Teacher Cognition and Language Education (Book Overview)

Borg, S. (2015). Teacher cognition and language education. New York, NY: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc.

The purpose of the ten-chapter book is of two-fold — first, it deals with the general knowledge on language teacher cognition, thus establishing the definition of the term across the language teaching landscape, discussing and distinguishing significantly emerging terms associated to it, and attempting to push forward the need to clarify existing knowledge as far as the subject matter is concerned; second, it traces and examines the progressive research and research methods through which language teacher cognition has been studied.

Given this complex two-fold purpose, the book further requires critical understanding on the part of the language teachers, however, much is expected to gain that can help influence the total perspective of the language teachers in terms of classroom practices, continuous professional and personal growth, and realizations on the nobility of the profession.

In a nutshell, language teacher cognition can be generally defined as what the language teacher thinks, knows and believes about things relevant and exclusive to language teaching. Moreover, it can be characterized often as a tacit, personally-held, practical system of dynamic mental constructs that are refined on the basis of educational and professional experiences all throughout a teacher’s life.

While most studies framed have been geared towards the understanding of learning theories and teaching methodologies, it is quite noteworthy to discuss out-of-the-limelight scholarly efforts attempting to undermine language teacher cognition and its implications to language teaching, particularly second language teaching.

Inarguably, teaching is one of the highly knowledge-based professions driven through a continuous progression. It requires practitioners to grow personally and professionally in such a way that they keep themselves abreast of the new discoveries, practices, and trends. In the field of research, Clark and Peterson (1986), for instance, underscores the complexity of the teaching process and argues that it can be fully understood only when the two domains — the action component, covering the observable components of the language classroom; and the thought component, accounting for the unobservable psychological context of teaching — are brought together and examined in relation to one another. Thus, it can be inferred that the interplay between these domains in the teaching process is inevitable.

Delving on the thought component of the teaching process as mentioned, Elbaz (1981) posits that teachers’ knowledge is practical because much of what teachers know originates in practice and is used to make sense of and deal with practical problems. This can be agreeable; however, teachers’ knowledge as a consensus is of two-fold — practical and pedagogical.

Accordingly, pedagogical content knowledge is grounded in disciplines and in formulations related to school curriculum and the collective wisdom of the profession. In other words, it is more formal than personal and situational characteristics of the practical knowledge. Education and experience are the two major influences of the development of teachers’ content knowledge.

Aside from the concept of knowledge as a component of teacher cognition, teachers’ beliefs are also believed to influence to a large extent the perceptions, judgments, and classroom behaviors of language teachers; however, these are described as broad and encompassing (Pajares, 1992). Accordingly, teachers’ beliefs can be categorized as beliefs about confidence to affect students’ performance (teacher efficacy), about the nature of knowledge (epistemological beliefs), about causes of teachers’ or students’ performance (attributions, locus of control, motivation etc.), about perceptions of self and feelings of self-worth (self-concept, self-esteem), about confidence to perform specific tasks (self-efficacy) and others. As can be noticed, there is an almost infinite array of the categories, hence supporting the claim that teachers’ beliefs can be inadequately defined.

Notwithstanding this, Pajares (1992) proposes that beliefs be defined as an individual’s judgement of the truth or the falsity of a proposition, a judgement that can only be inferred from a collective understanding of what human beings say, intend, and do. Needless to emphasize, all language teachers have differing standards and thresholds of judgments that may be founded on the early and on-going experiences in the field of teaching.

Having the two major components, knowledge and beliefs, scrutinized, I believe that these concepts, though at times are overlapping, must be established in the minds of all language teachers. In practice, teachers’ knowledge takes part in generating ideas, conceptions, images, or perspectives, while beliefs frame reasons and justifications in concretizing and performing the actual transmissions of such concepts across the minds of the language learners.

Equally important, at times, language teachers may have a consensus knowledge on a particular matter, however due to varying convictions and judgments, may have differing teaching approaches. With this, a question on the latter, the differing teaching approaches, can be resolved by taking a critical reference to what the teachers believe.

In conclusion, research has already tapped the influence of psychological and intellectual states of language teachers to the complex and complicated processes of teaching and learning. As Calderhead (1996) writes, research has established a direction in elaborating knowledge and belief structures that language teachers’ hold, to the influence of their past experiences, even experiences outside of teaching, in shaping how teachers think about their work, and to the diverse processes of knowledge growth involved in learning to teach.