English language teachers' agency and identity mediation through action research: A Vygotskian sociocultural analysis

Multilingual Matters
Publication Type:
Theorizing and Analyzing Language Teacher Agency, 2019, pp. 141 - 159
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The relationship between language teacher agency and identity is emerging as an important area of inquiry and has significant implications for the field of language teacher education. As one example of an inquiry-based approach to teacher education, action research (AR) can be an empowering force for teachers to effect democratic pedagogical improvements, but little research has examined the relationship between AR and language teacher agency. Taking a Vygotskian sociocultural perspective and an agency-centered approach to understanding teacher identity, this chapter explores ESL teachers’ agency and professional identity mediation during and after their participation in an AR program. The qualitative, longitudinal study investigated how participating in a national nine-month AR program mediated the professional identities of experienced in-service ESL teachers in Australia. A series of five in-depth interviews were conducted over 12 months with five teachers during and after their AR participation, and the data were analyzed through a two-level coding process. The next stage of analysis drew on the Vygotskian concepts of ‘tools’ and ‘mediation’ in particular. The AR program provided the teachers with various conceptual and practical tools. Through transformation of these tools for their own purposes, the teachers were able to enact their agency, mediated by their future-oriented visions of self as well as their social, institutional and political environments. Implications of this study include the value of AR as an approach for equipping language teachers with a selection of tools to transform. The findings also suggest that ESL colleges need to become more conducive to sharing and supporting the benefits of teacher AR, in order to better facilitate the emergence of new professional identities and mediate agency.
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