Teacher Cognition in English Language Teaching

In the context of a modern globalized world, there is a growing need for learning English as a means of communication with an entire world. However, appropriate English learning requires professional language teachers, especially concerning their cognition. In this regard, this paper aims at the precise examination of the role of teacher cognition in English teaching and learning including key definitions, methods, and tendencies resulting in the discussion of the current situation concerning Arab language teacher cognition.

First, it is essential to pinpoint the essence of the term cognition. Prodromou (2009) notes that “teacher cognition is an important contribution to our knowledge of what goes on inside teachers’ heads” (p. 183). Perhaps, this is the most comprehensible and clear definition. In other words, teachers’ cognition refers to their thinking, beliefs, and other mental constructs. Also, teacher cognition is affected by environmental factors and developmental aspects.

Improving their skills and deepening language teaching knowledge through several education programs, teachers are expected to become more cognizant (Borg, 2009). As for the environment, teacher-students communication makes a reciprocal effect influencing both participants of the interaction (Woods, 1996). Therefore, not only theoretical but also practical knowledge promotes teacher cognition. The effectiveness of teachers’ role and behaviour in the classroom depends on their cognitive abilities that are the paramount basis for successful teaching and learning processes.

Formation of Teacher Cognitions

Teacher cognition is associated with teacher education. In this connection, let us shed lights on a set of teachers’ cognitive abilities that represent their professionalism. Interestingly, teacher cognition begins with the start of an education process and lasts until the last lesson. El-Okda (2005) states that teachers should never stop developing their cognitive abilities.

To begin with, cognizant teachers should comprehend that their perceptions might not coincide with those of language learners. Seeing that this is the second language, it is crucial to note and appropriately interpret any differences in two languages and corresponding cultures. Thus, the teacher should be aware that language learning is personal (Carlgren, Handal, & Vaage, 1994). The engagement and feedbacks might be rather beneficial to understand the class members and help them to adapt to the learning environment.

Furthermore, the teacher should choose a specific teaching strategy that would meet students’ expectations and provide high-quality learning. Following their cognitions, teachers might act as mediators in knowledge transferring between students and language itself. At the same time, teachers should act as learners enhancing their cognitions. According to Borg (2006), understanding between teachers and pupils is expressed in the adequate reflection of each other as well as in the realization of motivation actions and cognitions. It stimulates self-regulation of the communicating parties contributing to overcoming interpersonal contradictions.

The cognizant teacher should comprehend the individual identity of every student penetrating their need-motivational sphere, their logic of behaviour forming an integral side of the educational process. Cognizant pedagogical communication possesses several aspects. It consists, firstly, of understanding of students by a teacher, secondly, of the understanding of teachers by students, and, thirdly, of the understanding of students themselves.

As the leader of the educational interaction, teachers play a decisive role in the organization of a holistic understanding of the learning process (Borg, 2006). They should speak not as dispassionate observers but unlock personal manifestations of students. In other words, they should act as direct participants, organizers, and leaders in various activities and communication including the creation of situations contributing to the disclosure of students’ identity.

One of the most important requirements, which make a teaching profession the definition of social and occupational position is that the teachers express themselves as the subject of pedagogical activity. The cognitive position of the teacher is the system of his or her intellectual and emotional-evaluative attitude to the world, pedagogical reality, and educational activities in particular, which are the source of their activity (Andrews, 2007). It is determined, on the one hand, by the demands and expectations made by society.

On the other hand, the teacher cognitions are internal, or private sources of activity such as attraction, feelings, motives, and goals of the teachers, their values, worldview, and ideals. The position of the teacher manifests his identity, the nature of social orientation, and type of civil behaviour and activity (Andrews, 2007). Teachers’ cognitive position grows out of beliefs and values, which were formed back in early life. During their education, teachers form motivational value attitude to the teaching profession, goals, and means of teaching. This attitude to teaching in its broadest sense would eventually be expressed in the focus at the core of the teacher’s personality.

As it was stated before, teacher cognition largely determines his professional position. However, there is no direct impact as education is always built based on personal interaction. That is why the teacher, clearly aware of what he is doing, cannot always give a detailed answer as to why he does so, and not otherwise. No analysis would help to identify which sources of activity prevail in the choice of a teaching position in the current situation if he or she explains their decision by intuition (Richards, 1996). The choice of the professional position of the teacher is influenced by various factors. However, the most crucial among them is a professional installation, individually-typological characteristics of personality, as well as temperament and character.

Studies in Teacher Cognitions

Teacher Cognition and Prior Language Learning Experience

The teacher cognition is associated with contact with students. Day by day, teachers have to decide complex communication tasks. At that, the focus is on basic communication between the teacher and student that sets the tone for the whole system of cognitive interaction (Zheng, 2009). The effectiveness of any activities organized by the teacher in the classroom or outside is caused not only by deliberate choice of subject technologies but also by the ability to manage emotional contact with students and creatively build a system of pedagogically appropriate relationships.

