Exploiting Written Corpora For Teaching Relative Clauses Online


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The focus of this study was on teacher cognitions and the teaching process within online classrooms. In particular, this study was intended to explore teachers' teaching methodologies when performing grammatical instruction for relative clauses, whether they applied an inductive or deductive approach. The rationales of this study were to examine teachers' cognitions and maxims (decision-making processes) for their teaching methodologies when they teach relative clauses, one of the grammar lessons within the online classroom. The purpose of this study was established to elucidate these mental processes and to understand the methodological strategies teachers employ when teaching relative clauses.

Findings from this research indicate that the teacher participants engaged in similar processes when teaching relative clauses. Even though they requested their students to notify or identify the functions of 'who' and 'which' in the relative clauses from example sentences, they still tended to use deductive approaches to teach their students. Half of the students reflected that their teachers taught using deductive methods. The research results were not consistent with my assumption at the beginning of this study. The results indicated that teachers' teaching methodologies are constructed by their educational programmes, pre-teaching training courses, teaching experiences and socio-educational contexts in the ESL teaching environment; they are not mostly influenced by cultural backgrounds, as I had presumed would be the case. In the following paragraphs, a summary of the research results, their implications for pedagogical methodology, research limitations and speculations will be stated and discussed.

6.1 Summary of research results

This study found that the cognitive constructions of teacher participants with regard to teaching relative clauses were influenced by their previous teacher training. However, their teaching cognitions were mostly shaped by their personal practical knowledge, their educational and professional experiences as language learners and teachers, on-going classroom experiences, and specifically, the unique socio-educational contexts in the ESL teaching environment.

This study evaluated the cognition of four ESL teachers' instructional decisions on grammar teaching in a context where relative clauses are taught by online corpus-based materials. The results indicate that these teachers, despite the differences in their cultures, maintained a similar methodology in teaching relative clauses, It was shown that there is no definite methodology for teaching grammar online and that the teaching can first reflect an inductive approach and spontaneously transfer into a deductive approach. Given the specific context of teaching grammar to adults in an online English class setting, the teachers did not recognise the inadequacy of employing deductive approaches. From the aspect of the learners, the teacher participants' grammar teaching practices could consistently be described as some principles that were incorporated by less grammar rules to be learned, simple explanations to be understood, more examples to be noticed, and more activities to be practiced. The study of Borg (1999a) supports the present study, which focuses on grammar pedagogical contexts, improving 'our current understandings of formal instruction by shedding light not only on what teachers do, but also providing insight into the cognitive bases of these practices' (Borg, 1999a: 28-29). Hence, raising implications of language teacher education and its research, rather than language teacher cognition research, is targeted at suggesting the best language teaching methodology.

6.2 Implications for pedagogical perspectives

In this study, two pedagogical aspects occurred within the results. One is the perspective of ESL teacher training for teaching relative clauses; the other is the consideration of learning styles of Taiwanese ESL learners in an online classroom environment. These two perspectives will be explained in the following paragraphs in terms of the study of teachers' cognitions.

The first perspective of the findings of this pioneer study, which sheds light on teaching relative clauses by corpus-based materials, discovered several implications for ESL English grammar teacher training. The first implication is that ESL teacher training courses should not take for granted that in-service English teachers will have acquired abilities to teach grammar using corpus-based materials. The results of this study found that the teacher participants tended to avoid applying DDL into their teaching. One of possible reasons, as previous research has illustrated, is whether the native and non-native English teachers were discovered to have inadequate linguistic and grammatical awareness abilities, thereby affecting their teaching methodologies in provision of appropriate linguistic input for their students (Andrews, 1999b, 2001, 2003b; Borg, 2001). This also implied that English teachers require a wide range of specific linguistics and educational training practices regarding how to utilise corpus-based materials in their English teaching. Hence, teachers' cognitions could be upgraded and enhanced in order to adjust to efficient teaching using DDL and corpus-based materials.

