AL Forum

AL Forum News, Volume 27:2 (May 2007)

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AL Forum AL Forum

May 2007 Volume 27 Number 2
A periodic newsletter for TESOL members.

In This Issue...
  • Leadership Updates
    • From the Outgoing Chair
    • From the Current Chair
    • Letter From the Editors
  • Articles and Information
    • SLA and Language Teacher Preparation: What’s the link?
    • The Missing Canon
    • The Role of SLA Theory in L2 Teacher Education
    • Second Language Acquisition’s Contribution to Teachers Becoming Learning-Centered

Leadership Updates From the Outgoing Chair

Isaiah WonHo Yoo, Sogang University, Seoul, Korea,

Dear ALIS members,

Kam-Sa-Ham-Ni-Da! (That means "Thank you!" in Korean.) I wanted to start this message by thanking all of you who allowed me the opportunity to serve you and represent our interest section as chair during the 2006-07 year. For the past five years, I've had the privilege to meet all of you through the AL Forum, if not in person at the TESOL conventions, then either as coeditor of this very newsletter or as chair-elect and chair of the ALIS. I will continue to serve as past chair this year, with Howard as chair and Ali as chair-elect, but this issue marks the end of my five-year tenure of active involvement in our IS.

As someone who five years ago was busy trying to finish up his dissertation and was unsure how to contribute to the fields of TESOL and applied linguistics, I can only say that my participation in ALIS has been an ineffably rewarding and fascinating experience for me. So I would like to encourage those of you who are struggling with the same uncertainty as you are getting ready to step into the "real" world to become actively involved in the ALIS. And the best place to start your involvement is to attend the ALIS business meeting at the annual TESOL convention (held at 5 p.m. on Wednesday at every convention), when we elect our new coeditors and chair-elect and compile a list of the abstract readers for the next convention.

Speaking of the convention, TESOL 2007 in Seattle was another successful one for the ALIS in many ways. We hosted over 20 paper presentations, 10 Discussion Groups, and 2 colloquia, in addition to the Academic Session and the InterSection with the EFLIS. Though most ALIS presentations went off without a hitch, the InterSection was marred by a last-minute room change that neither attendees nor presenters were notified of and that left everyone scrambling to find the new location. Despite this bumpy start to the session, the presenters displayed great composure and delivered excellent presentations that prompted a lively and meaningful discussion about integrating culture into the EFL classroom. Their professionalism in the face of adversity is a testament to the quality of the ALIS and its membership.

There are other pieces of good news, to the new TESOL leadership's credit, one of which is that TESOL Journal will resume publication in Fall 2008 (only in electronic format). The TESOL Board of Directors is currently accepting applications and nominations for the position of editor of the journal. TESOL has also launched a Web site called the TESOL Resource Center (TRC), where TESOL members can log on to get teaching materials, lesson plans, teaching tips, class activities, and the like. All TESOL members are invited to submit their own materials, which will be reviewed by TRC reviewers before they get published. TESOL is also looking for more TRC reviewers, which would be another way of getting involved in the TESOL organization.

As I reported in my previous From-the-Chair message, last year's business meeting generated passionate discussions on whether Essential Teacher, the publication that replaced TESOL Matters and TESOL Journal, reflects the interests of our IS members and the TESOL membership in general. Following up on these heated discussions, Howard and I drew up a motion to present to the Interest Section Assembly that TESOL members be given the option of receiving a print version of either TESOL Journal or Essential Teacher, but not both, at no additional membership fee. Unfortunately, the motion was defeated by a narrow margin as only 13 of 28 delegates present at the Assembly supported the motion. Our next planned course of action is to submit a revised motion to the Rules and Resolutions Committee and seek support from other IS delegates before we put it up for a vote at next year's Interest Section Assembly.

As you can see in my (and Howard's) short report on what took place at the convention, the annual TESOL convention offers much more than just great presentations, and I hope to meet many more of our IS members in New York next year.



From the Current Chair

Howard Williams, Teacher's College, Columbia University,

Now that the smoke has cleared from TESOL 2007, let me relate some news of interest from Seattle.

ACADEMIC SESSION: The ALIS Academic Session on "Language As Content" was well attended. This session embraced content-based language instruction but challenged the idea that language and content are conceptually separate, arguing that a well-planned focus on language counts as a focus on content and advocating language-centered content units and incidental talk about language in the classroom. Participants included Marianne Celce-Murcia, Ann Snow, Barbara Hawkins, Gabrielle Kahn, and Howard Williams.

MORE RESOLUTIONS: Isaiah has already reported on the defeat of one resolution (our own, in fact) at the Interest Section Assembly. Higher up, there was considerable debate at the annual TESOL Business Meeting about making a good-faith attempt to align the dates of TESOL and the "Four Cs" composition conference. There is an overlap of interests here for many members, who are forced to make a hard choice when dates coincide, as they often do. The resolution was defeated by a sizable margin. Perhaps the most powerful objection was that if TESOL tries to coordinate with CCCC, why not do the same with other, smaller conferences, including some outside North America? ALIS voted for the resolution on the grounds that CCCC is particularly large and well-attended; even though we cannot coordinate everything, why not try to coordinate something? A second resolution, on international advocacy, passed easily.

