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Teachers Beliefs About Grammar And Teaching Grammar Education Essay

3280 words (13 pages) Essay in Education

5/12/16 Education Reference this

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This study investigates English language teachers’ beliefs and beliefs about teaching grammar and explores differences in teacher’s beliefs about grammar and teaching grammar. I will investigate their beliefs based on their knowledge, experience as learners and teachers. The study thus examines the relationship between teacher’s knowledge and beliefs and ways of teaching. The review of the literature will discuss previously published work that is relevant to the present work.

Teachers’ Beliefs

1.1.1. The Nature of the Teachers’ Beliefs.

“How teachers make sense of their professional world, the knowledge and the beliefs they bring with them to the task, and how teachers’ understanding of teaching, learning, children and, the subject matter informs they everyday practice are important question that necessitate an investigation of the cognitive and affective aspects of teachers’ professional lives.” (Calderhead 1996:709) At present, there is more understanding of teachers’ beliefs as very influential and pervasive factor on teachers decisions made in the classroom (Bandura 1986). Jakubowski and Tobin (1991) advocate that teachers’ beliefs may change the whole lesson content.

Beliefs are considered as the most influential contribution to teachers’ work and the way of teaching but extremely difficult to define. According to Pajeras (1992:2) beliefs are a “messy construct [that] travels in disguise and often under alias.” These aliases are also known as “images” (Golombek 1988), “untested assumptions” (Kagan 1992, Calderhead 1996), “maxims” (Richards 1996), “perceptions” (Kagan 1992) “personal theories” (Borg 1998), or “personal pedagogical system” (Borg 1998). Pajeras (1992) and Richardson (1996) looked at them as a way of understanding teachers’ decisions and their practices.

The way how the beliefs are held intentionally or unintentionally is due to individuals and “imbedded with emotive commitment” (Borg 2001:186) and they are the foundations of all thoughts and behaviours. Everyone forms their beliefs from the very beginning of their lives, they are the outcome of the education gained at school or based on personal experiences (Johnson 1994), they are fully formed by the end of education, earlier experiences either as a learner or as a teacher have main influence in forming beliefs. LeLup (1995:137) states that teachers’ beliefs are based on “how they [teachers] were taught and their perceptions of how they learned.” What is more, they may be developed on the basis of students needs (Eisenstein-Ebsworth and Shweers 1997). Richards, Gallo and Renandya (2001) argue that teacher’s main beliefs derive from educational principles, school practices and teachers personalities. Calderhead (1996) states that, teachers held their beliefs about learner, learning, nature of teaching, curriculum, and the way of learning how to teach. Richards (1996) maintains that teachers’ beliefs have influence on the way of preparing and planning the lesson, maintaining the discipline in the classroom, encouraging and motivating the learner. Richards (1996) claims that beliefs are the product of teachers’ development. Richards (1996:293) maintains that beliefs “reflect teachers’ individual philosophies of teaching, developed from their experience of teaching and learning, their teacher education experiences, and from their own personal beliefs and value systems.”

The definition of teachers beliefs cannot be simplified or standardized, they are amalgamated and have many features, as Pajeras (1992:324) asserts that beliefs “redefines, distorts, or reshapes subsequent thinking and information processing.” Clark Peterson (1986) coincide that beliefs are compound and they also state that beliefs vary among all the teachers who follow alike if not the same practices. Abelson (1979, cited in Woods 1996) states that beliefs vary from weak to strong. Some of them are very strong and resistant to changes, although alternative belief regarding alike issue may be acknowledged, even after taking part in teaching-training programmes. Their boundaries are fuzzy, they overlapping with each other, although they can exist as individual units.

1.1.2. The Sources of Teachers’ Beliefs

System of teachers’ beliefs is based on attitudes, information, theories, assumptions about teaching and learning, experience. Some of the beliefs are very precise, others are blurred and vague. As said by Johnson (1994) beliefs influence teachers’ judgment and point of view, but what are the main sources of particular beliefs?

