Review: The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education – Edited by Anne Burns and Jack C. Richards

I’ve been doing a fair bit of reading as of late (more than the usual), and one of my reading ‘projects’ has been Burns and Richards’ The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education. This took me a little while to get through, but it was very interesting and well thought-out. I need to clarify that Burns and Richards are the editors, and the book is made up of 30 chapters written by specialists in certain areas. In this review, I’ll aim to give a brief summary of what the book contains, go over my three favourite chapters, and talk about what I liked and didn’t like.

Three-sentence summary

Burns and Richards’ The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education is a ‘volume’ filled with 30 chapters that cover some of the most important aspects of second language teacher education (SLTE). This book starts off with a brief introduction by Burns and Richards, and then the 30 chapters are split into seven sections: The landscape of second language teacher education; Professionalism and the language profession; Pedagogical knowledge in second language teacher education; Identity, cognition, and experience in teacher education; Contexts for second language teacher education; Second language teacher education through collaboration; and Second language teacher development through research and practice. This volume, written mainly for those currently involved in or preparing to be involved in SLTE, gives a bare-bones, dip-your-feet in overview of some of the major areas within SLTE, and is perhaps best thought of as a reference book.

Three takeaways favourite chapters

So, normally I list my three takeaways (well, usually more than three, but I say three πŸ™‚ ), but as this book covers so many different SLTE topics, I don’t think the old three takeaways is going to cut it. So, this time I’ve opted for an overview and some takeaways from my three favourite chapters. This is not to say, however, that I didn’t like the other chapters, or that I got nothing from them. On the contrary – I learnt plenty from all chapters. Anyway, let’s get into it:

Favourite chapter 1: Chapter 3 – Critical Language Teacher Education – Hawkins and Norton

This chapter aims to introduce and define “critical” language teacher education (LTE). In short, “critical pedagogy seeks to empower people to challenge oppressive conditions in their lives” (Hawkins & Norton, 2009, p.31), and it draws on Paulo Freire’s work on Praxis. Critical pedagogy then refers to actively analysing discourse, language, situations, etc. and identifying, or at least acknowledging, the lack of neutrality. In terms of being critical language teacher educators, Hawkins and Norton write:

“A key focus of critical teacher educators is to promote critical awareness in their teacher-learners by raising consciousness about the ways in which power relations are constructed and function in society, and the extent to which historical, social, and political practices structure educational inequality.”

Hawkins & Norton, 2009, p.33

A number of SLTE examples for developing critical teachers are given in the chapter, and then the writers put forward a list of principles for critical language teacher education (what follows are my paraphrased versions):

  • LTE needs to work towards situated needs and contexts; in effect, we need to think ‘local’ not ‘general’
  • Trainers need to take into account teachers’ cultural backgrounds and experiences, and connect learning to these.
  • Dialogue should be used to co-construct and mediate understanding (drawing on socio-cultural theory here)
  • Reflection and reflexivity needs to be present
  • Theory and practice needs to both be focused on in the interest of educational and social change (praxis)

As one might expect, the authors note that there may be dangers in ‘disrupting and critiquing relations of power in some locales” (Hawkins & Norton, 2009, p.37). I feel that this is also another important dimension that we as teacher educators need to be aware of – the potential negative consequences teachers face by implementing or working towards social change.

Now, this was one of my favourite chapters because it helped me understand, well at least have a better understanding, of praxis – a term which covers a lot of ‘practices’. It also gave me the ideas to include a praxis-focused session in induction week! So, I created a session that used ‘stories’ to highlight certain power issues present within ELT (e.g., native speakerism or racism), and then teachers read these and then discussed their thoughts. It was very, very insightful, and I think quite empowering for some of my staff. The feedback I got from the session was quite positive as well, so will be looking to expand on this in the near future.