TESOL RESOURCE CENTER: At just about every business-related meeting, someone touted the merits of the TESOL Resource Center, an online collaborative resource accessible through the Web site that offers teaching tools and lesson plans on specific topics. Members are welcome to submit their own work. Once submitted, contributions are subject to a vetting process and, if accepted, materials are credited to their originator. See Web site for details. ALIS members who wish to apply for positions as submission reviewers will soon find a link on the TESOL Resource Center section of the TESOL website enabling them to apply online.

NEW CHAIR-ELECT: At the ALIS Business Meeting on Wednesday, there was one nomination for incoming chair-elect; it passed easily. The position went to Ali Shehadeh, who is currently associate professor in applied linguistics/TESOL at the United Arab Emirates University. Ali has wide teaching experience in EFL, TEFL, SLA, and linguistics in several countries in the Middle East; his research interests include SLA, task-based instruction, research methodology, and writing pedagogy; he has published widely. Having been an enthusiastic member of ALIS for 13 years, Ali is already well known to many of us. Sad to say, he was unable to secure a visa to attend this year's conference, but he will start the application process earlier next year to prevent a reprise of his 2007 experience.

TESOL 2008 DETAILS: Next year's conference, as we all know by now, will be in New York City. The dates are Wednesday, April 2, to Saturday, April 5, with sessions beginning Wednesday in the afternoon. Though the total time from start to end will be somewhat shorter than normal, we have been assured that the number of presentation slots will remain the same. This will be accomplished by shaking out some of the free time we have grown used to; it appears to mean shorter lunch breaks, among other things. Though the Saturday lineup will include a range of sessions covering all ISs, there will be some concentration on those geared toward K-12 interests; obviously, this move is intended to capture more of the local K-12 community for at least one day of the conference.

ALIS will sponsor a 2008 InterSection (with the Writing IS) on issues in coherence in discourse. ALIS has also been invited by CALLIS to participate in a second InterSection focusing on plagiarism, possibly with a focus on ethics. ALIS members with a particular interest in one of these areas might consider submitting paper proposals through the regular TESOL submission channels.

Letter From the Editors

Scott Phillabaum, California State University, Dominguez Hills,, and Lorena Llosa, New York University,

We hope you have enjoyed the TESOL convention in Seattle! ALIS organized a number of fantastic sessions that will be featured in our newsletter in fall 2007 and spring 2008.

In this issue (27.2) we are pleased to feature four articles by presenters of last year's TESOL Applied Linguistics and Teacher Education InterSection in Tampa, which was entitled "Incorporating SLA Theory Into Teacher Education." The authors offer various perspectives on the role of second language acquisition (SLA) in teacher education, and we believe researchers and practitioners alike will find these articles appealing and useful. We certainly plan to make this issue part of our reading list in our TESL methods courses!

To start the discussion, Joan Kelly Hall addresses the common question of whether SLA theory has any meaningful role in a teacher education program, stressing that current views of language and learning can transform our understanding of teacher preparation programs. Dudley Reynolds tackles the same question from a different perspective, reporting on student perceptions of the role of SLA theory in their professional development to reveal that SLA theory has the power to promote problem solving by future teachers. Addressing the importance of self-reflection for bridging the gap between theory and practice in teacher education programs, Karen Johnson explains why teachers need to consider their own practices when trying to make sense of SLA theory. Finally, Diane Larsen-Freeman discusses how an SLA course can move teachers from being teacher-centered to being learning-centered by prompting teacher fascination with student learning and by equipping teachers with the professional vocabulary to talk about and learn from their experience.

We thank all submitting authors for their contributions and hope you'll enjoy this issue of the ALIS Forum!

Articles and Information SLA and Language Teacher Preparation: What’s the link?

Joan Kelly Hall, Pennsylvania State University,

Whether second language acquisition (SLA) theory has anything meaningful to say in the field of language teacher preparation depends in part on our understanding of two concepts at the heart of SLA activity: language and learning. The past decade or so has seen great change in SLA in terms of how these concepts are understood.

Language and Learning
Current views consider language knowledge to be variable, tied to contexts of use within specific sociocultural communities of practice, and dynamic, with stability arising not from something inherent in the language itself (Bybee & Hopper, 2001; Hall, Cheng, & Carlson 2006; Tomasello, 2003) but from social norms that value stability, evidenced in, for example, prescriptivist grammars. These norms are tied to human beings' psychological need for predictability and routine behavior, which allows us to perceive and analyze communication patterns, including specific forms needed to accomplish tasks and goals. We create and sustain stability because we need it to live cognitively and socially functional lives.

Current understandings of learning have also been transformed. We now understand it to be fundamentally interactive, integrating both social and cognitive processes (see Hall, Cheng & Carlsen, 2006, for a review of the supporting research). It is social in that it takes place in particular contexts of social activity. In fact it cannot occur except within goal-directed, regularly occurring activities in which learners aspire to become full participating members. In these activities, learners are guided by more expert participants into appropriating the skills and knowledge needed for full or competent participation.

Learning is cognitive in that as they are being assisted by the expert participants, the learners construct and hold in their heads the constellations of memories that represent their social activities and experiences. These memories are constructed from the activity-based resources including language, social relationships, and spatial conditions that are used by the experts to mediate the process. Learning is also fundamentally variable in that it occurs in particular contexts that are defined by the shapes and uses of particular resources. No learning, then, can be considered isolable from any specific context and its means. In light of this variability, our participation in different activities, different uses of means in similar activities, or even different opportunities and experiences with using similar resources give shape to different developmental paths and outcomes (Wertsch, 1991).

