Bridging Belief Gaps
in ELT Teacher
Education in Cross-cultural Settings
by Qing Gu
Figure 3 below summarises the two clusters'
emotional feedback on their experience in China as teacher
trainers. Among the first cluster of nine people, only one
thought of the experience in China as 'wonderful'. In comparison,
five out of ten people in Cluster Two enjoyed their professional
experience in the Sino-British ELT projects. There are no
confused faces in Cluster Two as in Cluster One who appeared
to have had some demanding time in the projects. Cluster Two
people tended to regard their experience in China as a professional
investment that had led to the progression of their academic
Contextual needs (10)
Figure 3: Two clusters' feedback on their experience
in Sino-British projects
The belief gaps across and within cultures observed
in this study both emphasise sociocultural and contextual
factors underlying language teaching and learning. The main
disparity lies in the awareness and extent to which ELT professionals
realise and perceive the influence of contextual and personal
factors on language teaching practices. Pennycook (1989) argues
… teachers made a whole series of decisions about
teaching based on their own educational experiences, their
personalities, their particular institutional, social, cultural,
and political circumstances, their understanding of their
particular students' collective and individual needs, and
Pennycook's argument presents a complex picture
of teacher personal knowledge. It implies that any teaching
method, say CLT, cannot be an abstract label to a teacher.
What the teacher has learned from theorists about the teaching
method will have to be used and tested in practice before
the theoretical knowledge is conceptualised and constructed
as part of the teacher's personal knowledge. This is a dynamic,
on-going process that interplays with the teacher's contextualised
beliefs about teaching and learning. The teacher's educational
and professional experience, knowledge of learners' interests,
motivation and learning strategies, and understanding of teaching
context including the classroom context and the institutional
culture play a crucial part in this process.
The ultimate personal knowledge creation is
accomplished by the 'complimentary processes of assimilation
and accommodation' (Williams & Burden 1997: 22). According
to Williams and Burden (1997), the process of assimilation
refers to the methods whereby teachers change and modify the
incoming information (say, theories of CLT) in their minds
so that it will fit in with what they already know. The process
of accommodation, on the other hand, refers to the process
whereby they modify and adapt what they already know to take
into account new information. Elsewhere, Eraut (1994) addresses
a similar point on the construction of personal knowledge:
learning knowledge and using knowledge are
not separate processes but the same process. The process of
using knowledge transforms that knowledge so that it is no
longer the same knowledge. But people are so accustomed to
using the word 'knowledge' to refer only to 'book knowledge'
which is publicly available in codified form, that they have
developed only limited awareness of the nature and extent
of their personal knowledge.
Eventually, teachers' knowledge of the teaching
method is anchored in the practical circumstances in which
they work and is based on personal understandings of classroom
knowledge as well as knowledge of students (Carter 1990, cited
in Munby et al 2001). The theoretical claims of CLT will be
integrated and reconstructed into individual teacher's schemata
or knowledge structures on language teaching and learning,
and no longer be the same knowledge in theorists' publications,
but of distinctively individualised and contextualised characteristics.
An awareness of the nature of teachers' personal
knowledge may help to lift the veil of the belief gaps across
and within cultures observed in this study. The identification
of two clusters of British specialists highlights the importance
of understanding the meaning of sociocultural factors in language
teaching and learning. British specialists who tended to mediate
CLT to fit in with the local context were more likely to rate
their experience in the projects positively than those who
held more rigid views on the universal applicability of CLT.
Hofstede's (1986: 301) suggests that in bridging
the cross-cultural teaching gap - 'The burden of adaptation
in cross-cultural learning situations should be primarily
on the teachers'. It is argued here that in the case of INSET
programmes in cross-cultural settings the burden of adaptation
should be rest primarily on the expatriate teacher trainers.
They may need to take one step back from their values and
'cherished beliefs' and get 'intellectually and emotionally
accustomed to the fact that in other societies,' people teach
and learn in different ways (Hostede 1986: 316). In Kennedy
and Kennedy's words (1998: 458), no matter how good or logical
some ideas might seem in the generating culture, they cannot
be automatically transferred into another culture
that may hold different values.
The key to bridging the belief gap between
ELT professionals across cultures lies in a realisation of
the contextualised nature of professional knowledge, an appreciation
of a different teaching and learning culture, and a willingness
to establish dialogue. It is of crucial importance to understand
that teacher change is a slow cognitive process that involves
the reconceptualisation of teaching theories and the establishment
of 'a sense of plausibility' (Prabhu 1990: 161). In order
to achieve long-term change in teachers' performance, as Richardson
and Placier (2001) argue, teacher training should give way
to teacher education, focusing on helping teachers to develop
ways of thinking. The ultimate aim will be to enable teachers
to develop from the competence-oriented end on a professional
development continuum to the meaning-building end that requires
rationalised reflection of teaching practice and professional
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|Dr Qing Gu, a
former Lecturer in EFL at a Chinese university, has recently
completed her doctoral research on in-service language
teacher education in cross-cultural contexts in the School
of Education of the University of Birmingham. Her research
interests are language education, teacher education and
comparative education. She has several
publications in national and international journals.
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