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Grammar is one of the most controversial issues that has been debated along the history of language teaching and learning. The grammar debate has brought about two extreme positions "those who hold that grammar should receive a central attention to language teaching and those who hold that grammar should not be taught at all" (Mukminatien 2008: p.80). On this basis, grammar teaching has undergone a variety of changes that have influenced its role and status in second and foreign language contexts.
In fact, all language teaching approaches ranging from the highly structural ones to the highly communicative ones, have assigned varying degrees of prominence to its teaching. Traditional teaching approaches namely the grammar translation method and the audio-lingual method emphasized the centrality of grammar to the extent that grammar teaching "had often been synonymous with foreign language teaching" (Celce-Murcia 1991: p.459). However, with the advent of the natural approach along the deep end version of the communicative approach, the value of grammar was undermined, based on the assumption that a good knowledge of grammar does not guarantee a good mastery of the target language and that language learners need to make sense of grammar rules in more communicative and interactive ways (Tütünis 2012).
Nonetheless, in the last two decades grammar has been reconsidered again in language teaching as being " an essential inescapable component of language use and language learning" (Burgess & Etherington 2002: p.433), that works hand in hand with meaning based instruction. Hence, the concept of "embeddedness" (Borg & Burns 2008) or the integration of form and meaning has come to the forefront of mainstream education, generating in turn a plethora of methodological taxonomies for the integration grammar instruction into the language learning process (Borg 1998). A persistent problem, however, as noted by Ellis (2006) is that no consensus exists among scholars about the extent to which grammar rules should be integrated within communicative based activities, leaving in turn the decision of what type of formal instruction works best for learners to the language teachers themselves.
Such an entangled situation, where grammar is taught in the absence of well-defined guidelines (Borg 1998), entails language teachers to draw on their educational repertoire or belief system, in order to reach intuitive instructional choices and practices. This is online with what Borg & Burns (2008) note in the majority of teacher cognition research studies showing that "particularly in the absence of uncontested conclusions about what constitutes good practice, teachers base their instructional decisions on their own practical theories" (Borg & Burns 2008: p.458). Concomitant with this assumption, a substantial body of research on teachers' cognition has proliferated, given the urgent need to gain deeper understanding and accounts for the ways teachers in general and language teachers in particular rely on their educational belief system to cope with the complexities inherent in the classroom setting.
Rationale of the study
Teachers' educational beliefs and grammar teaching are the two major areas of interest forming the incentive to undertake the present research project. To the best knowledge of the researcher, no study whatsoever has been carried out to explore Tunisian EFL teachers' beliefs about language teaching and learning, let alone studies on teachers' beliefs about grammar teaching. The disproportion of research projects devoted to investigate educational beliefs with a particular reference to grammar teaching and learning does not exclusively concern Tunisia. It is a prevailing characteristic of teacher cognition research in general that "little attention has been paid to L2 teachers perceptions of the role of grammar teaching in their work and to the manner in which instructional decisions regarding grammar teaching are informed by teachers' personal pedagogical systems" (Borg 1998: p.10). In this regard, this study has been conducted on the premise that it would fill the gap marked by the scarcity of research studies on the cognitive dimension of language teachers' underlying belief system of grammar teaching in the Tunisian EFL context.
In fact, a close scrutiny on teachers' belief system is imperative to unveil the frames of reference influencing teachers' perception and information processing (Clark & Peterson 1986). Besides, an exploration of these beliefs in relation to teachers' planning, decision making and instructional practices, is deemed to contribute significantly not only to the understanding of the psychological context of language teaching and learning, but also to the incorporation of successful educational reforms (Mohamed 2006).
The notion of belief endurance and belief change has further fuelled the interest to explore Tunisian EFL teachers' beliefs of grammar teaching. On a daily basis, language teachers are generally facing a dilemma of selecting the best choice among the multiple strategies, devoted for effective grammar teaching, even within one specific approach. The task becomes more daunting, when an innovative program comes into play. In this regard, language teachers share the responsibility of successfully implementing educational reforms proposed to them. One particular problem however, is that teachers' existing belief system may contradict with the premises of the new approach, and since "beliefs tend to self perpetuate" (Pajares 1992: p.324), language teachers are likely to maintain their grammar teaching beliefs in accordance with the old teaching approach. This happens most frequently when teachers support that approach either through their experience as language learners or language teachers (Zain 2006: p.6).
This tendency can be also attributed to the complex nature of belief system. Once educational beliefs are formed and incorporated into the teachers' existing schemata, they are likely to endure even when they no longer form an accurate reflection of reality (Nisbett & Ross 1980 cited in Pajares 1992). Educational innovations therefore, are expected to be successful, not only if they are implemented as part of the teaching program, but also when teachers' beliefs prove to be consistent with the theoretical underpinnings of these reforms.
With a particular reference to the teaching situation at the Institut Supérieure des langues de Tunis (hereafter ISLT), English language teaching had long been dominated by the traditional approach to grammar teaching. A paradigm shift has occurred, when the latter has been recently replaced by the integrative approach to grammar teaching instead. At the surface level, changing the grammar teaching curriculum logically implies that English grammar teachers act in accordance with the newly implemented approach. However, it is assumed that if these teachers still believe in the efficiency of the old approach, it is expected that they will show practices that fit closely to their existing belief system, instead of being consistent with the new approach. On this basis, this study has been conducted to explore not only English language teachers' beliefs about different approaches to grammar teaching, but also the extent to which their classroom practices are aligned with the premises of the new approach.
What are 1st year ISLT teachers' beliefs about grammar teaching?
What are 1st year ISLT teachers' practices of grammar teaching?
How consistent are 1st year ISLT English grammar teachers' beliefs and with their grammar classroom practices?
Do the "experienced" and "less experienced" ISLT English grammar teachers have varying degrees of consistency between their beliefs and their classroom practices?