These understandings of language and learning have helped to transform our understandings of language pedagogy in at least three ways. First, they change our understanding of learner language knowledge. The fundamental variable nature of language makes apparent that language knowledge is not a uniformly constructed structure independent of context but rather is tied to past experiences. Each of us—teachers and learners—brings with us to the classroom rich and very diverse constellations of language knowledge that are tied to our linguistic and cultural worlds outside the classroom. Knowing about the worlds that we as teachers and our learners bring with us is crucial to setting the stage for language learning.

Second, current views of language and learning change our understanding of instruction. We know that language development is intimately tied to our extended participation in goal-directed, regularly occurring activities that are significant to our everyday worlds. Because schools are important sociocultural contexts, classrooms and, more specifically, instructional environments and the specific resources that are used in these contexts are of consequence to learners' development in that they shape the development and outcomes of their language knowledge in specific ways. So, what we do in the classrooms—that is, the instructional and other kinds of activities we create and the means we use to enact these activities (including, for example, the particular social discourses, technologies, and books and other media)—leads to particular kinds of language learning outcomes.

Third, current understandings change our conceptualization of the curriculum. If language knowledge is dependent on use, and if use is variable, then what we are teaching when we say we teach English isn't a decontextualized structural system, but rather a set of social languages or discourses, each representing specific contexts, specific identities, and specific opportunities.

New Conceptual Framework for Teacher Preparation
These new understandings about learner knowledge, language instruction, and language curriculum call for a new conceptual framework for designing effective teacher preparation programs for developing in teachers the requisite skills, abilities, understandings, and dispositions for addressing three crucial questions. The first question is: What social discourses do our learners bring to our classrooms and what discourses do we as teachers and teacher educators bring? To address this, teacher preparation programs must provide opportunities for aspiring teachers to develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to (a) make visible their and learners' discourses from outside the classroom and (b) draw on the richness of these discourses in ways that inform and support the discourses created in the classroom.

The funds of knowledge (Moll, 1992) is an example of an innovative approach from which language teacher preparation program can draw in designing curricula. The concept of funds of knowledge refers to the historically developed, significant sociocultural practices, skills, abilities, beliefs, and bodies of knowledge that embody the households of learners in the school community (Moll, 2000). A defining feature of the approach is the active involvement of teachers in the ethnographic study of their students' worlds outside of school and in the use of their newfound understandings to redesign or transform their curricula and instructional activities.

A second question to be addressed in teacher preparation programs is this: What kinds of communities do we/should we create in our classrooms and what means do we/should we use to mediate learning? To address this question, teacher preparation programs must provide opportunities for participants to develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to (a) uncover the links between specific classroom practices, including their mediational means, and learning outcomes and (b) design effectual classroom communities of learners. Lave and Wenger's (1991; Wenger, 1998) work on communities of practice and that of Wells (1999, 2000) on communities of inquiry are two important sources of information on which teacher preparation programs can draw in considering the instructional redesign of language classrooms.

The third question that teacher preparation programs must address is this: What social discourses are we/should we be preparing students to participate in? To answer this, teacher preparation programs need to provide learners with opportunities to develop the skills, knowledge, and dispositions to be able to (a) make their way among social discourses where meaning-making is increasingly multimodal and variable across cultural, social, and professional contexts and (b) identify those discourses that will prepare their learners for the challenges of being productive citizens in their globalized, linguistically and culturally diverse worlds.

An approach that can help teacher preparation programs address this question is the pedagogy of multiliteracies (New London Group, 1996). The goal of this pedagogy is to develop in learners a critical understanding of how their communicative activities—oral, written, and multimodal—are historically and socially located and produced with skills for shaping available meaning-making resources into new patterns and activities with new meanings. It is organized around four learning opportunities: situated practice, overt instruction, critical framing, and transformed practice. The conditions for learning fostered in each of these opportunities promote learners' development of a complex range of understandings, perspectives, knowledge, and skills that allow them to see from multiple perspectives, to solve problems creatively, and to develop new ways of becoming involved in their worlds.

As current understandings of language and learning suggest, language teacher preparation programs cannot remain static and fixed. As the linguistic and cultural diversity of our learner communities grow and change, so do their needs and concerns and the linguistic and cultural resources for dealing with them. A hallmark of effective language teacher preparations programs, then, will be their ability to be ever-responsive to these challenges.

Bybee, J., & Hopper, P. (2001). Frequency and the emergence of linguistic structure. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.

Hall, J. K., Cheng, A., & Carlson, M. (2006). Reconceptualizing multicompetence as a theory of language knowledge. Applied Linguistics, 27, 220-240.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Moll, L. C. (1992). Bilingual classroom studies and community analysis: Some recent trends. Educational Researcher, 21, 20-24.

Moll, L. (2000). Inspired by Vygotsky: Ethnographic experiments in education. In C. Lee & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research(pp. 256-268). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

New London Group. (1996). Pedagogy of multiliteracies: Designing social futures. Harvard Educational Review, 66, 66-92.

Tomasello, M. (2003). Constructing a language: A usage-based theory of language acquisition. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University.