On a side note, if anyone is very experienced with ‘praxis’ and feels like talking me through it a little more with ELT and SLTE in mind, I would love to chat πŸ™‚

Favourite chapter 2: Chapter 11 – The Curriculum of Second Language Teacher Education – Graves

Kathleen Graves is a name that I will likely never forget. Her book Designing Language Courses saved me so much stress and resolved many a headache during Delta Module 3. So, I was happily surprised to see that she had a chapter in this book, and this time it focuses on SLTE curriculum design.

In her chapter, Graves presents a very interesting framework for taking a look at what goes into SLTE curriculums. In effect, there are five main components, and all of these “make up the knowledge base of SLTE” (Graves, 2009, p.116). These components are:

  • A – What teachers already know
  • B – What teachers should know
  • C – Contextual information (this includes things like resources that are available, etc.)
  • D – The what and the how (Graves talks about D1 and D2 here, with D1 referring to the ‘what’ and D2 referring to ‘instructional practices’)
  • E – Evaluation
Graves, 2009, p.116

All of this starts with a needs analysis, which I take as A and C (although some might think of C as a means analysis), and from there (as can be seen in the diagram above) a course can begin to take shape.

Graves writes at length about the knowledge base of SLTE, and says:

“The knowledge base of SLTE is often confused with the knowledge base of language teaching. The former is what language teacher education involves and what language teacher educators need to know and be able to do in order to educate language teachers effectively; the latter is what language teaching involves and what language teachers need to know and be able to do in order to educate language learners effectively. The knowledge base of language teaching is part of the knowledge base of SLTE because it is the basis for B, the goals of the curriculum.”

Graves, 2009, p.116

Interestingly, she references both Roberts‘ and Richards‘ classifications of knowledge bases for SLTE, and then, drawing on Richards (1998), says that curriculum goals (thinking about the B box here) should be formed around each of the “domains of content”. So, if we take Richards’ classification, then a curriculum goal (focusing on content knowledge) for an assessment literacy course might look something like:

  • Content knowledge: Teacher-learners will have a clearer understanding of the different types of texts used in the IELTs exam.

Graves packs a lot in this chapter (I haven’t even covered half of it) – it is highly worth the read. But before we move on, I’m going to leave a few quotes from the Issues and Directions section of the chapter – quotes that struck a chord with me, and I hope with other teacher educators:

“Second, teacher educators themselves must guard against becoming “servants of the system”, particularly in the area of evaluation. Teacher education has not been immune to the standards movement that currently dominates education. Creation of teacher standards is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, such standards help organize the goals of the SLTE curriculum and provide a basis for evaluation. On the other hand, such standards can constrain the curriculum.”

Graves, 2009, p.122

“Finally, the knowledge base of SLTE is also a system of knowledge bases. Teacher educators also operate from unexamined conceptions of teaching that my make it difficult for them to teach in ways congruent with the goals of the curriculum.”

Graves, 2009, p.112

“Teacher educators must “practice what they preach” and hold themselves accountable to the same criteria to which they hold teacher-learners, for example adapting content to learners and inquiring critically and reflectively into their own practice.

Graves, 2009, p.112

Favourite chapter 3: Chapter 27 – Language Teacher Supervision – Kathleen M. Bailey

I’m currently reading Bailey’s Language Teacher Supervision, so expect a review out soonish (it will take me a while to get through it!). However, while you wait, we’ll take a look at her amazing chapter.

This chapter focuses on, you guessed it, language teacher supervision. Bailey highlights that supervision has a somewhat negative history, in that it was initially based in bureaucracy and control. However, as we’ve advanced, supervision has grown into something more than a way to control subordinates; rather, it is a tool that can be used to improve the quality of teaching. It was interesting, because as I was reading the initial part of this chapter, I thought back to some of my initial experiences of being observed as well as some of the stories that I’ve heard from other teachers, and I have to say that many educational institutions probably still do carry out observation in the ‘old fashioned’ manner. This being said, I like to think that on average, language teacher supervision is more developmental than administrative, although I’d love to hear your thoughts on how language teacher supervision is carried out in your context (or in contexts you’ve taught in).