2.1 Review of Teacher Cognition Research
Examining teaching effectiveness was a major concern of educational research studies before the 1970's. A prevailing characteristic of research at that time was on associating teaching patterns with students' achievements (Borg 1999). As regard this approach, teaching was viewed "as a primarily linear activity wherein teaching behaviors are considered "causes" and student learning is regarded as "effects". This approach emphasizes the actions of teachers rather than their professional judgments and attempts to capture the activity of teaching by identifying sets of discrete behaviors reproducible from one teacher and one classroom to the next" (Cochran-Smith & Lytle 1990: p.2).
However, a paradigm shift occurred, when teacher cognition as a research area came to the forefront of language teaching studies in the 1970's. Since then, teaching has been acknowledged as a "complex cognitive skill" (Leinhardt & Greeno 1986), which "can not be studied by reducing it solely to behaviors, observable phenomena, or investigations of what people do in the classroom (Freeman 1995: p.581). Teachers, in turn have been regarded as "active decision makers who make instructional choices by drawing on complex practically oriented, personalized and context sensitive networks of knowledge thoughts and beliefs" (Borg 2003: p.81). Consequently, research focus has shifted from investigating concrete observable teaching behaviors to "teachers' mental lives" instead (Clark & Peterson 1986).
Borg (1999) characterizes the emergence of teacher cognition which is a "new area of inquiry" (Allwright 1988, p.209), as a turning point in educational research, because it signaled "the emergence of an alternative conception of teaching as a process of active decision-making informed by teachers' cognitions" (p.22). These cognitions include the beliefs, knowledge, theories, assumptions and attitudes that teachers develop about all aspects of their work (Borg 1999). On this basis, teachers' belief system has been recognized as "the most valuable cognitive construct" (Pintrich 1990), whereby teachers analyze, interpret data and according to which they make instructional decisions in the classroom.
Based on the assumption that teachers' beliefs influence the acceptance and uptake of new approaches, techniques and activities, therefore guide teachers in their practices (Dhonague 2003). Research studies strongly suggest that these beliefs need to be explored, in order to pave the way for critical reflection and then implement necessary change for the instructional process (Dhonague: ibid). As Richards et al. (2001) point out that the study of teachers' beliefs seeks ultimately an understanding the ways teachers conceptualize their work (p.42). In this respect, Johnson (1994) summarizes three principal assumptions underlying research studies on teacher cognition. First teachers' belief system influences both perception and judgment. Second, beliefs help teachers process and interpret new information about teaching and learning and translate that information into classroom practices. Finally understanding teachers' beliefs is fundamental to enhance teaching practices and teacher education program (Johnson 1994). In much the same way, Borg (1999) states that "an understanding of the often implicit psychological bases of teachers' work is required if we are to go beyond a superficial behavioral conception of instructional processes" (p.22).Therefore, it is vital to explore both teachers' actions and the cognitions underlying these actions for a better understanding of the teaching process.
2.1.2 Exploring Beliefs
Although, there exists a wide range of studies investigating beliefs in relation to teaching practices, there has been an inconclusive debate regarding the nature and definition of a belief system. According to Mansour (2009), since teachers' beliefs are experience based rather than theory based, "beliefs can neither be clearly defined, nor do they have a single correct clarification" (p.35). In this respect, Borg (2003) argues that "the study of teacher cognition is generally characterized by a multiplicity of labels which have been posited to describe, wholly or in part the psychological context of teaching" (p.83).
In fact the psychological concept "Belief" has been described as a "messy construct" (Pajares: 1992), due to the fact that it has been equated and used interchangeably with a variety of labels in general education. These labels include; attitudes, values, axioms, opinions, ideology, conceptions, internal mental processesâ€¦etc (Pajares 1992: p.309). In the same way teachers' beliefs have been assigned a variety of labels in second language teaching studies such as 'teachers' perspectives' (Goodman 1988), 'implicit theories' (Weinstein 1989; Clark 1988), and 'preconceptions' (Wubbles 1992)â€¦etc. Pajares (1992) contends that teachers' beliefs are difficult to investigate due to "definitional problems, poor conceptualizations, and differing understandings of belief and belief structures" (p.307). Clandinin & Connelly (1986) point out that the definitional confusion can be attributed to defining similar terms differently and using multiple terms to refer much to the same concept. This considerable amount of confusion about the concept "belief" is not only brought about by differing labels for this concept, but it also stems from the researchers' attempt to distinguish between "beliefs" and "knowledge". When comparing these two concepts, Mansour (2009) assumes that "while knowledge often changes beliefs are static" and "whereas knowledge can be evaluated or judged, such is not the case with beliefs, since there is usually a lack of consensus about how they are to be evaluated" (p.27).
Calderhead (1996) suggests that beliefs and knowledge are different because the former refers to "suppositions, commitments, and ideologies, while knowledge refers to factual propositions and the understanding that inform skilful action" (p.175). Unlike knowledge, beliefs are viewed as highly subjective, since they rely on affective and evaluative components (Nespor 1987, Pajares 1992). Likewise, Nespor (ibid) notes that belief systems differ from knowledge systems, in the sense that the former does not necessitate a general or group consensus to be valid or appropriate. Nespor (ibid) goes far as to assert that internal consistency of individual beliefs is not required for them to exist within the same belief system (cited in Pajares 1992). This implies in turn that beliefs are "very nature disputable, more inflexible and less dynamic than knowledge systems" (Pajares 1992: p.311).
Similarly, when examining the impact of teachers' knowledge of mathematics, Ernest (1989) comes to the conclusion that although teachers may hold similar knowledge about a subject matter, these teachers are most likely to teach and act in a totally distinct way (cited in Pajares 1992), thus asserting that beliefs have a stronger impact than knowledge, when observable teaching behaviors come into play. This view is further elaborated by Pajares (1992) who states that "beliefs are far more influential than knowledge in determining how individuals organize and define tasks and problems and are stronger predictors of behavior" (p.311).
