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The complexity of language teachers


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Title: The complexity of language teachers

The complexity of language teachers beliefs and
practice one EFL teachers theories Li Li
The development of teacher cognition
  • Since 1990s, there has been a surge of interest
    in the study of language teacher cognition what
    language teachers know, think and believe.
  • The special edition of System (2011)
  • flourish of over 600 publications

The development of teacher cognition
And it has changed from a relatively new and
undeveloped area to an important and
well-researched field of inquiry in understanding
classroom instruction, pedagogical effectiveness
and teacher development.
One strand of research focuses on the
relationships between what teachers know and
believe and how they practice in teaching.
The relationship between beliefs and practice
(1) Contradictory view
  • beliefs play a central role in teachers
    decisions, judgments and behaviour. In
    particular, teachers beliefs heavily influence
  • pedagogical decision making (Borg 2003, 2006
    Farrell and Kun, 2008 Golombek 1998 Johnson
    1994 Ng and Farrell 2003 Pajares 1992)
  • the acceptance and uptake of new approaches,
    techniques and classroom activities (Donaghue
    2003 Li 2008)
  • choice of the subjects and evaluation in the
    classrooms (Borg 2001)
  • beliefs affect everything that they teachers
    do in the classroom (Williams and Burden 1997

The relationship between beliefs and practice
(2) Contradictory view
  • Beliefs are seen to be the strongest factors
    through which we can predict teaching behaviour
    (Pajares, 1992).

However, a great deal of empirical evidence has
also suggested that there exists inconsistency,
mismatches and discrepancies between teachers
beliefs and their practices (e.g. Basturkmen,
Loewen, and Ellis 2004 Farrell and Kun 2008
Feryok 2008 Lee 2009 Nishino 2008 Orafi and
Borg 2009 Phipps and Borg 2009).
The relationship between beliefs and practice
(3) Influential factors
  • Speer (2005) argues that methods and research
    designs might cause the inconsistency of
    teachers beliefs and actions shard
  • The contextual factors so far is still most
    widely recognized factor accounting for the
    discrepancy between teacher cognition and
    classroom practice
  • Student (Shavelson Stern, 1981)
  • school culture and its norms and recognized
    values (Davis, 2003 Li, 2008 Sato
    Kleinsasser, 2004).

The relationship between beliefs and practice
(4) Three observations
  • at a theoretical level, much of this work has
    been conducted from a cognitive perspective,
    viewing beliefs as fixed assumptions,
    representing teachers mental lives. In this
    tradition, research tends to focus on the realm
    of reality inside teachers heads. However, it
    might not be appropriate to view beliefs from a
    single theoretical stance because a
    cognitive-based perspective ignores the contexts
    and interactive nature of teachers daily work in

The relationship between beliefs and practice
(4) Three observations
  • methodologically, research so far has mainly
    involved elicitation of teachers perceptions
    using questionnaires and interviews, in order to
    compare with their classroom activities
    generally. The precise connections between
    teachers beliefs and specific practices are
    rarely examined in any detailed manner.

there is still a lack of similar parallel
research with NNEST (Non-native English speaker
teachers) in teachers beliefs and practices.
So this study
  • Takes an interactionist perspective of beliefs
    (Skott, 2001) and theories of action (Argyris and
    Schön 1974) to understand the relationship
    between beliefs and practice
  • Adopts a detailed case study approach (interview,
    classroom interaction and teacher reflection)
  • Situates in an EFL context (an experienced
    teacher working in a prestigious school)

An interactionists perspective of beliefs
  • beliefs as entities that may be transformed or
    even emerge in and as a result of his or her
    interactions with students (Skott, 2001).
  • This perspective challenges the sole determinant
    role of beliefs in shaping classroom practices.

Theories of action
  • espoused theories concerned with what people
    give allegiance to and communicate to others
  • theories-in-use, which govern what people do
  • Argyris (1980) makes the case that these two
    theories may or may not match and the individual
    may or may not be aware of the mismatch. If
    these two theories are compatible in any
    particular instance, this leads to a better
    understanding of an actors intentions, actions
    and consequences. However, when a gap is noticed
    between these two theories, seeking a connection
    creates a dynamic for reflection and dialogue
    to gain insights from the teacher.

A case study
Context and participant
Context and participant
  • Yuan had 26 years teaching experience (2005)
  • working in one of the best state secondary
    schools in Beijing
  • one of the first expert teachers in the city.
  • Diploma in TEFL and a BA in ELT.
  • had worked in different types of schools and
    witnessed the transformation of pedagogy from
    translation methods to CLT
  • ongoing professional development activities, such
    as an overseas training course and overseas visits

Context and participant
  • Yuans class had 43 students, a common class size
    in Beijing.
  • Students were aged 16-17 and this was the
    students fifth year of formal instruction in
    English as a foreign language.
  • Yuan had been teaching them for almost two years
    and in the following year, students take the
    National College Entrance Test (NCET), GaoKao.
  • The students English level was between
    intermediate and upper intermediate.

