Letting Go and Letting the Angels Grow: Using Etienne Wenger's Community of Practice Theory to Facilitate Teacher Education
This paper describes a small-scale qualitative research study conducted within a community of English Language teachers, and explores how teacher development workshops can be used to foster or cultivate Communities of Practice. The study was situated in a Language Centre within the domain of UK Higher Education where there was an institutional drive to better integrate the use of new technologies with traditional approaches to pedagogy. Data was collected through focus group sessions with a team of English Language teachers before, during and after a series of teacher development workshops on the use of technology in the English for Academic Purposes classroom. These focus group sessions were then followed up with individual interviews, drawing on a framework of stimulated recall. The data was then analysed through an established discourse analysis framework in the early stages, followed by a more inductive approach of thematic analysis in the later stages; triangulated by classroom observations of all participants. The purpose of the paper is to understand the functioning of a Community of Practice in terms of its contribution to teacher development The core argument within this paper is that Communities of Practice theory can contribute much to the fields of EAP English for Academic Purposes, and teacher development in both theoretical and practical terms. It advocates a loosening of the reins on the part of organisations so that teachers are allowed to develop at their own pace and in a manner that is self-directed and tailored to their individual needs. It draws on Vygotskian-based theories of teacher cognition which suggest that in order for development to occur in a teacher education programme, participants need some form of prompting to move from within their "zone of proximal development" Manning & Payne, 1993, p. 361. This prompting or scaffolding, as described in Vygotsky's own work 1934, generally takes place through a combination of support from more experienced practitioners in the first instance and then "situated engagement and negotiation" with peers and practitioners within a teaching community Samaras & Gismondi, 1998, pp. 715-733.
International Journal of Web-Based Learning and Teaching Technologies