An opposite view however, exists among other researchers, arguing that there is no clear cut between beliefs and knowledge. Pajares (1992) admits that setting up a distinction between these two mental psychological concepts seems to be a "daunting undertaking" (p.309). Alexander et al. (1991) consider "beliefs" as part of our knowledge system stating that "knowledge encompasses all that a person knows or believes to be true, whether or not it is verified as true in some sort of objective or external way" (p.317). In one of his studies on ESL teachers' beliefs, Woods (1996) argues that the following concepts "knowledge", "assumption" and "beliefs" are interrelated in the sense that they do not represent distinct or separable categories; rather they should be regarded as points stretched along a continuum of meaning. Woods' definition of these concepts illustrates clearly how they are similar in many respects:
Knowledge refers to things we "know" - conventionally accepted facts. In our society today, for something to be conventionally accepted it generally means that it has been demonstrated or is demonstrable".
Assumption normally refers to the (temporary) acceptance of a "fact"â€¦which has not been demonstrated, but which we are taking as true for the time being".
Beliefs refer to "an acceptance of a proposition for which there is no conventional knowledge, one that is not demonstrable, and for which there is accepted disagreement" (Woods, 1996, p.195).
When conducting his research study, Woods (ibid) noted that it was not feasible to establish a distinction between beliefs and knowledge when teachers were discussing their decisions in the interviews, in fact teachers "use of knowledge in their decision-making process did not seem to be qualitatively different from their 'use' of beliefs" (Woods 1996, p.195). On this basis, Woods (ibid) argues that the attempt to draw clear boundaries between knowledge and beliefs would be useless, due to the fact that these concepts prove to be strongly interrelated to each other. He suggests the umbrella term "BAK" (beliefs, assumption, and knowledge); in order to refer to teachers' cognition i.e. what teachers think, believe, know and do (Borg 2003). Lewis (1990) lends support to woods' conclusion and argues that due to the significant amount of overlap that characterizes concepts like beliefs and knowledge, one can deduce that these constructs are similar to a great extent.
Although the distinction between psychological concepts like "beliefs" and "knowledge" has been hotly debated in the literature, no consensus has been reached leaving the room for doubt about the very nature of these cognitive constructs and leaving the question of what really constitutes knowledge and what really constitutes beliefs, unanswered. As a result, this study has been undertaken based on the assumption that "the most simple, empirical and observable thing one knows will [â€¦] reveal itself as an evaluative judgment, a belief" (Pajares 1992: p.313), suggesting in turn that beliefs and knowledge are highly interrelated. Therefore, this study does not seek to establish in any way a distinction between "beliefs and "knowledge".
2.1.3 Defining Beliefs
Despite the fact that the terminological confusion has not been alleviated, consensus about the nature of "belief system" as a psychological construct exists to some extent among educational researchers. No particular definition or view, however, has had prominence over the other ones. Zheng (2009), for instance, defines beliefs as "a subset of a group of constructs that name, define and describe the structure and content of mental states that are thought to drive a person's actions"(p.74). Beliefs according to Richardson (1994) stand for "an individuals' understanding of the world and the way it works or should work, may be consciously or unconsciously held and guide one's action"(p.91). As such beliefs are recognized as powerful indicators of behavior (Pajares 1992).
Rokeach (1968) one of the leading instigators of belief research, defines belief as "any simple proposition conscious or unconscious, inferred from what a person says or does capable of being preceded by the phrase 'I believe that'" (p.113). Rokeach (ibid) postulates three principal assumptions about beliefs. First there are numerous types of beliefs such as descriptive or existential beliefs, evaluative beliefs, and prescriptive beliefs. Second the significance of beliefs varies from one individual to another. Finally, Rokeach assumes that the extent to which a belief is likely to change depends to a large degree on the centrality of the belief itself. The notion of centrality is further elaborated by Green (1971) and Pajares (1992) suggesting that belief system is composed of a combination of both core and peripheral beliefs. According to Green (ibid), the more central beliefs are i.e. core beliefs, the more difficult to alter. Peripheral beliefs on the other hand are more liable to be modified and implemented within instructional practices. However, Pajares (1992) rules out the idea that existing beliefs are subject to change, arguing that "beliefs are unlikely to be replaced unless to prove unsatisfactory and they are unlikely to prove unsatisfactory unless they are challenged [â€¦].Even then belief change is the last alternative" (p.321). This implies in turn that beliefs tend to endure even in face of counter arguments (Nisbett & Ross 1980).
Another way of conceptualizing belief system is to consider it as a cluster of subcategories of beliefs. In this respect, belief system is acknowledged as highly complex and intertwined network of underlying beliefs (Burns 1992). Beliefs are said to co-exist and interact with one another, even when they prove to be contradictory (Borg 1998).
Just as researchers have faced difficulties to define "beliefs", the same challenge encountered their attempts to conceptualize "teachers' belief system". Pajares (1992) argues that "since human beings have beliefs about everything" (p.315), it is imperative for researchers to draw a clear distinction between teachers' general belief system and teachers' educational belief system. When exploring teachers' beliefs, Richards (1998a) assumes that teachers' beliefs include not only information and attitudes but also theories and assumptions about all aspects of teaching and learning that teachers acquire over time and bring with them to the classroom. In as much as the same way, Murphy (2000) conceptualizes teachers' beliefs as "a complex and interrelated system of personal and professional knowledge that serves as implicit theories and cognitive maps for experiencing and responding to reality" (p.4). Murphy (ibid) goes further asserting that beliefs are tacitly held and are based on cognitive and affective components. According to Richards and Lockhart (1996), teachers' belief system is typically based on the goals, values and beliefs concerned with the content and the process of teaching, implying necessarily teachers' understanding of the environment in which they work and their roles within that instructional context.
When reviewing a plethora of terms employed to describe teachers' cognition, Borg (2006) comes to the conclusion that "beliefs are an often tacit, personally held, practical system of mental constructs held by teachers and which are dynamic i.e. defined and refined on the basis of educational and professional experiences throughout teachers' lives. These constructs have been characterized using a range of psychological labels [â€¦] which may often be distinguished at the level of theoretical or philosophical debate, but which seem to defy compartmentalization when teachers' practices and cognitions are examined empirically" (p.35). Pointing out to teachers' beliefs, Janesick (1977), employs the term teacher perspectives instead, defining it as "a reflective socially defined interpretation of experience that serves as a basis for subsequent action [â€¦] a combination of beliefs, intentions, interpretations and behavior that interact continually" (Clark and Peterson 1986: p.287).