Communication is an important factor in the formation of a human person and a powerful educational tool in language teaching. After all, to educate people means not only impact their ideas and concepts forming convictions, but also to provide practical regulation of their behaviour and relationships with other people. It is essential to emphasize that communication in education bears a deeper function than just contact between people.

The role of the interaction in the learning process also primarily depends on teachers’ cognition. Pedagogical communication is always the interaction of intellects, emotions, and will of teachers and students. The better they understand each other, the more productive their dialogue and concerted action, the more stable interpersonal contacts, and the less they are subject to various deformations. One of the most essential qualities of teachers is their ability to organize the interaction with children, talk to them, and supervise their activities in the sense of psychological and educational development. The ability to communicate with children should be based on a solid foundation of respect for them that is called a professional-pedagogical orientation of the individual teacher.

Nature of Teacher Cognition in Second Language Education

The second language education requires several issues to be noted by a language teacher. More to the point, teacher cognition associated with the mentioned context consists of the four pivotal components that are as follows: schooling, professional coursework, contextual factors, and classroom practice (Borg, 2003). To scrutinize the given concepts, it seems necessary to discuss each of them separately.

First, the issue of schooling refers to initial teacher training. Borg (2009) states that teachers’ early experience, perceptions, and cognitions are formed during this stage. Cognition formation starts early in life and develops through life experience. Second, professional coursework plays an integral part of teachers’ cognition, especially when unacknowledged (Johnson, 1996).

In its turn, cognition also might impact the professional coursework either improving or deteriorating it. The contextual factors might lead to the incongruence, if not taken into account (Borg, 2003). In particular, they interact with cognitions resulting in both conscious and unconscious perceptions in the classroom practice. All of the identified components cooperate and affect each other. Consequently, it is of great importance to consider teacher cognition as a complex system of all aspects of their work (Borg, 2003). Teachers’ cognition impacts their professional growth.

The process of second language teaching covers the following links: perception – reflection and understanding – synthesis – consolidation – application in practice (Biao, 2011). It seems appropriate to consider each of the components mentioned above. Perception is a reflection of objects and phenomena of the world operating at a certain point in the human sensory system.

To make this process more effective, it is crucial to stimulate the psychological readiness of students to learning to create a motivational background and a positive attitude towards the future of cognitive activity. Such a strategy might be based on prior knowledge and experience and have a focus on the object of cognition (Johnson, 2015).

Comprehension and understanding of the educational material are processes of mental activity, which is directed at the disclosure of essential features, qualities of objects, phenomena and processes, and formulation of theoretical concepts, ideas, and laws (Biao, 2011). This is achieved by analysis, synthesis, comparison, induction, deduction, and other cognitive strategies offered by a teacher.

Generalization is a logical transition from the individual to the general, or from the less general to more general knowledge, as well as the product of mental activity. More precisely, it is a form of reflection of the common signs of the phenomena of reality. Summing up the educational material, the teacher should pay attention to the essential features of objects, phenomena, and processes.

At the same time, proper methods and techniques should be selected to disclose the material. Consolidation of knowledge and skills is a special work of the teacher to implement a didactic principle of teaching students in mastering the material. In its turn, repetition of acquired information should be focused, motivated, and well distributed in time.

The practical application of knowledge and skills is the transition in learning activities from the abstract to the concrete, which is achieved by a variety of exercises, independent work in groups or pairs, and practical training in different kinds of repetition (Wright, 2010). The effectiveness of assimilation of knowledge depends on the motivation for learning and cognitive activities. After all, learning is a motif of the internal cause that motivates the students to learn as it affects the quality of the knowledge they received.

In this regard, the role of cognitive teaching is to provide students with the necessary tools and motivation to learning. Day, Pope, and Denicolo (1990) describe the typical roles of cognizant language teachers. The teacher can act as:

  • an informant, if the teacher limits his communication to requirements, norms, beliefs, etc.
  • a friend, if he or she sought to penetrate to the soul of the learner;
  • an advisor, if using gentle suasion;
  • a mastermind, if the teacher seeks to inspire students to achieve stated targets and prospects.

Each of these products can have positive and negative effects depending on the individual teacher. Therefore, it is rather significant to select the proper teaching strategy based on teacher cognition.

Teacher Cognition and Teacher Education

The issue of the growth of teachers’ cognition, which is required at the moment of society development, is much more complicated than it seems to be. Every newly emerged situation in society sets new goals for education. It requires new psychological features of members of society contributing to their further progressive development.

To generate the desired quality of students today, the teachers themselves should have these cognitive qualities, which plenty of them need to make considerable efforts to achieve. For some teachers of so-called “old school”, it is difficult to adapt to the new features of the education, while others are long aware of the limitations of previous frameworks. In contrast, the latter is much more capable to realize their educational potential in a new situation, which is more in line with their quality.

New learning and teaching targets set new requirements for the personality of the teacher as an educator. Freeman (1991) considers that to accurately perform these requirements, it is important to assess the trends of political, social, and economic development of society and to understand what qualities are required from individuals.

