Complexity Perspectives on Researching Language Learner and Teacher Psychology
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Complexity Perspectives on Researching Language Learner and Teacher Psychology

Richard J. Sampson, Richard S. Pinner, Richard J. Sampson, Richard S. Pinner

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eBook - ePub

Complexity Perspectives on Researching Language Learner and Teacher Psychology

Richard J. Sampson, Richard S. Pinner, Richard J. Sampson, Richard S. Pinner

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About This Book

This edited volume brings together both established and emerging researcher voices from around the world to illustrate how complexity perspectives might contribute to new ways of researching and understanding the psychology of language learners and teachers in situated educational contexts. Chapter authors discuss their own perspectives on researching within a complexity paradigm, exemplified by concrete and original examples from their research histories. Moreover, chapters explore research approaches to a variety of learner and teacher psychological foci of interest in SLA. Examples include: anxiety, classroom group dynamics and group-level motivation, cognition and metacognition, emotions and emotion regulation strategies, learner reticence and silence, motivation, self-concept and willingness to communicate.

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Introduction: [simple and complex?]
Richard S. Pinner and Richard J. Sampson
This edited volume brings together both established and emerging researcher voices from around the world to illustrate how complexity perspectives might contribute to new ways of researching and understanding the psychology of language learners and teachers in situated educational contexts. We have encouraged contributors to very much include themselves in their discussions of the research of which they are a part. At this juncture, we are reminded of a pertinent thought from Miyahara (2015: 177):
It is somewhat surprising that not many researchers make transparent their journeys as learners, teachers or researchers. Rarely do we find information about them in their writings, yet we are expected to read, contemplate and discuss their research.
We hope that the voices and stories of our contributors are ‘visible’ in the chapters that follow. We also would like to make ourselves as editors more transparent by including here two short vignettes detailing our own roads into appreciating what complexity might offer.
Our (abridged) Journeys into Complexity
Richard P
My interest in complexity comes initially from a single chapter which I read about chaos theory and complexity by Menezes (2013) in an edited volume by Benson and Cooker (2013) called The Applied Linguistic Individual. I was reading up on autonomy and identity as part of my work on authenticity, which shows that I was already looking at other concepts in order to understand connections between abstract phenomena. Until reading this paper by Menezes, my only encounter with chaos theory was on my bachelor’s degree in Fine Art; we’d had a rather funny young teacher, who I will call Mr Lick, who we felt wasn’t all that bright. He was using ‘chaos theory’ by putting maggots on a canvas and letting them squirm around in paint, which of course we had all made fun of behind his back. However, this chapter was my first real introduction to the theory, and completely drove bad art from my mind. It did not just speak to me as a teacher, but more generally to the way I think about the universe. It mainly dealt with chaos theory, which is of course connected with and indeed part of what we refer to as complexity perspectives in this book. One thing I particularly liked was the discussion of fractals, which are patterns or shapes that are self-similar at all levels, so that, like the universe, they are ‘no simpler or more complicated whether examined through microscope or telescope’ (Davis & Sumara, 2006: 43–44). These shapes appear in nature all the time, from snowflakes to coastlines. Going back to my art school days, I actually experimented with such drawings when I was working on a project about infinity (see Figure 1.1 for an example of a fractal I drew), although I don’t think Mr Lick thought much of my drawings back then, which perhaps explains why I ended my artistic career and found myself doing a PhD in applied linguistics. Nevertheless, I wound up using complexity as a unifying lens for my hybrid of methodologies in my doctoral thesis.
Figure 1.1 A fractal known as the Levy Curve drawn by hand using a computer mouse, started from three interconnected pixels
Menezes posits that language learning identities are fractals of our whole identity. As we develop a voice in the target language and learn to express more and more of ourselves, the fractal set expands, and with it so does our identity. Fractals seemed very apt as a way of thinking about the smaller and bigger connections between the classroom and the external contexts that people bring to it, too. This did not just pique my interest and capture my attention as a teacher researcher, but more broadly it was a theory which could easily map onto my own philosophical understanding of being. Further reading, such as Kramsch (2002), Dörnyei et al. (2015) and especially Sampson (2016a), confirmed that complexity thinking would also be useful for me professionally, in terms of the metaphors it uses to describe lived experience, as well as the connections and drives (motivations) behind them. I briefly mentioned complexity in my first book, and as I already pointed out, I employed a complexity paradigm in my doctoral research to investigate the complex relationships between authenticity and motivation.
