Academic journal article The English Teacher

Exploring Teachers' Beliefs in Teaching Grammar

Academic journal article The English Teacher

Exploring Teachers' Beliefs in Teaching Grammar

Article excerpt

Introduction

The teaching of the English language subject in the Malaysian education system has always been the subject of scrutiny over the years as observed in Musa, Koo and Azman (2012), Koo (2008), Ting (2007), Hassan and Selamat (2002), Ratnavadivel (1999), Asraf (1996) and, Gaudart (1987), just to name a few. The current state of English language proficiency among students and school leavers from the Malaysian public school education system has never failed to stir up strong responses from concerned Malaysians. There are many aspects that may have influenced the decision making process of teachers who are teaching grammar in their English as a Second Language (ESL) classrooms. One of the key aspects is the ESL teachers' beliefs which have developed throughout their years of teaching the English language in the classroom.

Though ESL teachers are often scrutinized for their teaching approaches, more recently, researchers like Borg (1998) have noted that little attention was given to "second language (L2) teachers' perceptions of the role of grammar teaching in their work and to the manner in which instructional decisions regarding grammar teaching are informed by teachers' personal pedagogical systems" (p. 10). Teacher beliefs are important as emphasized by Richards and Lockhart (1994) who state that "what the teachers know and believe" as well as "teacher-knowledge and teacher-thinking" provide "the underlying framework or schemata which guides the teachers' classroom actions" (p. 29). A quick look at past studies in Malaysia has also shown the lack of studies conducted to find out the beliefs of ESL teachers pertaining to the teaching of grammar. Burgess and Etherington (2002) note the apparent situation of the teachers' individual context in their decision making as one of the major determiners for the kind of teaching that will take place. Therefore, it is important to study the aspect of the beliefs which influence teacher classroom decisions.

Researchers in ESL such as Ellis (1998) and Pajares (1992) have addressed the lack of research that explores the teachers' beliefs involving the process of decision-making in teaching grammar. Even though there may be other variables mentioned in this paper, the paper will only report on the finding of the study that explored ESL teachers' beliefs in teaching grammar in Malaysian secondary classrooms in relation to the teachers' years of teaching experience. The goal of this study is to take a closer look at their beliefs, as well as to explore the way beliefs influenced grammar teaching in their ESL classroom and focus on how they may differ among teachers with different years of teaching experience. Hence the two major questions examined in this study are:

1. Do teachers with different years of teaching experience express differences in beliefs in the teaching of grammar?

2. What beliefs regarding the teaching of grammar are favoured by teachers grouped according to their years of teaching experience?

The paper will also discuss, in general, the factors that influenced ESL teachers' beliefs and the implications of these findings for teacher education.

Background

Throughout the years, the attempts to study the beliefs of the in-service ESL teachers in Malaysia in grammar classroom instruction have been few. In 2006, Borg, discussed the lack of explicit discussion in the study of beliefs which he considers to be different from the study of related psychological constructs such as knowledge, conceptions and attitudes. The lack of studies in this particular area in the Malaysian education system prevents educators and researchers alike from a good source of reference. As Richards (1998, pp. 51-52) acknowledges, "the teachers' belief systems are stable sources of reference which are built gradually over the years they are teaching and are related to the teaching dimensions such as the teachers' theory of language, the nature of language teaching, the role of the teacher, effective teaching practices and teacher-student relations. …

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