Teachers’ Decision Making in EFL Classroom

An Empirical Study of Chinese TEL and Native English Teachers

Master's Thesis, 2017

114 Pages


Table of Contents




List of Abbreviations

Chapter One Introduction

Chapter Two Theoretical Background
2.1 Decision Making and Beliefs
2.2 Decision Making and Cognition
2.3 Decision Making and Experience
2.4 Decision Making and Context
2.5 Decision Making in Classroom Practice

Chapter Three Design of the Study
3.1 Research Questions
3.2 Data Sample
3.2.1 Teachers
3.2.2 Institutions
3.3 Data Collection Procedures
3.3.1 Pre-observation Interviews
3.3.2 Observations
3.3.3 After-class Interviews
3.3.4 Scheduled Interviews

Chapter Four Presentations of Data
4.1 Planning Decisions
4.2 Interactive Decisions

Chapter Five Data Analysis and Discussion

Chapter Six The Influential Factors of Teachers’ Decision Making
6.1 The Role of Teacher Beliefs in Pedagogic Decisions
6.2 The Role of Contextual Factors in Decision Making
6.2.1 Administrative2 Factors
6.2.2 Collegial Factors
6.2.3 Student Characteristics
6.3 The Role of Experience in Decision Making
6.4 The Role of Teacher Cognition in Decision Making
6.5 The Role of Cultural Factors in Decision Making

Chapter Seven The Soft Power of Instructional Decision
7.1 Decision Making and Soft Power
7.2 Teachers’ Decisions of Tasks and Participation Structure: Three Cases of
Real-World Practice
7.3. The Underlying Factors Affecting Decision-making Soft Power
7.3.1 Teacher’s Beliefs and Knowledge Shaping Decision-making Soft Power
7.3.2 Prior Experience Enhancing Decision- making Soft Power
7.3.3 Perceptions of the Context Facilitating Decision-making Soft Power
7.4 The Logicality of Teacher’s Decision Making and Soft Power

Chapter Eight Decision Making and Critical Discourse Analysis
8.1 The Critical Analysis of Teacher’s Classroom Decision Making
8.2 Micro Discourse Analysis of Teachers' Instructional Decisions
8.3 Macro Discourse Analysis of Teachers’ Decision Making





This book took almost one year to be completed. In the interim, many people gave me their assistance and wisdom. I am especially indebted to Professor Changyi Chen, my supervisor, without his foresight, support and inspiration, this research would have probably never happened. I also thank Professor Zongjie Wu and Aifeng Huang for providing me with the original idea of this theme in their classes. My appreciation also goes to Professor Gang Hong and Professor Benhu Wu for having taught me the knowledge of linguistics in their language classes during my studies in Zhejiang Normal University.

My thanks also go to the following native English teachers and friends for their participation in this study: John, David, Mrs. Loop, the couple Jon and Lynne, and five Chinese TEL. Without their help and encouraging comments, this research would not have been completed.

This research is funded by the Chinese Ministry of Education Humanities and Social Sciences Research Fund Project in the year 2013 “A Comparative Study of Instructional Decision Making between Chinese TEL and Native English teachers” (13YJC740142).


