experiences as an EL teacher in this school where I'm currently teaching in (more on my present context in the next post). 

But for now, let's begin from the beginning - where it all started. 

Developing a 'relationship' with technology

When I attended university for my undergraduate study in the late 1990’s, I found myself struggling to complete my class assignments as everything needed to be typewritten. By working as a part-time shop assistant, I was able to collect enough money to purchase a nice, electric typewriter which I used to type all of my university papers. The challenge, however, was when it came to graphs, tables and charts. The electric typewriter was wonderful, but the functions were limited – the task was beyond what it was able to do. I was not allowed to submit hand-drawn tables and charts. For the whole first semester of my undergraduate study, my solution to this problem was to pay the printing shop to convert my hand-drawn tables and charts into an acceptable format for submission.

Printing in shops were expensive, and I did not want to spend any more of my fast-depleting student allowances and shop assistant’s salary on printing graphs and charts. I realised that I needed to do something; that I needed to learn how to use the computer properly. I took classes, spent a lot of time at cyber cafes, and mingled with people who were more tech-savvy than I was. Eventually, I was able to master sufficient technology skills to enable me to go through the rest of my study with less difficulty than before. I sold my faithful electric typewriter and worked harder to collect more money so I could buy a second-hand laptop to type my assignments and to draw graphs, tables and charts using the word processor. I also learned how to use the Internet and to explore ways to utilise the wealth of information that I could access from the World Wide Web to my academic advantage.

A snapshot of Stephen Hawking's thesis, which I took at an exhibition at Cambridge University Library a few months ago. Reminded me of my own typewritten undergraduate essays  during my personal 'pre-digital epoch.' Haha

Saturday, June 8, 2019

English-Medium Education: What is best for Malaysian students?

My friends at Dialog Pendidikan have started a discussion on the topic of English-medium education recently. You can check out their blog post here and their Facebook post here. They would love to gather opinions and thoughts from as many people as possible, so please join in the discussion!

Join in the dialogue here

As an EL teacher, of course I want my students to know the importance of English and my life-long mission is for every children in my country to have the opportunity to learn the language well. And I can totally understand MoE's stand on this matter and why they come up with initiatives such as the Dual Language Programme (DLP) - which, supposedly is an 'improvised version' of the former Pengajaran dan Pembelajaran Sains dan Matematik dalam Bahasa Inggeris (PPSMI) (Teaching and Learning of Science and Mathematics in English).

Also, as a school teacher, I believe the question: "what is best for Malaysian students?" is not only pertinent, but also the most important one - for me at least. In this post, I'd like to share some of my thoughts from the perspective of a classroom practitioner, and also as a student studying research in bilingual / multilingual education.

Teaching other subjects in English

The principles that underlie the implementation of Dual Language Programme (DLP) seems to borrow from a lot of popular language teaching and learning models such as the one-way and two-way dual language program currently gaining popularity in the United States, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) - widely used in the UK, Language Immersion - reported to be very successful in Canada, and English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI). I don't have an insider's knowledge of the background research that has led to the implementation of our Malaysia's DLP, but I suspect some, if not all, of these models must have had influenced the decisions made by the policy makers.

From bilingual / multilingual education point of view, teaching curriculum content in English and the use of English as a medium of instruction are two different concepts, though in public discussions these two concepts are often used interchangeably. I think to answer the question of what is best for Malaysian children in terms of language learning, a practitioner needs to understand the nuanced differences among these many different models.  Just to provide an example, Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL) operates based on the underlying principle that "all teachers are language teachers" (The Bullock Report - A Language for Life, 1975). Marsh (1994) defines CLIL as "situations where subjects, or parts of subjects, are taught through a foreign language with dual-focused aims, namely the learning of content and the simultaneous learning of a foreign language." CLIL lesson is neither a language lesson or a subject lesson transmitted in a foreign language. In CLIL, both language learning and the learning of the subject are given equal importance. Teachers who teach CLIL are specially trained teachers - often referred to as CLIL teachers - and they're well-versed in the teaching of both the language and the subject.

