From defining the educational challenge to sustainable changes in teacher behaviour: Professionalising teachers of English in the Netherlands in the field of teaching English pronunciation

Frans Hermans

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral ThesisThesis 1: fully internal

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    Research showed that teachers are the most important external influence on student achievement (Darling-Hammond, 2000; Marzano, 2003, Hattie & Timperley, 2007;Hattie, 2009; Van Veen et al., 2010). It seems worthwhile to invest in teacher quality and nowadays a variety of teacher professional development (TPD) programmes is offered,from one-day workshops to programmes that involve teachers in a cycle of inquiry based learning, which might run for several years. Some programmes offer specific subject-content knowledge, some pedagogical-content knowledge and others combine both. Sometimes the focus is on developing individual teachers’ skills and sometimes collaboration is the main focus.Although plenty of research papers on TPD programmes have indicated positive effects on teacher skills, fewer have taken into account the effect on student achievement. The sustainable effects of a TPD programme is seldom the topic of a research paper. Teachers might consider a TPD programme to be successful and an enhanced teacher self-efficacy should not to be underestimated, but ultimately, we want TPD programmes to have a positive influence on student achievements, and that for a longer period that the running time of a TPD programme.Next to that it is very important to find out what it is that makes teachers change their teaching behaviour and what motivates them to copy and embed aspects of a TPD programme in their day-to-day teaching practice. Based on knowledge about how teachers learn and what makes them change their teaching ideas, TPD programmes might become more efficient and successful, as developers are aware of which contexts are most effectively influencing the teacher learning process.In this research we focused on the full spectrum of teacher professional development,from the initial stages of defining the educational challenge and developing and testing a teaching tool, to finding proof of sustainable changes in teacher behaviour and classroom practices.We were particularly interested in the experiences of teachers who participated in a two year running TPD programme and we studied the influence of the TPD programme on teacher behaviour. Why and how were they motivated (intrinsically versus extrinsically)to take part in the TPD programme? How did participation change their teaching perspective? We were interested in their motivation (and intention) to embed the new TPD programme’s aspects in their day-to-day teaching practice. We also wanted to find out whether they felt more skilled to teach English pronunciation (enhanced self-efficacy). We were particularly interested in the aspects of the programme teachers consider to be most important and the aspects that influenced their teaching behaviour and beliefs. All of these aspects are important to determine what causes a teacher his teaching behaviour. Even proof of better student achievements after a post intervention test does not always cause teachers to change their teaching practice. If self-efficacy is not enhanced and teachers feel insecure about teaching according to new ideas, or if new ideas ask for more preparation time and the programme does not meet the teachers’ expectations, they might revert to old teaching habits. The success of a TPD programme (better student achievements) will only last a short period of time if teachers’needs are not addressed. So chapter 4 focuses on our research question:Can we provide evidence of teacher professional development by involving teachers in practice in which they implement and test a new teaching design?All the teachers who took part in the first test phase were invited to take part in a semi- structured interview. The interview questions allowed the teachers to narrate their thoughts on the teaching topic (teaching English pronunciation), their former teaching activities concerning teaching English pronunciation, using the new teaching design and their own professional development. We focused specifically on the topic of teacher professional development.In order to measure teachers’ motivation to use the CAPTT we used a measure that was derived from the Perceived Locus of Causality measure (PLOC) of Ryan and Connell(1989). We refer to this as the adapted PLOC measure or for short: a-PLOC. This measure assesses different types of motivation that regulate behaviour as defined by the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) of Ryan and Deci (2000).The data from the interviews showed that 70 % of the teachers embedded aspects of the professional development programme in their teaching practice. The results from the a-PLOC indicated that teachers were intrinsically and extrinsically motivated to use the CAPTT or its pedagogy in their classroom practice.In chapter 5 we revisited the schools that were involved in the TPD programme a year after the programme had ended, in order to find out what elements of the TPD programme were still used in the teachers’ classroom practice. Our research question was: What evidence can we provide of sustainable change in teacher behaviour and classroom practice that results from a TPD programme?We looked for signs of changes in the teachers’ behaviour, beliefs, intentions, and classroom practice. Once again we conducted semi-structured interview with the focus on teacher classroom practice. Again, we used a measure that was derived from the Perceived Locus of Causality measure (PLOC) of Ryan and Connell (1989) to find out