critical moments in academic writing

Pennycooks’ “Critical moments in a TESOL praxicum” is fascinating on several levels:
1. It takes one episode in the life of a teacher trainer, and seeks within the whole of that experience, including the train journey from Sydney to an outlying Asian majority suburb, as its primary subject.
2. The essay is framed by the train journey, an obvious though nonetheless effective analog for teacher development at all levels. It is also an example of the “narrativized, quasi-ethnography” (343), which can be a refreshing change from the standard applied linguistics fare. Of interest here too is the fact that “experimental” or “creative” academic texts are not very new at all; the topic has been explored by post-modern theorists and applied linguists for decades. And yet this sort of text still seems new against the sere background of realist, empiricist, positivist texts. (No wonder so many smart people stay as far away from the academy as they can!)
3. It seeks, particularly in the final “reflections” section, to come to terms not only with the search for “critical moments” in which awareness of a pedagogical issue may be raised, but also with the simultaneous awareness that the process is inevitably messy, unfinished, and that all we can do as teachers is to sieze upon epiphanic moments, meditate on them perhaps in the same way that we can, by re-reading, come to love a poem that we may never fully understand, and keep searching.
4. It furthermore expresses a certain wistfulness for the hands on, at-the-chalkface, in the trenches metaphors through which teachers construct their identities and establish pathways of communication with their students. This suggests a subtle resignation or fatique, perhaps, with the distance from the ordinary classroom that having achieved academic sucess has created.
Citation: A. Pennycook, “Critical moments in a TESOL praxicum in B. Norton and K. Toohey (eds.)Critical Pedagogies and Language Learning (2005), Cambridge UP.

About Hugh Nicoll

Hugh Nicoll teaches at Miyazaki Municipal University in Miyazaki City, Kyushu, Japan
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