Building small-t theories

Just a note to say that next Saturaday I will be delivering a talk at an event organised by a professional association (the Panhellenic Association of State Schools Teachers of English). The overarching theme of the event is “Empowering Language Learning and Teaching”, and I will be talking about how my conceptual framework of ELT in Greece can be used to inform reflection-on-practice.

This talk aims to contribute towards teacher empowerment by putting forward a conceptual framework that facilitates critical reflection. It will be argued that the prevailing model of professional development (applied science) encourages a counter-productive divide between theory and practice, and tends to be insufficiently sensitive to local contextual influences. A bottom-up process of structured reflection about practice (theorising) is suggested as an alternative form of professional development. To provide structure for this reflective process, a conceptual model will be presented, which synthesises traditional, modern and post-modern perspectives on teaching. The process of theorising will be exemplified by reference to typical examples of teachers’ public discourse. Using such discourse as a starting point and the proposed framework as scaffolding, theorising will focus on the content, practices and the aims of language instruction. The presentation will conclude by discussing affordances and limitations of theorising on practice.

The full citation is: Kostoulas, A. (2011). From applying Theory to theorising practice: building small-t theories in Greek TESOL. Talk (to be) delivered at the Panhellenic Association of State Schools Teachers of English (PEKADE) professional development day “Empowering Language Teaching and Learning”. Athens, Greece: October 2011.


  • Ay, there’s the rub! It can only work when ‘there is a readiness to invest a little more of our time and energy than we are paid for’ (from Julian’s Continuing Cooperative Development, p. 5).

    When I was browsing the internet, looking for examples of discourse to use, I came across the following exchange in an internet forum:

    Original Poster: What coursebooks do you guys use, and how did you choose them?
    Answer: Over the last four years, I ‘ve been paid 7 Euros / hour and I work 12 hours / week […] Next thing you’ll also ask me to plan lessons! Are you joking?

    Sadly, it’s a much more prevalent attitude than you’d imagine. That’s why I am more than a little sceptical about the impact of this paper…

  • Magda Rostron

    Great news, Achilleas – congratulations!

    I agree that there is a very strong need for supplementing the prevailing top-down model of professional development with a more ‘pro-active’, bottom-up, approach. I also think that your argument for generating personal, practice-informed theories which are firmly rooted in the immediate teaching/learning context would strongly resonate with many teachers in many different settings, including Qatar. However, this shift from the ‘external’ to the ‘internal(ised)’ approach to teacher education requires a great deal of reflective effort and engagement on the part of the teachers themselves…

    All the best,

  • Update: The Teachers’ Association which organised the conference also publish a peer-reviewed journal with a mixed academic-professional focus. The editors of the journal have invited me to write up this talk and submit it for review. It will likely appear in print in early 2012.

  • Here’s the text I used for rehearsing, which is reasonably close to what I actually said:

    From Applying Theory to Theorising Practice: building small-t theories in Greek TESOL (Talk)

  • Just a few quick notes on the event. Apparently the zeitgeist is right, among Greek practitioners, for more reflective practice especially if it doesn’t unsettle existing assumptions. Attitudes towards ELF (which is likened to ‘grammatical mistakes’) and its speakers (who are likened to ‘uneducated users’) are sceptical – apparently it’s almost as bad as speaking Greek with an accent. Julian once wrote of a TESOL culture that has at its core diversity and respect (Edge 1996: 4). Greek TESOL, as I have been arguing for some time now, is a different beast entirely.