Furthermore, it should be clarified how these new useful qualities should be expressed by a citizen at the time of high school graduation. On this basis, they might conclude what cognitive characteristics should the teacher possess to ensure the formation and development of personality in students that would benefit to modern society.

The focal trends in contemporary society are the democratization of life, the transfer of responsibility for the common citizen arrangement, empowerment, and a simultaneous increase in the need for self-responsible decision-making. The current generation of students cannot imagine their life without democracy and pluralism as everyone is entitled to their point of view and is ready to defend it. This involves, on the one hand, the ability to recognize, to take for granted the existence of many different points of view, cultural discussion, and resolving disagreements.

On the other, one might note respect for the individual and recognition of their importance. Freedom of opinion requires the ability to logically and clearly express thoughts, to prove them, and to carefully listen to others (Wright & Bolitho, 1993). Nowadays political situation suggests the possibility of every citizen to be in power, which places high demands on the ability to manage people and make management decisions. Changing system of economic relations requires prudence, efficiency, and many other qualities, which in earlier times were not considered necessary in children and deliberately not raised.

All these qualities are urgently needed in modern young people by the end of school and the start of independent life. Responsible for their cognitive formation and development, the teachers themselves should possess independence, literacy, initiative, and several other qualities integrated into cognition. Foreign language teachers should be highly competent in the professional, methodical, and educational fields (Wright & Bolitho, 1993). The professional activity of the teacher of a foreign language involves his desire to learn to update his or her knowledge and skills and improving core competencies.

Arab Teacher Cognition

Arab English Language Teacher Cognition in Second Language Teaching

Being a part of an innovative world, Arab English teachers comprehend that success of the teaching of foreign languages ​​depends on the joint coordination of the activities of teachers and students to some extent. However, a major role is also played by the interaction of their personalities that develop mutual understanding, which is the basis of community in the classroom (Mahrooqi & Denman, 2015).

Therefore, even if the teacher has an excellent education, effects might be minimal because of not developing appropriate cognizant relationships between the teacher and students. Creation of favourable conditions for the success of intercultural dialogue depends on how the teacher responds to students’ mistakes. Arab teachers delicately correct students’ mistakes do not hurt their feelings. Teachers remember that oral statements of students should be aimed primarily at understanding others and are not to be subjected to strict control resulting only in the formation of their linguistic competence.

The core issue is that the student, engaging in foreign-language communication, should have no fear of mistake and sought at the disposal to implement a particular communicative intention by every means. However, human speech is a productive activity, unique in its content and form (Scruggs & Mastropieri, 2005). Arab language teachers today teach students such communication.

That is why the lessons of a foreign language mustn’t sound cold and soulless. Although the students give the correct answers, they also contain their own experiences, impressions, and emotions. As a result, the culture of communication acquires the desired shape (Tedick, 2005). It occurs due to the cognizant assistance of language teachers. Also, great attention is paid to the grammar issues that are essential for comprehensive English learning.

Current Situation of Arab Teacher Cognition

The process of studying a foreign language is very specific, it is different from all the other subjects of the education cycle due to its communicative nature. Therefore, the focal professional competence of Arab English language teachers is the ability to carry out a communicative teaching function. They ensure the construction of the educational process based on oral speech for the practical mastery of foreign language students.

To make foreign language lessons contribute to this, Arab teachers teach students to communicate and interact properly. Activities of students in the classroom environment are interesting and comfortable. At that, information calls students to express them. These conditions contribute to self-esteem and cognition of both students and a teacher. Communication-based on cooperation allows students to see the identity and human traits of each other and language in general.

Proposed Initiative Based on Theory and Practice in the Arab Context and Application

In the above-discussed context, interactive forms might be beneficial in preparing for social interaction in English, the most important feature of which is the ability of a person to take on the role of “the other” and to imagine how the interlocutor perceives communication. Also, students need to understand a partner or a group to interpret the situation accordingly and to control their actions. As a rule, interactive communication techniques combine several activities such as discussion of the problem, a joint solution to the problem in groups (brainstorming), material study, work in cross-groups, and others.

Such activities help to develop practical skills of teaching and learning a foreign language, promote the introduction of vocabulary, work with audio texts, as well as such professional skills and qualities as the ability to challenge students’ opinions. Furthermore, the willingness to listen to the views of students and come to a joint decision and the ability to find the best way out of the offered options are created with the help of interactive learning. All this contributes to the formation of a new type of the teacher: humane, patient to the students, the mobile-minded, inquisitive yet demanding, striving for self-improvement, and able to find a way out of difficult teaching situations. Finally, the proposed method would help to avoid insufficient and improper cognition.

Conclusion

In conclusion, it should be stressed that teacher cognition plays a central role in foreign language teaching. It was revealed that teachers’ cognition helps students to communicate in English more effectively achieving better outcomes. In the context of Arab teacher cognition, interactive learning techniques were suggested to enhance the current situation.

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