Language teaching as activity: a sociocultural perspective on second language teacher practice

2017-02-08T03:58:48Z (GMT) by Cross, Russell
Whereas the majority of second and foreign language education research to date has been concerned with the nature of language learning, the focus of this thesis is the practice of language teaching itself - cognizant of calls from the likes of Freeman and Johnson (1998, 2005), Shultz (2000), and others who have argued that "we [still] need to know more about language teachers: what they do, how they think, what they know, and how they learn" (Freeman & Richards, 1996 cited in Velez-Rendon, 2002, p. 465). Drawing on recent theoretical developments in the field of second language acquisition after Vygotsky (1978, 1987), this thesis presents an interpretive study of foreign language teaching in which teaching has been conceptualised as a "sociocultural activity" in the tradition of cultural-historic activity theory (Engestrom, 1987; Leontiev, 1981). The data for the study are case studies of teacher activity. The participants are four recent non-native language teacher graduates who teach Japanese in the middle years (i.e., Grades 7-9) of high school in Victoria, Australia. Using the Vygotskian concepts of genetic analysis and mediated activity, the study examines the nature of these teachers' activity with respect to the cultural-historic, ontogenetic, and microgenetic domains of analysis. Surprisingly, the analysis reveals that the participants in the study do not see themselves as being "language teachers". This is despite the fact they are all recent graduates of language teacher education programs and are positioned as the subject of an activity system that would suggest, notionally at least, that this is their classroom role. Consequently, the study also establishes that the activity of language teaching, at least in the context examined here, has very little to do with the goal of language teaching and the focus of second language teacher education; namely, the development of students' communicative competence in a target language (Savignon, 2005). However, having applied a genetic-analytical framework to the study of these teachers' activity, the study is able to provide an explanatory account of how and why the participants, in this context, have come to see themselves, what it is they do, and how they then make use of (or ignore) their past experience and knowledge to fulfil the outcome of an activity - as a "language teacher" - for something "other than" language teaching. The thesis concludes with a consideration of the implications of the analysis for the field of second language teacher education, as well as for second language teaching. In particular, it argues of the need to contexualise the knowledge base of second language teacher education by being more attentive to the broader social, cultural, and historic discourses that shape the contexts within which language teacher graduates are expected to apply that knowledge. Furthermore, the thesis also argues of the need to address the nature of contexts for language teaching - both at the broader, cultural-historic level, as well as the micro genetic level of the classroom - to redress impediments that stand in the way of good practice.