Our DLP employs current subject teachers (Mathematics, Science, Information and Communication Technology, Design and Technology) to teach the subject in English. Under the DLP, learners use textbooks and learning materials in English, and all classroom instructions are to be delivered in English. The teachers are not specially-trained DLP teachers, although they do receive trainings on how to conduct lessons under the DLP and how to use materials provided by the MoE. The teachers are not supposed to teach language skills and content. The focus is on the teaching of the subject - and DLP hopes that through the language immersion provided by classroom instructions and interactions as well as engagements with learning materials written in English, students would be able to acquire a certain level of English language proficiency.

These strike more resonance to English as a Medium of Instruction (EMI) rather than CLIL. The British Council in their 2014 report on the global widespread of English as a medium of instruction defined EMI as "the use of the English language to teach academic subjects in countries or jurisdictions where the first language (L1) of the majority of the population is not English" (Dearden, 2014, p. 2).  According to the report:
  1. In many countries the educational infrastructure does not support quality EMI provision: there is a shortage of linguistically qualified teachers; there are no stated expectations of English language proficiency; there appear to be few organisational or pedagogical guidelines which might lead to effective EMI teaching and learning; there is little or no EMI content in initial teacher education (teacher preparation) programmes and continuing professional development (in-service) courses. (Dearden, 2014, p. 2)

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Happy Teacher's Day!

May 16 is the official date for Teacher's Day celebration in Malaysia. This year I want to do something special, since I'm celebrating this all by myself far away from my home country. I made this little video - my version of Kami Guru Malaysia.

Sorry, I know it's far from perfect - saya budak baru belajar! :)

Saya Guru Malaysia
Apa yang saya janji
Tunai tetap saya tunaikan

I also miss receiving presents from students! :D

Happy Teacher's Day everyone! Till the next -ccj, 6:02, Cambridge

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

A Tale of Two Classrooms: Bawah Kolong and Construction Container

I was awakened at around 2 a.m. and as usual couldn't go back to sleep. First thing I did was to look at my phone. Saw this Tweet from the Minister.

Now, I very seldom respond to or interact with politicians' social media posts - but I can't resist this one. This Tweet stirred something deep within. My first reaction was: what took people so long to realise that this should be the utmost priority from Day 1?

First Thing First

I acknowledge that the ministry has a lot of things on its plate, but I believe taking care of basic necessities should be instinctive. We have been spending too much time arguing about other things which - important as they are - can actually wait. 

I don't mean to direct this at the current ministry. Problems with dilapidated schools have been going on for years - for as long as I can remember, for much longer than I have existed. Believe me, I know. 

I'm a Sabahan. I don't just teach in Sabah - I was born in Sabah. I grew up in Sabah. I received my primary and secondary education in government schools in Sabah. I know what dilapidated schools mean. I don't just know what it means - I know how it feels like to be in one. I've been a student in dilapidated schools. I've been a teacher in dilapidated schools!

I'm actually quite amused that issues with dilapidated schools don't seem to get as much buzz as, say, issues with ESL teachers' language proficiency or streaming or assessments or whether or not Science and Mathematics should be taught in English. I acknowledge that these are important issues, but so are issues with dilapidated schools. 

Human Instinct

I'm not going to quote any research - no amount of so-called 'research findings' can replace real human experience. These are pictures of me with my Year 5 in one of our out-of-class lessons.

I posted these on Facebook and I got comments like:

"Wow, Cynthia. You're such an inspiring teacher!"
"This is 21st century education."
"You should be an adiwira."

I was like - whaat??? You know, I didn't bring my students outside because I thought it was cool and trendy. Being a great-teacher-who-inspires was the last thing on my mind at that time. 21st century education??? Adiwira??? Hahahahahahahahahaha! 

