The activity of learning cognitions about language teaching and learning in Chile

Before going to Tassie I worked really hard and did some thinking and writing about my research. I restructred my study in the following way:

The research explores the activity of learning cognitions  for English as foreign language (EFL) pre-service teachers, i.e., what teachers think, know and believe (Borg, 2006),  about teaching and learning English in Chile.

This study will analyse how student teachers construct their cognitions from a sociocultural perspective. As stated by Johnson (2009) “From a sociocultural perspective, teacher cognition originates in and is fundamentally shaped by the specific social activities in which teachers engage.”(p. 17). This lens will enable us to understand the complex dynamics between student teacher and the social situations he/she is engaged to in the construction of his/her own cognitions about language teaching and learning.

Pre-service teachers of English enrol in initial teacher programs with their own cognitions about learning and teaching a foreign language in Chile (Richards, 1998). These cognitions have been constructed throughout their lives and experiences as school students in which they have had at least eight years of English instruction two hours a week. In spite of all the hours of English classes, these student teachers start their education with a very little command of the foreign language; therefore these student teachers experience the challenge of their own language learning.

Pre-Service teachers start their journey to become teachers bringing in their own beliefs about learning and teaching based on their own experiences of learning English at school. These beliefs are contrasted with the specific social context they become part of, i.e., the Initial teacher education program they are enrolled in. This program would have beliefs & knowledge as a goal to transfer to student teachers; teacher educators surely hold their own beliefs. All these elements interact and contribute to the shaping of teachers cognitions (Johnson, 2009). The activity of learning cognitions about language teaching and learning is not finished, after that, cognitions will continue to be constructed through and by the communities of practice teachers get into.

Why a sociocultural lens?

In the last thirty years, cognitions about second language learning have been studied in different ways. As analysed by Barcelos (2003), there have been three approaches: the normative approach, the metacognitive approach and the contextual approach. The normative view regards beliefs as “preconceived notions”, the studies which share this view have typically used questionnaires to gather data & researchers have determined a cause and effect relationship between beliefs and actions. The metacognitive approach sees beliefs as metacognitive knowledge, researchers following this trend have used semi-structured interviews and self reports: they have also established a strong relationship of cause and effect between beliefs and behaviour. Both normative and metacognitive approaches conceive beliefs as generally stable notions. In contrast, the contextual approach conceives beliefs as dynamic and socially constructed.  This view acknowledges that language learner beliefs are embedded in a specific social context as changing notions part of the construction of students learning experiences (Hosenfeld, 2003).

Teachers cognitions’ have also been researched from different perspectives as beliefs, conceptions, perspectives, practical knowledge, implicit theories, knowing-in-action, situated knowledge, theoretical orientations among others (Borg, 2006). All these terms reflect not only a linguistic variation, but a different approach from which different studies have done in order to understand the complexity of the teachers’ mental lives.  Borg positions the field of teacher cognitions as a field of inquiry which aims at understanding teachers’ knowledge. This author argues that after the analysis of all the concepts used to refer to teacher cognition, these cognitions can be characterised as personal, practical, tacit, systematic and dynamic “defined and refined on the basis of educational and professional experiences throughout teachers’ lives” (p. 35).

Borg, Johnson and Freeman have acknowledged the fact that it is absolutely necessary to study not only what teachers think, know and believe about language teaching and learning, but also how these cognitions are originated and have developed.  It is important to understand not only what is being learned but how to learn as embedded in social contexts that emphasize participation as the main vehicle of engagement and learning (Freeman 2009).

A sociocultural perspective seems suitable to analyse the process of teacher cognitions’ formation since it will allow the researcher to understand how teachers socially negotiate to develop their own cognitions about language teaching and learning. As Johnson (2009) stated it very well “A fundamental premise of a sociocultural perspective is that individual mental functioning does not exist as separate from the cultural, institutional, and historical situations in which it occurs. Instead, individual cognition comes into being as a result of engagement in the social world” (p93).

About Malba Barahona

Educational researcher, language educator. PhD from Australian National University. Passionate bushwalker and mountain lover. I procrastinate reading fiction, hiking, doing yoga, riding, having a beer and more recently decolonizing my existence. I write in English and Spanish in different blogs especially with the purpose of encouraging my students to write.


  1. Really interesting post and I will follow up on the research you mention. I have always felt that in some ways educational progress is held back by the beliefs of those delivering it and that teachers need to be learning in parallel with their students to keep things moving the right way. If they don’t update their own knowledge then the whole thing stalls or students, as could be possible now and definitely in the future, will just take matters into their owns hands. After all, why spend valuable time listening to someone whose views and methods you don’t believe in?

  2. malbada

    Thanks for your comment!

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