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Wertsch, J. (1991). Voices of the mind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Wells, G. (1999). Dialogic inquiry: Toward a sociocultural practice and theory of education. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Wells, G. (2000). Dialogic inquiry in education: Building on the legacy of Vygotsky. In C. Lee & P. Smagorinsky (Eds.), Vygotskian perspectives on literacy research (pp. 51-85). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

The Missing Canon

Dudley W. Reynolds, University of Houston,

Most discussions of the relevance of second language acquisition (SLA) studies for teacher development begin by acknowledging SLA's image problem (e.g., Bardovi-Harlig, 1997; Crookes, 1997; Johnson, 1996; Krahnke & Christison, 1983; Markee, 1997; Yates & Muchisky, 2003). These discussions typically note that many people, especially practicing teachers, question the usefulness of what was learned in a graduate school SLA class for day-in, day-out teaching. With this as a justification, they then list a number of research-based principles for action that teachers should gain from the study of SLA. Bardovi-Harlig (1997), for example, listed seven products of SLA research that she felt were useful for teachers:

[S]econd language acquisition research:
1. Defines the process and product of second/foreign language acquisition;
2. Identifies factors that influence acquisition;
3. Suggests certain areas of instruction (which is different from methods);
4. Helps teachers to evaluate methods and materials;
5. Dispels myths;
6. Contributes to the definition of the roles of the learner and teacher; and
7. Increases a teacher's access to the professional literature. (p. 19)

I do not disagree with the use of SLA research as a tool for generating principles, but I would like to suggest that this is not its raison d'etre as part of an MA program. I would argue that the broader reason for including an SLA course in teacher education programs has more to do with procedural than objective knowledge. What students frequently take away from SLA courses is not so much a checklist of developmental stages or the ability to label phenomena, but rather a reconceptualization of how they should approach planning and decision making. To illustrate my claim, I would like to briefly discuss an action research project that I undertook with an SLA class I taught as part of the MA in applied English linguistics program at the University of Houston.


The MA program is housed in an English department, and the curriculum combines theoretical linguistics (syntax, phonology, sociolinguistics, SLA) with courses in pedagogy (methods, materials development) and assessment. Our graduates work in a variety of areas including university writing centers, community college developmental English and composition programs, NASA, and the public schools.

The semester in which I undertook the project, eight students were enrolled in the graduate SLA course. Knowing that I would be speaking at the Applied Linguistics-Teacher Education InterSection at TESOL, I used the course's WebCT discussion board to ask the students at the beginning and then again at the end of the course what they thought the relevance of an SLA course was for them as future (and current) teachers. Their responses were useful for me as a window to the course's contributions, but I also surmised that it would be valuable for them to have to articulate their own learning.
The instructions provided to the students were as follows:

Beginning of Semester:
This spring I've been asked to be on a panel at the annual TESOL Conference addressing the "relevance of language acquisition theory to teacher training." Interest in the panel has arisen because a number of teacher educators in particular have questioned whether students really get something out of an SLA course that helps them when they go into the classroom to teach.
I would like to hear your thoughts on this issue now before you've had a chance to really get into the course. As a type of pre/post research design I will be asking this same question again at the end of the semester, and with your permission I hope to share some of your before and after comments as part of my talk.

End of Semester:
As I warned you at the beginning of the course I would be doing, I want to know now whether you think the reading and discussion that we've done in this class is something that will be helpful to you as a teacher, i.e. is there a practical side to it. Please elaborate.
Also, remember that my intention is to save a copy of all of the postings that have been made to this discussion board (i.e. this topic and the others) as a data source for my colloquium presentation at TESOL. I may share a quote from one of your postings, but if I do it will be anonymous. If for any reasons, you feel uneasy about my sharing--even anonymously--something you've written, please let me know.


When I compared the responses from the beginning and end of the semester, I noted an interesting shift in the students' thinking. Whereas their early expectations for the course focused on the objective, propositional content that they would be learning, their later reflections revealed the course's influence on their analytical and problem-solving abilities—hence my claim about SLA courses contributing more to procedural than objective knowledge. This shift is exemplified in the following excerpts (all names have been changed).

At the beginning of the semester students seemed to expect the course to provide objective answers, similar to the way a doctor might call on known facts about a disease or a cook relies on a recipe.

  • Answers to Questions:
    It seems rather obvious to me that as teachers, we should have some understanding of the processes that learners use in their journey toward fluency. . . . I don't know enough of the process to be specific. I also know that it is not likely to be a straightforward and linear process. Still, the point is the same: how do we assist in a process that we do not understand, or can only guess at based on our experience with what seems to have worked previously? And what if we have no experience? (Susan)

When we study SLA we are able to observe the commonalities across learners and also to study how individuals differ. We can only help our students if we know about their errors, how they learn new vocabulary, universal grammar, L2 pragmatics, variability, the role of input, the role of social factors, attitudes and motivation, learner strategies and classroom L2 acquisition. We need all these pieces and more to recreate the puzzle. (Mia) [Note that the topics here correspond to the organization of the syllabus.]