Please. I appreciate the compliments, but actually I was just trying my very best not to pass out.

It was after recess - I had 56 kids in my class. The classroom was a container. You know, the kind of container used as temporary makeshift offices in construction sites. The kids just came back from playing outside - they were bouncy and sweaty and smelly. The classroom (container) was hot and stuffy and unventilated. I was dizzy and suffocating and oxygen-deprived. 

Okay, kids! Let's do something different today. Let's have our lesson outside!
Yay!!! I love you teacher!!! You're the best teacher everrrr!!!

I was just trying my very best not to pass out. It wasn't greatness. It wasn't inspiring. It was basic human instinct. It was me at my weakest. It was my biological mechanism's natural reaction. It was survival.

My Latest Book - 2019 Edition

Just a quick one to announce the latest edition of my book. Have a good day! -ccj

Thursday, March 7, 2019

Measurement versus Mobilisation? : Exploring Ways to Understand Teacher Knowledge

I have been sharing my thoughts and reflections on this topic on three blog posts so far :D And I think it's getting clearer to me where these whole things are heading. If you're interested, you can check out my previous posts:

In the first post, I tried to explore the concept of narrative inquiry and discuss briefly the 'tensions' between narrative thinking and the traditional, so-called more 'scientific-grounded' 'grand narrative.' In the second post, I went deeper into what narrative inquiry is about and tried to see if we can explore the potential for it to be a tool for self-reflective, self-determined professional development for teachers. The third post might seem a bit off-tangent, but it's still related. I shared my passion on teacher knowledge and technology integration, and suggested narrative inquiry as a possible alternative approach to analyse the development of technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) of teachers. 

What I'm hoping to do in this post is to gather my thoughts in a more organised manner - to explore the reasons why I believe narrative inquiry is the way to go when discussing teacher knowledge and teacher professional development in general - and specifically technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK). I'm revisiting the 'tensions' described by Clandinin & Connelly (2000) and will try to contextualise them within the scope of teacher knowledge, teacher professional development and of course, TPACK.

Exploring the Value of Experiences

While discussing the conceptualisation of the TPACK framework for application in teacher professional development, Mishra & Koehler (2006) drew on Dewey’s philosophy on experience and stated that “every experience should prepare a person for later experiences of a deeper, more expansive quality” (p. 1040). Though not explicitly addressed in the paper, Mishra & Koehler’s reference to experience implied a focus on the development (rather than the numerical measurement) of teacher knowledge.

In discussing narrative as a strategy of inquiry in research, Clandinin & Connelly (2000) also drew on John Dewey in addition to Mark Johnson and Alasdair Macintyre as their main sources of influence. As mentioned in my previous posts (see above), change is central to a narrative, and certainty is not a goal (p. 7). Hence, narrative is not a quest to find a definite answer to a question. Rather, it is a journey or an attempt to understand change and the factors that surround it.

Clandinin & Connelly described a “tension” between what they refer to as the ‘grand narrative’ and narrative inquiry. The ‘grand narrative’ is an idea of research that subscribes to Thorndike’s ideal of “observation and numerical presentation of behaviour” that has emerged as ‘the’ way in educational research (p. 22). Challenging this so-called “unquestioned way of looking at things” by proposing the alternative approach of narrative inquiry (p. 22), Clandinin & Connelly were faced with oppositions that they described as follows: “We thought they were slightly intransigent and unwilling to change, whereas they, with the weight of opinion on their side, probably saw us as esoteric and unwilling to compromise” (p. 29).

The 'Tensions'

In the context of teacher professional development, I would argue that the narrative inquiry strategy is a more pertinent approach than the ‘grand narrative’. I will discuss the impetus for adopting narrative inquiry over the ‘grand narrative’ by analysing the five ‘tensions’ listed by Clandinin & Connelly (2000), i.e. temporality, people, action, certainty and context.


