Research questions… here they come again


This week I have been tuning up my research questions together with the associated methodology and methods. During the last months I have been working on sociocultural theory and activity theory, studying them and how these would be an appropriate lens to look at my research problem. This journey into Vygotsky’s, Leontev’s , Engestrom and others’ work has been fascinating. But now it is time to put things together and look at  my research questions and define the research design once again.

As I have discussed previously,  I  am interested in exploring EFL teacher education in Chile so as to understand this complex activity and make improvements. To do so, I think we need to see the collective activity of learning how to teach.  My research will address the primary question How do pre-service English teachers understand the activity of learning to teach English?

Chilean students become teachers of English as a foreign language  after a four-five year program with a curriculum which typically includes a knowledge base about the target language: applied linguistics, phonology, grammar, literature, culture and civilization; a practical component related to how to teach English: methodology, assessment, teaching practice, a theoretical component regarding some basis of education: philosophy, psychology, anthropology and a component which aims at the proficient command of the target language.  All these elements have been in constant tension in the curriculum. However, there is a tendency to make language proficiency the core of the EFL teacher education in Chile, very similar to what is happening in other countries where nonnative speakers are trained to be teachers of English to speakers of other languages (TESOL teachers) (Kamhi- Stein 2004, 2009).

Pre-service teachers of English enrol in initial teacher programs with their own beliefs about learning and teaching a foreign language.  Preservice teachers’ beliefs have been constructed throughout their lives and experiences and social interactions as school students in which they have had at least eight years of English instruction two hours a week. In spite of all the hours of English classes, these student teachers start their education with a very little command of the foreign language; therefore these student teachers experience the challenge of their own language learning.

Pre-Service teachers start their journey to become teachers bringing in their own beliefs about learning and teaching based on their own experiences of learning English at school. These beliefs are contrasted with the specific social context they become part of, i.e., the Initial teacher education program they are enrolled in. This program would have beliefs and knowledge as a goal to transfer to student teachers; teacher educators surely hold their own beliefs as well. All these elements interact and contribute to the shaping of teachers understanding of language teaching(Karen E Johnson, 2009).

My research will also address these secondary questions:

  1. Are student teachers’ beliefs about language teaching and learning psychological/conceptual tools that mediate preservice teachers’ learning?
  2. How are preservice teachers’ beliefs developed and aligned in the activity of learning to teach?

My research  will be illuminated by the tenets of  Cultural Historical activity Theory. This theoretical framework would not only allow us to understand what teachers think, know and believe about language teaching, but would also explore the cultural and social context to which teachers belong  and the relations they have with the community. This lens would provide me with the tools to analyse the activity.

1. What are the

a. Objects that motivate the activity of learning how to teach EFL?

b. Tools that mediate the activity of learning how to teach EFL?

c. Rules that regulate actions and interactions of activity of learning how to teach EFL

d. The division of labour (roles, responsiblities) in the activity?

e. The outcomes of the activity ?

2. What are the contradictions within this activity?

am I  still lost?

About Malba Barahona

Educational researcher, language educator. PhD from Australian National University. Passionate bushwalker and mountain lover. I procrastinate reading fiction, hiking, doing yoga, riding, having a beer and more recently decolonizing my existence. I write in English and Spanish in different blogs especially with the purpose of encouraging my students to write.

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