  • Medical Knowledge
    Although perhaps an extreme analogy, teaching with absolutely no knowledge of how language is acquired seems to me to be similar to a pharmacist who, although he knows what drugs work to cure a particular ailment or symptom due to his experience, has no understanding of how the drug actually works within the body. Teaching of this kind can--and does--function, but, like the pharmacist, it misses out on many of the deeper workings of the job. (Mary)

Despite all the achievements that have been made in the field of L2 acquisition, the situation still remains as such that you comment that your initial sense is that all worthy theory of SLA would certainly create questions about its relevance within the teaching profession in general and especially within the teacher educator community, that language use is both a paradox and an invitation for flexibility, and that we must accept the fact that its acquisition is created through useful but often ambiguous individual pathways. Your observation drives home to us our helplessnes in the practical and successful application of our knowledge of L2 acquisition in the classroom. In this we are falling too far behind the medical services where efficient diagnosis and cure are immediately arrived at the moment symptoms are detected. (Phong) [Note that this was written by an experienced teacher in response to the comment of another experienced teacher.]

  • Recipes for success
    I like to combine methodologies when I can, but sometimes I fear that I've ruined the "soup." for my students. I would like to hear about how other teachers manage to use various methods for L2 teaching based on theory and research. (Mark)

At the end of the semester, they still told me that the course was useful, but their responses focused much more on intangible effects, influences, and foundational principles. The course was no longer about learning everything they need to know; rather, it was viewed as preparation for action. As shown in the following excerpts, it provided color to their thinking and a knowledge base that could be a starting point for action.

  • Color
    . . . even if teachers do not consciously implement or use what they gain from these types of readings and discussions, they have been made more aware of possibilities and have been exposed to new ideas, and this cannot help but color their own thoughts and intuition regarding teaching to some degree. (Mary)
  • A Knowledge Base
    It would certainly be neat and comfortable to have a straightforward direction to follow in teaching: a recipe for putting together the right ingredients in the right order that gives the proper predictable result. It has been frustrating in this course to be waiting for the final answer; it began to be pretty clear that there are many answers but not one big one. Still, the individual recipes for the dishes of the smorgasbord are all pretty good and (as guidance for practice) can serve certain tastes. . . . The future will bring some answers, but also probably lots more questions that will generate more research and more questions. What of the future? We certainly need more specificity in the research questions and applications for pedagogy. (Susan)
  • A Basis for Action
    For me, the course as a piece of instruction, as a package, did two things. First it has exposed me to these "fundamental issues" and to those researchers and scholars who are working to define them. Second it has empowered me in my own teaching to make use of and to seek not to neglect these issues as they arise for my students during their second language learning. (Mark)

To me, the practical side of SLA is that it allows teachers to elaborate a sort of a "tool kit" that enable them to understand and find ways (and not THE way!) to face the issues in second language teaching. I am not sure that each and every tool comes always with instruction, and by this, I mean that sometimes, the link between research and pedagogical implications is hard to understand or to make. However, I think that here is where the teacher's responsibility starts: building the practical implications according to what seems relevant to his/her own language theory and beliefs. Chosing a method of teaching in a classroom is in itself a responsibility, because there are assumptions bethind it about language and learning processes. I think that being able to understand SLA is important to make informed choices. (Ingmar)


That the SLA students developed ways to think more than what to think may not be all that surprising; indeed, many people argue that the purpose of education in general is to train students as thinkers. What is interesting to me, however, is to consider how the content and activities associated with an SLA course might bring about this recognition that being able to problem solve as a teacher is more useful than knowing the "right" answers.

One possibility is the course readings. Readings in SLA courses typically challenge received assumptions. Like many SLA textbooks, the one I used (Second Language Learning Theories; Mitchell & Myles, 2004) begins by discussing underlying systems and processes that are common to all language learners, but it presents this discussion historically. In other words, it shows how assumptions about the nature of language learning have changed in relation to the dominant research paradigm of the day. The text then moves into explanations for why one individual's experiences can be so different from another's. Again, the right answer for one person may not be the right answer for another. Finally, the research studies from leading journals that I supplemented the textbook with are designed to point out that there are myriad questions to which we do not have answers.

Another influence may be the types of critical reflection and analytic activities that are characteristic of SLA courses. I rarely ask my graduate students to take an objective "test." Instead, I ask them to discuss readings in class and online, write critiques, and discern patterns in raw data. These tasks challenge students with difficult material that they may feel they have only an approximate grasp of; they problematize language learning more than they fill in the blanks.

Thus both the content readings and the open-ended activities typical of SLA courses seem to challenge students' expectations of a propositional canon, a list of what to do and not to do. Perhaps what is most interesting about my students' comments at the end of the semester, however, is that they did not appear frustrated by this missing canon. Instead they expressed a belief and confidence in their own agency.


Bardovi-Harlig, K. (1997). The place of second language acquisition theory in language teacher preparation. In J. F. Lee & B.

VanPatten (Eds.), Beyond methods: Components of second language teacher education (pp. 18-41) New York: The McGraw-Hill Companies.

Crookes, G. (1997). SLA and language pedagogy. Studies in Second Language Acquisition, 20, 93-116.

Johnson, K. E. (1996). The role of theory in L2 teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 30, 765-770.

Krahnke, K. J., & Christison, M. A. (1983). Recent language research and some language teaching principles. TESOL Quarterly, 17, 625-649.

Markee, N. (1997). Second language acquisition research: A resource for changing teachers' professional cultures? The Modern Language Journal, 81, 80-93.

Mitchell, R., & Myles, F. (2004). Second language learning theories. 2nd edition. London: Hodder Arnold.

Yates, R., & Muchisky, D. (2003). On reconceptualizing teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 37, 135-147.