When discussing temporality, narrative thinking looks at an event as having a past, a present and an implied future (p. 29). Applying this to the context of a teacher’s professional development, we know that the teacher’s experience does not start and stop at the training session. The teacher brings with her a past experience that shapes how she conceptualises the knowledge she learns at the present training, and her plans for transferring the knowledge she has acquired into practice after the training is over, i.e. in the future. In their earlier work, Clandinin & Connelly encapsulated this time-bound nature through their notion of “personal practical knowledge”, i.e. a particular way for a teacher to reconstruct “the past and the intentions of the future to deal with the exigencies of a present situation” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1988, p. 25).

The ‘grand narrative’, on the other hand, characterises events and things “in and of themselves”, and appear to have a “timeless sense about them” (p. 30). This is the assumption mainly adopted by approaches that seek to measure whether a teacher’s knowledge has reached a certain ‘level’ or ‘standard’ as a result of a training session. This is problematic, because as discussed in my previous posts, teacher knowledge is not static or stagnant. It is personal, practical, tacit, systematic, and dynamic (Borg, 2015). Therefore, my contention is that examining teacher knowledge should require an approach that is not impersonal, rigid or devoid of context.


People are central to narrative inquiry. Clandinin & Connelly (2000) emphasised that “people, at any point in time, are in a process of personal change” (p. 30). Narrative thinking takes into account the histories and experiences of people. In the context of research on teacher professional development, a narrative inquirer is interested in “understanding teachers as knowers: knowers of themselves, of their situations, of children, of subject matter, of teaching, of learning” (Connelly & Clandinin, 1999, p. 1). This strikes a resonance with the underlying principles of the TPACK framework, which seeks to understand the interplay among the three components of technology, subject matter and pedagogy as well as the affordances and constraints that they represent.

The ‘grand narrative’s’ focus on scientific observation and numerical measurements makes it an “essentially people-free notion” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 30). Inquiries on teacher professional development that adopted this approach would be more interested in measuring the effectiveness of a training programme without taking into account the personal experiences of the teachers involved. Narrative histories and personal experiences would be seen as irrelevant or merely anecdotal. This view goes against the notion of teachers as holders of knowledge. For me, it seems to be taking the most important variable out of the equation.


In narrative inquiry, action is understood as a “narrative sign” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 30). Any action should be interpreted as expressions of narrative histories (p. 31). Interpretations of narrative histories give significant meaning to an action. In the context of research on teacher professional development, a narrative inquirer would interpret a teacher’s practice, either inside or outside the classroom, in relation to his personal histories and contextual experiences. Every single action and decision would be traced back to the teacher’s context as well as past and present experiences.

The ‘grand narrative’ perspective will treat an action as a direct evidence of something. For example, performance is a direct evidence of cognitive level. In the context of teacher professional development, this would mean interpreting teacher’s practices in the classroom as either a sign of competence or incompetence, or as evidence of the levels of skills in certain pedagogical approaches. This would often be measured using instruments consisting of checklists or description of standards. Although quite a common practice in many research on teacher professional development (e.g. Rohaan, Taconis & Jochem, 2012; K├Ânig & Pflanzl, 2016; Lin & Rowland, 2016), I would like to propose a more personalised way of examining teacher knowledge. Analysing teacher knowledge and learning experiences in this manner reduces teachers to “merely a filtering variable or a factor to be considered as either an impediment or a catalyst for the achievement of objectives” (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000, p. 28). There are contextually-bound and historically-driven reasons for every action taken by teachers as professionals in the classroom, and I propose that we take these reasons into considerations when analysing the development of teacher knowledge through professional development activities.

There are contextually-bound and historically-driven reasons for every action taken by teachers as professionals in the classroom, and I propose that we take these reasons into considerations when analysing the development of teacher knowledge through professional development activities

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Teacher Knowledge & Technology Integration: Measuring the Immeasurable?

