Teacher cognition of grade 8 teachers on teaching speaking in English as a foreign language in The Faroe Islands and its impact on teachers’ pedagogical praxis: seven case studies
Teaching is influenced by myriad factors and a significant player in this context is the teacher and his/her cognition. Teacher cognition is ‘the unobservable cognitive dimension of teaching – what teachers know, believe, and think’ (Borg, 2003). In recent decades, much research has been conducted on English as a foreign language teaching and teacher cognition, which continues to highlight the crucial significance of the role of teacher cognition in teaching.
Research in teacher cognition covers various aspects of teaching language and language skills, with grammar enjoying predominance, while language skills, particularly speaking and listening, play second fiddle. Teaching speaking in English as a foreign language is important as foreign language learners desire to learn to speak the language and use it actively to communicate with peers and others.
The purpose of my qualitative case study is to: glean teacher cognition about teaching speaking in English as a foreign language teaching of seven grade 8 teachers in The Faroe Islands; ascertain the impact of teacher cognition on their teaching speaking praxis; and attempt to identify the reflection of the ‘state of the art’ in teaching speaking in English as a foreign language. The case study attempts to identify themes and categorise teacher behaviour and events rather than testing theory or hypotheses. It is a collective parallel case study, where seven cases are viewed concurrently. This case study attempts to add to the significant and under-researched field of teacher cognition on teaching speaking.
Semi-structured interviews, questionnaires, observations and document analysis were used to elicit data to fulfil research aims. The results show that teacher cognition of grade 8 teachers does impact teaching speaking and congruence between the two appears to be the norm, with lesser representation of incongruence.
The congruence between teacher cognition and teaching speaking is a result of two factors: firstly, the strong influence of ‘apprenticeship of observation’ i.e. the influence of teachers’ personal experiences as students from years of school, university and teacher education, which influences the way they teach and think about teaching. Secondly, teacher interpretation of teaching speaking as facilitating student spoken performance in the classroom, i.e. ‘doing speaking’ instead of teaching speaking i.e. using specific strategies to teach students to speak.
The teacher education curriculum up to 2008 in the department of Education in The University of The Faroe Islands, to which most of the participants belong, did not include second language acquisition theories or language pedagogy. The incongruence therefore arises from the teachers functioning based on ‘apprenticeship of observation’ and experiential knowledge gleaned from teaching experience to create their models of teaching speaking. As for the post 2008 participants, new and inexperienced teachers are more likely to be concerned with classroom management before being able to practise subject pedagogy when teaching a language.
Though congruence predominates, there is minor incidence of incongruence between teacher cognition and teaching speaking, which may indicate the core-peripheral beliefs dichotomy. Core beliefs find expression in teaching and are chosen over peripheral beliefs, which account for the gap between cognition and teaching. Phipps and Borg (2009) posit that core beliefs are experience-based and tend to be more stable. They exert an influence greater than that of peripheral beliefs, which are theory-based and have not been tried and tested in practice by teachers to become part of the teaching repertoire. In the case of feedback, grade 8 teachers desist from using it actively as the core belief that feedback may discourage student participation in class overwhelms the peripheral belief about the usefulness of feedback for student learning.
The ‘Teaching-speaking cycle’ of Goh and Burns (2012) has been chosen to identify the reflection of the ‘state of the art’ in grade 8 praxis in teaching speaking. It subsumes earlier teaching speaking models and advocates a holistic approach to teaching speaking with specific activities to be carried out successively to promote the teaching of speaking. There is sporadic reflection of aspects of the model in grade 8 teaching speaking praxis, emphasising that there is ‘doing speaking’ i.e. opportunities for speaking rather than teaching speaking.
The study underlines the pivotal role of teacher education in equipping teachers for their profession and proactively helping pre-and post-service teachers to be critically self-aware of the influence of teacher cognition on their praxis. It pinpoints the importance of continued professional development for teachers during their careers and makes a case for educational research to impact teaching and make a difference in education.