This research attempts to make its contribution to the growing sociolinguistic literature on classroom foreign/second language learning and teaching. It reports a comparative ethnographic inquiry into the similarities and differences of decision making and decision-making process employed by two categories of teachers when approaching planning and instruction in the language classrooms in Chinese EFL teaching context. And the thought-provoking reasons for these similarities and differences have also been explored through the analysis of a range of broad research questions, i.e. first, how do two sets of teachers approach instructional decisions in the similar settings; second, can we have access to the similarities and differences between their instructional decisions; third, what factors might affect their pedagogical decisions; and fourth, are their instructional decisions consistent with their theoretical ideas. Two categories of teachers consist of five Chinese TEL and five western teachers respectively, who work in two similar teaching institutions in China. In addition to the extensive supplementary data collected over the four months, the selected basic data gathered through a sequence of survey, observations, and particular information elicitation techniques consist of the running accounts of observation, lesson plans, and over fifty hours of audio-recording of class sessions and interviews. Initial examination of the data was intended to gain an overall understanding of the teachers’ concerns with planning and the lesson framework, then a more in-depth and thorough analysis was implemented. Through analysis of selected lesson excerpts and teachers’ comments on these data we identify similarities and differences in the classroom interpretation of the tasks and participation structures that these teachers adopted in their instruction, and the underlying reasons behind them with reference to beliefs, context, prior experiences and culture. The most general conclusion that can be drawn from this study is that: whether they emphasize accuracy or fluency, and whether they prefer student-centered instruction or teacher-centered, they tend to capitalize on these theories eclectically, though they do differ in the extent to which they stress one focus or another. Therefore, much of a teacher’s decision on planning and instruction resides in the way he/she interprets the teaching setting and acts on the information from the ongoing classroom interactions. The research ends with an in-depth analysis of the similarities and differences of two categories of teachers’ decision making and the significance for this study.In the last two chapters of this book, the subject of teacher's decision-making is explored from the perspective of soft power and critical discourse analysis, so that teachers' decision-making research can be considered more deeply in the aspect of cognitive, discourse and linguistic philosophy.

Key words: teachers’ decision making; EFL classroom; empirical study; planning decisions; interactive decisions


本研究试图对二语或外语课堂学习和教学的研究诠释一点自己的看法。文章通过民族誌研究方法对两组中外英语教师在备课和教学中所作的决策、决策过程的异同点、及其蕴藏在这些差异背后的深层原因进行比较研究。文章围绕四个问题来进行材料收集,整理和分析。它们是:1) 在相同的教学环境中,中外教师各自怎样进行教学决策;2) 我们是否能洞悉他们在决策上的异同点;3) 哪些因素可能影响他们的教学决策;4) 他们的教学决策是否跟他们的教学理论相一致。两组教师分别由五名中国教师和五名外籍教师组成,他们在中国两所相似的大学任教, 基本可以代表中国外语教学的一般情况。研究过程中,除了大量的补充材料,基本的研究素材是通过一系列的调查,观察,访谈及信息询问收集而来, 它们包括观察笔记,教师教案,及大约五十多个小时的课堂和访谈录音。材料的初步分析主要是为了对教师的备课和课程框架有一个相对全面的认识, 然后通过对所选择的课堂教学片断及教师对此所作的评价做了深层和全面的剖析,我们对教师在课堂中所采用的任务架构(task grid)和参与结构(participation structure)的异同点,及隐藏在他们背后的深刻原因有了更加全面的理解。研究所得出的最直接的结论是: 教学中中外教师无论是强调准确(accuracy)还是流利(fluency), 无论是热衷于以教师为中心(teacher-centered)还是以学生为中心(student-centered),他们都倾向于综合性的利用这些教学理论,尽管他们所强调的重点有程度上的区别。因此,教师在制定教学计划和教学中所做出的决策很大程度取决于他/她以何种方式解读所处的教学环境和课堂交际中的大量信息。当然,影响教师做出教学决策的深层原因主要是教师理念、经验、认知、环境和文化等方面因素。研究随后对两类教师决策的差异进行了总结并指出其研究的意义和研究方向。本书最后两章对教师决策的研究主题从软实力和批判话语角度来进行探析,从而让教师决策研究在认知、话语和语言哲学层面得到更深层次的思考。

关键词: 教师决策;外语课堂;实证研究;计划决策;互动决策

List of Abbreviations

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

Chapter One Introduction

“Decision making”, as a term, first appeared in American management literature in the 1930s. According to Hastie (1994), human make judgments and decisions based on their wishes (utility, personal values, goals, results etc.) and beliefs (expectations, knowledge, tools etc.) in the processes of choosing actions. While in the field of education, there are different levels and areas of teachers’ participating in decision making, in this study, the classroom level of teachers’ decision-making is concerned. The content of teachers’ decision making is related to several layers of items, including curriculum, teaching method, classroom management and evaluation of students. In the classroom teaching, teacher decision-making is regarded as some sort of “professional autonomy” and “self-specific performance” (Jiang, 2017), and the purposes for teachers’ instructional decisions are basically to achieve the target of education, promote the development of students and teacher professional development.