The more you know, the more you know you don't know. ~Aristotle

13 years ago, I was a newly-minted ESL teacher in a beautiful primary school by the sea in Kunak, Sabah, Malaysia. I was young, enthusiastic and eager - but I was also naive, clueless and inexperienced. I couldn't wait to apply everything that I learned from my years of education at the teachers' training college in my classroom. I wanted to teach, I wanted to touch hearts, I wanted to change my students' lives.

One of the areas that I'm super passionate about is technology integration in the language classroom. I'm not much of a tech-geek, but I do love experimenting with different types of tools and softwares to enhance pupils' engagement and increase their motivations to learn. But it was hard. Harder than I thought.

Looking back, I think I managed to apply only a fraction of what I learned about technology integration and language learning from my pre-service training. My teacher education was of course useful; it provided the foundation that I needed to start off properly. But as an in-service teacher, I had to continue developing my craft by un-learning and re-learning a lot of things. I attended lots of teacher trainings, seminars, and conferences on educational technology. I learned from books, from the Internet, and from conversations with my colleagues. But most of all, I learned from experiences - through countless experiments, trials and errors, success and failures, fixes and mistakes.

Throughout the years, I have formed my own belief system, my own principles, my own epistemology about educational technology and language pedagogy. I have developed my teacher knowledge on the subject. And this knowledge is not static. It is dynamic and ever-changing. My knowledge grows and evolves as I learn more things, and as I move from one school to another, from one context to another.

But throughout the years, I have given very little thought on how all the knowledge that I acquired through the many professional development activities and self-directed learning that I engaged in were mobilised and transferred to my professional practice in the classroom. How can I best describe the construction of my teacher knowledge? What happened in the transition process, between the learning and the actual practice? Would understanding of the affordances and constraints of technology use in language teaching help me learn how I learn as a teacher, and thus inform me about the types of professional development best suited for me?

I believe this is an area worthy of further reflections and explorations.

Learning to Know, Knowing to Learn

Teacher knowledge is a research area under the overarching field of teacher cognition. Borg (2003, 2005, 2015) defined teacher cognition as teachers thinking, knowledge and beliefs; and how they are related to practices in the classroom. The impetus for research on teacher cognition is the notion that teachers play an important role in determining what is going on in the classroom as active and thinking decision-makers (Borg, 2015). Borg also asserted that understanding of teacher cognition is central to the process of understanding teaching.

The term 'teacher knowledge' emerged in the 1980's, especially through the seminal work of Shulman (1986) on pedagogical content knowledge (PCK). Shulman described PCK as "the blending of content and pedagogy into an understanding of how particular topics, problems, or issues are organised, represented, and adapted to the diverse interests and abilities of learners, and presented for instructions" (p. 8). According to Borg, Shulman's PCK had the largest impact on scholarships and research on teacher cognition, displacing the term 'teacher thinking' and remains the dominant concept today.

Teacher Knowledge and Technology Integration

One of the most recent contributions to the field of teacher knowledge is Mishra & Koehler’s (2006) technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK) framework, which was referred to as a “model of technology integration in teaching and learning” (p. 1029). The TPACK framework incorporates a technological knowledge domain into Shulman’s (1986) concept of PCK. It describes the interplay among knowledge of pedagogy, content and knowledge as crucial for meaningful technology integration in the classroom.

Mishra & Koehler argued that technology, pedagogy, and content “exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium” and that productive technology integration needs to consider the three domains “not in isolation, but rather within the complex relationships in the system” (p. 1029). They proposed the adoption of the TPACK framework in restructuring professional development to help teachers develop “nuanced understandings” of the dynamic equilibrium among technology, pedagogy and content which is essential for meaningful technology integration in the classroom (p. 1030).