When investigating beliefs in teacher cognition studies, researchers deduce that teachers come to the classroom with an already well-established set of beliefs that are said to serve as the basis for their pedagogical practices throughout their professional lives. As stated by Shavelson & Stern (1981) it is absolutely obvious that teachers are "rational professionals who make judgments and decisions in an uncertain and complex environment" (p.456). Kagan (1992) contends that the majority of research on teacher cognition provides ample evidence that teachers' beliefs are reflected to a large extent on their teaching styles. In this respect, beliefs are recognized to function as filters through which individuals in general and teachers in particular interpret new information and assign meaning to it (Kagan 1992; Nespor 1987; Pajares 1992). Zheng (2009) lends support to this view arguing that "beliefs are the permeable and dynamic structures that act as a filter through which new knowledge and experience are screened for meaning" (p.74). Nevertheless one of the major obstacles facing researchers when examining teachers' belief system, according to, Donaghue (2003), is that beliefs are subconscious and unobservable and therefore, difficult to elicit and recognize. Moreover, teachers may be eager to promote a particular image for themselves, in such a case it is very unlikely for teachers to articulate these beliefs as they really are.
2.1.4 Sources of Teachers' beliefs
Research on teacher cognition has identified a variety of sources that influence teachers' beliefs. A major source from which teachers in general and language teachers in particular derive their beliefs about teaching and learning is their personal experience as learners (Borg 2003). What Lortie (1975) called the "apprenticeship of observation" or the "vivid memories of instruction of 10.000 hours in classrooms that help new teachers determine what they want to be and do in teaching" (p.160). Freeman (1995) argues that the memories of instruction derived from 'apprenticeship of observation' act as de facto guides for teachers "as they approach what they do in the classroom" (p.11). In this respect, teachers build up their cognition about teaching and learning on the basis of their early life experiences as learners. These experiences exercise, in turn an impact on their cognition throughout their professional career (Holt Reynolds 1992; cited in Borg 2003). Clark & Peterson (1986) lend support to this view arguing that teachers' belief system stand for a rich store of knowledge from which "some particularly influential teacher produces a richly detailed episodic memory which later serve [â€¦] as an inspiration and a template for his or her own teaching practices" (Nespor 1987: p.320).
A study conducted by Numrich (1996) showed how novice teachers gave prominence to a particular instructional strategy on the basis of their positive or negative experiences of these strategies as learners. Teachers' preferences to integrate a cultural component in their teaching rather than teaching grammar or correcting errors is due to the fact that they perceived learning L2 culture as an enjoyable activity of their L2 learning, while regarding grammar teaching and error correction as negative experiences. Johnson's (1994) study yielded similar results. Teachers' decision making during a practicum was derived from their perceptions of classroom materials, activities and organization brought about their experiences as language learners. On this basis, Borg (2003) assumes that "teachers' prior language learning experiences establish cognitions about learning and language learning which form the basis of their initial conceptualization of L2 teaching during teacher education, and which may continue to be influential throughout their professional lives" (p.88).
Along teachers' "apprenticeship of observation", teachers' own teaching experience has been cited as a valuable source for shaping teacher cognition. According to Smylie (1994) teachers do not possess templates to guide their work. Teachers rely on past experiences instead and adopt their own ways of solving problems, "they develop their own solutions based on their personal understanding of the circumstances, an understanding that is rooted in their belief systems" (cited in Decker & Rimm-Kaufman 2008: p.46). In a study conducted to examine the origins of ESL teachers' views and beliefs, Crookes & Arkaki (1999) find out that "many of these teachers spoke about their teaching experience as being a personally unique and self-contained entity. It was a personal history of knowledge, and information gained through trial and error, concerning which teaching ideas (and their sources) were effective in which circumstances" (p.16).
Studies comparing experienced and less experienced teachers give insight on how professional experience may exert an influence on teacher belief system, leading in turn to changing cognition as well as instructional practices over time (Borg 2003). Nunan (1992), for instance reported a case study where less experienced teachers devoted too much time for classroom management; experienced teachers on the other hand were more concerned with language tasks. In this respect, Borg (2003) postulates that teaching experience gained through many years of instruction helps teachers assimilate and get rid of classroom management routines and give greater attention to the content of teaching instead. In other words, "as teachers develop their teaching skills, they are able to draw less on pre-active decision making and make greater use of interactive decision making as a source of their improvisational performance" (Richards 1998b: p.117-118).
Richards and Lockhart (1996) have proposed a number of other sources that are expected to have a direct influence on teachers' beliefs. Personality factors for instance contribute significantly in shaping teachers' beliefs, in the sense that teachers may opt for and promote a particular way of teaching, because they have a personal preference for a specific teaching method or activity. Drawing from educationally-based or research-based principles teachers shape their understanding of learning and teaching principles and try consistently to apply them in the classroom. In illustrating this point, Richards and Lockhart (ibid) reported a case of a teacher who strongly confirms this idea stating that "I took a course on cooperative learning recently. I really believe in it and I'm trying to apply it to my teaching" (p.31). Finally teachers may derive their teaching beliefs and principles from a particular approach or method, believing in its effectiveness as far as classroom practices are concerned and trying to select and implement teaching tasks that best aligns with the premises of the approach or method for instance implementing a communicative approach to language teaching or a process approach instead of a product approach when teaching writing.
2.1.5 Teachers' Beliefs and classroom practices
Dobson and Dobson (1983) argue that "value-neutral action and teaching practices do not occur in a vacuum". In other words, the way teachers teach and act in the classroom is certainly guided by virtue of their belief system. Many research studies recognize that the relationship between teachers' beliefs and classroom practices has proven reciprocal and inextricable (Clark & Peterson 1986; Kagan 1992; Pajares 1992; Shavelson & Stern 1981). Teachers draw upon their belief system in order to make sense of their instructional environment. In this respect, beliefs are reflected to a large extent on the ways teachers behave and interact in the classroom. Zheng (2009) views teachers' decision making as the link between thought and action. In the classroom setting, where teachers are faced with a plethora of options, they are required to choose the one that best suits the aim of the teaching activity and the learners' needs. This takes place most of the time when teachers rely on their belief system. In accounting for the ways teachers' beliefs interact with their classroom practices, Yero (2002) asserts that "if teachers believe a program they have been told to use is based on a solid foundation, and if the program is based on beliefs similar to their own, they will notice ways in which the program works. If they believe it is a waste of time, they will notice evidence supporting that belief" (p.24).
