The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching

We recently published The Emotional Rollercoaster of Language Teaching edited by Christina Gkonou, Jean-Marc Dewaele and Jim King. In this post Christina explains how she became interested in this area of research and what the book aims to do.

Emotions are at the heart of all human behaviour, and teaching and learning are no exception to this. Teachers plan their lessons carefully, select and design classroom materials that are relevant and suitable for their learners, and contemplate decisions related to classroom management and their actual practice before, during and even after class. But what about decision-making related to emotions – their own as well as those of their learners? How do emotions shape and are shaped by their day-to-day, mundane teaching practice? And how are they experienced and managed?

My own interest in language teacher emotions was generated a few years ago and through earlier research I did on learner anxiety. The interview conversations and follow-up discussions with teachers on the topic of learner anxiety showed that teachers were keen to talk about their own psychologies and anxieties too – and that they would, in fact, slightly deviate from the interview topic by reflecting on their own emotions. This is when I realised that I was only asking them questions about how their learners feel, how anxiety influences learning and what they do to help their learners minimise their language anxiety. Although the focus of my research was on learners, I felt that I could have approached emotions and anxiety within language education in a way that was more balanced and fairer to teachers by giving them the chance to discuss their own emotions too.

When I approached Jean-Marc and Jim to collaborate on this book project, I had not expected how topical language teacher psychology and emotions would be in subsequent years – and how rarely they are discussed in teacher education and development, and even amongst teachers themselves, due to lack of time, reluctance to confide and the inherently subjective nature of emotions. Emotions are there, they are present but they are often marginalised for the sake of other priorities, which are undoubtedly important too but shouldn’t be seen as more important than how individuals in classrooms actually feel. We hope that the book will offer insights into constructs and contexts, methods and tools, theories and practices – and, above all, minds and hearts.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

Language Teachers’ Beliefs in Their Own Ability

This month we are publishing Exploring Language Teacher Efficacy in Japan by Gene Thompson. In this post the author writes about his experience running language teacher workshops in Japan.

How confident are you about successfully completing different teaching activities? What are the factors that influence those beliefs? Are there any experiences that have influenced your confidence towards different teaching tasks?

I confronted these questions during my time contributing to language teacher training workshops in Japan. Working with a licence renewal program and teacher developmental initiatives in a regional prefecture, I observed a huge difference in the confidence of attendees towards implementing government mandated language teaching curricula reforms that encouraged a more communicative focus in English language classes.

For secondary school teachers, the new policy required them to use English as a teaching language. Certain individuals were very confident about doing so – even excited about it. Others were less certain of their capability to carry out lessons effectively if they had to use English with students. Some were completely devoid of any certainty that they could accomplish anything with their students if they were forced to use English when teaching.

What lay behind these beliefs? For many teachers – as users of English themselves – personal ideas about their own English language seemed to be an important factor. Equally, for many teachers, the demands of their teaching environment seemed to be an important part of the equation. For some participants, their school had a motivated and well-resourced teaching staff. For others, student motivation was low and many of their learners had not mastered the skills taught in previous years.

Many participants observed our seminars and simply rejected everything we presented. Quite quickly, my colleagues and I realized that our seminars were much more effective when we made them into workshops. Generally, we would provide a ‘recipe’ for using a teaching strategy (e.g. using the ‘sandwich’ technique) with a certain learner group, then push our attendees to think about how they could change or apply that technique in their classrooms – often challenging them to try them out on each other using microteaching or other practice activities.

We couldn’t cover as much ground in our sessions in workshop fashion. However, we found not only that our participants developed knowledge about different teaching strategies, but also that our sessions could influence – to a greater degree – the extent to which participants felt confident in their ability to actually employ the ideas from our workshops in their classrooms.

This experience stimulated the research presented in Exploring Language Teacher Efficacy in Japan, as I became interested in the relationship between teacher beliefs of capability, their personal abilities, and the influence of contextual demands upon their beliefs and practice.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

Language Teacher Agency Matters!

