Practices in young children’s foreign language classrooms: a Colombian-Australian comparison

2017-01-31T04:19:26Z (GMT) by Mantilla, Ana Cristina
This thesis describes instructional practices in foreign language classrooms for young children in one private school in Australia and one private school in Colombia, between October and December 2008. The aim of the study was to describe everyday lessons and investigate patterns of similarities and variations in classroom practices across the two contexts. Observations (with and without a video camera) were conducted of four teachers as they taught French (in Australia) and in English (in Colombia) across a total of seven classrooms for children aged between three and six years. Each teacher was also interviewed, and documents (including teachers’ notes and planning material, and guidelines for foreign language programmes and school curricula) were examined. A transformation of participation perspective (Rogoff, 1995, 1998, 2003) was employed as an important and new theoretical informant to the field of Second Language Acquisition, allowing investigation of practices in relation to the contributions of the classroom participants and the ongoing – and changing – influences of the wider institutions of which they are a part. This perspective was applied throughout the study, which also relied on a case study research strategy for the design of the research fieldwork and methods. The thesis argues that classroom activities are an appropriate unit of analysis for the study of foreign language classroom practices and provides a rich description of these activities. This study shows that there were multiple patterns of similarities – and only one variation - across contexts, with teachers employing common aims for activities (to teach, balance lessons and celebrate), a limited use of space and resources, and a transmission model of instruction, but a difference in the consistency of the teachers’ use of their first and second languages. Because of the lack of contrast between two (intentionally chosen) alternative linguistic scenarios, the thesis turns to an investigation of the cultural and pedagogical practices of schooling, including the Accelerative Integrated Method, immersion and the Primary Years Programme used variously in the two settings, and shows how reflection on these institutions provides an explanation for the regularities in classroom practices found in the study. The thesis argues that young children have been given no voice, both in the literature on second language acquisition and in actual practices within lessons. Children (especially those in the pre-school years) have been mostly omitted from the literature or considered as not having sufficient language knowledge to significantly contribute to lessons. Similarly in everyday classrooms, the pervasiveness of traditional modes of schooling, as well as the beliefs and lack of support given by programmes and curriculums to foreign language teachers, strengthens their positioning as passive learners. The thesis concludes by suggesting possibilities for further research, arguing that without more rigorous research on classroom practices with a sociocultural framework, there will be no significant development in our understanding of young children’s foreign language learning in classroom settings.