The second implication is that the learning styles of Taiwanese ESL learners in the online classroom environment can be considered the basis of most teachers' maxims when deciding how to teach and lead their students. In terms of the learning styles of Taiwanese ESL learners, based upon this study and previous related research, they 'tend to value rote learning, but students who excel in the style may find going rough in societies that place a higher value on discovery and questioning' (Soo & Ngeow, 1996:292). In this study, as the teacher participants had not taught Taiwanese students before, they did have some problems understanding their learning style needs. According to Ehrman and Oxford (1990), the learning styles of the learners could help or hinder language teachers to instruct and students to learn. The long silent pause between S1 (student 1) and T1 (teacher 1) in this study is a typical example, illustrating that the English teacher did not recognise the learner's learning style, which made teaching more difficult. In his interview, T1 thought that he needed to give his student more time to respond. On the other side, in the student's interview, S1 stated that he immediately knew the answer, but was afraid to speaking out in English. S1 also said that he could have easily answered if the teacher had asked him to write his response down, rather than to respond orally. In the online classroom, facilities were available for writing on the interactive white board. Nonetheless, the teacher did not request that his student write the response instead of speaking. I observed that the teacher did not attempt to identify the student's learning style. It is a critical problem when the learning styles of Taiwanese students are not considered by ESL teachers.

Three dimensions of individual learning styles have been identified in previous research. First is the cognitive dimension, which refers to field independent or dependent, analytic or global and impulsive or reflective learning styles (Ehrman & Oxford, 1988, 1990; Witkins, Oltman, Raskin & Karp, 1972). According to Keefe (1987), the second dimension is the affective dimension, which incorporates aspects of personality, such as attention, motion and valuing, described as the 'conceptual level or locus of control' (Keefe, 1982:21). The third dimension, based upon a study by James and Gardner (1995), is closely aligned with the behaviourist perspective of teaching and learning, including auditory, visual and kinaesthetic learning styles. In this study, through research interviews, the student participants demonstrated that they possessed the analytic and visual more than the other learning styles. This provides the pedagogical implication that English teachers in Taiwan must consider analytic and visual student learning styles when making their decisions in the process of teacher cognition.

6.3 Research limitations

As in any case study research with a small sample, this study could have been improved by extension in quantity. There were two obvious limitations in this study. Firstly, the volunteer participants were recruited; although the four teachers had diverse backgrounds in many respects, two of them were of the same nationality. Nevertheless, the results of this study indicate that there were no significant differences between the different cultures in the teachers' cognition and practice. Using this pioneer study as an initial example, further research could explore diverse groups of teacher populations from the same county and from alternate areas. The contributions of this study will shed light on how different groups of teachers conceptualise the teaching of relative clauses to adults in an online classroom environment.

The second limitation was the pre-training of students and teachers in the online classroom. This was a very difficult situation. Most of the students and teachers did not know how to utilise the interactive whiteboard system (WiZiQ). I spent two months making appointments with individuals to train them how to enter the class and how to use the facilities within the online classroom. Another problem related to the training courses was the timetable for the individual courses. That is, the students and teachers were in different time zones and it was difficult to bring the students and teachers together online; the students were in Taiwan and the teachers were in the United States and the United Kingdom.

.4 Research speculation and suggestions

As was discovered in this study, a variety of teachers' maxims could be seen in the teacher cognitions, which could be reflected in future research studies conducted in this field. According to Borg (2003), better understanding of the contextual factors must be developed in order to determine the relationship between cognition and practice. It is possible to measure teachers' grammatical knowledge using instruments such as questionnaires and interviews, which can also provide insight into the teachers' cognitions (Sowden, 2007). For instance, Burgess and Etherington (2002) used a questionnaire to study the beliefs of 48 English teachers about grammar and grammar EAP in UK universities. The responses indicated positive attitudes toward formal means of instruction and reported that the proficiency of EAP students is improving because of their contribution, as the conscious knowledge of grammar plays a role in these students' use of language. Having said this, Borg (2003) pointed out the significance of future research into knowledge of English language teachers so that effective mediums of instruction can be established through teacher education. Many theories and practices could be researched and developed on the topic of English teacher cognition and teacher education in the online ESL classroom environment.

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