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Review of  Teacher Cognition and Language Education

Reviewer: Drew Stephen Fagan
Book Title: Teacher Cognition and Language Education
Book Author: Simon Borg
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing (formerly The Continuum International Publishing Group)
Linguistic Field(s): Applied Linguistics
Issue Number: 20.3954

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Date: Tue, 17-Nov-2009 12:54:47 +1000
From: Drew Fagan
Subject: Teacher Cognition and Language Education: Research and Practice

AUTHOR: Borg, Simon
TITLE: Teacher Cognition and Language Education
SUBTITLE: Research and Practice
PUBLISHER: Continuum International Publishing Group Ltd
YEAR: 2008

Drew S. Fagan, TESOL Program, Teachers College, Columbia University


''Teacher Cognition and Language Education'' examines the historical background
surrounding the research on teacher cognition both in its genesis in mainstream
education as well as the continuing interest it holds for those in language
education. The book provides a comprehensive review of theoretical and, to a
greater extent, empirical studies that have formed the foundation in which this
field has taken root.

The author acknowledges that the research in this area is vast, and he endeavors
to ease readers' understanding by dividing the book into two sections. The first
part of the book (chapters 1-5) examines what is already known about teacher
cognition. A comprehensive review of teacher cognition studies from both
mainstream education as well as second and foreign language (L2/FL) education
studies is provided. In order to also provide a more complete understanding of
how teacher cognition has been situated within specific teaching domains, Borg
dedicates two chapters to examination of teachers' cognition and the teaching of
grammar and of literacy. The author reserves the second half of the book
(chapters 6-9) for discussion and analysis of different data collection methods
that have been used in teacher cognition studies. These chapters provide
information on different instruments for collecting teacher cognition data. The
volume ends with a summary of where the field is currently and where it could
venture in the future.

Chapter 1 provides a chronological context for the analysis of teacher cognition
as it originated in mainstream education. Borg first discusses the previous
beliefs that teaching was a set of behaviors and that student learning was a
product of those repetitive teaching behaviors. The chapter moves into a
discussion of seminal works in teacher education, most notably Jackson (1968),
which questioned that dominant perspective and moved research towards
understanding teacher cognition (or 'teacher thinking' as it was termed) as a
variable in classroom learning. Research from the 1980s found that numerous
variables influenced how teachers conduct their teaching, including: (a) Elbaz's
(1983) work on personal practical knowledge, and (b) Shulman's (1987)
consideration of various knowledge bases that teachers need to have in order to
effectively teach their subject to a specific population of learners. By the
1990s and 2000s the field was moving in various directions. Borg summarizes
major works and their contributions to teacher cognition research in tables, a
method which he incorporates throughout the entire book.

Chapter 2 turns the focus of the book to language teacher cognition and examines
studies on the cognitions of pre-service language teachers. Borg separates the
chapter into two sections. The first presents studies which have examined the
cognition of teachers during their teacher education. With this first group,
Borg summarizes studies that examine teachers' prior language learning beliefs,
teachers' beliefs about language teaching, practicum experiences, and
instructional decision-making and practical knowledge. The second part of the
chapter presents studies that examine the impact of teacher education on
teachers' cognitions. Borg emphasizes the discrepancies that these studies show
regarding how much of an influence teacher education actually has on teacher
cognition. However, Borg cautions that in assessing these discrepancies, it is
necessary to note that teacher education and training programs are diverse in
areas of study and therefore cannot be overly generalized. He then examines
studies that exemplify specific types of training (e.g., CELTA) and how those
studies collocate with the influence training has on teachers.

Chapter 3 describes studies on in-service language teachers' cognitions. The
first part of the chapter discusses cognitions of novice instructors. Borg
presents two main themes: first, teacher knowledge and teacher beliefs from
teacher education in the classroom are not always clearly shown nor are they
shown in a linear fashion; and second, knowing a subject does not necessarily
mean that one can teach it. These observations further support concepts already
known in mainstream teacher education literature: that teacher learning is not
linear and that teachers need to have various knowledge bases in order to teach
effectively. However, Borg does caution at the end of the chapter that even
though he is attempting to get general themes from the extensive literature,
readers of his book need to take into account that the studies cross various
contexts, conceptual frameworks, and methods for data collection.