In fact teachers' beliefs are recognized as much stronger than research-based theory as far as teaching practices are concerned. Teachers' beliefs, according to Nespor (1987) "play a major role in defining teaching tasks and organizing the knowledge and information relevant to those tasks [â€¦]. Why wouldn't research based knowledge or academic theory serve this purpose? [â€¦]. This is due to the fact that the contexts and environments within which teachers work and any of the problems they encounter are ill-defined and deeply entangled and that beliefs are peculiarly suited for making sense of such contexts" (p.324). Clark & Peterson (1986) contend that "a major goal of research on teacher thought processes is to increase understanding of how and why the process of teaching looks and works as it does" (p.12). On this basis, understanding teachers' instructional practices and the way teachers approach a particular teaching task depends on a close scrutiny of their thought processes and how these processes interact in accordance with their instructional decisions.
In a study investigating literacy instruction, Richardson, Anders, Tidwell and Lloyd (1991) yielded evidence in favor of the consistency thesis. A belief interview technique derived from anthropology was employed. Teachers were presented with a continuum that moved from a word and skills approach to a literature approach. At the level of classroom practices, teachers advocating word or skills approach introduced word attack skills activities, while teachers who subscribed to a literature approach put their students in constant touch with literature. Similarly, in an examination of the relationship between ESL teachers' beliefs and practices in relation to the reading skill, Johnson (1992) asked 30 ESL teachers from New York to complete a belief inventory questionnaire analyze three lesson plans and describe their practices in an ESL classroom. Johnson (ibid) finds out that teacher participants had clear defined beliefs in relation to three methodological approaches; a skill-based approach, a rule-based approach and a function-based approach. In addition, these approaches were highly reflected in the teachers' selection of the reading activities. Johnson (ibid) concludes that "overall, [the] study supports the notion that ESL teachers teach in accordance with their theoretical beliefs and that differences in theoretical beliefs may result in differences in the nature of literacy instruction"(p.29).
Chang (2001) believes that along the emergence of communicative language teaching approach, the shift from traditional form focused instruction to communicative English language teaching, stipulates not only changes in classroom activities and teaching materials, but also a transformation in teachers' views and beliefs about English language teaching as a whole. In this respect, Chang (ibid) conducted a quantitative study investigating high school English teachers' beliefs about communicative language teaching. Results showed that teachers hold positive beliefs about CLT. There was a significant consistency between teachers' beliefs and their classroom practices; moreover, communicative activities were frequently employed in the classroom.
Nonetheless, other studies instigated opposite findings, where discrepancies between teachers' beliefs and instructional practices were reported. Borg (1998b) states that "teachers' cognition, though emerge consistently as a powerful influence on their practices, these do not ultimately reflect teachers stated beliefs, personal theories and pedagogical principles" (p.91). Fang (1996) discusses some studies in which researchers found little correlation between instructional reading practices and teachers' beliefs. The misalignment is attributed to some contextual constraints that impeded teachers' attempts to translate their beliefs into teaching practices. Similarly, Ertmer et al. (2001) found evidence of mismatch between teachers' beliefs about classroom technology use and classroom practices. Although, the majority of teachers characterized themselves as advocates of a constructivist approach, their instructional practices were not restricted to a constructivist approach only, but they tended to follow a mixed approach instead varying between involving students in authentic project based work, carrying out tutorials, practice skills or learn isolated facts. Contextual factors such as curricula requirements and social pressure (parents, administrators or peers) were the main reasons behind inconsistency.
Other research studies (Beach 1994; Tabachnick & Zeincher 1986) display further evidence of how contextual factors play a vital role in exploring the extent to which teachers are able to carry out instructional practices congruent with their cognition (cited in Borg 2003). According to Borg (2003), when teaching practices appear to be in contradiction with beliefs; these practices can be analyzed in relation to the social, psychological, and environmental factors of the school and classroom settings. These factors may include "parents, principles' requirements, the school society, curriculum mandates, classroom and school layout, school policies, colleagues, standardized tests and the availability of resources"(Borg ibid: p.94). Such factors are expected to constrain teachers' abilities from adopting instructional decisions that perfectly align with their beliefs. Richards & Pennington (1998) lend support to Borg's view. They argue that "such factors discourage experimentation and innovation and encourage a safe strategy of sticking close to prescribed materials and familiar teaching approaches. The teachers would naturally be led back toward a conservative teaching approach to align themselves with the characteristics of the existing teaching context" (p. 87)
Further evidence of how teachers' working conditions limit to a great extent their pedagogical choices, comes from Crookes & Arakaki's (1999) study. In their study, teachers had not had enough time to prepare their teaching practices in advance, since they were working for long hours (50 hours per week). One of these teachers described the situation by stating "I will often choose or create an exercise [even though] I know there could be a better one, but I just can't do it within the time that I have" (p.18). In this respect, Barcelos (2000) admits that it is not a cause-effect relationship that governs pedagogical beliefs and practices; it is rather "a relationship where understanding contextual constraint helps understanding beliefs" (p.37). Another study conducted by Borg (1998a) in which he examined one EFL teacher's beliefs and practices in L2 grammar teaching in an EFL context. He observed that the teacher's beliefs were generally consistent with his practices in class, but with a little misalignment as a result of the teaching and learning experience and contextual factors like students' level of proficiency in class. Still in the area of grammar teaching, Farrell & Lim's study (2005) reported another case of inconsistency where beliefs occurred in contradiction with teachers' classroom practices. Teacher participants opted for a teacher-centered grammar instruction, rather than learner-centered one, although they were advocating the practice of communicative and functional based approaches. Limited instructional hours and teachers' personal preferences were the rationale behind teachers' choices.