The Role of SLA Theory in L2 Teacher Education

Karen E. Johnson, The Pennsylvania State University,

When considering the role of second language acquisition (SLA) theory in L2 teacher education, I find two suppositions helpful in framing the complex relationship between theory and practice. The first is that

theory often fails to inform practice because the problems that arise in practice are generally neither caused by nor the result of teachers' lack of knowledge about theory. Instead, the problems that teachers face are generally caused by constraints imposed on them within the social, cultural, economic, and educational contexts in which their practice takes place, namely schools and classrooms. This being the case, one cannot assume that theory does, or can ever, fully and completely inform practice. (Johnson, 1996, p. 766)

The second is that "conceptual knowledge [i.e., theory], by its very nature, is too abstract, stripped of its particulars, and void of the contexts that construct the basis upon which informed instructional decisions are made" whereas "perceptual knowledge [i.e., practice], on the other hand, is situated in complex social contexts, rich in particulars, and dependent on context, if informed instructional decisions are to be made" (Johnson, 1996, pp. 765-766). Given these suppositions that theory can never fully inform practice and that there are inherent epistemological differences between what theory is all about and what practice is all about, I now turn to what I see as the role of SLA theory in L2 teacher education.

Subject Matter vs. Content
At its core, SLA theory speculates on how people acquire additional languages. It is interested in uncovering the factors that influence SLA: how SLA is influenced by the input learners receive; the output learners produce; learners' affect; learners' motivation; whether learners attend to meaning, or to form, or to both; what sort of social contexts learners find themselves in; how learners get constructed in those social contexts; and so on. To date we have a large body of empirical evidence that describes the conditions under which SLA happens or does not happen (i.e., Ellis, 1994) and this empirical evidence, often presented to teachers as SLA theory in their L2 teacher education programs, is what Donald Freeman and I (Freeman & Johnson, 1998) have referred to as the "subject matter" of L2 teacher education. If we juxtapose subject matter with content (i.e., what gets taught), there is no content in SLA theory because nothing in SLA theory ever gets taught by L2 teachers. Depending on the instructional context, content might be the language, with its grammar, sound system, usages, meanings, and pragmatics; language skills such as how to write, read, listen, or speak; or even traditional notions of content such as literature, history, mathematics, or science. Because L2 teachers are overwhelmingly concerned with content, it is not surprising that they are disappointed by SLA theory because, in part, it does not represent what gets taught. However, what L2 teachers can take away from a course on SLA theory is an understanding of the conditions under which SLA is supported (or not). But for SLA theory to inform teachers in ways that enable them to create conditions that support SLA, they need to see that those conditions are contingent on the particulars of practice: the rich, complex, social contexts in which practice takes place. In what follows, I offer three frames through which this can happen within the context of L2 teacher education.

Frame 1: Fostering Praxis
Freire's (1970) construct of praxis is a helpful way of thinking about the role of theory in L2 teacher education because it captures how theory and practice inform one another and how this transformative process informs teachers' work. From this frame, theory informs practice only to the extent to which L2 teachers make sense of theory in terms of their professional lives and within the settings and circumstances in which they work (Freeman & Johnson, 1998; Johnson, 1996, 1999).

An excellent example of fostering praxis can be found in The TESOL Quarterly (TQ) Dialogues: Rethinking Issues of Language, Culture, and Power (Sharkey & Johnson, 2003). In this collection of "dialogues" between TQ readers (classroom teachers) and TQ authors (researchers), theoretical readings, as codified in previously published TQ articles, provides TQ readers with theoretical constructs and multiple discourses through which they express their emerging understandings of language, culture, and power in L2 teaching. TQ readers actively link the ideas in these theoretical readings to their own experiential knowledge as they reframe the way they describe and interpret their lived experiences. These new understandings enable TQ readers to reorganize their experiential knowledge and this reorganization creates a new lens through which they interpret their understandings of themselves and their classroom practices. Thus, praxis has a great deal of experiential knowledge in it but it is organized around and transformed through theoretical knowledge. Not only are teachers' understandings of theory populated with their own intentions and in their own voices (Bakhtin, 1981), but teachers also become active users and producers of theory in their own right, for their own means, and as appropriate for their own instructional contexts (Johnson, 2003).

Frame 2: Learning to See Conditions That Support (or do not Support) SLA
In this frame, L2 teachers learn to see the conditions that support (or do not support) SLA by reflecting on how a theoretical construct in SLA theory may play out in the everyday world. For example, after reading Norton Pierce's (1995) article, Social Identity, Investment, and Language Learning, teachers in my MA TESOL courses look for evidence of how their students are positioned by institutions, ESL curricula, domestic students, and the sociocultural setting in which all of these are situated. They describe these multiple positionings and discuss how they may hinder or enhance L2 students' opportunities for SLA.

For example, university-based ESL teachers in my MA TESOL courses often focus on the social positioning of international teaching assistants (ITAs) our university. They seek to understand this positioning by examining artifacts such as headlines and opinion columns from the local newspapers, curricular materials used in ITA language courses, and official university documents that regulate ITA testing, placement, and training. Taking a theoretical construct such as social positioning and having L2 teachers see how this construct plays out in the day-to-day activities of their students represents a powerful way for these teachers to learn to notice conditions that do or do not support SLA.

