Achilleas Kostoulas

Applied Linguistics & Language Teacher Education

The Intentional Dynamics of TESOL

The Intentional Dynamics of TESOL is a monograph co-authored with Juup Stelma (University of Manchester), and published by De Gruyter in 2021.


In the book, we aim to provide an accessible introduction to intentionality, a concept we have been developing in a number of our publications over the last decade. We conceptualise intentionality as a type of driving force that shapes behaviour of individual and collective entities in language education.

To describe the intentional dynamics of TESOL, we draw on two main areas of thinking: ecological theory and complexity (Complex Dynamic Systems Theory). By putting them together, we propose that teachers, learners, groups and organisations operate within a dense web of intentionalities. In the book we put forward a model that synthesises aspects of intentionality and shows how they can produce change in TESOL.


The monograph consists of 13 chapters, which are organised in three parts. Following an introduction, the first part, establishes our theoretical perspective. Chapters 2, 3 and 4, outlike key background information on ecological theory, complex systems theory and intentionality, on which we draw to build our model of intentional dymanics. The model itself, which is the core theoretical contribution of the monograph, is presented in Chapter 5. In this chapter, we develop the argument that (intentioanl) activity in TESOL develops within an ‘ecology of ideas’, and that the latter is constantly reconfigured by activity. We also tease out four aspects of intentionality:

  • individual intentionality, i.e., the kind of intentionality that is enacted by individual actors such as learners, teachers, materials designers;
  • shared intentionality, an ephemeral form of intentionality which develops in small groups, such as classes;
  • derived intentionality, i.e., intentionality that is ‘deposited’ or ‘sedimented’ in artifacts like coursebooks or syllabus documents;
  • sociocultural intentionality, i.e., shared norms and expectations that have a more-or-less permanent presence in the collective consciousnes of larger social groups.

The second part exemplifies our proposed model of intentional dynamics using empirical data. This part contains four chapters (Chapters 6-9), each illustrating one of the aspects of intentionality listed above. The chapters draw on our previously published work, although we have re-analyse the data through the lens of the intentional dynamics model. In doing so, we hope to show that the model we are proposing is not just theoretically versatile, but also that it can function metatheoretically to trace connections in existing scholarship.

The third part extends our perspective by suggesting practical applications and possible ways forward. Chapter 10 develops the idea that language learning can be viewed as a process of ‘intentional becoming’. Chapter 11, argues for critically-oriented intentional action that questions and subverts unjust orders in TESOL. Chapter 12 suggests some ways in which the intentional perspective that underpins the book can be used in research. Finally Chapter 13 explores more practical implications and proposes ways forward.


Professor Diane Larsen-Freeman, who read the book prior to publication, generously shared the following thoughts about the book:

Stelma and Kostoulas have enriched the potential of the partnership between complex dynamic systems and ecological theories by contributing the concept of intentionality. Importantly, their model of intentional dynamics places meaning and meaning-making at the heart of an ecological and complex dynamic systems account of TESOL. Thed authors don’t stop with theory. They illustrate the power of their model in exemplifying four different contexts and types of activities, reinterpreting them through the lens offered by their model and thereby making a case for its versatility. In so doing, they demonstrate its real-world relevance to the TESOL teaching and research community. In addition to conceiving of language learning as intentional becoming, their understanding affords a critical-intentional perspective on power, freedom, and agency to counter injustice—a perspective that is much-needed in the world today.

Diane Larsen-Freeman

In addition, the anonymous reviewers of the manuscript made the following remarks on an early draft of the monograph:

The book is an extremely ambitious attempt to reinterpret the whole field of research done in SLA/ELT and ELT methodology through the lens of CDST [Complex Dynamic Systems Theory]. It is clearly and strongly argued and the author’s erudition is admirable. As such, I have not seen anything like it on the market.


The book does a stupendous job rounding up the literature on the teaching of English in the last fifty years, especially Larsen-Freeman and Cameron’s work.


The book is extremely well written and extremely clearly structured.

Anonymous reviewer comments on the first draft of the monograph

Find out more

You can see the book, and also download it if you have institutional access, at the publisher’s website:

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