Dr. Kristen Lindahl, assistant professor of bicultural-bilingual studies at the University of Texas at San Antonio, has joined the TESOL Blog. Kristen will be blogging biweekly on the topic of teacher education.
Storytelling is one of the most powerful human language acts, and now it may be one way to help TESOL teachers process and retain information. We know that teachers’ life experiences and beliefs are some of the biggest contributors to their practices (see Johnson, 2009), but creating time for teachers to verbalize these experiences and beliefs, let alone acknowledge and reflect upon them, can be challenging for teacher educators. Teaching English worldwide in all its dimensions—political, social, economic, theoretical—may cause beliefs to surface and influence teacher decisions, some of which they may not even be aware.
How can TESOL teacher educators integrate these highly personal and unique beliefs into TESOL coursework? The answer might be as simple as, “Once upon a time…”. Two recent articles discuss how using narrative processes as teacher inquiry may help teachers to process and retain information related to effective practices in teaching English. For example, in their TESOL Quarterly article, Johnson and Golombek (2011) discuss how the use of narrative actually ignites cognitive processes that lead to sustained professional development. Another piece by Arshavskaya and Whitney (2014) discusses how writing as dialogue between the preservice teacher and teacher educator can promote understanding of key concepts.
Teacher educators who want to bring narrative storytelling into the classroom and allow teachers to tell their own stories should check out these options:
- Blogs on online learning platforms: Many university online platforms (such as BlackBoard Learn or Canvas in the United States) host blogs for specific classes. Using these, students can post regularly as they progress through their course(s). Teacher educators can mediate the content of the blogs via guidelines or prompts for blog entries. Unlike the written or typed cumulative practicum journals of the past, these platforms allow preservice teachers to reflect and create their own posts, but also to read what their peers write, and then respond in kind. These create a more authentic forum for dialogue about what they are observing, and the outcomes they experience as they implement their own lessons. Instead of only dialoging with the instructor, preservice teachers can discuss, empathize, and even brainstorm ideas and solutions with their peers.
- Digital stories: TESOL educators use photographs, audio excerpts, video excerpts, images, and/or music to document and reflect upon their experiences during their course(s). (See this excellent link from the University of Illinois—Champaign) Another program that allows users to compile narratives out of web content such as tweets, images, and videos that other people have posted, but that users put together to create their own message, is Storify.
- Social Media: While more limited in space than a traditional blog, social media outlets like Tumblr, Twitter, or even closed Facebook groups (so that only class members can see and edit content) can encourage future teachers to post and reflect upon thoughts, images, quotations from class content, or events from observations.
Encouraging teachers to tell their stories, as well as engaging them via technology, may bring about the “happily ever after” you’ve been looking for!