This month we published Theorizing and Analyzing Language Teacher Agency edited by Hayriye Kayi-Aydar, Xuesong (Andy) Gao, Elizabeth R. Miller, Manka Varghese and Gergana Vitanova. In this post the editors explain how the idea for the book came about.

We witnessed scholars’ and teachers’ growing interest in language teacher agency throughout the process of producing this volume. This book idea was hatched over dinner at AAAL (2016 in Orlando, Florida) before a colloquium on language teacher agency in which we editors had all participated. The colloquium attracted a large number of keen attendees and ended with a lively discussion that we all enjoyed. It became clear that many of the attendees were also doing research on teacher agency, and we decided that it was important to bring these developing research studies together into an edited collection. A few months later we posted a Call for Papers, and we were overwhelmed by the response: we received more than 100 submissions! Language teacher agency clearly matters everywhere as these submissions include studies based in urban schools and rural schools, in university classes and church-based volunteer-provided classes, located in diverse national contexts including Australia, China, India, Japan, Mexico and the US. Now, several years later, we are delighted to see a good number of these submissions developed into chapters.

Language teacher agency is not easily defined, in part, because it is always contextually mediated. It thus seems inevitable that scholars will use different methods and focus on a range of topics in order to understand teacher agency in the particular contexts they are exploring. The chapters in this book explore teacher agency in relation to social justice and equity efforts, teacher identity and professional development, teacher evaluation processes, curricular decisions and innovations, and the creation of new teaching practices. It is likewise clear that scholars will adopt different theoretical approaches to help them make sense of the on-the-ground practices and activities that they observe. In this volume, authors draw on ecological theory, sociocultural theory, actor network theory, critical realism, and positioning theory. Our book is not prescriptive in nature; in other words, we do not tell teachers what they should do to be an agent. However, through systematic data collection, the chapters successfully document the complexities associated with language teacher agency in strikingly different contexts, which we believe offers unique insights, implications, and strategies for language teachers. Given the range of perspectives offered in this collection, we are hopeful that it will spark new and continually diversifying research approaches and methods.

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also like Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

 

Multilingualism As Lived Through Visual Means

This month we published Visualising Multilingual Lives edited by Paula Kalaja and Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer. In this post the editors explain how they used visual methodologies to examine multilinguals’ emotions and their expression of those emotions.

It is only gradually being acknowledged that multilinguals, or people who use more than one language, form the majority of people in the world, not monolinguals. However, multilinguals find themselves in different contexts and for different reasons, and their knowledge of the languages varies. In addition, becoming and being multilingual are quite heterogeneous and individual achievements are experienced very differently by subjects, depending on their contexts and life trajectories.

There are two approaches to multilinguals. The objective approach attempts to figure out the mechanisms inside a multilingual’s mind and trace developments in his or her knowledge of any language (and possible stages in the process) in terms of mastery of a linguistic system or in terms of an ability to communicate or interact with others in the language. In contrast, the subjective approach attempts to find out how a multilingual feels about becoming or being multilingual, or what the different languages and their use mean to him or her personally. In other words, the second approach focuses on multilinguals and their lives as subjectively experienced or as lived, including positive and negative emotions, attitudes, beliefs, visions and identities.

Traditional methodologies (such as questionnaires, interviews and observation) may not be the most suitable options when tackling issues like this, as they may suffer from a “linguistic bias” in their attempts to describe or explain emotions, which are not always easy to put into words. So, to address these sensitive issues, we decided to make use of visual methodologies of various kinds, including drawings and photographs, as mediators between emotions and their expression by multilinguals. However, as a rule, visual data were complemented with other types of data, and the starting points and ways of analysing the pools of data for form and/or content vary from one study to another. But even if visual materials are not always used as the only pool of data, they bring to the foreground aspects that individuals choose to visually represent and comment on. So, using visual methodologies may also be about what is not visible, not represented or not valued by the multilingual subject.