Chapter 4 takes the generic processes of teacher cognition discussed in chapters
1-3 and puts them into a specific context with regards to the teaching of
grammar. The choice of grammar as a domain of investigation is a practical one
and rests on the sizeable number of studies on teachers and grammar instruction
specifically in the context of L2 teaching. Borg begins this chapter with a
discussion of studies that have analyzed teachers' knowledge about grammar. Many
of these studies have tested language teachers on their knowledge of grammatical
forms with the common outcome that teachers need more knowledge in this area. A
section on teachers' beliefs about grammar follows, and Borg explains how the
data collection methods for the studies in this area of research have mostly
consisted of questionnaires. Borg then moves on to studies comparing teachers'
cognitions of grammar with their actual practice. He finds that the majority of
the studies show teachers struggling with the transfer of knowledge of language
and linguistics into explanations that students can understand. Borg concludes
this chapter with a suggestion for more studies examining the ''relationship
among teacher cognition, classroom practice, and learning'' (p. 134).

Chapter 5 also investigates studies of teacher cognition within a specific
domain: the teaching of literacy. Divided into two sections, the chapter
examines literacy and teacher cognition studies that have focused on instruction
in reading and in writing. Within each section, Borg further divides the studies
into first language (L1) and L2/FL. The methods used to collect data as well as
the major findings of the studies are discussed in detail. Most importantly,
Borg draws conclusions that distinguish the L1 from the L2/FL studies. Those on
L1 writing and teacher cognition, for example, have focused more on teachers'
conceptions of writing and how they are developed through the course of their
teacher education programs. L2/FL studies have tended to investigate teachers'
development of cognition in writing instruction and their practices in the
teaching of writing, although only a limited number of studies have been
conducted in this area.

Chapter 6 begins the second half of the book with a shift in focus towards
various data collection methods that have been utilized in teacher cognition
research as well as their advantages and drawbacks. This chapter details the use
of self-reporting techniques, specifically questionnaires, scenario ratings, and
tests. Borg discusses the usefulness of a few already developed questionnaires
that have been incorporated into numerous studies' methods. Among them are the
BALI (Beliefs about Language Learning Inventory) and the TORP (The Theoretical
Orientation to Reading Profile). Scenario ratings, where teachers are asked to
assess and rate various exemplars of practice, are also a highly utilized
instrument. Finally, tests of knowledge are discussed, the most commonly used
being those that focus on teachers' grammatical knowledge. Borg concludes the
chapter by suggesting that the plethora of already-existing self-reporting
instruments, such as those described in detail in this chapter, should be
utilized by researchers in the field before attempts are made to develop new

Chapter 7 discusses verbal commentaries and various strategies for eliciting
these. Diverse forms of interviewing are explored including structured,
semi-structured, unstructured, and scenario-based. Each has an in-depth
description of how they are constructed and how they have been appropriately
(and inappropriately) used in various teacher cognition studies. Stimulated
recalls and think-aloud protocols are also examined with regard to how they can
provide a glimpse into teachers' thinking. Although most of the methods in this
chapter are usually affiliated with qualitative research, Borg also explains how
the repertory grid interview, which has the participants answer dichotomous
questions, has been used in quantitative teacher cognition research.

In chapter 8 Borg stresses that it is not possible to get a complete picture of
teacher cognition without investigating actual classroom practice. Various forms
of teacher observation are discussed as they relate to teacher cognition studies
including structured vs. unstructured and participant vs. non-participant
observations. Borg states that the majority of studies on language teacher
cognition which have utilized observation prefer unstructured, non-participant
observation techniques. In addition to describing other studies' uses of
observation and the various methods' strengths and drawbacks, Borg also
discusses practical, theoretical, and ethical concerns when doing this type of
data collection. He brings the reader into his own observation research
experiences and provides anecdotes for how he dealt with these issues.

