Year

2018

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

Department

School of Education

Abstract

Over the past several decades, English has become a compulsory subject in primary, secondary, high school, and tertiary education in Vietnam. Despite its inclusion across multiple tiers of the Vietnamese education system, many Vietnamese learners of English have not acquired adequate language skills to become competent communicators of English (Nunan, 2003; Tien, 2013; Van, 2009). This may be attributed to teachers’ cognitions and practices, as what teachers believe and do in their classrooms ultimately impacts students’ learning (Helen, 2003). An increasing number of studies of teacher cognition in Vietnam have been conducted (Canh, 2011; Canh & Barnard, 2009; Hiep, 2007; Tran, 2015; Viet, 2013, 2014); however, these studies are targeted at more experienced teachers, giving little attention to novice teachers. There is a need to examine what novice teachers believe and practice in their classrooms because, as recent university graduates, they represent teachers who have received the most contemporary education in how to effectively teach EFL learners.

Guided by Borg’s (2015) language teacher cognition model and Shulman’s (1986, 1987) teachers’ knowledge categories as theoretical frameworks, this study investigates the relationship between the cognitions and practices of five novice EFL high school teachers in Vietnam and the influence of personal, situational and sociocultural factors on their cognitions and practices. Following a qualitative research approach, this study employed multiple methods of data collection including curriculum texts, interviews with teacher educators and school vice-principals, and classroom observations, as well as biographical and stimulated recall interviews with the novice teachers.

The findings reveal that personal, situational, and sociocultural factors have significant influence on the novice teachers’ cognitions and practices. Results indicate that the teachers struggled to find appropriate ways of teaching to meet the expectations of different stakeholders, namely language policy makers, teacher educators, colleagues and students. On one hand, the teachers tried to follow a communicative language teaching approach (CLT) (e.g. using games and the L2) as mandated in the curriculum, textbooks and teacher education. On the other hand, they experienced considerable difficulty in implementing many other important features of CLT into the classroom, due to classroom constraints such as pressures from their students, colleagues and examinations. In response to this dilemma, through their various choices in terms of game utilisation, activity selection, grammar instruction, and the use of the L1 and L2, the participating teachers tried to find a pedagogical compromise between teaching expectations, and what they perceived to be realistic for their students. Modifying lessons allowed the teachers to include some elements of CLT for their students but also left room for other components of form-focused teaching to help their students prepare for examinations. Nevertheless, due to the more immediate and pressing constraints in their teaching contexts, these compromises and modifications tended to gravitate more towards form-focused rather than communicative practice.

The results of this study offer several significant contributions to the understanding of novice teachers’ cognitions and practices in the context of Vietnam, which could be applied to similar contexts. Methodologically, with the inclusion of teachers’ biographies, this empirical study makes an important contribution to the literature on language teacher cognition research. Drawing on these findings, implications for theory, language policy, teacher education programs, schools and teachers are discussed.

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