Bailey goes on to talk about three types of supervision, as put forward by Freeman (1982, cited in Bailey, 2009):

  • Supervisory: Basically, an expert observes and then gives prescritptive advice.
  • Non-directive: The supervisor listens non-judgmentally as teachers “describe their work and interpret their actions” (Bailey, 2009, p.270).
  • Alternatives: In this option to supervision, the supervisor in effect aids the teacher in coming up with alternatives to what they have been doing/did.

Bailey then goes on to add two more types, following Gebhard (1984, cited in Bailey 2009):

  • Collaborative: Here the supervisor works with the teacher, but does not direct them. I need to read more of Gebhard, but I assume this is like being a critical friend.
  • Creative: This is approach “combines features of the other four. [It] is useful because an effective supervisor might need to switch roles during a conference, depending on the teacher’s need” (Bailey, 2009, p.270).

Looking at these options for supervision, and reflecting on my own practice, I’d say that the type of supervision I carry out largely depends on the teacher and the context. So, for example, if I am carrying out an observation with a teacher who has specifically asked for an observation on a certain class because they are having difficulties, then my approach might focus more on the collaborative or alternatives options. I find the ‘creative’ option almost like the ‘eclectic’ approach to supervision, and I think that there is the chance that teacher educators may fall into the trap that many teachers do when engaging in eclectic teaching; that is, they may lack an understanding of why they are doing what they are doing, and simply call it eclectic. So, if we do carry out ‘creative’ supervision, then perhaps we really need to know our stuff. Then again, perhaps supervision is so ‘messy’ and context/teacher-sensitive that the natural manner to carry out supervision is using the ‘creative’ option. Not too sure – be interested to hear your thoughts.

Next, Bailey moves on to, in my mind, the most interesting part of the chapter – the post-observation conference and how teacher educators get their message (or don’t get their message) across to teachers. This section focused predominantly on the mitigation, i.e. “the linguistic means by which a speaker deliberately hedges what he / she is saying by taking into account the reactions of the hearer” (Wajnryb, 1995, p.71, cited in Bailey, 2009). There are a number of type of mitigation:

  • Syntactic mitigation: The use of “tense shift, aspect shift, person schift, particular clause structures, and the use of negation, modal verbs, and interrogatives to soften the critical message” (Bailey, 2009, p.272)
  • Semantic mitigation: The use of “qualm indicators (hesitations, false starts, etc.), asides, lexical hedges, and hedging modifiers” to soften the message (Bailey, 2009, p.272).
  • Indirect mitigation: This is a superordinate term, and is broken down into three basic types.
    • Conventionally indirect mitigation: Criticism is “built into the surface level meaning of the utterance” (Wajnryb, 1994b, cited in Bailey, 2009). An example is “Can you think of a way you might have been able to address that?” (Wajnryb, 1994a, cited in Bailey, 2009)
    • Implicitly indirect mitigation: Even less direct that the previous type. An example could be: “Do you think perhaps it might have been good if they had known a little bit about the context of the dialogue?” (Wajnryb, 1994a, cited in Bailey, 2009).
    • Pragmatic ambivalence: This “involves speech in which the illocutionary force of the utterance is unclear” (Bailey, 2009, p.273). For example, the question Do you think the kids like the book? could be interpreted many different ways by the teacher.

Bailey then talks about hyper-mitigation and hypo-mitigation. The former refers to moments when the supervisor’s comments are so heavily mitigated that the message is not clear (I have been guilty of this!). The later refers to supervisors being so blunt that teachers become defensive. All of these points mentioned regarding mitigation I found fascinating, and I also recognise that I need to conduct more research on how I carry out post-observation conferences. I did record a number of sessions about two years ago, but actually focusing on the data took such a long time that I abandoned the project. I think perhaps it’s time to revisit it!