Decision-making in language teaching has been identified as a framework to provide a cognitive map of the teacher’s mental world, and a process to implement his/her teaching intentions in the teaching practice. As a conceptual framework, John and Richard (1979) divided teachers’ decision making into two categories, i.e. non-instant decisions and instant decisions in terms of teachers’ or observers’ feeling of the time flow. While in the book Teacher Decision-making: Successful Teachers’ Teaching Practice, Marvin (1991) classified teachers’ decision making into three types: planning decision, practicing decisions and class management decisions according to the teaching action in time arrangement. Similar to Marvin, Woods (1996) asserted that teachers’ decision making should contain a complete and circular process, including planning decisions, decisions about implementation and evaluative decisions. And in the book Dynamics of Effective Teaching, Wilen (2000) stated that teachers’ decision making consists of three parts: planning decisions, interactive decisions and evaluative decisions. As far as the research continuity and convenience is concerned, the classification of planning decisions, interactive decisions and evaluative decisions is adopted in this study.

This research describes an over four-month longitudinal study of two categories of teachers, namely, native English teachers and Chinese TEL, on how they differed in the extent to which they decided on the lesson planning; and how they continuously made decisions when approaching their language teaching in response to the specific dynamics of the lesson they are teaching. Decision making is defined as “the process of thinking about a problem, idea etc. and then making a choice or judgment” (Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English 1997:352). And it is also viewed, by many educationists, as an essential teaching competency in classroom teaching. Shavelson (1973:143-5) observed:

Any teaching act is the result of a decision, either conscious or unconscious … What distinguishes the exceptional teacher is not the ability to ask, say, a higher-order question, but the ability to decide when to ask such a question.

Shavelson (1973:143-5)

From this perspective, teaching is essentially personal behavior in relation to his thinking process, and professional decision making is closely related to effective teaching because it is based on research plus experiential wisdom (Hunter 1984). Being aware of decision making as a process and understanding the dynamics of the process will inevitably contribute to effective teaching. Teachers are constantly confronted with a range of different options and are required to select from among these options the ones they think are best suited to a particular goal. Teachers make hundreds of habitual responses and spontaneous choices in the course of a teaching day. Shavelson (1983) expressed his concern in his review of the research that teachers made about 10 interactive (i.e., during interaction) decisions per hour- one every six minutes, while Clark (1988) claimed from his review of the literature that teachers made an interactive decision every two minutes. These researchers may differ somewhat in their perception of interaction decisions, but we can assume from their informed estimates that teachers average an interactive decision every two to six minutes. Therefore, Simon Borg (2003) claimed that teachers are active thinking decision-makers who make instructional choices by drawing on complex, practically-oriented, personalized, and context-sensitive networks of knowledge, thoughts and beliefs. And it is not easy to separate teacher knowledge, expertise and beliefs about subject matters, and determine which plays a pivotal role in teachers’ instructional decision. This is because, as Verloop et al. (2001:446) explain, “in the mind of the teacher, components of knowledge, beliefs, conceptions, and intuitions are inextricably intertwined”. Teacher decision-making, as “the most researched aspect of language teacher cognition” (Borg 2003), has been approached from various perspectives in “regular” and ESL classrooms. However, little research has been conducted in such a context as the language classrooms in state schools, taught by non-native teachers, and where syllabuses are to various degrees prescribed.

This research focused on a comparative study on decision making in EFL classroom. More specifically, the aim of the study was to examine the pedagogic decisions made by five Chinese TEL and five native English teachers respectively, in the language classrooms in China, to compare the similarities and differences in their decisions and the decision making process, and to explore the role that different factors played in the decision making. The data of the study were based on two categories of teachers’ verbal and written accounts of their classroom teaching behaviors, which were collected through a series of observations, survey, and interviews. Thus we have adopted a contrastive ethnographic approach to illuminate the two sets of teachers’ teaching in EFL context. And it is a qualitative study focusing “on studying concrete, singular situations without aiming at generalizations.” (Almarz 1996:51). This makes it easy to understand the process from the participants’ points of view.