Data collection
Research focus Data elicitation and collection
Beliefs Semi-structured interviews
Classroom practice Video-recording and transcription of classroom interaction
Participants insights into the relationship between beliefs and practice Video-clip based stimulated comment procedure
Data collection
  • Two interviews, with the first one focusing on
    the macro-context and the second on himself as a
    teacher and the development of his pedagogical
  • four 45-minute lessons of 180 minutes in total.
    The unit had the topic How English people
    celebrate Christmas and the classroom
    interaction data was from the first lesson of
    the unit.
  • playback of the selected stretches of interaction
    and Yuans interpretation and understanding of
    what was happening.

Data analysis
Interviews 3C approach (Lichtman 2009) coding,
categorizing and concept-emerging. Data then were
categorized by clustering units representing a
teachers set of beliefs (see Speer 2008), which
are a small group of related beliefs that, in
combination, describe a teachers perspective on
a particular topic enhancing communicative
abilities across belief categories
Interactional data detailed transcriptions of
verbal and non-verbal behaviours were made
subject to micro-level analysis
Yuans comments Yuans interpretations and
reflections on specific episodes are used to
reflect insights of teachers perspectives
A collection of Yuans beliefs about enhancing
communicative abilities
Teaching Learning Subject Student Teacher
Teaching should focus on enhancing communicative skills by using authentic materials, using personal experience and helping students to be independent.   Learning is to making sense how language works through participation, collaboration and interaction.   English is a tool to communicate. Culture is an important part of language learning.   Students should be contributing to the class actively and should be one of the knowledge sources. Peer feedback is important.   The teacher is not the only source of knowledge, should play different roles in teaching. The teacher should facilitate classroom discussion.  
  • communicative ability lies at the heart of Yuans
  • Communicative ability is of the utmost important
    for a language learner, and teaching and learning
    is all about enhancing communicative skills
    (Interview 1, Extract 1)

  • communicative ability lies at the heart of Yuans
  • Methods and
  • I use a communicative approach in my teaching I
    use authentic materials and tasks (e.g. personal
    experience) to coach students to communicate in
    the target languageto talk in context. The
    focus is on the learning process. (Interview 2,
    Extract 1)

  • communicative ability lies at the heart of Yuans
  • Influence of the
  • Most of my students now learn English for their
    future needs, for example, to go abroad to study
    or travel, and without communication skills, they
    cant do anything as English is the world
    language now. (Interview 1, Extract 2)
  • I didnt know how to order food when I visited
    abroad for the first time and it made me realize
    whats the real purpose of learning a language.
    (Interview 2, Extract 2)
  • memorization and translation are the most
    effective ways to learn but today, language is a
    tool to communicate rather than a subject because
    it opens a door to another culture and its a
    bridge to enter another community (Interview 1,
    Extract 3

  • communicative ability lies at the heart of Yuans
  • expectations for
  • Its important for students to get involved, in
    different forms, for example, pair work, group
    work and individual work. I like to give students
    opportunities to speak because they can have very
    good points sometimes. Its not about saying a
    correct sentence its more about the topic, and
    speaking opportunities. (Interview 2, Extract 3)
  • students should contribute to the class
    actively, opening students mouths (Interview
    2, Extract 4).

  • communicative ability lies at the heart of Yuans
  • expectations for the
  • The only but most challenging thing is that I
    have to play different roles, rather than being a
    knowledge provider or instructor, I need to be a
    guide, a facilitator, an organiser, or a
    participant, an observer, a critical friend.
    (Interview 2, Extract 5)
  • I do feel challenged, every minute, every second.
    You know, many students do know more than me in
    many aspects. And I am learning to switch from
    PPP to CLT and on top of that, our textbooks
    have changed so much in recent years. (Interview
    2, Extract 6)

Convergence Yuan does what he believes
1 Y ((clapping his hands))(.)Ok!
2   (5.0)
3   can some group give me some information about how er (.)
4   English people spend their Christmas (.) and er (.) what er
5   is your discussion if possible?
6   (2.1)
7   NAME what about you?
8 S (10.0)
9   En (.)they all er (.)have a very (.)
10 Y Sorry? I cant hear you (.)louder please (.)they all have a
11   very what?
12 S a delicious food
13 Y oh delicious dinner right? ? yes? yes I am sure
14   (2.3)
15   on Christmas Eve or er on Christmas Day?
16 S Christmas eve
17 Y on Christmas Eve? possible (.)what else? thank you
  • Yuans insights / understanding
  • students are all given opportunities to say
    something (Reflection, Extract 1)
  • Yuans reflection upon this interactional
    exchange highlights two factors influencing his
    decision-making the students character and
    level of experience and pedagogical goal.