Frame 3: Using Theory to (Re)name Practice
The third frame examines how L2 teachers use theory to name or rename their practice. In a narrative inquiry (Esbenshade, 2002), an L2 teacher kept a year-long journal of her experiences teaching an ESL freshman composition course. While analyzing her journal after the year was over, she noted that she struggled with the issue of power. This issue emerged when a student complained that he got an A- on a paper. In her narrative inquiry, she wrote:

My conceptualization of power, based on my apprenticeship of observation, is what Kreisburg (1992) describes as "power over" students in a classroom. In this classroom structure, the teacher is the ultimate authority and the arbiter of decisions and the students are passive observers. From my journaling and reflection with regard to grading, I realized that I wielded power over my students: I decided that a student should be happy with his A; that some students didn't need any individualized instruction, and that I need not try to control the mood of a class. (p. 112, emphasis added)

After reflecting on the incidents described in her journal, she appealed to theory, naming her interaction with students as exhibiting "power over" students, thus enabling her to conceptualize herself as a teacher as one who holds "power over" students. In the next excerpt, she uses theory to articulate an alternative conceptualization, that of "power with" students, and she realizes its implication for power relations in the classroom.

This control of power is in sharp contrast to another term used by Kreisburg (1992)—that classroom power structures should reflect an organizational framework of "power with" students. In this way, teachers and students share in the co-construction of power with the goal being to empower the students for both in and out of the classroom setting. I came to understand numerous incidents that occurred in relation to my understanding of forgiveness as it pertained to power structures and student voice. (pp. 112-113, emphasis added)

This alternative understanding of classroom power structures enabled her to organize her knowledge and this reorganization provided a lens through which she interpreted her rereading of her private journal. In this way, L2 teachers can use narrative inquiry to work through the process of using theory to rename practice or, in this case, reconceptualize their role as a teacher.

Fostering praxis, learning to see conditions that support SLA, and using theory to (re)name practice create opportunities for L2 teachers to make sense of SLA theory in terms of themselves, their learning experiences, their instructional practices, and the institutional contexts in which they work. For theory to inform practice it must emerge out of a dialogic and transformative process of reconsidering and reorganizing lived experiences through the theoretical constructs and discourses that are publicly recognized and valued within professionally recognized communities of practice. Engaging in this process enables L2 teachers to become theorizers in their own right, making sense and use of theory in terms of their professional worlds.

Bakhtin, M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays by M.M. Bakhtin. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Ellis, R. (1994). The study of second language acquisition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Esbenshade, J. (2002). My learning through journaling: Forgiveness as a source of power and the communication of voice in the classroom. In K. E. Johnson & P. R. Golombek (Eds.), Narrative inquiry as professional development (pp. 108-117). New York: Cambridge University Press.

Freeman, D., & Johnson, K. E. (1998) Reconceptualizing the knowledge-base of language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 32, 397-417.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the oppressed. New York: Seabury Press.

Johnson, K. E. (1996). The role of theory in second language teacher education. TESOL Quarterly, 30(4), 765-771.

Johnson, K. E. (1999). Understanding language teaching: Reasoning in action. Boston, MA: Heinle & Heinle Publishing Company.

Johnson, K. E. (2003). Rethinking knowledge, knowing, and knowers. In J. Sharkey & K. E. Johnson (Eds.), TESOL Quarterly Dialogues: Rethinking issues of language, culture, and power (pp. 1-5). Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Norton Pierce, B. (1995). Social identity, investment, and language learning. TESOL Quarterly, 29, 9-31.

Sharkey, J., & Johnson, K. E. (Eds.). (2003). TESOL Quarterly dialogues: Rethinking issues of language, culture, and power. Alexandria, VA: Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages.

Second Language Acquisition’s Contribution to Teachers Becoming Learning-Centered

Diane Larsen-Freeman, University of Michigan,

Let me discuss the matter of what value second language acquisition (SLA) theory has in teacher education by addressing the question at two levels, macro and micro. At the macro level, the study of SLA can propel teachers toward an important milestone in their development whereby they move from a sense of being in control of the outcomes of instruction to where they realize that they are not in control of these at all. That is, teachers come to realize that teaching does not cause learning. This is a profound moment in one's professional journey as a teacher. It was for me, and it has also been for those teachers with whom I have been privileged to work. Let me first regress from this juncture and say something about what we know regarding teacher development prior to this critical moment.

It is well known that novice teachers begin teaching largely by imitating the teaching that they have experienced for thousands of hours as students. The novice teacher's "apprenticeship of observation" (Lortie, 1975) has left the beginning teacher with a view of teaching that is performance-based. As Lortie put it,

Students are undoubtedly impressed by some [of their] teacher[s'] actions and not by others, but one would not expect them to view the differences in a pedagogical, explanatory way. What students learn about teaching is intuitive and imitative, rather than explicit and analytical. It is based on individual personalities rather than pedagogical principles. (1975, p. 62)

Thus, teachers' early experience as students has equipped them quite naturally with a teaching-centered perspective. What the teacher-learner knows about teaching comes from watching someone else teach and the experience of having been taught.

Teaching-centeredness allows novice teachers to feel in control. Teaching and learning are, in this view, in direct and reciprocal relation; they are mirror images of each other. This view fits with what we know through research about new teachers' perceptions of the classroom: that they think in terms of activity, not subject matter or methodology, and that they see their job as one of being responsible for student activity and learning.