This paper is comprised of eight parts. The first chapter presents a general picture of this study, containing the aim, the significance, and overall arrangement of this research, and thus provides a holistic view of this thesis. In Chapter Two, we provide the theoretical framework of the study. Drawing on a set of theoretical assumptions associated with ESL/EFL teaching and learning, this chapter explores teacher decision making in terms of experience, context, and common reasons in classroom practice. Part Three focuses on the procedures of how data were collected and analyzed, illustrating in detail some methodological issues, the data samples, the context and surrounding for conducting this study. In Part Four, a vast corpus of data have been provided to support the idea that two categories of teachers did differ in their instructional decisions about planning and interaction. While in Part Five, the principle of data analysis is ascertained and a concise depiction of two categories of teachers and their interpretation is presented in this part. And a discussion of what factors might underlie these teachers’ classroom behaviors is the subject of Part Six, which provides a deep insight into the thought-provoking distinction between the two groups of teachers. In Chapter Seven, classroom decision making is analyzed in terms of soft power, which substantially gives an insight into the relationship and logicality between teachers’ instructional decisions and soft power. While in Chapter Eight, we analyze teachers’ decision making from the perspective of critical discourse analysis, and the analysis is depicted from both micro and macro angle to make sense of the underlying philosophical meaning of teachers’ instructional decisions.

Chapter Two Theoretical Background

In the English as a second and foreign language (ESL/EFL) literature, scholars have presented for us a variety of theoretical assumptions concerning the nature of language and perspectives on how languages are most effectively taught and successfully learned. Within these assumptions and perspectives, research concerning the assumptions and beliefs about language learning and teaching that ESL/Teachers of English language hold and how these inform their decision making merits special attention. Smith (1996) claimed that the work on decision-making has mainly been conducted in the “regular” classroom context for the last decades, however, a relatively recent area of research on decision making has also begun to examine the adult ESL/EFL context from the teachers’ perspective. A teacher’s decision on what to do and how to do it in the language classroom is related to a variety of intellectual and intuitional factors. Looking beyond the complexity evident in these psychological contexts (Munby 1983) and the range of conceptual traditions they reflect, several themes are apparent in this body of research and let’s discuss these in turn below.

2.1 Decision Making and Beliefs

Teaching beliefs on learners, learning, teaching, discipline, practice teaching, teachers themselves and teaching roles are endless (Calderhead, 1996). Rokeach (1972) defined a belief as any proposition which can be inferred from a person's words and behavior, whether it is conscious or unconscious. Fishbein & Ajzen (1975) argued that belief is that someone expresses information about object, or a person's understanding of himself and his environment. This object can be a person, a group of people, an institution, or an action, While Fishbein & Ajzen (1975) regarded the belief system as hierarchical beliefs based on the strength of a particular object. Block & Hazelip (1975) explains that beliefs are subject to change in terms of strength and kind, and form a system or network over time. A teacher may change his or her beliefs in accordance with the influence of these beliefs. Some researchers (Kagan, 1992; Pajares, 1992) also agree with Block & Hazelip's view that teachers' ideas and conceptual systems are based on their personal experience and are therefore difficult to change.