whether there were any changes in the intrinsic and extrinsic motivation of teachers to use the pedagogy tested in the TPD programme. Aspects of the TPD programme were summed up in a questionnaire (4 point scale) to find out how many aspects of the TPD programme were still present in the teaching of teachers who were involved in the programme and how often these aspects occurred in their classroom practice a year after rounding off the TPD-programme. Not only the teachers involved in the programme were asked to fill in the questionnaire, but also a group of teachers who were not involved,in order to find out if there was a significant difference in the way English pronunciation was taught between the two groups of teachers. A similar questionnaire was presented to the students of both groups of teachers in order to find out if the students’ perception of pronunciation teaching aspects correlated with the teachers’ facilitating perception concerning their own classroom practice. The group of the teachers involved in the TPD programme and the group of students of those teachers both identified significantly more TPD aspects present in the classroom practice a year after the TPD programme had ended. This indicates the sustainability of some of the TPD programme’s aspects.In chapter 5 we further studied the contexts that caused teachers to change their teaching behaviour (Tymperley et al., 2007), but we also looked for demotivating aspects which caused teachers to ignore new ideas or revert to old teaching habits. Our research question for this aspect was:What conditions provide teachers with the best opportunities to learn and sustainably change their classroom practice?The results led to the following suggested ranking order of important contexts for effective teacher professional development:1: challenging prevailing discourses 2: consistency with wider trends in policy and research 3: active school leadership 4: teacher’s engagement 5: external expertise 6: extended time for learning opportunities 7: participation in professional communities of practice.Defining the educational challenge that determined the context for our TPD programme was initialised by the first stakeholder: the teacher training college of the Fontys University of Applied Sciences in Sittard, the Netherlands. Year after year remedial pronunciation teaching was required to bring the student-teachers of English to an acceptable near native level of English pronunciation. Many of the first-year student-teachers failed their pronunciation tests and struggled with typical difficulties Dutch learners of English face when speaking English. In chapter 2 we visited secondary schools to find out what pronunciation error types were most common and frequent among third year students who followed the highest level within the Dutch secondary educational system (VWO) and third year pupils following a bilingual course with more EFL lessons and other subjects than English, taught in English too. Our research question was:Which pronunciation mistakes are still prominently present in students’ English pronunciation after two years of secondary education and after finishing secondary education in the Netherlands?Pupils were recorded while speaking English and the sound data was analysed. The same procedure was applied to third year bachelor students from all over the Netherlands,who studied anything but English. The sound data was analysed and compared. After analysis six error type categories were ranked with error type category one being the most difficult pronunciation aspect for Dutch speakers of English. This was the starting point for defining the educational challenge: improving pupils’ and students’ English pronunciation skills in these six error type categories.In chapter 3 the process of developing a computer assisted pronunciation teaching tool (CAPTT) is described. Taking into account the hesitations teachers, students and even school staff members might have with using ICT in the classroom, a website focusing on the six error type categories was designed, with a teacher and a student access. Teachers were provided with background materials on phonetics and phonology, and students were trained by means of recording tasks and sample videos. Our research question was:Is there a change in the number of pronunciation mistakes Dutch learners of English make in the error type categories selected, before and after working with the CAPTT?Teachers were asked to use the teaching tool in their classroom practice, following a strict procedure. Before using the CAPPT students and pupils (from now on referred to as “students”) took a pre-intervention test. Students were recorded reading out a pre-structured text and those recordings were analysed to find out how many mistakes in the six error type categories were made. The same procedure was followed in a post-intervention test (after working with the CAPTT in class). The post-intervention test showed significant student improvement in five of the six error type categories.Chapter 6, presents a general discussion of the findings of this research. We focus on the most important contexts for teacher professional development and the demotivating aspects causing teachers to ignore new ideas. We also discuss the limitations of this research and the need for further research into matters of scaling up a TPD programme’s positive effects and the necessity of monitoring the sustainability of such a programme over time.
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Sloep, Peter, Supervisor
    • Kreijns, Karel, Co-supervisor
    Award date29 Jun 2018
    Place of PublicationHeerlen
    Print ISBNs9789492739124
    Publication statusPublished - 29 Jun 2018


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