It is here where I believe that the macro-level contribution of SLA has a significant role to play in teacher education. It is at this point in teachers' development that teachers' orientation can be helpfully redirected from that of imitating teaching to that of managing learning. SLA is centrally concerned with matters of learning. SLA researchers aim to understand learning with the expectation that teaching can ultimately be enhanced with a deeper understanding of the learning process. In fact, I often think that the greatest reward for studying SLA is for teachers to see that watching their students learn is a source of great learning for themselves and perhaps the locus of the greatest satisfaction in teaching, an awareness that often moves their teaching from being teaching-centered to becoming learning-centered.

However, as powerful as it is, awareness is not sufficient by itself. Awareness of student learning can remain at a holistic level, and one can become awash in the totality of the experience, failing to see that there are ways to manage learning. Surely, then, another contribution of teacher education is helping teacher-learners to be able to analyze, to discuss, to frame and to reframe, and to learn from their experience. In order to do so, teacher-learners need the requisite discourse to perceive phenomena and patterns, to name them, and to recognize the validity in others' naming. Being able to do so leads to an opportunity for social interaction around experience and for further learning (Freeman, 1992). Though language imposes boundaries on the abstractness of experience, it is a necessary price for the construction of a community of practice that contributes to the evolving identity of a teacher.

So, at the micro level, SLA can contribute to learning-centeredness because it has an associated lexicon with which to name phenomena and patterns in learning. There are a number of issues in SLA where I feel that the "languaging" of experience is helpful. Indeed, SLA has contributed many terms and concepts to language teaching, such as interlanguage, the difference between an error and a mistake, a dialect versus a language, language socialization, scaffolding and socially mediated learning, contrastive/error/performance/discourse analysis, developmental sequences, the requirements of productive practiceand of input-processing, the nonlinearity of learning, U-shaped learning curves, intra- and interindividual variation, the role of feedback, interaction/input/uptake, subtractive versus additive bilingualism, identity and heritage, individual learner differences, language mixing and switching, ZPD, interface versus noninterface, affordances, and so on.

Not all of these may be addressed in an SLA course. Nonetheless, these are very important concepts that I think teacher learners should know about and be able to use with facility because they can often help teachers understand what is taking place with their students. Thus, at the micro level, with a subfield such as SLA that is centrally concerned with learning, teachers gain access to a rich trove of concepts with which to examine and share experience with managing learning.

There are two further points that I wish to make with regard to this lexicon. First of all, the list itself is eclectic—with concepts being contributed from many theories. I want teacher-learners to understand that SLA theories—be they cognitive, social, nativist, environmentalist, interactionist, or emergentist—are internally coherent (Larsen-Freeman & Long, 1991; Mitchell & Myles, 2004, Ellis & Larsen-Freeman, 2006). I want teacher-learners to see how these ideas cohere and make sense within a given theory, so that is part of their experience in my SLA course as well.

My second caveat is that merely to point these concepts out to teacher-learners repeats the mistake of novice teachers—it subordinates learning to subject matter and teaching. Therefore, the way in which these concepts are introduced and worked with in SLA courses in teacher education programs is critically important. Here, I can but offer a sampling of the many approaches I have employed:

  • Examining transcripts of learner speech and samples of learner writing
  • Conducting analyses, such as contrastive analysis of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE) and Standard English (SE)
  • Asking teacher-learners to identify a focus child or adult learner and to keep a journal on their observations of the learner learning or not learning
  • Asking teacher-learners to teach something to their fellow teacher-learners while observing their response
  • Holding a debate (e.g., on the question of the optimal age for second language instruction)
  • Analyzing videotapes of language-student behavior in a classroom

Though these approaches are all different, they build on the notion of transfer-appropriate processing (Blaxton, 1989) so that what teacher-learners are introduced to in an SLA course can be of use to them in their later teaching practice.

In an inspirational book entitled The Having of Wonderful Ideas and Other Essays on Teaching and Learning, Eleanor Duckworth (1996) concluded one of her essays with the following:

I am not proposing that schoolteachers single-handedly become published researchers in the development of human learning. Rather, I am proposing that teaching, understood as engaging learners in phenomena and working to understand the sense they are making, might be the sine qua non of such research.

Such teachers care enough about some part of the world and how it works to want to make it accessible to others. Such teachers are fascinated by the questions of how to engage people in learning languages and how people make sense of their learning challenges. Such teachers, as managers of learning, will undoubtedly benefit from what a study of SLA has to offer at both macro and micro levels.


Blaxton, T. (1989). Investigating dissociations among memory measures: Support for a transfer-appropriate processing framework. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition 15(4), 657-668.

Duckworth, E. (1996). The having of wonderful ideas and other essays on teaching and learning (2nd ed.). New York: Teachers College Press.

Ellis, N. & Larsen-Freeman, D. (2006). Language emergence. Introduction to the special issue. Applied Linguistics , 27, 558-589.

Freeman, D. (1992). Collaboration: Constructing shared understandings in a second language classroom. In D. Nunan (Ed.), Collaborative language learning and teaching (pp. 56-80). Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Larsen-Freeman, D. & Long, M. (1991). An introduction to second language acquisition research. London: Longman.

Lortie, D. (1975). Schoolteacher: A sociological study. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Mitchell, R. & Myles, F. (2004). Second language learning theories. 2nd edition. London: Hodder Arnold.