Among a lot of research on teacher belief,there is a clear distinction between the function of the educational philosophy and the relevant teaching methods. Prosser, Trigwell and Taylor (1996) interviewed 24 chemical and physical teachers and summed up the five learning concepts of these teachers: 1) learning is to collect more information to meet the external requirements; 2) learning is to acquire more concepts to meet external needs; 3) learning is to acquire more concepts to meet internal needs; 4) learning is concept development to meet external needs; 5) learning is concept development to meet internal demand. There is a grade difference between these ideas, e.g. the fifth concept covers other concepts, it is the most complex concept of all types of teaching concepts. The connotation of these teaching ideas has also become the conceptual basis of the development of these teaching and research methods. They think that teacher's teaching is changing from teacher-centered approach to student-centered approach, the teacher-centered approach focuses on conveying the content of knowledge, while student-centered approach views teaching as a help to student learning. In fact, there is a range of literature on teacher-centered or student-centered teaching conception. (Kember 1997; Samuelowicz & Bain, 1992) Some view that these two ideas are a continuum of two disjoint points, some teachers practice some of these beliefs. While others argue that there is a direct link between these two teaching beliefs, and the relation between teaching and learning as well. According to Kember (1997), "a teacher who insists on the concept of information delivery may have to rely entirely on a one-way teaching method." (P. 270), while Trigwell, Prosser and Waterhouse (1999) claimed there is a chain of relationships between teacher thinking and student achievement.

Researchers in this field are aware that teacher thinking or belief is inevitably affected by environmental factors. Prosser & Trigwell (1997) investigated the cognition of contextual factors to change the teaching approaches, similarly, institutional factors, curricular factors may also affect teacher’s pedagogy. But in this field, the research of how the environment affects the relationship between thinking and action is relatively weak. For various reasons, the hypothesis about teacher thoughts and the relationship between thought and action has also encountered various problems in a range of literature. First, there is a great deal of delineation of the term definition of "thinking". The researchers used a number of ideas about "thinking". For example, in a study reviewing 13 cases of teacher thought, Kember (1997) noted that the researchers used the following expressions: orientations, conceptions, beliefs, conventions, and intentions, etc., but an explicitly-confined definition of these concepts was not put forward. Second, some researchers suggested that some high-level thinking, such as pedagogy, was too abstract and non-contextual, so they did not have much similarities to the actual decisions in a particular context of instruction. (Eley, 2006; Norton, Richard, Hartley, Newstead, & Mayes, 2005)

In addition, some scholars in particular stated that the research of the teaching approach should go beyond the dichotomy category of students as the center or teachers as the center, the simple division of the way of teaching can not really reflect the nature of this research phenomenon. (Postareff & Lindblom-Ylanne, 2008, p. 120)

Thus, follow-up studies in this area should be explored on the basis of Prosser, Trigwell and Taylor’s (1996) analysis of the nature of teachers' ideas in order to understand the nature and characteristics of these teaching beliefs, or whether there are other alternative teaching approaches. And there should be more empirical research to verify the practical knowledge of teachers' thinking and the instructional decisions shaped by these beliefs, psychological factors, and other environmental factors.

2.2 Decision Making and Cognition

Since the 1970s, many studies on improving teaching have focused on the research of teacher cognition. (Calderhead, 1996; Clark & Peterson, 1986; Dann, 1990). These studies help to identify the complexity and nature of teachers’ work and give theoretical support to teachers' ways of thinking and the changing process of thinking. Shavelson & Stern (1981) argued that teacher's cognitive research is based on the assumption that teacher's thinking, decision-making and judgment can guide their teaching behavior. Teachers 'cognition mainly includes teachers' knowledge, beliefs and thinking (Calderhead, 1996). The research of teacher cognition mainly involves investigating teacher judgment, decision making, planning and thinking processes (Calderhead, 1996; Clark & Peterson, 1986; Shavelson & Stern, 1981)

The core of cognition in teacher decision-making is that teachers do not just implement the curriculum in the classroom, but rather as a decision maker solve the problem in a complex teaching context. Their ability to solve problems is co-shaped by their cognitive ability and the traits of the educational context. (Lee & Porter, 1990; Shavelson & Stern, 1981) The ability of teacher decision-making is particularly affected by the specific environment in which the problem is solved and the corresponding strategies adopted. By filtering information, structuring or defining tasks, and guiding the corresponding actions, teachers' educational ideas can play an influential role. (Fives & Buehl, 2012)Nespor (1985) emphasized that when a person actually considered how to solve a specific problem, the task environment would undergo an interpretation from an objective condition to a concrete subjective form, in which people's cognition play a crucial role.

