Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Cultural Contexts and Situated Possibilities in the Teaching of Second Language Writing

Academic journal article Journal of Teacher Education

Cultural Contexts and Situated Possibilities in the Teaching of Second Language Writing

Article excerpt

Since the 1970s, there has been a paradigm shift from a conception of learning as a set of individual decontextualized cognitive processes to a conception of learning as a socially organized activity that is inseparable from its sociocultural locus in time and space (Lave, 1988; Scribner, 1984). Theorists of situated learning have argued that the objective forms and systems of activity, along with the individual's subjective and intersubjective understandings of them, mutually constitute the world and its social practice (Brown, Collins, & Duguid, 1989; Lave, 1993; Lave & Wenger, 1991; Rogoff, 1995; Rogoff & Lave, 1984). This paradigm shift in learning theory has provided powerful insights into the nature of teachers' practice and knowledge. A number of studies on teacher learning have also pointed out that the sociocultural contexts in which teachers operate and their forms of engagement with them mutually constitute their world of practice and the knowledge so constructed (Fenstermacher, 1994; Leinhardt, 1988; Putnam & Borko, 2000).

In explicating the understanding of human action and engagement that underpinned their study of clinical judgment and knowledge development of expert nurses, Benner, Tanner, and Chesla (1996) argued that

   human lives are situated within meaningful activities,
   relationships, commitments, and involvements that set up both
   possibilities and constraints for living.... Being situated means
   that one is neither totally determined or constrained nor radically
   free in how one acts. Rather one has situated possibilities,
   certain ways of seeing and responding that present themselves to
   the individual in certain situations, and certain ways of seeing
   and responding that are not available to that individual. (p. 352,
   author's emphasis)

They further pointed out that the way humans are engaged in practice is bound up by what matters to them and that these concerns also determine what is seen and unseen.

Similarly, teaching is a situated activity in which possibilities and constraints for teaching and learning present themselves to individual teachers in different ways. Amy B. M. Tsui's (2003) study of expert and nonexpert teachers of English as a second language (ESL) showed that although expert teachers were capable of perceiving possibilities that opened up opportunities for learning, nonexpert teachers were less capable of doing so. As Coldron and Smith (1999) observed, "Teachers find a kind of agency in positioning themselves" (p. 714) within a given social context in response to needs that arise from their assessment of the context in which they find themselves.

Paradigm Shift in Learning Theory and Second Language Writing Pedagogies

The paradigm shift in learning theory has been highly influential in research on second language (L2) writing and its pedagogies. In the last two decades, writing has been reconceptualized from an individual cognitive activity to a socially situated activity (Carson & Nelson, 1996; Leki, 1995; Leki & Carson, 1997). Consequently, more attention has been paid to the sociocultural assumptions underpinning writing pedagogies. In the 1980s, process pedagogy in writing was introduced as a more effective approach to the teaching of writing than the traditional product-oriented approach. The former simulates the process of writing in everyday contexts, whereby students are given opportunities to revise their drafts with input from their peers and the teacher before submitting them for grading. Product writing, by contrast, requires students to work individually to produce a final draft for grading, and the emphasis is on assessing the quality of the final product.

A number of researchers have pointed out that process pedagogy may favor certain sociocultural groups more than others, as learners of different cultural backgrounds may orient to it in different ways (Kalantzis & Cope, 1993). …

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