According to Mishra & Koehler, the traditional methods of training for technology integration such as workshops and courses are no longer pertinent in helping teachers become “intelligent users of technology for pedagogy” (p. 1032). They listed factors such as “the rapid rate of technology change,” “inappropriate design of software,” “the situated nature of learning” and “an emphasis on what, not how” as the reasons why “competencies and checklists of things that teachers need to know is inherently problematic,” and therefore should no longer be applied in technology integration training for teachers (pp. 1032-1033). Mishra & Koehler advocated the ‘learning-technology-by-design’ approach which adopts the TPACK framework in technology integration professional development for teachers. This approach enables teachers to be engaged in “authentic design activities around education technology” which “compelled them to seriously study the complex relationships between technology and education” (p. 1038).

Technology, pedagogy and content exist in a state of dynamic equilibrium (Mishra & Koehler, 2006)

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Narrative Inquiry as a Tool for Teacher Professional Development: "How do we get here?"

This post is a continuation of my previous post where I shared some of my initial thoughts on narrative inquiry as a tool for teacher professional development.

In the previous post, I summarised the 'tensions' between narrative thinking and the 'grand narrative', as described by Clandinin & Connelly (2000), and offered my views on how most evaluations of teacher professional development seem to subscribe more to the 'grand narrative' ideal. It seems to me that all these whiles, we've been concerned too much about the direct outcomes of a training model. The questions that we're more inclined to ask is: does it work? Why? What can we do to improve? And with this, we bring onto the table the idea of causality, i.e. X is a result of Y - which has an "ensuing certainty" to it, as described by Clandinin & Connelly. (Note: I acknowledge the need for me to widen my reading on the area of evaluations of teacher professional development programmes so I can affirm this with more confidence (haha). But for now, I'll just share my thoughts based on what I've read so far, and largely on my own personal experience as a teacher and teacher trainer).

This is of course fine, but my contention is that a teacher's learning development should be evaluated in a more tentative manner. The idea that underlies the concept of personalisation, differentiation and customisation which are strongly advocated by many proponents of transformative model of professional development for teachers (e.g. Gerstein, Kennedy, Borko & Putnam among others) stem from the concept of contextualisation. In teacher's learning - or any learning for that matter - context is most essential (Borko, 2004).

I would propose that we do away with causality and correlation. Instead of focusing on "what is the outcome?", I propose we shift our attention to "how do we get here?"

So, how do we get here? 

Clandinin & Connelly's (2000) thinking about narrative inquiry is associated with John Dewey's theory of experience. They came up with a metaphorical 'three-dimensional narrative inquiry space', which encapsulates the terms personal and social (interactions); past, present and future (continuity / temporal); and place (situation). In Clandinin & Connelly's words: "studies have temporal dimensions and address temporal matters; they focus on the personal and the social balance appropriate to the inquiry; and they occur in specific places or sequences of places" (p. 50).

In addition to the three-dimensional narrative inquiry space, Clandinin & Connelly also referred to their earlier work (Clandinin & Connelly, 1994) where they proposed four directions of inquiry: inward and outward; backward and forward. 'Inward' refers to "internal conditions", such as "feelings, hopes, aesthetic reactions, and moral dispositions", while 'outward' refers to "existential conditions, that is the environment" (p. 50). 'Backward' and 'forward' refer to the idea of temporality, i.e. past, present and future.

Using this inquiry space framework, an inquirer can capture the essence of her experiences in order to make sense of it. How does it look like in practice? One embarking on a narrative inquiry journey would ask questions, collect field notes, derive interpretations, and write a text that addresses both personal and social issues. This would be done by looking inward and outward, and by referring not only to the current event but also by thinking about the past and the future (p. 50).