In the context of education, Leinhardt & Greeno (1986) claimed that a teacher’s knowledge structure is a set of teaching-related information and activities associated schema. When teachers encounter familiar tasks in the classroom environment, such as arranging assignments, introducing new topics, etc., they develop different schemas for some predictable and repetitive activities, such as text (based on everyday experience Time knowledge), scenarios (spatial knowledge based on special events), and propositional structures (factual knowledge about content and pedagogy), each schema is used to cope with different teaching environments. (Borko, Robert, & Shavelson, 2008) Another schema is the heuristic approach, or a simplified decision rule that deals with specific situations. When an individual can use a quick and effortless way to complete the task, the heuristic method will be effectively used. Especially when a person's working memory is limited, and the task environment of all the information can’t be understood and considered at the same time, heuristics will appear particularly important. (Tversky & Kahneman, 1974)Therefore, heuristics can effectively reduce the amount of information that teachers think instantly, and make conscious decision-making in teaching to a minimum degree. It can even run, to some extent, automatically so that certain cognitive operations become subconscious. (Bargh, 2005)

2.3 Decision Making and Experience

Teachers’ learning and teaching experiences not only shape what teachers do but is in turn shaped by the experience teachers accumulate. Breen et al. (2001) has ever referred to the impact of experience on classroom actions - including immediate on-going thinking and decision-making. They report that:

It seems that teachers’ principles become more entrenched with increasing experience (Munby 1982; Clark and Peterson 1986). However, in addition to the influence of their experience as teachers and learners and of the particular situations in which they work, it is likely that teachers will also think about their work through spontaneous reflection upon the more immediate context. What they actually do in the classroom and the on-going decisions they make will test out and, in turn, further refine some of their principles.

Breen et al. (2001:473)

Teachers learn a lot about teaching through vast experience as learners. Lortie (1975) has referred to this phenomenon as the “13,000-hour apprenticeship of observation.” Before a student becomes a teacher, he has spent many thousands of hours watching teachers since primary school. During this period, many of these teachers’ behaviors have been internalized as their own beliefs about teaching and learning. Some of these beliefs established early on in classroom life are resistant to change even in the face of the contradictory evidence (Nisbett & Ross 1980). Just as Kennedy (1990:17) puts it: “ teachers acquire seemingly indelible imprints from their own experiences as students and these imprints are tremendously difficult to shake.” She further reports that:

By the time we receive our bachelor’s degree, we have observed teachers and participated in their work for up to 3,060 days. In contrast, teacher preparation programs usually require (about) 75 days of classroom experience. What could possibly happen during these 75 days to significantly alter the practices learned during the preceding 3,060 days? Kennedy (1990:4)

These data show vividly what “apprenticeship of observation” embraces in the lengthy language learning history, and many researchers have commented on the power exerted by prior experience in a teacher’s language instruction.

Bailey et al. (1996) reports on a collaborative research project in which one teacher educator and seven teacher-learners examine the “apprenticeship of observation.” Through writing language learning autobiography and documenting what happened when one group of teachers-in-training wrote, analyzed, and discussed their autobiographies, they found whether their own language learning experiences were positive or not were related to the following contrasting themes concerning teaching and learning situation:

1. Teacher personality and style versus methods and/or materials
2. Our concepts about “good” and “bad” teaching
3. Teachers’ high expectations for students success, and/or teachers’ friendly, supportive attitude
4. Teachers’ respect for learners and learners’ respect for teachers
5. Students’ responsibilities for maintaining their motivation and/or their teachers’ responsibilities for supporting the students’ motivation
6. Comparison of the learning atmosphere in formal instructional settings versus naturalistic acquisition Bailey et al. (1996:14)

Freeman (1992) also reports on a longitudinal study in which a model of teaching and related strategies for language teacher education were discussed in relation to their own language learning experiences. As a result, the author concludes that “the memories of instruction gained through their ‘apprenticeship of observation’ function as de facto guides for teachers as the approach what they do in the classroom”(idem p.3). And he further notes that “the urge to change and the pull to do what is familiar create a central tension in teachers’ thinking about their practice”(idem p.4). These studies mainly discuss the power of “apprenticeship of observation” in a theoretical perspective.