As editors of Visualising Multilingual Lives, we invite the readers to learn about visual narratives accounted by multilinguals in different parts of the world, printed in full color. The different chapters of the book offer coherent, original and individualized insights into multilingualism as experienced in three domains: the multilingual self, the multilingual learner and multilingual teacher education. With a preface by Claire Kramsch, the volume acknowledges the potential of arts-based methodologies in grasping the singularities of multilinguals and their linguistic biographies.

Paula Kalaja paula.kalaja@jyu.fi
Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer silvia.melo-pfeifer@uni-hamburg.de

 

For more information about this book please see our website.

If you found this interesting, you might also enjoy Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas.

Flo’s Trip to ICFSLA 2018 in Szczyrk, Poland

Last week I attended the 30th annual International Conference on Foreign and Second Language Acquisition (ICFSLA) conference in Szczyrk, Poland. This conference is well-loved by those who’ve attended regularly over the years, and upon arrival I was struck by how welcoming everyone was and what a warm and friendly atmosphere the organisers had created, despite the unseasonably chilly, rainy May weather!

As Multilingual Matters hadn’t been to this conference since 2015, the delegates seemed pleased to see us and find that they could actually buy the books we were displaying. Our SLA series was so popular among the conference-goers that a few of them assumed that was the name of the publisher, not realising it was just one of a number of our series! Alongside the SLA books, the first book in our new PLLT series, Language Teacher Psychology (coedited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas), was a particular favourite, selling out on the first day.

David Singleton giving his plenary

The theme of this year’s conference was “Identity in Second Language Acquisition and Foreign Language Learning” and I was able to take some time out from manning my stand to go to the plenaries by our authors and series editors Rod Ellis, David Singleton, Sarah Mercer and Simone Pfenninger. Topics discussed included social identity and language development in study abroad, bi-/multilingual communication and identity, language teacher identity and third age identity, and it was nice to have the opportunity to see our authors in action!

Apart from a packed programme of plenaries and sessions, the conference organisers also put on some great entertainment in the evenings. First up was an “Evening of Memories” in which ICFSLA enthusiasts past, present and regretfully absent reminisced (some by audio/video!) about the past 30 years, accompanied by a slideshow of ICFSLA conferences gone by, and with many fond memories of the late Janusz Arabski, the conference’s founder.  A special surprise was saved for the last night, when, following the conference dinner, we all trooped up to the bar, where the conference organisers had arranged a concert by Polish a cappella sea shanty band, Banana Boat. The band was brilliant, and somehow I found myself singing along, despite most of the songs being in Polish! The disco at the end of the night rounded off the conference nicely, with some serious dance moves being exhibited well into the early hours.

Flo

The Importance of Language Teacher Psychology

This month we published Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. In this post, the book’s editors introduce us to the collection.

Language learners are the end recipients who should benefit from everything we do, so it is perhaps unsurprising that they have been the focus of much of our work as language educators. However, as we explored the teacher-learner relationship, we have become aware that teacher psychology can also have considerable influence on the teachers’ ability to teach as effectively and creatively as possible, as well as on their learners’ psychology. But what do we really know about teachers’ motivations, their emotions, wellbeing, and thinking?

As we looked more closely at what has been published to date, we did find some fascinating, relatively well-explored lines of inquiry, but we also discovered that there was not nearly the same depth, breadth or complexity of research that exists for learners and their psychologies. We felt that this gap was disconcerting, especially in the light of the challenges within the teaching profession, and we were keen to explore how the constructs that were being used in language learner psychology might also apply to teachers. It was encouraging that our concerns and motivations for this volume were shared by other scholars in the field, whose enthusiastic response to our invitation has helped to make this such a rich and diverse collection.

The structure of this book reflects these concerns and attempts to address them. The first few chapters offer new insights into aspects of language teacher psychology that have already received some attention in research, such as motivation and identity. The next set of contributions broadens the agenda by looking into aspects that have only more recently begun to be examined. The third part of the book explores a relatively new line of inquiry considering how insights from positive psychology can be applied to language teaching. The final chapter illustrates how language teacher psychology can be studied as an integrated whole and not just as a collection of fragmented constructs.

