Intentionality and Complex Systems Theory: A New Direction for Language Learning Psychology
Book chapter, co-authored with Juup Stelma); appears in Gkonou, C., Tatzl, D. and Mercer, S. (eds.) (2016) New Directions in Language Learning Psychology. Berlin: Springer.
This chapter examines the combined potential of the constructs of intentionality and Complex Systems Theory, as a new theoretical direction for language learning psychology. The chapter begins with theoretical discussion of the properties of complex systems. This leads to the definition of a Complex System of Intentions, a conceptual model for understanding intentionalities that are present at individual, small group and societal levels, as well as their interrelations. Following that, key properties of the system are illustrated by juxtaposing empirical data from two research projects in Norway and Greece. First, we document the emergence of a ‘performance intentionality’ in learners’ interaction in an English L2 classroom in Norway. Next, we discuss how a ‘competition intentionality’ in a private language school in Greece emerged from interaction with the state school system, and we document its effects on language learning activity. In both cases, a data-driven analysis is used to demonstrate the emergence of the intentionalities and their generative effects, i.e., the ways in which they recursively shaped the system from which they had emerged. We conclude by revisiting the organisational openness of the system, and the processes of emergence and morphogenesis that were traced in the data, and by connecting them to Complex Systems Theory, while exploring the implications of a complexity outlook for language learning research.
A Greek tragedy: Using a complexity perspective to understand and challenge the Known in Greece
Book chapter in Rivers, D. (ed.) (2014) Resistance to the Known: Counter-Conduct in Foreign Language Education. Houndmills: Palgrave Macmillan.
This chapter reports on a case study set at a language school in Greece, with a view to unsettling established conceptualisations of Foreign Language Education (FLE). Using complexity theory as a theoretical backdrop and empirical data as illustrative examples, the chapter presents a critical description of FLE as practiced locally, and makes the case for more empowering forms of pedagogy. This chapter begins with an overview of complexity and an argument for its relevance to FLE. The second section of the chapter uses empirical data to instantiate established pedagogical practices (‘the known’). The complex interplay of factors that give ‘the known’ its distinctively transmissive form are analysed, and they are followed by a reconstructed ‘prototypical’ lesson. Finally, a suggestion is put forward for using the insights of complexity theory to reconceptualise FLE and reorient practice as a means for ‘resisting the known’.
Tracing dynamics of intentions in Greek ELT
Paper presented in the 2014 (10th) Annual Conference of the BAAL Language Learning and Teaching SIG. The presentation was generously supported by a BAAL LLT bursary.
This paper uses empirical data from a case study of a language school in Greece to present a complexity-informed view of intentionality in ELT. Conceptually, it extends existing understandings of intentionality (Stelma, 2011; Young, DePalma, & Garrett, 2002) by shifting the focus to its collective properties, and at the same time it offers insights into ELT practices at the ‘periphery’ of the English-using world. I begin by defining intentionality as a driver of activity within a complex system. Intentionalities are described as collective and emergent, and these properties are illustrated with reference to examples of intentionalities present in a language school. Five intentionalities are traced in the data, and it is suggested that they come together to form inter-relate as a broader dynamics of intentions. Differences in pedagogical practices in the language school are then associated with variations on the underlying dynamics of intentions.
Paper presented at the 7th BAAL Language Learning and Teaching SIG conference “Theorising practice and practising theory: developing local pedagogies in language teaching” hosted by Aston University. Birmingham, UK: July 2011.
This paper will use a case study approach to illustrate how ELT pedagogy synthesises local pedagogical traditions and global influences into eclectic practice. The starting point of this paper is provided by calls in the literature for more inclusive and more reflective practice. Notwithstanding its value as a driving force for change, this discourse is limited in two ways: firstly, the processes through which such practices can be reached at an institutional level are largely unaccounted for; secondly, there appears to be a paucity of research in peripheral settings, where this position is arguably more relevant. These limitations will be respectively addressed in the theoretical and empirical parts of this paper. In the former, it will be argued that the restructuring in the theoretical underpinnings of ELT seems to focus on certain fundamental questions, such as what is to be taught (i.e. content), how it should be taught (i.e. methods) and why it is being taught (i.e. goals). Alternative answers to these questions will be delineated and grouped into three paradigms that have successively informed TESOL (transmissive, communicative and eclectic). Following that, a conceptual model will be presented that synthesises beliefs and practices informed by these paradigms into a coherent, dynamical framework. Next, I will present empirical data from a language school in Greece, where transmissive practices derived from local pedagogy seem to coexist with communicative imperatives from the literature and learning materials. Examples of how these influences interact will be shown and it will be demonstrated that when these are in synergy, the result is stasis, whereas tension between the dynamics can lead to the emergence of an eclectic position. The paper will conclude by discussing theoretical implications of these observations.
Paper presented at the “New Dynamics of Language Learning: Places and Spaces, Intentions and Opportunities” International Conference organised by the University of Jyväskylä. Jyväskylä, Finland: June 2011.
In this presentation, English Language Teaching (ELT) will be conceptualised as a complex dynamical system and this perspective will be used to explain how methodological innovation might emerge or be resisted in peripheral settings. Following a brief discussion of complex systems and their properties, a dynamical model of language pedagogy will be put forward. In this model, ELT will be conceptualised as occupying a space defined by three informing paradigms: a transmissive paradigm, which derives its legitimacy from traditional pedagogical practices; a communicative paradigm which is an outgrowth of advances in linguistics and pedagogy; and a critical paradigm which draws eclectically on a variety of sources with criteria of empowerment and linguistic egalitarianism. Data from a case study at a language school in Greece will then be presented in order to empirically test the local validity of this model, as well as to demonstrate its descriptive power. By way of example, it will be shown that the influences which shape the teaching of grammar at the language school seem to be working in synergy, thus generating dynamic stability and frustrating innovation. In contrast, competing influences on pronunciation teaching seem to be destabilising the system, and in doing so they create opportunities for methodological change. The paper will conclude by arguing that a dynamical systems perspective promotes our understanding of local settings, or Places, and identifies Spaces for change, thus facilitating the emergence of contextually‐sensitive pedagogy.
Paper presented at the 13th International Conference on “Intercultural Education, Immigration, Conflict Management and Pedagogy for Democracy”. Alexandroupolis, Greece: May 2010 (full text)
This case study, focussing on a language school in Greece, examines the way English Language Teaching (ELT) practices are shaped under the influence of the global spread of English, which is conceptualised as both a contributing factor and a result of broader globalising forces. Empirical findings are presented and implications are discussed pertaining to the target language varieties, preferred teaching methods and ends of ELT instruction.
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