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Chapter 1 Beliefs and Realities: A Framework for Decision Making “How do teachers decide what to teach, how to represent it, how to question students about it and how to deal with problems of misunderstanding?” (Shulman, 1986) “[T]eacher education needs to engage teachers not merely in the mastery of rules of practice but in an exploration of the knowledge, beliefs, attitudes, and thinking that inform such practice.” (Richards, 1998) L E A D I N G Q U E S T I O N S • What roles do teacher beliefs, assumptions, and philosophies of learning and teaching play in the decision-making process in L2 writing classes? • How can knowledge of relevant issues in L2 writing inform teachers’ decisions? • To what extent do belief systems and practical realities of the classroom support or work against each other? Introduction to the Issues Teachers make hundreds of decisions in their classrooms every day. Some decisions involve planning. With greater or lesser degrees of control over their decisions, teachers decide what content to teach, what materials to use, what sequences 7 to present content in, what pedagogical activities to set up using different participation structures, what kinds of homework and in-class work to assign, and what kinds of assessments and grading criteria to use. Other decisions need to be made on the spot: how to respond to students’ questions, how to explain an activity if students misunderstand the initial set of instructions, how to handle recalcitrant or overly silent or talkative students on a particular day, how to switch gears midclass either to take advantage of opportunities that arise unexpectedly or to adjust a lesson plan that cannot be finished in the allotted time, how to respond to a piece of writing that contains disturbing personal information, and generally how to manage and negotiate the countless unforeseen contingencies that arise every teaching day. These decisions are based on teachers’ current goals for and beliefs about teaching and learning, on their current knowledge of their subject matter and relevant content-based issues, and on constraints of the immediate teaching context. If asked, teachers can often explain that they are using certain materials in a particular way because they believe, for example , that students will be motivated by this approach and therefore learn more, or that this or that approach has been shown to be effective through research on writing and second language acquisition (SLA), or that the adaptations they make in an approach stem in part from classroom factors such as class size, time constraints, and curricular mandates at the departmental level. Of course, there are unarticulated default beliefs—unexamined assumptions about teaching and learning—that may seem not like beliefs at all but more like routines and patterns, developed and followed through habit and through teachers’ own experiences with learning in their pasts rather than through systematic reflection and conscious choice. Teachers may also choose, or be given, materials, lessons , and assessment tools without reflecting on the assumptions about teaching and learning that underlie those materials and tools. If the materials look good, if they are written by reputable authors and published by good publishers, and if they have been approved by the department, they must be 8 Controversies in Second Language Writing good. Many teachers, moreover, pressed for time and short of energy, just hope to get through another day. Reflection on beliefs and issues, which requires some intellectual and emotional investment, may not be high on their lists of daily or weekly activities. Nevertheless, examined or unexamined, within awareness or not, teacher choices and behaviors in the classroom reflect underlying beliefs and assumptions. One of my own strong beliefs is that teachers benefit from bringing underlying beliefs into conscious awareness by articulating those beliefs, reflecting on them, and modifying them as needed (Burns, 1992; Calderhead, 1989; Casanave & Schecter, 1997; Day, Calderhead , & Denicolo, 1993; Freeman & Richards, 1996; Gebhard & Oprandy, 1999; Richards, 1998; Richards & Lockhart, 1994; Ross, 1989; Schön, 1983, 1987; Valli, 1992). Our teaching can thus become more principled, less random, perhaps more experimental and innovative, more connected to the learning of particular students, and more subject to our own critical evaluation of techniques, methods, successes, and failures. With sets of articulated beliefs, we become more able to ask and respond to the important questions, Why am I choosing to teach in this way? and What effect is my teaching having on my students? and Given the practical constraints in my teaching situation, how can I best implement what...


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