As editors, we feel privileged to have worked with such great scholars who contributed their time and insights to the collection. We hope that readers derive as much enjoyment as we did by engaging with the chapters that make up the book. We also hope that it generates more research, more discussion, and more awareness of the importance of language teacher psychology. Indeed, the new book series Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching, would welcome contributions that extend this discussion. In the meantime, if you’d like to find out more about the book, you might want to take a look at the table of contents which are found at the bottom of this page.

Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas

If you found this interesting, you may be interested in Positive Psychology in SLA edited by Peter D. MacIntyre, Tammy Gregersen and Sarah Mercer. You can also find more information on Language Teacher Psychology on our website.

Making an Impact: Language Teachers that Left an Impression

Next month we will be publishing Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas. The book begins with an invitation to the reader to reflect on their own memories of language learning: “If you think back to your language learning at school, you might remember specific tasks or projects you did, but, even more likely, you will remember your teachers.” This sparked a conversation in our office about language teachers we’ve encountered over the years, which we thought would make for an interesting blog post. Here are some of Laura, Flo and Tommi’s reflections on the language teachers that have stuck with them. 

Laura

My first ever French teacher was obsessed with songs. Every single unit of vocabulary was accompanied by a song and action routine that we all had to learn and perform to the class. I imagine that for the quieter students that must have been a terrifying experience but for the rest of us it was great fun. The songs were incredibly catchy and have stuck with me and my school friends…so much so that we can still recite them off by heart, even 20 years later!

When I was in 6th Form I had French first thing on a Monday morning – not the best time of the week for teenagers! Our teacher came up with the idea that we’d take it in turns to bake a cake over the weekend and bring it in to share with the class that lesson. It was a brilliant idea – not only were we more enthusiastic about coming to class but it also brought us closer together as a group as we were more relaxed while chatting over cake. Some even tried their hand at baking French specialities!

My school German teacher made sure that lessons went well beyond the syllabus. She took the time to get to know us as individuals and often recommended German films and books that she thought we’d like. She made me realise that there’s so much more to studying a language than the topics in the textbook and that languages stretch far beyond the classroom walls. It was also a very good way to get us to engage with German outside lesson time too!

When I was on my year abroad in France I lived with some Spanish students. Over the course of the year they made sure that I learnt basic Spanish, not through formal instruction, but by making sure that they used Spanish as we did things together, such as cooking. Over time I picked up all sorts of vocabulary which has stuck with me since, including the phrase “¿Dónde están mis llaves?” (“Where are my keys?”) which was used on a near daily basis by one forgetful housemate!

Flo

During my year abroad I studied Russian at a French university. The course was taught by two teachers – the first was terrifying: incredibly strict with zero tolerance for mistakes. She called me “the foreigner” for the first few weeks, until I got so fed up I wrote my name in huge letters at the top of my essay in the hope she would get the hint. This was juxtaposed completely by the other teacher, who was kind, patient and very understanding of my predicament as a British student in a French classroom learning Russian! He made many allowances for my odd-sounding Russian to French translations and always made sure I understood definitions, often asking me to provide the class with the English translation, which helped me feel less useless! I really appreciated his acknowledgement and thoughtfulness, which meant I never felt lost or excluded from his lessons.

I have French lessons once a week and it’s probably my best language learning experience so far. My teacher has a great sense of humour, is patient, reassuring, and full of praise but never lets mistakes go unchecked. He’s obviously passionate about French culture and during our conversations he often plays us clips from French films, shows us books and photographs or plays songs. The atmosphere in his classroom is very egalitarian – there’s no tangible student/teacher divide and he is quick to be self-deprecating about his own English, which levels the playing field and reminds us that actually we’re all learners.

