Second Language Acquisition Courses and Student Teachers' Values. (Language Teaching & Learning)

Article excerpt

Abstract

Many student teachers doubt the relevance of second language acquisition to the language classroom. This paper investigates the ways in which SLA courses can be justified in terms of whether they influence the views of students teachers. We found the SLA course influenced some, but not all, views of the student teacher. We suggest that the variation in the changes of the SLA may reflect the way students teachers perceive the knowledge of SLA that they bring to the course and that this is best understood within a framework which sees SLA courses as a means of facilitating interaction between the views and knowledge of students teachers and of the views of knowledge of researchers in SLA.

Introduction

The contribution of Second Language Acquisition (SLA) research to English language teaching and to teacher education is not straightforward (Ellis, 1997; Lightbown, 1985). While the intention of SLA research is to improve language pedagogy (Ellis, 1997 p. 69), and most SLA researchers have at some time been language teachers (Tarone et al, 1976 p. 19), SLA courses on teacher education programmes are often said to be either excessively theoretical (Brown, 1983 p. 53; Brumfit, 1983 p. 59; Lightbown, 1985 p. 183) or not `relevant' to what goes on in the classroom (Eykin in Markee, 1997 p.80; Lynch, 1997 p.317). This partly reflects the nature of educational research. For example, in a review of fifty examples of SLA research, it emerged that only fifteen were actually carried out in authentic language classrooms (Nunan, 1991 p. 5). Thus, Krashen(1983 p. 255) has concluded that theory is "rejected by most language teachers"

This division between theory and practice has been echoed by many of the undergraduates and postgraduates studying with the authors on programmes in TESOL. Our student teachers pride themselves on their pragmatism, just wanting to `get on with the job' of learning how to teach in the classroom. In keeping with a majority of similar programmes (Ellis, 1997 p. 70), our programme contains an SLA course. We find that our student teachers' pragmatism mitigates against the theory and research aspects of SLA. Here are examples of the sort of feedback we have been receiving over the years both orally and, here, from the students' written evaluation forms on our courses in SLA:

() This course was much more theoretical than I am used to.

() This course gave me information overload -- I was not sure how it fitted into the classroom.

() There is an imbalance between theory and practice.

() Too many theories.

These views are not limited to our own students. So Markee says

   ... from the perspective of practising foreign language teachers, Second
   Language Acquisition research is rarely worth reading because the ideas
   researchers discuss are too distant from teachers' everyday classroom
   concerns (1997 p. 80)

Similarly Lynch (1997 p. 317) states

   Many, perhaps most, language teachers regard research into language
   acquisition and language learning as remote and irrelevant.

However, there is a paradox here. While many student teachers appear to reject theory; at the same time many of them appear to expect from a course "instant panaceas, rigid rules of thumb, clear statements of practice, and absolute generalisations (Brumfit, 1983 p. 60)" or "definitions, rules, absolutes"(Brown, 1983 p. 54). Where else can this come but from theory? Krashen states: "Given a brief workshop or inservice, the most practical, most valuable information we can provide [teachers] is a coherent view of how language is acquired, a theory of second language acquisition" (1983 p. 281 in Markee, 1997 p. 87). Perhaps it is not that we are giving our student teachers too much theory; but rather we are not giving them the right theory, or addressing the right issues (Wright, 1992 p. 189).

There is also a more abstract debate about the relationship between theories and classroom practice. …