Wednesday, March 21, 2007

“Exploratory Practice” in the Oxford-Kobe Seminar

The following is my first report on the Oxford-Kobe seminar (see the bottom of this article for the detail of the seminar). On behalf of all the participants of the seminar, I’d like to express my deep gratitude to the chief organizer, Tatsuhiro YOSHIDA (Hyogo University of Teacher Education), other organizers and financial and non-financial supporters. For me, it was by far the best academic conference.


One of the important features of Exploratory Practice is inclusiveness. Exploratory Practice tries to incorporate the lived understanding of learners into the practice of teaching. It regards learners as full collaborators in the research process because they are recognized as practitioners in their own right.

This is, in a sense, a declaration for a new direction for language teaching research. It is important that this statement is made by one of the most renowned TESL researchers in the world, Dr. Dick Allwright. I may paraphrase the statement as “Researchers should listen to the voice of teachers who listen to the voice of learners.” A friend of mine further paraphrased it jokingly as “Researchers should have a listening skill!”

Over many years, researchers have tended to preach to teachers without really understanding teachers. They often select their favorite theoretical topic and impose their perspective upon the practice of teachers as if they knew better. Teachers, in turn, often preach to learners and give unsympathetic criticism without really understanding what it is like for them to learn a second/foreign language in their local context. They tend to pay less attention to their students’ identities.

This “pecking order,” as you might say, may represent our hierarchy of control and dominance. Researchers protect their social authority by trying to control and dominate teachers, and teachers, then, protect their own by doing the same to learners. This is not a structure of mutual cooperation.

It is not of course true, though, that learners always know better than teachers, and teachers than researchers. They are all puzzled by the reality of the practice from their own point of view. This is why they have to bring their understanding to the mutual arena for joint-exploration. Some researchers may have better academic skills for exploration than teachers and learners, but that does not mean that they should take control of what teachers and learners should think and do.

This direction of language teaching research may not be entirely new, though. I, for one, have been trying to understand competent teachers in Japan over the past 10 years. I listen to what they say. I also observe what they do to further listen to what they don’t say. This approach, however, has not always been accepted as an academic inquiry, as it has often been regarded not as “scientific.” I refrained from writing for academic publication by this approach for the fear of being rejected with unkind words of non-understanding. Instead, I kept writing reports and essays on my Japanese homepage. The text of the homepage now exceeds 8 MB.

This sheer amount of the text may partly explain my joy when I heard the Plenary Lecture by Dick Allwright, the Workshop by Judith Hanks (University of Leeds, UK), and the Symposium by Judith Hanks, Assia Slimani-Rolls (European Business School London, UK) and Ines K. Miller (Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil), all on Exploratory Practice. My joy turned into excitement when I had a conversation over dinner with Prof. Leo van Lier (Monterey Institute of International Studies, USA), with whom I shared much philosophical interest.

Exploratory Practice, as I understand it, a democratization of the practice of education. Democracy is preferred here because it will explore more truth and justice in the complexity of the interwoven life of education. Natural science reveals truth in a highly rigorous way, but the highly regimented scientific truth may not always be relevant for exploring our pluralistic life in its socio-cultural context.

Exploratory Practice is a humanistic enterprise as well. It seeks a better life of learners, teachers and all those involved in education. I, as a researcher-teacher, would like to join in this practice of exploration.

The 1st English Education Seminar
KOBE, JAPAN, 14-17 MARCH 2007


In August 2005, St. Catherine’s College (University of Oxford) Kobe Institute, Hyogo Academic League, and Hyogo University of Teacher Education planned an international seminar on innovative research in the filed of English language teaching by inviting scholars from UK, Europe, USA, and Asian countries.
In the seminar, “Understanding the Language Classroom and New Directions for Language Teaching Research”, will invite leading scholars of ‘classroom research’ to discuss various issues for three days. The main feature of the seminar is Exploratory Practice (EP), emphasizing the ‘quality of classroom life’.
Other topics are research on learner strategies, experiential learning, teacher education, ecological approach to language learning, and English language teaching in Asian countries. Poster sessions also are held.
It is our expectation that the seminar will give an impact on both academic and practical language teaching worldwide.

The organizers are grateful to the Daiwa Japanese-Anglo Foundation and the Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation for their grant; and Hyogo Board of Education, British Council and Hyogo Academic League for their support.

Key organizers:
T. Yoshida, Hyogo University of Teacher Education
D. Allwright, Lancaster University
E. Macaro, University of Oxford


Speakers are by invitation only: they are all famous researchers who are working actively in each area and present their work for discussion. Poster presentation is also set for younger researchers. We will help and encourage young researchers, undergraduates and postgraduates to attend and present the poster.
The following scholars have agreed to present papers at the Seminar:

Dick Allwright (the former professor of Lancaster University, UK)
Naoko Aoki (Osaka University, Japan)
Judith Hanks (Leeds University, UK)
Yongsuk Kim (Daegu National University of Education, Korea)
Viljo Kohonen (University of Tampere, Finland)
Ernesto Macaro (University of Oxford, UK)
Ines Miller (Pontificia Universidade Catolica do Rio de Janeiro, Brazil)
Yoshiyuki Nakata (Hyogo University of Teacher Education)
Assia Slimani-Rolls, (the European Business School in Regents Park, UK)
Craig Smith (Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Japan)
Osamu Takeuchi (Kansai University, Japan)
Ken Tamai (Kobe City University of Foreign Studies, Japan)
Ngo T. P. Thien (University of Social Science and Humanities - Ho Chi Minh City, Viet Nam National University, VietNam)
Leo Van Lier (Monterey Institute of International Studies, USA)
Shinichiro Yokomizo (Saga University, Japan)

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