Tommi

My A-Level German teacher at school recognised that I hated grammar tables and all of that formal language learning. He would quite often set the class an exercise to do with “der, die, das, die” or whatever. Noticing that I could never really get going at all, he would then come over and chat to me (in German) quite casually for 5-10 minutes, then he would finish with “right, you are now 10 minutes behind the rest of the class, you’d better get some work done”. I suspect I learned more German in those chats than I ever did from grammar tables…

My Italian teacher at Cultura Italiana in Bologna sat with me one day for a private lesson. During the lesson, she would talk, and I would sit leaning back with my arms folded across my chest. Eventually she grew exasperated and said “Tommi, do you care about any of this?” to which I replied “of course I do! I am listening very carefully!” “Argh, no, if you want to learn Italian you mustn’t listen, you need to lean forward, interrupt me and talk over me, that way I will know you want to be part of the conversation! We often go out, everyone talks at the same time, if you are not always saying something I will just assume you are bored and want to be somewhere else!”

For more information about the book that inspired this post, please see our website.

New series: Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching

In January 2018 we will be publishing Language Teacher Psychology edited by Sarah Mercer and Achilleas Kostoulas, which is the first book in our new series, Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching. In this post, series editors Sarah Mercer and Stephen Ryan introduce the new series and explain the inspiration behind it. 

Both of us started our careers in the classroom as language teachers and it was there that we first developed our fascination with the differences we noted in how our learners approached their learning … or did not, as the case may be. Little did we know back then just where that fascination would take us. From those initial sparks began an ongoing interest in language learning psychology. Our curiosity led us to seek ways to understand what made our learners tick and, somewhat inadvertently, into the exciting world of educational psychology. Once exposed to these – at least to us – new ideas, we then became interested in how best to apply these insights in our teaching. It was classroom practice that triggered our early interest and that practical focus continues to be a key driver for us in our research and we hope in this new Multilingual Matters series too.

Over time, our own understandings of psychology have grown and become – we like to think – more nuanced. In the same way, and over a similar timeframe, a new academic field has grown, both in scale and sophistication, around in interest in the Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching (PLLT). One of the great joys for us in recent years has been the discovery of many like-minded, curious teachers/teacher-researchers/researchers looking to explore the potential of educational psychology theory and research in an attempt to better understand language teaching and learning. For many years, discussions of psychology in language education were dominated by the concept of learner motivation and while that remains a key area of inquiry, we are now seeing a whole range of other topics moving into focus. In addition to motivation, the new field covers various dimensions of the self, identity, affect, cognition, attributions, personality, strategies, self-regulation, and agency among others. A distinguishing trait of this new field is that it seeks to explore the connections between these concepts as opposed to separating them from each other and attempting to analyse them in isolation. Another key shift has been a growing attention to teacher psychology. While there is a strong body of research in certain areas, large domains of teacher psychology have remained almost completely unexamined in the field of language education. Given the tight connections between learner and teacher psychology, it is surprising we know so little about what makes such key stakeholders in classroom life function and potentially flourish in their professional roles.

The first book in the series, Language Teacher Psychology

As a part of the emergence of this new field, there has been an accompanying increase in the number of publications with a PLLT focus. At first, these were scattered across publishing houses, but we felt that there was a need to bring them together under one roof to make it easier for people to find related works, to see connections across areas of research and practice, and to foster cooperation rather than further fragmentation. Multilingual Matters already housed many key PLLT publications within its broader SLA series and it is from that highly successful series that the new PLLT was born. The birth of the new PLLT series has coincided with the further growth of a biennial conference dedicated to the field as well as the formation of a professional association for those working in the area. It is tremendously exciting to witness the new series taking shape and we feel enormously privileged to be a part of this innovative new project. We can already see some thrilling publications on the horizon as academics from across the globe come forward to share their work on PLLT through the series. We hope you will enjoy reading the books that will make up the new series and we also hope that some of you may consider making your own contribution in the future.

For more information about the Psychology of Language Learning and Teaching series, please see our website. Book proposals for this series should be sent to Laura Longworth.