Richards and Lockhart (2007) divided the sources of teachers’ beliefs in the main areas of: teachers experience as a language learner. All of the teachers were learners and had to learn the language. The majority of learners obtain the knowledge in different way; all of them have their own effective (sometimes less effective) methods of acquiring vocabulary or grammar (repetition, drills, visualization). Other source of beliefs mentioned by Richards and Lockhart (2007) is based on the experience of teaching foreign language which may be preeminent one. Teacher through years of work is able to discover which teaching strategies are the most efficient. Teachers can witness what work best for particular types of the students. Richards and Lockhart (2007) enumerate practice as one of the sources. They maintain that “within a school, an institution, or a school district, certain teaching style may be preferred (Richards and Lockhart 2007:31).” In some schools teacher are obliged to teach in small groups, in others they have to work with individuals learners or immense groups of students. Furthermore, type of personality was also suggested as one of the sources of teachers’ beliefs. Everyone is dissimilar, we all have different preferences. Language teachers have different teaching patterns, use different activities or arrange classroom in various ways. Another source of teachers’ beliefs is educationally based or research-based principles. As Richards and Lockhart (2007:31) say “Teachers may draw on their understanding of learning principle in psychology, second language acquisition, or education and try to apply it in the classroom.” This may also refer to teachers’ knowledge which is often used synonymously to word belief (Kagan 1990, Alexander, Schallert & Hare 1991). Another source of teachers’ beliefs proposed by Richards and Lockhart (2007) are the principles based on approach or method applied by the teacher in the classroom. Each teacher beliefs that some of the techniques are better than others, methodology they use while conveying the knowledge differs, they implement different teaching strategies. It may be based on their experience or knowledge.

Eisentein-Ebsworth and Schweers (1997) state that teachers beliefs are formed not only by the teaching environment but also by students, their needs, expectations, experience gained through years of teaching foreign language, and curriculum established by Ministry of Education. Richards and Lockhart (2007) expanded this list by adding English language, general teaching and teaching English language. Williams and Burden (1997) add up the learner to this list.

1.1.3. Teachers’ Beliefs about English.

The term English has different meaning for everyone. Some would say that this is the language spoken all over the world, for others it is the language of business, literature or key to knowledge due to the fact that most of the scientific articles are written in English. The way English is perceived varies among the teachers and learners and reasons of learning it and the nature of the language (as English language is known as one of the most evolving languages) (Richards and Lockhart 2007).

. In the context of education, teacher is the one who presents the language and the way it is done varies among the tutors. All of the English language educators should ask themselves important questions: what English means to them? Why is it so valuable? What difficulties teachers and learners can come across while teaching and learning English language? What are the possible solutions to those difficulties? How to motivate language learners? Etc. Answers to all these questions will be influenced according to teachers’ beliefs (Richards and Lockhart 2007).

1.1.4. Teachers’ Beliefs about Teaching and Learning.

Teaching is based on teachers’ beliefs and assumptions about effective teaching. As Pajeras (1992) states teachers’ beliefs are established by teachers’ attitude, value and experience not only as a teacher but also as a learner. Teachers may pertain to the time when they were learners and ask themselves questions what they understand by the term learning, how learners acquire knowledge, what are the most effective ways of achieving it, what learning styles teacher would like to promote and why? Teacher should consider its role in the classroom, what are the most appropriate methods and how the teacher can turn from a teacher to a good teacher (Richards and Lockhart 2007)? Johnson (1992:101) states that “teachers teach in accordance with their theoretical beliefs and that differences in theoretical beliefs may result in differences in the nature of… instructions’.” Johnson (1992) maintains that there are three main approaches shared among English language teachers: a skills-based approach (teachers pay attention to developing main skills of reading, writing, listening and speaking), rule-based approach (teachers pay a lot of attention to grammatical rules and accurate use of the language), and a function-based approach (teachers believe that interaction is the key to successful learning). Moreover, Kennedy and Kennedy (1998) suggest that sharing the same or different values and beliefs of the same culture may affect the process of teaching and learning. In some countries teacher plays main role in the classroom and fully control the classroom whereas in others learner is in the centre of interests.

1.1.5. Teachers’ Beliefs about Learners.

Teachers assert variety of beliefs about language learners and the variety of them; their beliefs often derive from the environment and the society they reside. Meighan and Meighan (1990, cited in Williams and Burden 1997) made a distinction among the learners and distinguish them into five main categories: resisters (they treat teacher as a punisher and learn because they are forced to), receptacles (learner is treated as an object, teacher do not pay attention to learners feelings or needs, teacher is only conveying knowledge), raw materials (learners is believed to be easily controlled by the teacher), partner (teachers treat learners on equal rights, they believe that not only learner acquire knowledge but they learn at the same time), clients ( teachers pay attention to learners educational needs).

