Charles Jannuzi teaches EFL and comparative
culture classes in Fukui, Japan. He has revised
his comments from a posting about theory vs. practice
on the NIFL-ESL listserv for this article on ESL MiniConference Online.
The subject of 'Theory for Teachers' came up on the NIFL-ESL list. This
helped me to see that my views were neither pro-theory nor anti-theory in
the usual sense. What separates 'academic theory' from 'effective practice'
is that the academic tries to make things explicit in genres accepted for
publication. This means the academic presents 'theory' in rather formulaic
discourse away from the classroom. Academic discourse is sold as
'objective science or 'substantiated knowledge', but often it only presents
formal appearance of objectivity. Academic prose, even in the form of the
'research report' often presents overgeneralized theories which are
uncritically accepted as 'objective' only because the formal trappings of
academic genres have been met faithfully.
Teachers' 'theories of practice' arise while performing in classrooms where
students are effectively learning. Effective teachers must build up their
body of guiding theory from their past experiences as well as their
training and reading. It also takes patience, creativity and commitment. It
is a bootstrap learning process whereby the more one knows the more one is
able to learn and improve. Teachers' theories apply in ways far too
interrelated and complex to be decontextualized and presented in academic
Teachers should still present their knowledge in formal outlets like
articles and conference presentations, but, when they do so, we must
get only 'snapshots' and partial insights from them. Perhaps the best
people to make sense of this incomplete information, though, are practicing
I'm not arguing those who theorize and write can't or don't teach. What I am
saying, though, is that once we engage in the 'academic discourse' language
game, we have to realize the limitations--and hopefully push the conventions
(especially if we become editors). And a note of warning: playing the
research and discourse games of the academic can actually seriously detract
from our teaching!
2002 ESL MiniConference Online