Mindful L2 Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Perspective on Cultivating Teachers’ Professional Development
reviewed by Amy Frederick - March 27, 2017
Title: Mindful L2 Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Perspective on Cultivating Teachers’ Professional Development
Author(s): Karen E. Johnson & Paula R. Golombek
Publisher: Routledge/Falmer, New York
ISBN: 1138189790, Pages: 175, Year: 2016
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In recent years, teacher education has come under increasing criticism partly based on negative public perceptions. Training teachers is a contentious political issue that has drawn skeptics who delegitimize traditional approaches and discredit the field. Teacher-proof scripted curricula and alternative pathways to teaching have gained traction as substitutes for quality traditional teacher education programs. Within this context, Karen E. Johnson and Paula R. Golombek provide a revolutionary alternative in Mindful L2 Teacher Education: A Sociocultural Perspective on Cultivating Teachers Professional Development. They seek to demonstrate the meaningful role second language (L2) teacher education plays by highlighting the unique contributions that teacher educators can make in the professional development of teachers. The authors achieve this by providing an inside look into what teacher educators do through a Vygotskian sociocultural lens. They document the ways in which engagement in the practices of L2 teacher education shapes how L2 teachers come to think about and enact their teaching within sociocultural contexts of their learning-to-teach experiences (p. xii). By taking this approach, the authors hope to show that expert teacher educators still matter.
Mindful L2 Teacher Education consists of four parts. In Part One and Part Two, Johnson and Golombek build a theoretical rationale for exploring what happens inside the practices of second language (L2) teacher education. The authors also define the central concept of responsive mediation. Part Three brings these theories into the field to analyze interactions taking place in five practices the authors implemented in their own L2 teacher education programs. Finally, in Part Four, they propose responsive mediation as a tool for teacher educators to examine and inform their own pedagogy.
In Part One, "Laying the Foundation for Mindful L2 Teacher Education," Johnson and Golombek conceptualize their own pedagogical theory, Mindful L2 Teacher Education, and provide insights regarding how it informs their practice. First, they provide an overview of Vygotskian sociocultural theory and remind readers that the development of human cognition is inherently social and transformative. From this foundation, they add a layer of their own views of L2 teacher education. Johnson and Golombek state that, "[w]e believe teachers, as well as the L2 learners they teach, develop through the mediation of others" (p. 7). The professional development of teachers requires the acquisition of pedagogical content knowledge and fostering the identity of the L2 teacher. The authors argue that the act of narrating ignites cognitive processes that support teacher development in these areas. Different types of narrative activities allow teachers to externalize their understandings and feelings "by giving voice to their past, present, and even imagined future experiences" (p. 14). Chapter Two clarifies the concept of mediation in Vygotskian theories as a backdrop to their initial definition of responsive mediation as multidirectional and a fluid dialogical interaction between L2 teacher educators and teachers.
Part Two, "Vygotsky and Vygotskian-inspired Theoretical Concepts that Inform Responsive Mediation," articulates theoretical concepts used across the book. Johnson and Golombek define the concept of responsive mediation that is implemented throughout the remainder of the volume. Chapter Three describes obuchenie (e.g., teaching and learning) and perzhivanie (e.g., emotional experience) to establish a conceptual articulation of the qualities needed in responsive mediation. Additionally, this chapter defines growth points as those moments when teachers tend to experience cognitive dissonance. The authors argue that responsive mediation directed at these points creates the potential for learning. Chapter Four examines interthinking as a way of carrying out a joint intellectual activity and collaboratively making sense of experiences. The intermental development zone is how teacher educators and teachers pay attention to each others changing understandings. These two concepts are central to Johnson and Golombeks framing of responsive mediation in practice. This idea is developed more in the third part of the text.
Part Three is titled Exploring Responsive Mediation in L2 Teacher Development. Johnson and Golombek use previously defined theoretical concepts to conduct sociocultural discourse analyses of the dialogical interactions of several practices used in their own teacher education courses. They also explore the consequences of these analyses on teachers thinking and practice. The five practices that are highlighted are not so much best practices, but illustrative cases providing an insiders view of the conditions that support teachers professional learning. In one activity conducted during a graduate course, the authors describe how their students examine the concept of genre. They discuss how to teach from a genre stance through a series of guiding questions and four selected data excerpts, each with a different tense or aspect. These excerpts illustrate unique communicative functions related to specific genres (such as used to and would in reminiscing narratives). Teachers work on their own or with a partner to identify the genre under investigation and how their combination achieves a specific function. This is followed by a whole class discussion. The activity is intended to create a structured mediational space for dialogical interactions so that teachers and teacher educators could think together about the function of grammar in a genre. Johnson and Golombek provide the illustrative case of Patricks learning as a result of this activity. They describe his growth point through examples of his externalized narrative inquiry. This results from the structured mediational spaces provided by the teacher educator regarding his thoughts and feelings about teaching. These close-up analyses of language teacher practices make the previously outlined theoretical concepts come to life. Each practice exemplifies how teacher educators reflexivity, sensitivity, and expertise (p. 174) are put into action as they cultivate L2 teachers professional development.
In Part Four, Mindful L2 Teacher Education, Johnson and Golombek propose that responsive mediation is the nexus of their pedagogy, specifically mindful teacher education. They assert that this pedagogy offers a counter-narrative to the current anti-education neoliberal political milieu. It does this by making visible the reflexivity, sensitivity, and specialized expertise that is required of teacher educators and the deeply personal and moral consequences on and for L2 teachers (p. 165). They also invite other teacher educators to join them in the practice of analyzing the impact of responsive mediation on the teachers they work with. After summarizing and applying their major theoretical assertions, the book concludes by restating the authors central claim that teacher education and teacher educators matter.
This volume provides deep understandings of dialogical interaction informed by sociocultural theory. As a result, it leaves teacher educators with ways to think about their expertise in moving their teachers toward more sound instructional practices and greater professionalism. I thank Johnson and Golombek for writing a text that undertakes this vital mission. I believe that teacher educators working in L2 programs will find this book to be inspirational. While the texts focus is on L2 teaching and the practices that are highlighted are all within this content area, its vision of responsive mediation and the underlying theories are important to all teacher educators. For me, the deep synthesis of Vygotskian sociocultural theories is illuminating. Also, the opportunity to consider how I incorporate these theories into my own teaching is invaluable. Reading this text strengthened my commitment to the field of teacher education and helped me become increasingly aware of my own contribution to teachers professional development. In sum, Johnson and Golombeks Mindful L2 Teacher Education makes an important contribution to the literature on teacher education and teacher educators who are looking for verification that we matter.