Date of Award

2020

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

First Advisor

Dr Janet Hunter

Second Advisor

Dr Rosemary J Allen

Abstract

In response to the pressing demand for English as an international lingua franca for socio-economic development, the Vietnamese government has recently undertaken the reform of foreign language education through the National Foreign Language 2020 Project. As part of this reform, English classes have been made compulsory from year 3 of primary school and a new English syllabus was introduced. An English textbook series for primary education was developed, based on a communicative language teaching approach, focussed on developing speaking and listening components and featured tasks reflecting child-focussed methods. Given training courses and seminars on the new curriculum and textbooks, primary English language teachers were put under pressure to implement the new syllabus and pedagogy, so that ELT changes would happen in primary schools across Vietnam.

This multiple case study investigated how primary language teachers enacted the new English curriculum and its suggested pedagogy to develop learners’ oral English competence. Five English language teachers from three teaching contexts were involved as the cases of the study. The three research sites included one city school, one outskirts school, and two remote schools located in three provinces in the north mountainous region of Vietnam. At each site, data were collected through structured observations, analysis of teaching materials, and interviews with teachers and their students. A case-by-case analysis was undertaken, then findings were compared through a cross-case analysis to answer the research questions.

Findings of the study indicated surface changes of English language teaching, but critical issues remaining at the deep level of the enactment of the pedagogies required. At the surface level, the primary language teachers across the three teaching contexts gained some knowledge of the new curriculum and teaching methods required after professional training courses. The study also found that primary ELT content and materials were consistent and child-focused across the different contexts of the case studies. This might have been a result of the teachers’ strong assumption that textbooks should drive the teaching. However, there was little evidence that teachers fully understood the intentions of the new curriculum and textbooks; and enacted the materials with pedagogical changes as expected. Analysis of classroom data showed that the quality of CLT practice and child-focused tasks promoted by the English language textbooks was generally poor. The study findings indicate that this lack of quality was related to the teachers’ lack of understanding of a CLT approach in practice and how to apply appropriate methods to teach ESL to young learners. It was also evident that the spoken English competence of the participating teachers, despite some improvement because of the reform process, remained inadequate to support teaching in English and conducting highly interactive CLT activities. Finally, the study identified factors that would support teachers in the implementation process including in-service training courses, new child-friendly textbook and electronic materials, and a few teaching facilities in schools. Those constraining teachers’ practice of the new pedagogies included the preservation of educational norms on language classes, such as teacher-centred approach, textbook driven teaching, centralising classroom management and noise intolerance. The teachers also reported other restraints, such as lack of ELT expertise supports, or lack of teaching aids to assist the teaching of English communicatively to young learners.

The study identified core competences which would enable EFL teachers to implement a CLT syllabus. These are presented as a model which highlights the importance of a high level of spoken English language competence for EFL teachers. The other three areas of competence are knowledge of the subject, of the learners, and about the teaching method proposed by ESL literature.

The study is significant in providing suggestions for Vietnamese ELT reform based on research evidence of classroom teaching practice. It is also worth presenting voices from teacher-implementers to Vietnamese top-down policy makers of what worked and what needed further actions.

Available for download on Friday, July 14, 2023

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