Date of Award

2022

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

School

School of Education

First Advisor

Christine Cunningham

Second Advisor

Annamaria Paolino

Abstract

Vietnam has been attempting to build its English learners’ communicative abilities to improve the country’s competitiveness in the global market. As a result, English language Teaching (ELT) reforms have been introduced in the educational system. Part of the reforms involves the implementation of mandatory primary English education following the Communicative Language Teaching approach (CLT) despite a difficult history of CLT implementation in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) contexts. Primary English teachers have been a critical challenge for the success of a communicative curriculum in Vietnam. Teachers’ CLT understanding and pedagogies from a socio-cultural perspective have been underresearched, especially those in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta region. In addressing this gap, this qualitative research, grounded in the Constructivist approach, aimed to explore how primary English teachers in the Vietnamese Mekong Delta understood and implemented CLT in their classrooms from a socio-cultural perspective. The research project targeted all public school primary English teachers in Phase 1 in one school district in the region through the use of an online questionnaire. Twenty-eight teachers participated in this phase, from whom eight were then purposively selected to voluntarily participate further in Phase 2. The purposive sampling was aimed to select a good representation of primary English teachers in the district regarding their genders, qualifications, training, and teaching experiences. Data collection for Phase 2 involved pre-observation interviews with individual teachers, in-class observations, and post-observations interviews with the use of stimulated video recall sessions. The major findings showed that there were misconceptions and/or contradictions in teachers’ activity systems. Teachers did not understand CLT theory and practice, or their understanding was incomplete. Although they claimed they taught in the direction of CLT, their actual pedagogies featured traditional approaches with a focus on teaching language forms and vocabulary and with excessive use of techniques from the Audiolingual Method, the PPP model, and the Grammar-Translation Method. The findings also revealed that teachers’ practices were driven by contextual factors such as Vietnamese educational traditions, needs from their ecological school communities, and their lack of sufficient and proper training of CLT pedagogies. Finally, teachers perceived both challenges and opportunities in moving towards communicationoriented language teaching. Proper and sufficient assistance needed to be provided to empower primary English teachers to fulfill the government’s goals in building students’ communicative abilities. Some of the assistance consisted of, but not limited to, ELT policy significant changes or adjustments, teachers’ professional development, improving teaching and learning conditions, and especially teachers’ agentic power to act towards desired goals. The research implies that a top-down ELT policy without involving and informing by all stakeholders will not work successfully and effectively. Another implication is that those who have direct influence on teachers, e.g., local educational officials and school leaders, will be able to shape their practices. Finally, the research implies that a pure version of Westernbased CLT cannot work well in the socio-cultural context of Vietnam without significant changes in the culturally embedded educational traditions.

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