- Højslet Nygaard, Sara (Project participant)
The PhD project takes its empirical point of departure in the Danish gymnasium reform from 2005 and the new demands and conditions it has raised for English teachers specifically in relation to the teaching of English grammar. The goals of the project are to qualitatively document tendencies in English grammar teaching and compare these with both theory and policy on the subject. What are the relations between the three dimensions (theory, policy, practice, see model below)? I.e. in what ways do they impact on each other, and in what ways are they disjunct? How do English teachers cope with both theoretical recommendations and political demands? And what can this tell us about the meanings and practices that attach to (and divide) teachers, pupils, classrooms, textbooks, research and policy documents in relation to English grammar teaching? Knowledge of this kind will be applicable both at gymnasium level in connection with e.g. in-service training and continuing education, and at university level in relation to the grammar teaching which future MAs in English receive.
I propose a new way of researching grammar teaching which is grounded in interaction (practice dimension), which considers the regulating frames that teachers have to act within (policy dimension), and which addresses theory on the subject in a critical manner as well, asking what can be learned when looking the other way around too, i.e. not only from theory to practice, but just as much from practice to theory (theory dimension).
My approach to language is a functional one. I take up a sociocultural position in which language is understood as social action, and focus is on the interpersonal dimension of teaching and learning (as opposed to an intrapersonal, cognitive one). However, I also go beyond the sociocultural approach and argue for not viewing language as having priority over other types of social actions. I thus position myself interdisciplinarily within the PhD research programme that my project is part of, focusing theoretically and empirically on grammar teaching and using iicroethnography and embodied interaction analysis to do this. Several elements in my approach suggest the newness compared to traditional SLA research on grammar instruction:
- 1. Thinking in terms of relations between theory, policy and practice.
- 2. Addressing practice as interaction, as social action, not just as language use (much recent work within SLA has begun to add a practice dimension, but by means of doing conversation analysis of everyday speech).
- 3. Bringing new analytical tools to the field in terms of embodied interaction analysis and microethnographic analysis.
Both methodologically and in terms of concrete methods I take point of departure in my research problem, not in any analytical approach per se. I am aware of the fact that such an eclectic methodological approach demands a critical discussion of compatibility. Just as it demands awareness of my own role as researcher in the process. With regard to the analytical approaches that I borrow from, these are also founded on a sociocultural understanding of language (but not on that exclusively) and therefore meta-theoretically cohere. With regard to my own role as a researcher, I argue for reflexive and contextualised research. Reflexivity in this sense has two interrelated meanings. It means first that explicit reflections are made on all levels of the research process and is as such the thing which ensures transparency and reliability. Second, it means that I regard my analysis as interpretative and therefore as open, dynamic and subject to change.
In the following I explain in more detail how I approach each dimension.
Theoretically, point of departure is taken in the grammar instruction debate which exists within the SLA field. This debate concerns if and how grammar should be taught in second -and foreign language teaching. SLA grammar instruction research is typically focused on learning, where different teaching methods are evaluated, most often in quasi-experimental studies, in order to say something about the effect on second language learning. In comparison with this, both my subject of study as well as my perspective on this is different from traditional research within SLA. My focus is not on learning, but on teaching practices (not that learning and teaching are not connected, or ideally should be), with the purpose of investigating how English grammar teaching takes place in practice - with specific teachers in situated interaction with specific students in specific real-life contexts. This investigation is meant to create a practice platform from which to look critically at the above mentioned theory as well as on the ministerial guidelines that the teachers have access to.
In this way, theory on grammar instruction constitutes both the background theory and one of the three dimensions of data and analysis in the project. This double role of grammar instruction theory is acknowledged in the structuring of the literary review. In selecting the texts and studies to be presented and in thematically synthesizing their findings, I pay particular attention to the way the studies have been conducted. I use this structuring as the analytical strategy here in order to eventually be able to discuss my findings, based on a new methodological approach to the subject, in relation to ‘what is already there', i.e. the background theory.
The policy dimension of the project is constituted by a collected corpus of guidelines from the Ministry of Education. The guidelines consist of teaching plans and guides to teaching plans. The former exist as appendices to the executive order on gymnasium education. This means that the teaching plans are binding for the teaching and for the exams. The guides to the teaching plans are the ministry's attempt to provide teachers with inspiration and advice to be used in the planning of their teaching. These guidelines serve as the ministry's tools for development of the education and are therefore revised whenever it is felt needed.
In terms of analysis, I approach the corpus with the theory dimension in mind. This means that my intention with the policy dimension is to analyse the relations between the ministerial guidelines and the theoretical discussions and recommendations. I conduct the analysis from a CDA perspective (critical discourse analysis) as I find that such a perspective usefully opens up a line of critical inquiry. It allows me to ask questions such as what is there?, what is not there?, how did the documents come into being?, how is grammar teaching positioned?, how is the teacher positioned?, etc. and at the same time ground these questions in close linguistic analysis.
In terms of the practice dimension, my empirical approach is funnel-shaped in that I have firstly (after pilot observations and interviews) conducted a questionnaire among gymnasium teachers in English (with the gymnasium reform and grammar teaching as the main topics). Second, I have selected four English teachers whose teaching makes out the fundament in four ethnographically based case studies. In the case studies I focus on various data types such as field observations, video recordings of class room teaching, interviews with the teachers as well as material used in class. The questionnaire has worked as an entrance into the field empirically, whereas the case studies and the different data types they yield are the subject of detailed analysis. Here, I am arguing for an interactional, situational and contextual approach to grammar teaching practices. To meet this position methodologically, I combine microethnography and embodied interaction analysis in my data construction and analysis.
Hence, not only grammar instruction, but also the concept and phenomena of interaction is looked at from an SLA-alternative angle in the sense that my methodology presumes a fundamentally different understanding and weighting of interaction than in the traditional SLA approach. I do not see interaction simply as oral communication meant to improve the language learner's ‘output', but rather as the way in which participants in the interaction orient towards each other and thereby continuously co-construct and re-co-construct the context in which they interact, at the same time as that context influences their interaction. In such an action and place perspective, interaction in a real-life context becomes the basic starting point of the analysis. It is by looking at the actual embodied interaction in the classroom that I am able to say something about teaching practices in English grammar. Again, the intention is not only to look at teaching practices per se, but to understand these in relation to both the theoretical and the political dimension (cf. the practice platform mentioned above).
Main supervisor: Paul McIlvenny, AAU
Co-supervisor: Hanne Leth Andersen, CBS
|Period||01-11-06 → …|
|Research programme||<ingen navn>|