The narrative mode and the second person approach
in language teacher cognition research
Language Teacher Cognition Research (LTCR) changed understanding of actions of language teachers by investigating how teachers think and feel internally. However, as long as the means of the investigation is limited to the first person report by teachers themselves, the findings may have limitations. More specifically, if the language in the report is used in the logico-scientific mode, which many modern intellectuals regard as ‘paradigmatic’ in academic discourse, teachers are obliged to use language to describe something objectively definable. They thus lose their ability to express their feelings and emotions in particular.
Thus, my first contention is that the language of the narrative mode should be positively promoted in LTCR, rather than reluctantly tolerated. In the narrative mode, teachers are licensed to use ambiguous expressions to describe the feelings and emotions they cannot delineate. They may use metaphors and other evocative rhetorical devices to connote and suggest the ‘potentiality’ of meaning, not just its ‘actuality.’ (Luhmann, 1990) They are encouraged to depict multiple realities, either indicative or subjunctive, that different perspectives recognize, without concluding on one single reality that is deemed to be universally true.
However, this kind of language of the narrative mode demands creativity in readers more than the language of the logico-scientific mode does. Readers have to decide (or ‘write’) their own version of understanding from the plentiful possibilities of interpreting the report to learn something that they can generalize from (‘reader generalizability’). In this creative interpretation, readers may run the risk of deviating from the possible range of the meaning that the original report offers. If we are to defend the notion of reader generalizability, which I do, we need a certain stance to avoid the irresponsible version of relativism (‘Anything goes’).
Therefore my second contention states that we need what I term as the ‘second person approach’ in reading the reports by the teachers or in co-constructing the interviews with the teachers. The second person approach requires you to connect with the author of the report, either in written or oral form, as a responding person. You owe personal ‘responsibility’ to create your own version of the story that you read into the report. This is why, in an interview, you ask questions, suggest your interpretation and co-construct discourse with the author; you ‘respond’ to the author. Even in reading the report where the author is not present, you are also engaged in a dialogue (an imagined one, though) with the author, trying to create your responsible understanding that the author would agree on, not capriciously taking away any message you like.
This second person approach is unlike what I similarly term as the third person approach, in which you are detached from the author and abandon your personal responsibility. In the third person approach, you only obtain information that is universally agreed upon. This is what the standardized multiple choice tests measure, where the single correct option must be undeniably true and other incorrect options must be flatly false and cannot be even controversial or plausible. The third person approach requires you to be impersonal and cease to create your own understanding. Thus you are forced to recognize only the literal meaning of language (or the ‘actuality’ of meaning), ignoring its potentiality. Apparently, the third person approach is possible and desirable in the logico-scientific mode, but not in the narrative mode.
To conclude, I argue that we need the narrative mode in LTCR, and that it requires the second person approach. With theoretical understanding of the narrative mode (against the logico-scientific mode) and of the second person approach (against the third person approach), I believe LTCR may obtain understanding that cannot be gained by other types of research that are constrained by the doctrine of objectivism.