Most of the research studies have indicated that educational beliefs in general and teachers' beliefs in particular are determined to a large extent by the context of teaching (Fang 1996; Pajares 1992). Fang (1996) notes that the misalignment between teachers' beliefs and classroom practices are expected due to the requirements and complexities that characterize the classroom setting. In this respect, Butt et al (1992) argue that in order to account for the ways teachers act during the teaching practicum, it is imperative to investigate teachers' pedagogical behaviors in relation to the instructional context of teaching.
2.2 Review of Grammar Teaching Research
A particular interest has been attached to the concept of grammar in language teaching and learning. Grammar has been recognized as the corner stone upon which the whole language system is constructed (Palmer 1972). It is a framework without which "language [â€¦] would be chaotic, countless words without the indispensible guidelines for how they can be ordered and modified" (Batstone 1994: p.35). Accordingly, the strength of grammar lies in its potential to impose order on words and to regulate the arrangements of the lexicon. On this basis, linguists assert that a good knowledge of grammatical rules is a prerequisite for a good mastery of the language system. Savage et.al (2010) regards grammar as an imperative "master" skill that paves the way for language learners to broaden their competencies in the area of listening, speaking, reading and writing. It has furthermore been assumed that L2 learners' success or failure in performing the four language skills is subject to their mastery of what Widiati and Cahyono (2006) labeled as "the language learning ingredients" i.e. grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation. Among these ingredients grammar is "the most valued one as it serves the foundation for more advanced language" (p.78).
In language teaching and learning grammar has been conceptualized on the basis of two major perspectives. Linguists have opted for either a syntactocentric perspective of language where the "way in which words are combined in a sentence" stands for a basic feature to be observed, analyzed and learned, or a communication perspective of language where the emphasis is on how syntactic patterns interact together to convey meaningful utterances (Vandalin & La Polla 1997 in Purpura 2004). In other words, as far as grammar teaching is concerned, the distinction is established between grammatical approaches (grammar-based) and communicative approaches (communication-based) to language teaching and learning.
The first perspective was highly promoted during structural linguistics' heyday. Grammar played a fundamental role in language teaching and learning. It was considered as end in itself (Yin 2006) in the sense that, learning the target language had often been synonymous with learning the target grammar rules (Neupane 2009). In fact, grammar-based approaches have sought the ultimate goal of achieving linguistic accuracy at the expense of fluency. No attempts have been made to provide insights on how linguistic forms are employed in association with the context to convey meaning. Consequently, it ends up having language learners capable to rehearse grammar rules, but unable of using these rules appropriately in spontaneous communicative interactions.
By a way of contrast, the communication perspective of grammar provides an opportunity for language learners to go beyond a mere mastery of grammatical structures. A paradigm shift from the conventional inquiry of "what do the forms mean" to "how are the meanings expressed" (Rafajlovicoa 2009: p. 193), has taken place. In this respect, Littlewood (1981) asserts that "we are ultimately concerned with developing the learners' ability to take part in the process of communicating through language rather than with perfect mastery of individual structures" (p. xi).
When grammar has been analyzed within the framework of the communicative approach to language teaching, linguists start seeking ways for grammar to be more concerned with the notional and functional basis of the language rather than developing an endless description of language forms. L2 learners' attention has been directed to both forms and functions and the way they interact together to convey meaning. Although grammar teaching was downplayed at the outset of the communicative approach, because developing communicative competence was of a paramount importance and considered as an independent process from that of linguistic competence, language researchers have come to realize that grammatical competence forms a part of an interrelated whole which is made up of sociolinguistic competence, discourse competence and strategic competence (Canale & Swain 1980). All of which interact together to build up communicative competence. On this basis, grammatical competence has been reconsidered as an integral part of language teaching and learning and most importantly as a "tool or resource to be used in the comprehension and creation of oral and written discourse rather than to be learned as an end in itself" (Celce-Murcia 1991: p. 466).
2.2.2 The Grammar Debate
Thornbury (1999) contends that "no other issue has preoccupied theorists and practitioners as the grammar debate, the history of language is essentially the history of claims and counter claims for and against the teaching of grammar" (p14). In fact, the area of second language acquisition research is replete with arguments that cast doubts on the necessity of teaching grammar to L2 learners. One of these arguments is often referred to as the knowledge-how argument. It is based on the premise that the ultimate goal of language learning is promoting L2 learners' communicative skills and having a good mastery of the target language grammar does not necessarily imply that second language learners are fluent communicators of the target language. In addition, the growing dissatisfaction with the structural approach to language teaching that turned the learning process "a tedious experience of memorizing endless list of unusable grammar rules" (Richards & Rodgers 1986: p2-3), led to the rejection of explicit grammar teaching. This approach in which grammar teaching was central failed to produce L2 learners able of translating grammatical patterns into communicative skills, whereby these learners are expected to negotiate meaning and express ideas creatively and appropriately when using the target language. Consequently, it is suggested that instead of exposing L2 learners to explicit grammar instruction, the alternative is to provide the means for them to use the target language communicatively in meaning focused instruction (Thornburry 1999). This view was further strengthened when the strong version of the communicative approach called for a clear cut with formal grammar instruction. Grammar teaching was regarded as having detrimental effects on L2 learners' language proficiency, since it is going to shift their focus from fluency which forms the major objective of communicative language teaching to accuracy instead.