1.1.6 Teachers’ Beliefs about Teaching Program and the Curriculum.

“Any language teaching program reflects both culture of the institution (i.e., particular ways of thinking and of doing things that are valued in the institution) as well as collective decisions and beliefs of individual teachers” (Richards and Lockhart 2007:38). Each country has different curriculum and teachers are expected to teach in a distinct way. Teachers may also have different beliefs about the institution or school they are teaching at. Dissimilar type of assessment, various materials, and textbooks are used in different schools what may lead teacher to different classroom practices and develop varied beliefs about teaching foreign language. Each teacher has individual beliefs of how to implement curriculum postulations. Additionally, teachers have their own beliefs about problems with the program they may encounter while working (e.g., is the program well designed to meet learners needs, what elements of the teaching program are crucial and should be followed, what is teachers position towards the assessment or what changes should be made in the program etc.)

1.1.7. Teachers’ Beliefs about being a Professional (English) Language Teacher.

Being a professional language teacher is not only about having the specialization in this field but also having specific skills required to perform this occupation. “Professional work seems to involve a range of kinds of expertise, including formal, organized knowledge and identifiable procedures and skills” (Squires 1999:5).The way the language teachers see their profession depends on the country and culture they are teaching at. Additionally it depends on the conditions of their work, their attitude towards teaching itself and what they want to achieve in their lives (Richards and Lockhart 2007). Squires (1999:6) sees teaching as an art, “Teacher-as-artist does what he or she is”. Although, in some countries, teaching is not seen as a profession but as a life style and/or opportunity to travel. For example, in England to become an English language teacher candidate has to finish short course (TEFL, CELTA) which is enough and takes only couple of months, on the contrary to become a professional language teacher in Poland the candidate has to gain at least Bachelor of Arts degree which takes three years. The standards of the teaching as a profession are often established by the society, its need and pursuit of the specific knowledge like in this case knowledge of the English language. Teachers have to examine themselves and ascertain what it means for them being professional, what the main characteristics of a professional teacher are, what training should be provided and what they would like to gain in the future. All the language teachers ought to answer one main question: what is the main reason to become an English language teacher?

1.1.8. Teachers’ Beliefs about Teaching Grammar.

Teachers’ beliefs about grammar and grammar teaching are more precise and detailed part of their beliefs about general language teaching. Borg (2003) in his review about teachers’ beliefs about grammar teaching came to conclusion that: teachers refer to their own experience with grammar as learners and the teacher’s expectations are different to language learners what may influence the understanding of teachers’ instructions. Therefore there should not be any generalization made as the teachers’ beliefs may differ due to teachers’ age, years of experience as language teachers, their own experience as language learners, teachers’ linguistic ability, teachers’ interests (literature, cultural studies), whether they planned to teach grammar or literature (English literature), schools they are teaching at, their students (level of language and learners’ needs) (Katz and Watzinger-Tharp 2008). Teachers, when it comes to teaching grammar should consider what they understand by grammar, what points of the grammar are important, what part of the lesson should be devoted to grammar, how to arrange grammar lesson, what types of the activities are more suitable? Teaching grammar always increases uncertainty in English language teachers not only from the curricular view but also from pedagogical and linguistic matter.

Teachers’ Knowledge.

Teaching foreign language like any other professional field is based on proper background, practical knowledge and proper professional education. To be a sufficient language teacher, one has to gain exceptional understanding of the subject. To be capable of presenting the knowledge in a comprehensible way, language teachers have posses not only knowledge about the subject itself but also have to know how to present it, what materials use, when and why (Borg 2006). Griffin (1983) states that definition of knowledge is a matter of judgment not a matter of science. According to Cornbleth (1986), knowledge is also all what teachers represent, from political and moral to personal aspects. Briscoe (1991:186) suggests in her findings that knowledge “is uniquely constructed by individuals” and “all knew knowledge is filtered through the framework of beliefs which the teacher already possesses and is adapted to fit (…) existing frameworks, simply giving the teacher new curriculum or suggesting changes in practice may not result in the desire outcomes.” She advocates that, if the teacher is expected to change his/her practice he/she should take an active part in “creating the knowledge” to adapt to changes. As maintained by Woods (1996:195) term knowledge is used for “conventionally accepted facts”, he also made a distinction between ‘content’ and instructional’ knowledge. Elbaz (1983:5) believes that ‘practical knowledge’ is one of the most important elements in teachers’ work because it is based on teacher’s experience, knowledge about the learner, teaching and learning strategies, learners’ “needs, strengths and difficulties, and a repertoire of instructional techniques and classroom managements skills.” Wilson, Shulman and Richert (1987) identify several ‘domains of knowledge’ which are major element in effective teaching:

Knowledge about the subject: theoretical knowledge, teachers’ proficiency, knowledge about the culture, and the language properties, understanding of the curriculum development.