Lastly (I know, there was a lot in this chapter), Bailey refers to Rueda’s (1998, cited in Bailey 2009) SCT principles that should be used to guide supervisors. I have summarised these here:

  • The teacher and supervisor should solve problems together.
  • Supervisors need to ensure that teachers learn and engage with professional discourse. In essence, this means that teachers need to have the necessary language to be able to describe what they are doing, thinking, etc.
  • Feedback, advice, etc. needs to be relevant to teachers and the context in which they are working.
  • Supervision should take a ‘long-term’ view of teacher development; that is, we are not there to simply solve short-term problems – rather, we are there to help teachers progress to further levels of development over the long term.
  • Instructional conversation should be used to helps teachers “make connections between their formal schooled knowledge and their practical knowledge gained by experience” (Bailey, 2009, p.274).

Now, there is a lot in the chapter, but one thing that it really put in my head was that supervision is a really complex, but extremely important development tool. Because of this importance and ‘power’, we need to engage with it quite carefully, otherwise a stigma is likely to be created around supervision (unfortunately, this stigma already exists for many teachers).

What I liked

  • Chapters are short and easy-to-read: As you can imagine, in a book with thirty chapters on a range of different topics, the chapters don’t go into too much detail (but they do provide plenty to think about), and so they are fairly easy to get through in terms of time. In general, the writing style of the writers makes each of the chapters easy to digest, which is another positive. To give you all a rough idea, I was able to sit down, read a chapter and then write my summary all in about 30 minutes.
  • Covers a wide range of topics: SLTE is a huge area, and whilst the book didn’t touch on everything, it made a good effort to cover as much ground as possible. I feel that this makes this a good companion volume to have on the shelf!
  • All chapters have a ‘standard’ layout: Another reason the chapters were easy to get through was that all chapters had roughly the same ‘sections’ (e.g., overview, current approaches, issues and directions, etc.). I really liked this as I found it quite centering and allowed me to go back to my notes on specific points from the chapters easily enough.
  • Suggestions for further reading: As each of the chapters can only go into so much detail, I found the suggestions for further reading section really handy in terms of pointing me in the right direction (if I want to take my knowledge further). I also like how this was done (along with the references) at the end of each chapter, as opposed to having this at the end of the book.

What I didn’t like

  • Length: In total, there are 324 pages in the book. Harmer’s The Practice of English Language Teaching is 400+. My point being is that SLTE is huge, and some of the topics covered were really important (e.g., mentoring), and I feel that many authors should have been given more pages/words so that more information, or better yet examples, could have been provided.
  • Lack of real-world examples: Whilst many examples are given throughout some chapters, it would have been nice if all the chapters had real examples, case studies explored in a little more detail. This is especially the case for Chapter 26 Mentoring, which I feel needed a few concrete examples of teacher educators carrying out mentoring to really cement what the author was trying to get across. This point, however, ties into my previous one regarding length.
  • Theoretical not practical: So, as teacher educators, we need to get familiar (and even involved in) the theory side of things. This book does a great job at getting some really interesting theory across. However, it is not a ‘how-to’ book. It’s saving grace is that many of the authors present some guiding principles to help the reading. Having said all this, this book is not meant to be one that goes too deep into certain areas.

Who should read this book?

  • Teacher educators: This is a no-brainer. If you are involved with teacher education, then this is something that will come in handy. This being said, it isn’t a book I’d recommend to get if you’re looking to improve your understanding in, let’s say, supervision specifically. The book provides a good amount of detail on supervision, for example, but it doesn’t get into all the nitty gritty, and so you’d be better of buying a book that focuses specifically on the topic you want to read about. A further point to add here is that this book is perhaps best suited for those on MA programmes – those that need a handy reference book that can be used to get broad sweeps information. I do not think this is all that appropriate for those thinking about moving into teacher education – there are much better books out there to ‘get you started’ (e.g., Hughes’ A practical introduction to teacher training in ELT).

Final notes

You’ll notice that I’ve skipped the applying to practice part of my review. This is because there are so many interesting things in this book, and I could list all the things I want to try and change, do, etc. This being said, I don’t think they capture the essence of this book. So, what I’ll do instead is leave you all with some of my favourite quotes from the book – quotes that I hope will get you thinking about your own practice. If you have read this book (or dipped into it), please let me know your thoughts as well!