Another argument associated with first language acquisition theory posits that, since the processes underlying second language acquisition are similar to the ones underlying first language acquisition, there is no need to expose language learners to grammar instruction. Thornbury (1999) elaborates this point stating that "the fact that we all learned our first language without being taught grammar rules has not escaped theorists, if it works for the first (L1), why shouldn't it work for the second (L2)" (p.19). Originally, this view was set up by Krashen's (1981) theory of language learning that distinguishes between conscious learning and subconscious acquisition of language. It is based on the assumption that a second language can be only acquired through natural exposure to linguistic input, rather than formal instruction, just as native speakers acquire their mother tongue. Learning is the result of formal instruction; therefore it does not allow L2 learners use the target language communicatively. Acquisition, on the other hand, can be attained through direct interaction in natural settings. In this respect, Prabhu (1987) emphasizes the fact that "classroom learners can acquire an L2 grammar naturalistically by participating in meaning focused tasks" (Richards & Renandya 2002: p.67). In as much as the same way, it is assumed that if language learners are put in constant touch with formal grammar instruction, they would acquire declarative knowledge of grammatical structures, but not the systematic ability to employ these structures meaningfully in authentic contexts (Nassaji & Fotos 2004). Therefore, based on the belief that if learners learn how to communicate "grammar will take care of itself" (Roberts 1998: p.149) and for the above stated reasons, formal grammar instruction has been discarded in the language classroom setting.
Despite this overwhelming aversion to grammar teaching, there are still other educationalists holding firm beliefs that formal grammar instruction stands for an integral part of second language teaching pedagogy. In this respect, grammar has often been described as "sentence-making machine" (Thornbury 1999), thanks to which language learners acquire the potential ability to arrange words in logical sequences and produce an infinite set of linguistic output. Azar (2007) argues that "language consists of predictable patterns that make what we say, read, hear and write intelligible. Without grammar, we would have individual words or sounds, pictures and body expressions to communicate meaning. Grammar is the weaving that creates the fabric" (P.3).
The knowledge of grammatical rules or regularities of language gives a good insight for L2 learners to recognize how content words and functional words should be combined together to form meaningful utterances. For this reason, formal grammar instruction has been recognized as the basis for successful language learning, as Cook (2001) states that "grammar is sometimes called the computational system that relates sound and meaning's trivial in itself, but impossible to manage without" (p.19).
Another reason for the revival of interest in L2 grammar teaching is the concept of 'noticing' introduced by Schmidt (1990, 1993, and 2001). It postulates that the deliberate conscious attention to form is a precondition for language learning (Thornburry 1999, Ellis 1993). This view is further supported by empirical findings such as studies conducted by Skehan (1998) and Tomasello (1998), showing that simultaneous processing of form and meaning can hardly take place. The alternative is presenting input first, focusing L2 learners' attention to notice the form and processing meaning afterwards (cited in Nassaji & Fotos 2004).
Some researchers point out that neglecting grammar teaching in meaning focused instruction results in having learners with a low level of accuracy, which may lead in turn to increasing the degree of fossilization (Thornbury 1999, Larsen-Freeman 1992). Thornburry (ibid) contends that "more recently research suggest that without some attention to form, learners run in the risk of fossilization" (p.24). Azar (2007) argues that one of the most arduous tasks is to help L2 learners understand grammatical concepts and rules. Such is the case of his students who have not been exposed to grammar instruction for a long period of time. Azar (ibid) notes that despite the fact that the students' English can be described as "fluent and communicative, [â€¦] but with fossilized ungrammaticality" (p.3). Azar (2007) goes so far to assert that "for them accuracy did not 'just happen' not even many years in the US school system" (p.3). The learners' limited ability in grammatical accuracy is attributed to the total absence of grammar instruction that characterized the US school curricular during the naturalist movement era.
When examining learning consequences in French immersion programs by Swain and other researchers (Harley & Swain, 1984; Lapkin, Hart, & Swain, 1991; Swain, 1985; Swain & Lapkin, 1989), results revealed that although L2 learners had been extensively exposed to meaning focused instruction for a long-term period, they did not attain accuracy of some grammatical forms. Communicative teaching by itself proves to be insufficient for those learners; findings suggest that there is an urgent need to focus learners' attention on specific grammatical forms, in order to achieve linguistic competence along communicative competence (Nassaji & Fotos 2004).
2.2.3 Towards a consensus in grammar teaching
Although the issue of whether or not grammar should be taught to second and foreign language learners was hotly debated in the literature, this issue no longer forms the focal point of second language research interest. The controversy now centers basically on how grammar should be taught effectively, in order to promote L2 learners linguistic as well as communicative competence. This point is further elaborated by Pérez-Martin (1995) stating that "no one seriously be interested in the development of second language has ever suggested that learners do not need to master the grammatical system of the target language; the debate has been over how the learner can best acquire the target grammar" (p.38). As a result, the last decade has witnessed a tendency to reconcile the teaching of form and meaning; acknowledging both as "two complementary and integrated elements necessary for effective language use" (Dickens & Woods 1988).
Applied linguists and educationalists now are seeking to provide the best way grammar should be taught and integrated within the different elements of the language teaching process. Accordingly, Seedhouse (1997) asserts that "the middle way, covering both form and meaning, accuracy and fluency, would seem to be the most sensible way to proceed, and indeed there currently appears to be a general consensus that it is unwise to neglect either area" (p.38).
When discussing grammar teaching practices; Azar (2007) states that "form and meaning are inseparable, especially in any worthwhile L2 grammar instruction" (p.4). Neither the absolute focus on form nor on meaning only help L2 learners develop their language learning competencies. Azar (ibid) calls for a balanced approach for form focused and meaning focused instruction, taking into consideration L2 learners' needs and goals when designing the teaching activities. He recognizes the importance of working with both sentence level and connected discourse material, engaging learners in open-ended communicative interaction as well as controlled response exercises.
Azar (ibid) concludes that the attempt to combine meaning and form together would absolutely have "good pedagogical purpose and effect", since the teacher can "never know where any particular student's "Aha" is going to come from" (p.1). By the same token, Cunningsworth (1995) contends that "no one however, can produce a functional course without also teaching language form, so we are not really choosing to teach either structure or function: we should teach both." (p.16), acknowledging in turn that within any language teaching approach, grammar teaching can by no means be excluded, nor treated independently of context rather it forms a substantial part of the language learning and communication process.
2.2.4 Grammar Teaching Approaches:
22.214.171.124 Deductive versus Inductive approach to grammar teaching
Researchers' endeavour's to satisfy language learners' needs and to provide the best way for them to learn the target language formed the major drive behind the emergence of different teaching approaches. Accordingly, along the different historical periods of language teaching and learning pedagogy, the status of grammar and the way grammar should be taught in the foreign language context has varied dramatically. Grammar teaching practices have been subject to a variety of changes starting from the explicit -implicit taxonomy and ending up with the recently developed integrative grammar teaching approach.
