Teacher and University Educator Perspectives on Teaching Languages in Rural Settings: A Sonata Form Case Study

By Evans, Jenny; Morgan, Anne-Marie | Australian and International Journal of Rural Education, January 2016 | Go to article overview

Teacher and University Educator Perspectives on Teaching Languages in Rural Settings: A Sonata Form Case Study


Evans, Jenny, Morgan, Anne-Marie, Australian and International Journal of Rural Education


CONTEXT

The authors of this paper live and work in a rural environment. The first author is a classroom languages teacher in a rural secondary school with some twenty years of experience working in this setting. Working in the country by choice, having given up a permanent position in the city to 'come home' to a place that provides a sense of connection, confirms her identity and history, and allows her to engage in a close community where she can foster young peoples' engagement with their place, lives and futures as they explore their own identities through language and culture learning. The second author lives in the same community, teaching pre-service language teachers at a rural university, and conducting research with teachers of languages in schools. A relative newcomer to the bush, she too is concerned with how teachers of languages in rural settings engage with place, identity and self-perception, and how this impacts on their work as teachers in rural schools. Working together, the authors were concerned in this paper with providing insights into the positives of rural languages education- identifying what makes this work rewarding, rather than focusing on deficits and challenges of rural contexts of work. A sonata form methodology was chosen as a way to allow the two voices to contribute, to tell this story from two perspectives, link the insights to wider theoretical discussions, and provide a snapshot of rural practice that will be of interest to others working in similar settings, or to those considering a shift to the country.

THEORETICAL ORIENTATION

Representing Teachers' Practical Knowledge: Towards Collaborative Practice

Over the past few decades there has been a call for more research that genuinely represents teachers' practical knowledge that can be used to inform classroom practice and the body of theoretical pedagogical knowledge. From around 1987, Schulman was arguing the case for conducting research on teachers' wisdom of practice, with others following who championed ideas such as drawing on teachers' practical knowledge (Connelly & Clandinin, 2000), and teachers' craft knowledge (Leichhardt, 1990). Cochran-Smith and Lytle, in 1993, challenged the assumption that pedagogical knowledge was and should be generated from the outside-in by university researchers, which was imparted to teachers; and instead argued for the validity and necessity of practitioner research to inform from the inside-out (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 1993). In the mid-1990s, Darling-Hammond argued for teacher knowledge to be documented by or conducted in collaboration with teachers if serious and sustainable reform of teaching was to be made (Darling-Hammond, 1996).

Various models of both conducting and reporting teachers' inquiries have followed, necessarily reflecting the variety and complexity of teachers' work, their foci of inquiry, and the broad means for presenting findings relevant to teachers' own circumstances and intended audiences. Cochran-Smith and Lytle (2009) distilled much of this thinking in their important text Inquiry as stance: Practitioner research for the next generation, in which they argued that teachers face increasingly trying times within what Comber (2013) describes as an era of rampant standardisation, in which increased accountability to standardised norms and narrowly-focused testing regimens, the promulgation of negative public perceptions of teaching, and widespread demands for teaching standards to improve, surround and impact on the work of teachers. These authors argue that educators themselves must play key roles in designing, implementing and evaluating educational reforms, and that practitioner research should be considered vital for such reforms, as well as for the development of teacher knowledge and practice, and to increase teacher agency. The good news stories of successful and engaging practice, of which there are many, and the considered evaluation from teachers working in situ will then have more influence on broader movements for improved and more rewarding practice, better teacher preparation through pre-service programs, and for social change and social justice through more evidenced teaching approaches (Cochran-Smith & Lytle, 2009). …

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