Clandinin & Connelly's (2000) work concerned with narrative inquiry as a research tool, but as I mentioned in my previous post, I see lots of value in this line of thinking with regard to teacher professional development. I believe that 'inquiry' is a valuable tool for continuous professional development - and for the past few years, there are many methods of inquiries being proposed as innovative and transformative models of continuous professional development for teachers. For example, there have been active movements to engage teachers and practitioners in action research, exploratory practice and exploratory action research, just to name a few. All of these movements have  at their core the elements of continuous reflections, and of one constantly inquiring about and pondering upon one's professional practice. Besides, professional development as inquiry into practice is not a new idea. It can be traced back to as early as John Dewey's works in 1910 and 1933 (Crockett, 2002).

I believe in the potential of narrative inquiry which adopts Clandinin & Connelly's three-dimensional narrative inquiry space as another tool that can be used by teachers who are interested in embarking upon a journey of inquiry to develop themselves professionally.

But how does it really look like in practice? 

Johnson & Golombek's (2002) compilation of teachers' narrative inquiries published by Cambridge University Press provides excellent examples of how narrative inquiry can be adopted as a way for teachers to reflect upon their professional practices. Johnson & Golombek posited that "In order to make an experience educative, teachers need to approach narrative inquiry not as a set of prescriptive skills or task to be carried out but rather as a mind-set" (p. 5). This mind-set is defined by Johnson & Golombek as "a set of attitudes", referring to Dewey's (1933) notions of open-mindedness (seeking alternatives), responsibility (recognising consequences) and whole-heartedness (continual self-examination). Johnson & Golombek argued that when teachers use this mind-set in their inquiries, they will be able to "question their own assumptions as they uncover who they are, where they have come from, what their students know, and what their students need to know" (p. 5).

From 2011 to 2013, I was involved in a project called the English Language Teacher Development Project (ELTDP) conducted by the British Council in collaboration with the Malaysia Ministry of Education. It was a two-year teacher-mentoring project where "mentors were assigned to teachers not as trainers but as experienced professionals who could work with teachers in schools and support them in implementing, via reflective practice, changes in their teaching" (Borg, 2013, p. 2). Towards the end of the project, a three-volume publication called the Narratives of Teacher Development was published, which captured the essence of the professional development experiences of the teachers involved. The publication, as Borg described in the introduction, "provide insights into the range of impacts the project has achieved" (p. 2). I believe this is one good example of how providers of teacher development employs teachers' narrative accounts as a way of evaluating the impacts of the training provided.

Monday, February 25, 2019

Narrative Inquiry as a Tool for Teacher Professional Development: Initial Thoughts

I'm halfway through 'Narrative Inquiry: Experience and Story in Qualitative Research' by D. Jean Clandinin and F. Michael Connelly (2000). I was directed to this book by studies adopting narrative inquiry as a strategy of inquiry for their research designs. In this book, Clandinin & Connelly explained the journey that has led them to pioneer 'narrative inquiry' as an inquiry strategy. They explained that  their excitement and interest in narrative has its origin in their interest in experience (Prologue, p. xxvi).

Borg (2015), while reviewing Clandinin & Connelly's works from 1986 to 1997, mentioned that they are both leading figures in the study of teacher knowledge, particularly in the "distinct orientation" of "practical knowledge." Though not explicitly addressed in this book, I believe that narrative inquiry is rooted in Clandinin & Connelly's studies on teachers' practical knowledge. This book focuses on narrative inquiry as a research approach, yet what I'm drawn to is its potential as a tool for self-reflective professional development for teachers. In this post, I'm sharing some of my initial thoughts on how this potential can possibly be explored.

Teacher professional development: Change is a clear sign that learning is taking place.

Why Narrative?

That's the title of the book's Chapter 1, which addresses the reasons for using narratives in research. Clandinin & Connelly drew examples from the fields of anthropology, psychiatry and organisational science and cited some of the leading figures in those fields, such as John Dewey, Mark Johnson, and Alasdair Macintyre. They also provided examples of how narratives were used by researchers such as Clifford Geertz (anthropology), Mary Catherine Bateson (anthropology), Barbara Czarniawska (organisational research), Robert Coles (psychiatry), and Donald Polkinghorne (human sciences). According to Clandinin & Connelly, narrative is defined as "a way of understanding experience" (p. 20). Narrative is essential in research about human because human experiences are narrative in nature.