In my PhD viva I came up against some resistance to complexity by both of my examiners. They seemed to be under the impression that as I was doing practitioner research (which would be of primary interest to fellow practitioners) complexity would not be useful or accessible to this intended audience. I disagreed strongly, and managed to pass the defence, but I was still asked to remove some of the data and analysis which the examiners felt was too ‘complex’, by which I think they really meant technical. I will be presenting these data in my chapter later in this volume. I still believe that this paradigm helped me make sense of how I see the classroom, and what unites both Richard S and I is our shared and passionate belief that complexity is not an elite-only and inaccessible research paradigm that further alienates research from practice (Horn, 2008), but on the contrary it is something that could unite these two professional strands in applied linguists and language teaching.
Richard S
My mother was a home-economics teacher. From a young age (and during my secondary education also), I learnt the joys of combining various ingredients in sometimes radically different ways, via which exquisite wonders of taste, smell and vision would emerge that seemed to have very little to do with their components. Naturally, at times I was also successful in concocting what could only be seen as an affront to the term ‘cuisine’, despite my understanding that the ingredients ought to have combined well. My father was a geography and history teacher. He used to ask me interesting questions whenever we went anywhere ‘historical’, like ‘What was going on in the world at the time these people were living such that they decided to build like this?’. And we would together make an image of a diverse range of historical currents in the context of which some phenomenon occurred. Perhaps also influenced by his thoughts on geography, in my secondary school days I was fascinated by the interactions between earth systems and the way that everything seemed connected. However, it was not until my postgraduate studies that I re-encountered similar ideas in the form of complexity (even at one point prompting me to ponder the possibility of changing my entire research focus and occupation to something related to earth systems). I connected with complexity at a number of levels. As a classroom teacher, it just made sense, a lot more sense than much research that I was reading, of what I experienced day-in day-out of being part of language learning class groups. Experiences from my ongoing identity projects as a person other than a language teacher/researcher also connected with complexity: the non-linearity of my own Japanese language learning motivation and identity development; the co-adaptive nature of my attempts at bilingual childrearing with my Japanese–Australian children in Japan; and, more recently, the attrition of my first language. Even further back, growing up in countryside Australia had already allowed me to experience the interactions between ‘the whole and the parts’ of the beautiful natural ecosystems around me, such that complexity was not an earth-shatteringly novel idea.
The more that I read and thought about complexity, the more I came to believe that one of the main benefits of drawing on complexity theories is the philosophical aspect. Complexity thinking cautions against simplism, and asks us to consider experience and perception in deeper, more relational terms. And this is not such an overwhelming ask: We already live our lives in complex webs of dynamic interaction with both material and ideological artefacts (including other humans) across different timescales. In our existence and interactions and interpretations the world becomes a different place, and we become different at the same time. As Kuhn (2007: 173) remarks, in a complexity philosophy ‘not only are the knower and the known dynamic, self-organizing and emerging, the relationship of the knower to the known is likewise dynamic, self-organizing and emerging’. Complexity offers a fundamentally different way of approaching and thinking about life to that offered by much of our education into simplistic ideas (Morin, 2008).
Our Reasons for Bringing these Chapters Together
Complexity theory has been taken up with vigour in both theoretical and empirical psychology due to recognition of a longstanding tension between the inherent dynamism in everyday life and psychology’s quest to understand stability and coherence in phenomenal experience (Vallacher & Nowak, 2009). Prompted by Larsen-Freeman’s (1997) seminal paper, complexity research has also spread throughout the field of second language acquisition (SLA), not least in the investigation of various aspects of language learner and teacher psychology. A small sample of the diverse dimensions explored to date includes:
learner agency (Mercer, 2011a);
learner motivation (Dörnyei et al., 2015a, 2015b; Muir & Dörnyei, 2013; Nitta, 2013; Sampson, 2015, 2016a);
learner self and identity (Menezes, 2013; Mercer, 2011b, 2011c; Sade, 2011; Sampson, 2016a);
learner images of ideal classmates (Murphey et al., 2014; Sampson, 2018);
learner emotions (Gkonou, 2017; Sampson, 2020a, 2019);
critical incidents in learning (Finch, 2010; Pinner, 2016a, 2018);
learner reticence and silence in the classroom (King, 2015; Yashima et al., 2016);
learner willingness to communicate (Yashima et al., 2018);
learner demotivation (Kikuchi, 2017);
language learner group dynamics (Poupore, 2018);
synergy between teacher and student motivation (Pinner, 2019);
teacher identity (Henry, 2016; Pinner, 2019);
teacher immunity (Hiver, 2015);
teacher motivation (Kimura, 2014; Sampson, 2016b; Pinner, 2016b, 2019);
teacher cognition (Feryok, 2010, 2018).
As a paradigm, complexity seems to offer intriguing new avenues to investigate and describe the interrelated, co-adapting and emergent nature of the social psychodynamics among the actors in learning. Yet, the drive to incorporate complexity perspectives into education research has been met with caution by some (Hardman, 2010; Richardson & Cilliers, 2001). Fears remain that a rush to apply novel metaphors or advance neoteric models may hinder the development of deeper understandings rendered by research and analysis built on the philosophical underpinnings of complexity. While many valuable contributions to our understandings have be...

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