Theory Meets Practice: A Case Study of Preservice World Language Teachers in U.S. Secondary Schools

Article excerpt

Abstract:

This case study looked at the transition of preservice teachers from world language education methods courses at a major U.S. university to a 5-week field experience in secondary school classrooms. Data included lesson plans and self-critiques of two lessons implemented during the field experience, world language teaching philosophies the preservice teachers wrote, e-mail correspondence between the preservice teachers and their supervisor reflecting on the field experience, a final reflection paper, and responses to an open-ended survey after completion of the field experience. Analysis of the data served to identify three teacher profiles: the communicative (CLT) teacher, the grammar-translation teacher, and the hybrid teacher (a mix of the two other profiles). The article concludes with discussion of the findings and their implications for university methods courses, field experiences, and professional development.

Key words: communicative language teaching (CLT), field experience, foreign language teaching, preservice teachers, university methods instruction

Language: Relevant to all languages

Introduction and Overview

If world language education programs in U.S. secondary schools are to attain the communicative goals reflected in the Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century (National Standards, 1999), preservice teachers in university methods courses must learn to use a communicative approach to language teaching (Berns, 1984, 1990; Finocchiaro & Brumfit, 1983; Lee & VanPatten, 1995; Nunan, 1991; Savignon, 2002; Thompson, 1996). Communicative language teaching (CLT) represents an approach to instruction in language classrooms that promotes communicative competence (CC) (Canale, 1983; Canale & Swain, 1980; Savignon, 1972, 1983, 1997). World language preservice teachers, university students who are preparing to become teachers, should be familiar with theory and research on second language acquisition (SLA) as they relate to the classroom context. Most important, however, in order for theory to meet practice in world language education, preservice teachers need to be given the opportunity in their methods courses and field experiences to implement lessons that reflect the principles of CLT. The main objective of this interpretive case study was to examine the effects of the methods course on the preservice teachers' classroom instruction during the field experience. To better understand what happens when preservice teachers who have completed a university methods course with a focus on CLT begin teaching in their subsequent field experience, the study addressed the following research questions: (1) What specific methods of teaching do the preservice teachers use during their field experience? (2) To what extent, if any, do the theory and research that the preservice teachers study during the methods course influence their classroom practice in the field experience? (3) What implications can be drawn as to what it will take for CLT to be implemented in a meaningful and lasting way in world language classrooms? Definitions of the terms communicative competence and communicative language teaching are followed by a description of the context and design of the study, including data collection and analysis procedures. Triangulation of multiple sources of data was used to establish internal validity of findings (Denzin, 1970, 1978; Denzin & Lincoln, 1998, 2003; Merriam, 2002a). Composite narratives then served to characterize three profiles of preservice teachers that emerged from the various data sources. Following an analysis and discussion of these narratives, implications are drawn for university methods courses, field experiences, and professional development.

Communicative Competence and Communicative Language Teaching

As interest increased in CC in the 1970s, communicative language teaching came to be the term given to classroom instruction designed to develop students' communicative skills. …