Learning to Teach Languages: An 18-Month Longitudinal Study of Two New Language Teachers in a New Zealand Primary Context

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

Several researchers (East, 2007, 2008; Villers, Tolosa & East, 2010) have identified a shortage of language teachers in New Zealand as a main limitation in the enactment of a learning area devoted to the learning of additional languages in the New Zealand curriculum (Ministry of Education, 2007). Thus it is important to consider the range of ways in which language teachers learn to teach languages in the New Zealand context. This article reports on an 18 month longitudinal study of two New Zealand language teachers in primary settings, reflecting on the reported process of teachers learning to teach languages. Over an 18 month period, three semi-structured interviews were conducted with each participant (six in total) and these transcripts were then analysed in terms of the place of context in the change of teacher practice across the first 18 months of teaching, with particular consideration of the language/earning context in the New Zealand curriculum. The contrast between the two contexts the participants found themselves in provides a useful platform for the discussion of factors supporting the teaching of languages in primary settings.

Key Words

language teacher education, longitudinal study, sociocultural theory, New Zealand primary school education, language learning curriculum

INTRODUCTION

Reflecting the change in predominant research paradigms in the educational arena over the last few decades, our understanding of what it means to educate future language teachers has moved from a positivist paradigm based on theoretical readings and lectures concerning language structures and theories of language acquisition to an interpretive paradigm that 'focuses on what teachers know, honours what they know, and helps them to clarify and resolve the dilemmas they face' (Johnson, 2009, p. 9). This sociocultural perspective of additional language teacher education is based on the notion that it is being a participant in classroom and school contexts that leads to the knowledge, thinking and understanding necessary for being a language teacher. The study of what teachers think, know and believe (known as language teacher cognition) is central to this approach to language teacher education, and Borg (2009a) notes that it was not until the mid-1990s that the area of language teacher cognition was established as an important area of research affecting understanding of language teaching.

In an overview of research conducted in this area, Borg identifies the need for research concerning language teacher cognition in contexts other than the United States, Hong Kong, the United Kingdom and Australia, and the need for longitudinal studies of the process of language teacher education, with a particular need for studies of cognitive change in in-service teachers. The present study aims to contribute to these areas, by presenting a qualitative longitudinal study of two New Zealand pre-service teachers through the first 18 months of their work as in-service generalist primary teachers. Before the details of the methodology used are presented, information concerning the learning and teaching of additional languages in the New Zealand school system are discussed, and a background to the present study is provided.

NEW ZEALAND LANGUAGE LEARNING CONTEXT

Children in New Zealand are required to attend school between the ages of six and sixteen years, although most children start at Year 0 when they are five years of age. There is a range of possible configurations of this schooling. Years 1 to 8 are considered primary years, and may be received in either a full primary, or a primary school from Years 1 to 6 and an intermediate school in Years 7 and 8. Years 7 and 8 can also be received in a secondary school, which may encompass Years 7-13 or, more commonly, Years 9-13. There are state (government) school options, as well as independent, integrated (a school which used to be private but is now in the state system, teaches the New Zealand curriculum, but retains its own special character often related to religious or philosophical beliefs [Valentine, 2013]), special, home schooling and distance schooling options (Spence, 2004). …