Chapter 9 concludes this section on data collection methods by focusing on
reflective writing in order to gain an understanding of teacher cognition and
its development. Four main instruments are described in this chapter: journals,
autobiographies, retrospective accounts, and concept maps. As with the previous
chapters, Borg details various studies that have utilized these methods and
their various strengths and weaknesses. Even though he acknowledges that these
forms of data could provide much insight into language teachers' cognitions, he
also cautions that most studies that have used these reflective instruments have
worked with pre-service teachers. Due to the practical issue of having teachers
do these, a pre-service context would be the most feasible since this could be
considered mandatory classwork; in-service teachers, on the other hand, may not
have the time to put into this type of reflection. Thus, the uses of these forms
of data collection may provide findings that are skewed to only one type of
teacher population.

Chapter 10 brings together the major points from the preceding chapters and
directions for the future of language teacher cognition research. Borg stresses
that above all this book and the research it has discussed have exemplified the
complex nature of teaching. He calls upon various subfields within applied
linguistics and teacher education to collaborate in both their methodological
ideologies and their areas of research to help bring a clearer understanding of
what language teacher cognition entails.


Viewing the teacher as an essential component in how a classroom is organized
gives recognition to teachers as an integral part of language learning. This
book has verified this point by describing and organizing the many studies
investigating language teacher cognition. Borg's extensive review brings
together studies whose findings have considered (a) what teacher cognition
entails (e.g., beliefs, knowledge, practices), (b) what should be studied to
examine those areas, and (c) what methods should be used to accomplish that
feat. The author successfully brings together the various factions of this field
into an uncomplicated volume that allows the reader to directly go to a specific
section of the text in which they have a personal interest. Within each chapter
the charts that are used to characterize the various studies make it simpler to
compare them in relation to methods used, teacher populations studied, numbers
of participants involved in the studies, contexts within which the teaching
occurred, and purposes of the studies. The literature review in the first five
chapters is written in a concise way so that those reading the book for either
research or practical purposes would be able to easily follow and relate to what
is being said.

While the book itself is intended for researchers, teacher educators, policy
makers and program and curriculum managers, the majority of the second half of
the book (chapters 6-9) is written in the style of a research manual geared
towards beginner researchers who are newly introduced to these various data
collecting methods. Borg focuses these chapters around the methods used and
their strengths and weaknesses. He provides the reader with background knowledge
regarding when to most appropriately utilize these various procedures. He
grounds these methodological discussions to the various studies he examines in
the chapters, thus providing researchers with specific exemplars that they can
refer to. This would also allow for more replications of studies, something that
Borg acknowledges is not done as often with teacher cognition as it should be.
Although this concentration is highly necessary and very well described for the
research audience, readers who do not have this focus in mind may not find this
to be as applicable to their own needs and may skip over this section of the
book. If presented in a different light, such as in the form of action research,
it may be more accessible to a wider readership. For example, teachers could
focus on observing themselves through video and doing their own self-reflection
as opposed to acting in the sole researcher position.

Overall this volume provides a clearly organized view into the many facets of
language teacher cognition research. The author successful brings together
studies whose connections may not have been so clear as he makes them here. Now
that the foundational studies within the field have been laid out, the gaps in
the literature have been discussed, and the various methodological tools have
been presented, the prospects for future research in this area are laid out to
help further the field's understanding of this essential component in language


Elbaz, F. (1983). ''Teacher thinking: A study of practical knowledge.'' London:
Croom Helm.

Jackson, P. (1968). ''Life in classrooms.'' New York: Holt, Reinhart and
Winston, Inc.

Shulman, L. (1987). Knowledge and teaching: Foundations of the new reform.
''Harvard Educational Review'' 57(1), 1-22.
Currently pursuing his doctorate in TESOL at Teachers College, Columbia University, Drew Fagan has taught ESL and EFL and has been a TESOL teacher educator in six countries. His research interests include teacher learning, sociocultural influences on language learning, and teacher/student interaction in the L2 classroom.

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ISBN-13: 9781847063335
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