Exploring teacher cognition as a complex system: Voices from teachers in a self-directed learning unit in Japan

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Teacher cognition influences, and is influenced by, the emergent dynamics of language classrooms. Drawing on qualitative data, this study investigates the interactions between teacher cognition and lived teaching experiences, while highlighting examples of co-adaptation between learners, teachers, and resources in a self-directed language learning unit in Japan.

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What teachers know and believe has a significant impact on the emergent dynamics of language classrooms. Moreover, learning conditions are optimised if teachers allow themselves to be transformed by classroom systems rather than rigidly imposing their own expectations (Larsen-Freeman, 2019). The present study aims to illuminate the ways in which teacher cognition influences, and is influenced by, the classroom dynamics that emerge as learners and teachers navigate a novel approach to compulsory English provision at a Japanese university. Adopting an ecological approach to instruction in which ‘the teacher makes resources available in the environment, and guides the learner’s perception and action towards an array of affordances that can further his or her goals’ (van Lier, 2007: 53), this study explores teachers’ reflections on a self-directed learning unit designed to target learner agency by helping learners identify and explore possible goals, strategies, tasks, groupings, and resources. The unit stands apart from other elements of the university’s English curriculum with a specific rationale, unique classroom routines, atypical learner-teacher roles, and specially tailored assessment criteria. The principal investigator, one of nine teachers responsible for implementing the unit, gathered data from multiple sources including meeting minutes, lesson plans, teaching guidelines, and learner feedback over several iterations of the course, before conducting semi-structured interviews with five members of the teaching team. Preliminary findings suggest evidence of a gap between teachers’ expectations and their actual experience which forced them to re-evaluate their beliefs about their learners and language learning in general. Additionally, the data reveals a co-adaptation process in which teachers and learners interact in unique ways with changes to assessment procedures, learning materials, and the atypical physical learning environment. These findings suggest implications for curriculum design in reference to the post-syllabus condition (Shaw, 2009) and emergent, flexible, and ecological approaches to language teaching.

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Sojo University
University of Reading

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