To begin with, explicit grammar teaching has been referred to by a variety of terms such as deductive approach (Thornburry 1999), form-focused instruction (Spada 1997) and driven-rule learning (Thornburry 2001). In this approach, grammar activities are designed on the basis of a structural syllabus, according to which language is viewed as a "series of distinct linguistic elements arranged in a particular order according to a finite set of rules" (Gascoigne 2001: p.68). Accordingly, Nunan (1999) describes explicit grammar teaching as "the process of learning in which one begins with rules and principles and then applies the rules to particular examples and instances" (p.305). In other words, within this approach the teaching activity revolves around a direct presentation of a particular grammar point of the target language, followed by an explanation of the rule, illustrated afterwards through a number of sentences. The language learner has to memorize these rules and work them out in isolation. Explicitness in grammar teaching, therefore, is characterized by employing instructional strategies that deliberately and overtly draw L2 learners' attention to grammar rules and structures of the target language the ultimate goal of which is to attain grammatical accuracy (Terrell 1991).
This approach has been credited for its potential of making "learners notice structures that they might not otherwise have noticed" (Ellis 1993, 1995: quoted by Ruin 1996: p.104). It has been also acknowledged as having positive effects in accelerating the rate of learning grammatical forms and increasing L2 learners' level of accuracy (Hulstijn & Hulstijn 1984: in Klapper & Rees 2003). Similarly, the majority of SLA investigators acknowledge that "noticing or awareness of target forms plays an important role in L2 learning" (Nassaji & Foto2004: p.128). However, a persistent problem associated with form-focused instruction is that when L2 learners develop a conscious awareness of the target grammatical structures, it does not necessarily imply that they have already acquired them and that they are able to assimilate and employ these structures as part of their language comprehension and production. On a similar ground, Skehan (1996) asserts that "the belief that a precise focus on a particular form leads to learning and automatization [â€¦] no longer carries much credibility in linguistics or psychology" (p.18 in Nassaji & Foto 2004). Likewise, Krashen (1993) underscores the effects of explicitness in grammar instruction describing it as "peripheral and fragile" (p.725). Krashen (1999) goes further to confirm that form focused instruction may help L2 learners monitor to a some extent their linguistic input, but it does not allow them in any way to convert their explicit knowledge of grammar into implicit one, nor does it contribute to language acquisition. Ellis et.al (2002) lend support to Krashen's view stating that "while there is substantial evidence that focus on form instruction results in learning by discrete point language tests [â€¦] there is much less evidence to show that it leads to the kind of learning that enables learners to perform in free oral production" (p.421).
These conflicting views about the explicit approach to grammar teaching have not ruled out the existence of grammar instruction in the foreign language classroom. The pendulum has swung to implicit grammar teaching instead; an approach where L2 learners are presented with formal grammar instruction but in a more contextualized way. Unlike explicit instruction, implicit instruction to grammar works the other way round. In other words, "it is the process by which the learner arrives at rules and principles by studying examples and instances" (Nunan 1999: p.309). In such an approach, the language learner is exposed to linguistic input associated with a variety of contexts from which they have to explore the rules by themselves. The major emphasis of implicit teaching techniques therefore is on the "semantic and communicative dimensions of language over its rule-governed systematic nature" (Gascoigne 2001: p.69).
It has been argued that the process underlying implicit grammar teaching is similar to a great extent to the process of children acquiring their mother tongue. In fact, exposing L2 learners to comprehensible linguistic input enables them to acquire the target language rules subconsciously through occasional attention to language structures and naturally through the process of hypothesis testing (Mukminatien 2008). This is keeping with Krashen's theory of language learning. Accordingly, when learning grammar implicitly, L2 learners are involved in a rule discovery and active learning process. Their role is no longer that of passive learners who just have to practice drills, simulations and memorization tasks, they are rather engaged in an instructional environment where they have to "make sense of input data which allows them to understand and produce structures of the L2" (White 1989: p.37), promoting in turn the learners' autonomy and self-reliance (Harmar 1987, Girma 2005).
Brown (2001) views inductive grammar learning as more favorable than the deductive one, since it goes hand in hand with natural language acquisition process (in Mukminatien 2008), however for this approach to work as effectively as possible, it has to be practiced within a setting that provides comprehensible linguistic input. Such is not the case when English language is taught in a foreign language context (Mukminatien 2008).
Richards (2002), in his turn, notes that "what is often observed in language classroom during fluency work is communication marked by low level of linguistic accuracy" (in Mukminatien 2008). In such a case, the prominence of fluency over accuracy would have detrimental effects, especially when task- based activities are performed by L2 learners who are ranked at a beginning level of interlanguage, since they are still subject to a high rate of interference from their mother tongue (Mukminatien: ibid)
Due to the fact that implicit instruction is a rule discovery process, "it does not include the instructors' explanation about how the second language works" (Van Patten 1996: p.6), L2 learners are kept to figure out the rules on their own. Consequently, Thornburry (1999) notes that "the time and energy spent in working out rules may mislead students into believing that rules are the objective of language learning rather than means" (p.54). In addition, it is expected that not all language learners would be able to infer the rules from the context, given their differing styles and preferences as far as the process of learning is concerned.
Given the shortcomings that have characterized both approaches, the alternative suggested to alleviate the disagreement between advocates of the absolute extremes of the implicit explicit continuum, is that it is reasonable to use either approach or combine both depending on the learning situation and most importantly on the linguistic form to be taught. In this respect Mukminatien (2008) contends that "grammar item segment [â€¦] determines which approach is appropriate" (p.86). He goes further suggesting that some grammar structures are more basic in the sense that in case they are used inappropriately, communication may break down. Therefore, these items need extensive exposure to comprehensible input in order to be implicitly acquired, otherwise it would be better teaching them explicitly. In other words, "the more basic the grammar items are, the more explicit o