Zhu, Wei. “Theory and Practice in Second Language Writing:  How and Where Do They Meet?” Practicing Theory in Second Language Writing. Eds. Matsuda, Paul Kei and Tony Silva. West Lafayette, IN: Parlor Press, 2010. Print.

  • In this chapter Zhu explores the relationship between theory and practice in second language writing.  Chapter trajectory:  1) Definition of relevant theories of second language writing; 2) Consideration of the “situated” nature of second language writing instructional practice (pedagogy); 3) a bi-directional, interdependent, and mediated articulation of the relationship between theory and practice in second language writing is considered; and 4) discuss the implications of the theory-practice relationship for second language writing teacher development (210).
  • Three fold definition of theory (Stern 1983):  T1 – the “systemic study of thought related to a topic or activity . . . offers a system of thought, a method of analysis and synthesis, or a conceptual framework in which to place different observations, phenomena, or activities” (Stern 25-6).  This is the big T theory.  T2 – the different schools of thought that fall under T1.  Each of these schools of thought have their own “assumptions, postulates, principles, models, and concepts” (ibid.).  T3 – theory that is used in the smallest sense – a particular hypothesis or set of hypotheses that explain particular behaviors or phenomena in any given subject area (210-211). Though small (related to a particular phenomenon), these theories often can be applied to micro or macro contexts.
  • Two fold definition of theory (Larsen-Freeman & Long 1991):  Set-of-Laws theory form – a collection of (often unrelated) statements recording what is (thought to be) known about a phenomenon.  These are presented as generalizations and are based on repeated observations (ethnography).  This is data-driven theory that doesn’t necessarily offer explanations of causality.  Causal-Process theory form – theory that attempts to explain what gives rise to particular phenomena . . . a theory of causality.  These are theories in the formal scientific sense – they provide an account of why/how a phenomenon occurs and intend to predict future observations (211).
  • Z. claims that much second language writing research relies on/produces theory in the set of laws form, T3 statements (usually assessing what has been learned).  Yet, as Z. notes, a T1 for second language writing is still absent/missing.
  • Practice:  all facets of second language writing instruction and assessment (213).  This includes curricula, instructional materials and tools, pedagogical training, assessment, and feedback activities.  As many other theorists have noted (New London Group, Warchauer), practice is situated – socially, culturally, and institutionally bound.  This means that practice should respond to contextual factors and that no two contexts are completely identical.  This poses something of a problem for the relationship between theory (especially T1 theory) and practice (214).
  • Z. claims that the relationship between theory and practice is “bi-directional, interdependent, dynamic, and mediated” (214).  In other words, the relationship between practice and theory is iterative – practice motivates the production of theory through research and theory influences practice by providing possible pedagogical insights/alternatives to the second language writing, new/revised research trajectories, and the guiding principles for the creation of particular instructional principles (215).
  • Z. notes that T2 has had a great impact on SLW as it provides different perspectives on writing and written texts. . . and these perspectives impact institutional practice (c.f., Flower & Hayes work on process, likewise see Hyland 2003 for discussions on how a theory of social meaning and meaning making influences generic approaches to SLW instruction).
  • T3 provides rigorous study of data to argue for changes/developments in instructional materials (research on the effectiveness of peer review.
  • On the relationship between situated practice and theory:  because contexts vary widely, the implementation of particular instructional principles developed out of T2/T3 is rarely “automatic, straightforward, and linear” (218).  Because theory itself is (or at least should be!) grounded in particular circumstances/contexts it is important to ensure that theory and situated practice are commensurable before implementing wide scale change.  This is exactly the problem that linguistic imperialist pedagogies produce:  the imposition of a particular ideological educational perspective/stance on contexts outside the location of their original development (and often mired in differential power relations).
  • To successfully implement theory into situated practice the teacher acts as the mediator – a recursive circuit that applies, observes, analyzes, adapts, reflects, and reapplies in order to more successfully hone the theory-inflected situated practice for the highest benefit to the student (219).
  • Z. closes by highlighting how teacher preparation programs need to recognize the dynamic, interactive, and iterative relationship between theory and practice in teacher training and pedagogical practice.  This would allow teachers to be more cognizant of their own contexts and more empowered to change their instructional norms to meet individual student needs (222).

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