General Pedagogical Knowledge: knowledge about teaching strategies and teaching methods, classroom management and maintaining discipline.

Pedagogical Content Knowledge: is a knowledge required to teach specific area of the language like vocabulary or grammar.

Knowledge of Learners: teachers should be aware of the learners’ weaknesses and strengths, their individual differences and ought to be familiar with learners’ problems and needs in learning.

Knowledge of Learning: teachers should posses the knowledge about learning strategies and learners’ aptitude (cognitive development), types of their personalities and should be aware of their social background what may affect their attitude towards learning foreign languages.

Knowledge of Educational Goals: teachers should know what motivates learners, what expectations they have and what they want to achieve.

Knowledge of Self: teachers should know how to motivate themselves, what was the reason of becoming an ‘English language teacher’, they should know their own strengths and weaknesses and work on their own effectiveness.

Teachers’ knowledge of grammar.

Borg (2003:99) in his article: “Teacher cognition in language teaching: a review of research on what language teachers think, believe, know and do” illustrates several studies on teachers knowledge of grammar. He reveals that “studies (…) in the UK have highlighted inadequacies in the knowledge of grammar and general understanding of language of prospective and practicing language teachers.” He exposes that in the survey made in 1994 over 50% of trainees have insufficient knowledge of grammar rules. Another survey made in 1999 shows that non-native speaker of English posses’ better knowledge of grammar and grammatical rules than native speaker students studying English. Hinkel (2005) states that within last decade teaching of grammar at schools has been rejected by many teachers. History of teaching grammar at schools shows how the emphasis on grammar structures has changed within years. From audio-lingual approach (vast pressure on grammar structures) thorough cognitive code theory, non-contrastive Approach, interlanguage, to communicative and finally lexical approach (emphasizes fluency not accuracy, grammar is no longer important). Is the rejection of teaching grammar at schools a product and consequence of new approaches or maybe it is a lack of adequate knowledge in this field? Hinkel (2005) states that teaching grammar may be a real challenge for English language teachers not only because of number aspects of teachers beliefs, lack of job stability, oversized classes but also because of not having sufficient knowledge. Hinkel (2005:555) maintains that many teachers “have never taken a course in English grammar or because they were minimally interested in that course when they were in their degree programs.” She also affirms that many teachers still consider grammar as a set of rules but do not associate them with communication arrangements. Teachers with limited knowledge of grammar rules find grammar lessons boring or too demanding and eliminate them or reduce those lessons to minimum.

The Importance of Grammar in English Language Teaching.

Dykes (2007:3) maintains that both language teachers and language learners carry pejorative connotations towards grammar teaching or learning. Many teachers during the years of their work faced different approaches concerning the importance of grammar in the classroom. At first lack of knowledge about grammar and grammatical structures was believed to influence learners’ literacy abilities what was unacceptable. This system was known as a ‘functional grammar’. Grammar was seen as a set of rules, with exclusion of speech (communicative) aspects. As Crystal (Crystal, D., cited in Dykes 2007:4) said “In the popular mind grammar has become difficult and distant, removed from real life and practiced chiefly by a race of shadowy people (grammarians) whose technical apparatus and terminology require a lengthy novitiate before it can be mastered… It is a shame because the fundamental point about grammar is so very important and so very simple.” This stage was followed by the “period of uncertainty” (Dykes 2007:3) no one knew whether grammar should be taught or not.

1.4. Research into Teachers’ Beliefs about Teaching Grammar.

It has been relatively not long time ago when researchers realized the impact of teachers’ beliefs, their attitude and importance of teachers’ knowledge of grammar on their way of teaching. There have been a number of researchers made teachers’ beliefs about grammar and grammar teaching.

Richards, Gallo and Renandya (2001)

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