“Our long-term endeavour must seek to design, implement, and sustain L2 teacher education programs that focus on learning in, from, and for L2 teaching practice.”

Johnson, 2009, p.26

“I will refer to all instances endorsed and publicly heralded definitions as sponsored professionalism. Sponsored professionalism is usually proclaimed on behalf of teachers as a collectivity; therefore, it does not necessarily coincide with individual teachers’ views on professionalism, as often as not because it is promoted by regulatory bodies to introduce reform and / or by professional associates to advocate change.”

Leung, 2009, p.49

“Rather than emphasizing the role that teacher language proficiency plays in the classroom, work in some programs has emphasized sociopolitical and sociolinguistic issues, involving but not limited to the importance of demystifying the notion of the native speaker and creating conditions that develop a sense of ownership of the English language among NNES teachers-in-preparation.”

Kamhi-Stein, 2009, p.96

“One fundamental issue is that a lack of congruence between teachers’ beliefs and their practices should not be seen as a flaw in teachers. Teacher cognition research has provided insights that allow us to interpret in more sophisticated ways, results that show that teachers’ beliefs and practices are not aligned. We know, for example, that the social, institutional, instructional, and physical settings in which teachers work often constrain what they can do.”

Borg, 2009, p.167

“However, the negotiation of teachers’ professional identities is also powerfully influenced by contextual factors outside of the teachers themselves and their pre service education courses. These include workplace conditions, curriculum policy, bilingual language policy, cultural differences, racism, social demographics of the school and students, institutions practices, curriculum, teaching resources, access to professional development, and many other things.”

Miller, 2009, p.175

Book details

Title: The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education

Editors: Anne Burns and Jack C. Richards

Pages: 324

ISBN: 9780521756846


Bailey, K. (2009). Language Teacher Supervision. The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education, 269-278. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Borg, S. (2009). Language Teacher Cognition. The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education, 163-171. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Freeman, D. (1982) Observing teaching: three approaches to inservice training and development. TESOL Quarterly, 16(1), 21-28.

Gebhard, J.G. (1984). Models of supervision: Choices. TESOL Quarterly, 18(3) 501-514.

Graves, K. (2009). The Curriculum of Second Language Teacher Education. The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education, 115-124. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Hawkins, M. & Norton, B. (2009). Critical Language Teacher Education. The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education, 30-39. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Johnson, K. (2009). Trends in Second Language Teacher Education. The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education, 20-29. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kamhi-Stein, L. (2009). Teacher preparation and Nonnative English-speaking educators. The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education, 91-101. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Leung, C. (2009). Second Language Teacher Professionalism. The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education, 49-58. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, J. (2009). Teacher Identity. The Cambridge Guide to Second Language Teacher Education, 172-181. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Richards, J.C. (1998). Beyond Training. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Rueda, R. (1998). Standards for Professional Development: A sociocultural perspective. (Research Brief No.2) Santa Cruz: University of California, Centre for Research on Education, Diversity and Excellence.

Wajnryb, R. (1994a). The pragmatics of feedback: A study of mitigation in the supervisory discourse of TESOL teacher educators. Unpublished doctoral dissertation, Macquarie University, Sydney NSW Australia.

Wajnryb, R. (1994b). Pragmatics and supervisory discourse: Matching methods and purpose. Prospect: An Australian Journal of TESOL, 9(1), 29-38

Wajnryb, R. (1995). Teachers’ perceptions of mitigation in supervisory discourse: A report of a pilot study. South Pacific Journal of Teacher Education, 23(1), 71-82.


  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Jim,
    I love the fact that you are summarising so much of what you’re reading – thank you! I always think that I’m a fast reader, but you’re getting through things so quickly, and writing long posts about them, and holding down a full-time job too. If you feel like it, I’d be really interested in reading a post about how you approach your professional reading.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Sandy! Sorry for the delayed reply – been very busy!

      Thank you for your comments πŸ™‚ I had never thought of writing up a post about that, but it could be quite interesting to explore. Thanks for the idea πŸ™‚


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