There are some interesting points highlighted in Chapter 1. Clandinin & Connelly made it clear that different disciplines have different ways of interpreting the relationship between the inquirer / researcher and the participant/s. Despite the many differences, what every field has in common with one another with regard to narrative is this: that change is central to a narrative, and certainty is not a goal (p. 9). Hence, narrative inquiry is not a quest to find a definite answer, but rather an attempt at understanding change. Clandinin & Connelly pointed to an example in psychiatry given by Robert Coles where narrative is not the outcome of change but the origin of it (p. 12).

Why is change so important in narrative? It's because change is what leads to continuity. Narrative inquiry is interested not just in what's happening at the present moment, but also in the past and most importantly, in the future. Clandinin & Connelly asserted that continuity results because people improvise and adapt, i.e. they learn (p. 7). In other words, change is a clear sign that learning is taking place.

Making Sense of Experience

Narrative inquiry is making sense of experience. It's all about personal experiences and individual contexts. I think this strikes a resonance with sociocultural theory, i.e. drawing inspirations from social contexts to mediate learning. Before I discuss the possible applications of narrative inquiry in teacher professional development, let's look at some of the tensions between narrative inquiry and the 'grand narrative' as demonstrated by Clandinin & Connelly in Chapter 2 of the book.

The 'grand narrative' refers to Thorndike's "measurement-oriented" idea of "a science of education based on observation and numerical representation of behaviour" (p. 22). Clandinin & Connelly remarked on how this idea has become 'the' way in educational research, i.e. "an unquestioned way of looking at things" (p. 22). When they proposed an alternative way of looking at things through narrative inquiry, Clandinin & Connelly's contentions were met with responses that seemed to devalue the essence of meaning-making through experience. The following described this 'tension' between Clandinin & Connelly and those who subscribe so strongly to the idea of the 'grand narrative':

We thought they were slightly intransigent and unwilling to change, whereas they, with the weight of opinion on their side, probably saw us as esoteric and unwilling to compromise. (p. 29)

Friday, January 11, 2019

Holiday Memories & Language Lessons: Part 2 (People & Culture)

Hi friends! This is Part 2 of my series of blog post on the topic Holiday Memories & Language Lessons. As I've stated in my previous post, there are three parts in this series:

Part 1: Landmarks & Historical Places
Part 2: People & Culture
Part 3: Landscapes & Sceneries

Just like my previous post, I don't intend to write a full lesson plan for the photos and videos that I'm sharing in this post. Instead, I would list down some possible activities that we can do with them. The activities can be done in a single lesson, or in a series of lessons. A lesson can focus on one skill at a time, or it can also be a mixture of different skills. By sharing this with you, I hope we can brainstorm ideas on how we can use our own collection of photos and videos in our language lessons. If you like, you can share your ideas with me in the comment box. We can make this a platform to inspire one another :)

Street Musicians

Some of us like to take photos and videos of people and the culture of the places that we visit. I know I do. This is one of my favourites:

I took the video and photo at the Market Square in Cambridge, UK. I just love watching performances by street musicians. This band is called The Trials of Cato - check them out, they're awesome.

Now how can we use these as stimuli for language lessons? These are some of my ideas:

Listening, Speaking, Vocabulary & Grammar
1. Introduce the words 'street musicians', 'performers', 'buskers'
2. Talk about the musical instruments - introduce vocabulary for different types of musical instruments
3. Adjectives - get students to use adjectives to describe the video. What do they think about the music? How do they feel when they hear the music?
4. Talk about the video. Ask pupils what they can see. How many people are there? What are they doing? How do they look? What do they feel? What objects can the students see? Get students to describe the people and objects that they see in the video.

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