  • Yuans insights / understanding knowledge and
  • His experience and knowledge about this
    particular student told him that the student was
    trying to avoid making mistakes by providing a
    minimal contribution. Yuan was not very satisfied
    with the students brief contributions, so his
    strategy was to elicit more talk by asking
    further questions and push her if necessary
    (Reflection, Extract 2).
  • Students usually feel embarrassed to speak
    publicly and the reason that I interrupted
    students was to slow down the pace to ease the
    student. Its more conversation-like rather than
    a Q and A. The point is me being in the middle of
    the conversation can encourage the student to
    stay in this conversation. (Reflection, Extract

  • Yuans insights / understanding pedagogical goal
  • The purpose of this activity was to open
    students mouths and let them contribute to the
    content (Reflection, Extract 4)..
  • He considered embedded error correction (note in
    line 13, he reformulated the students
    contribution to dinner) a useful approach to
    establish an equal relationship and reduce
    anxiety in classroom to create a relaxing
    learning environment (Reflection, Extract 5).

Divergence Yuan does opposite what he believes
1 S the great writer er
2 Y the great writer (.)oh (.)who?
3 S ((2 unintelligible))
4 Y Hhhh (.) this kind of thing happens(.)Charles Dickens
5   right? Charles Dickens (.)yes (.)what are you going to say?
6 S the Christmas (.)
7 Y the Christmas carol right? (.) well I understand for some
8   new words you dont know how to pronounce (.) you need to
9   pay attention to pronunciation using dictionary to see how
10   to can pronounce for some words (.)I am not sure (.)for
11   example ???? Chinese
    ((whats that called))
12 S ((2 unintelligible))
13 Y xie ji sheng are you sure? xie! xie xie Chinese I mean
14   Chinese pronunciation
15 S Xie
16 Y are you sure? xie ji sheng ?? (.) ???????((looking
    ((right?))((or its pronounced
    as something else?))
17   at one students book))???? xie ?? Chinese (.)right?
    ((some people pronounce it)) ((anyway))
17   a kind of plant thanks you (.)
18   NAME mentioned some information very important even the
19   great writer Charles Dickens and he loves Christmas so
20   much right? Ok
21   (1.2)
22   and er by the way do you happen to know any other besides
23   Christmas carols any other written by this great writer?
24   (1.2)
25   yes! for example? ??
26 Y (6.0)
27   who can you remember who can think of any book written by
28   this great writer? you have to know something right?
29   Charles Dickens so famous a writer!
30   (2.3)
31   oh what is Chinese? Dickens!!! Dickens
  • Yuans insights / understanding
  • Yuan acknowledged the tension between what he
    planned and what actually he did, and described
    this moving away from task as an interactive
    decision he had to make in that situation.
  • Yuans reflection upon this interactional
    exchange highlights three factors influencing his
    decision-making priority of educational goals,
    subject content knowledge and self-preceived

  • Yuans insights / understanding
  • First of all, it is important for students to
    have correct pronunciation particularly for those
    students who will have to take the oral test for
    college entrance exam. And if I can categorize my
    educational goals, then improving their
    linguistic knowledge (e.g. pronunciation) is a
    short-term goal while enhancing communicative
    abilities would be counted as a long-term goal.
    Short-term goal always gets priority
    (Reflection, Extract 6)
  • Second, there is no need to go on and on to
    discuss details of Christmas Carol and mistletoe
    another topic that was brought up by a student
    that Yuan chose to neglect for further
    discussion because partially I couldnt comment
    on this students contribution as I dont know
    much about this myself laughs embarrassedly and
    partially I need to provide some useful knowledge
    to students to make them feel theyve learnt
    something from me. (Reflection, Extract 7)

  • Conclusion
  • 1. we cannot simply say whether a teachers
    espoused theories are in alignment or in contrast
    with his or her classroom practice evidence of
    both is to be found in what a teacher says and
    does even regarding one aspect of his beliefs in
    one lesson. There is no strict one-to-one
    relationship between espoused theories and
    classroom practice.
  • I believe in A but in class I sometimes do A and
    I sometimes do B.

  • Conclusion
  • 2. teachers theories are conceptualized in a
    given environment and contextualized by this
  • Yuans espoused theories are developed and
    shaped by student future needs, his personal
    experience, the status of English and his
    understanding of the function of language. These
    macro-contexts might guide overarching pedagogy
    and instructional activities
  • the classroom micro-contexts the
    moment-to-moment variables shaped what Yuan did
    in this particular lesson. The relationship
    between teachers espoused theories and classroom
    practices is one outcome of interactions with the

  • Conclusion
  • 3. methodologically, this study suggests that in
    order to understand the exact relationship
    between beliefs and practice, a fine-grained
    analysis of teacher behaviour through interaction
    and teacher insights into the reasons underlying
    decision-making is important. It highlights the
    need to situate beliefs in social acts.
  • Only by considering a detailed analysis of his
    classroom interaction with students and the
    rationale behind this, can we understand whether
    and why he did A or B.

THANK YOU Questions?