Johnson (1994) and Numrich (1996) do, however, shed light on how prior experience relates to classroom practice. Johnson found that pre-service teachers’ experiences as second language (L2) learners were concerned with images of teachers, materials, activities, and classroom organization. And these experiences exerted a great influence on their instructional decisions during a practicum. She concludes that:

Pre-service ESL teachers’ beliefs may be largely based on images from their formal language learning experiences, and in all likelihood, will represent their dominant model of action during the practicum teaching experience.

Johnson (1994: 450)

Numrich (idem), through a secondary analysis of 26 diary studies by novice ESL teachers, found that the most frequently mentioned concerns in their early preoccupations with their own teaching were classroom atmosphere, controlling of the students talk, being creative and variation in teaching, initially experiencing teaching, and valuing a textbook; and that about transfer and rejection of teaching skills used in the novice teacher’s own L2 learning, integrating a cultural component into the language lesson and giving students a need to communicate were frequently cited as positive learning experience in their own teaching. In contrast, these teachers noted that they avoided teaching grammar or correcting errors because their own experiences of these aspects of L2 instruction had been negative. With respect to these, Numrich reports that:

Error correction was most often cited as a technique that had been used by their language teachers and that had inhibited them from speaking. In some cases it had even turned them off to language learning because they had felt so humiliated and uncomfortable being corrected. Because of negative experiences of being corrected, several teachers chose not to interrupt their students’ flow of speech in the classroom to correct errors.

Numrich (1996:139)

An in-service ESL teacher in Golombek (1998) articulated her personal practical knowledge in personalized language through the narrative reconstruction of her experiences as a learner, teacher, and participant in a teacher education program. Her own negative experiences of being corrected as a L2 learner made her being wary of making a “simultaneous monitoring” of her students’ errors. She described her language learning experience in the intensive Russian program as follows:

I could talk like anything, but when they started to check my grammar and I had this little old guy from y’know deep Russia who would constantly correct me. And I became terrified of speaking in his class ’cause I know that I was going to be corrected because I didn’t know grammar. And um they tried to move me, and I wouldn’t let them move me. But um that was kind of a traumatic experience.

Golombek (1998:454)

Further evidence of how novice teachers’ beliefs about language teaching can be shaped by their prior knowledge is provided in Almarza (1996), Woods (1996), and Ebsworth & Schweers (1997). Almarza sought to explore the interaction between student teachers’ pre-training knowledge and knowledge gained in teacher education, and how this influenced the practice of novice foreign language teachers.In the process of learning to teach foreign language, they found that student teacher tend to recall and build upon their own experiences in classroom because these internalized models of teaching by “apprenticeship of observation” constitute a more powerful influence than teacher education programs.

Woods (1996) conducted a longitudinal study of planning and decision-making in ESL classrooms in Canada. Drawing on interviews, observations, video-based stimulated recall, teachers’ logs, and document analysis, the study tracked a group of teachers as they went through the process of planning and teaching their courses. This work provides a deep insight into teachers’ decision-making processes and the factors shaping these. These factors relate not only to immediate antecedent conditions, but also to influences stemming from teachers’ professional lives as a whole, including their prior language learning experiences. There is also one study conducted by Ebsworth & Schweers (1997) in which a teacher’s experience of grammar-based L2 education emerged as a contributing factor in his instructional decision. This teacher, for example, explained that “my own education included very formal language study including memorization, reading, writing, and grammar. Now I am using a communicating approach, but I won’ t completely abandon the teaching that worked for me” (p. 252).

In examining the sources of ESL teachers’ ideas, Crookes & Arakaki (1999) found that accumulated teaching experience was the source cited most often by the teachers in their study. They report that:

many of these teachers spoke about their teaching experience as being a personally unique and self-contained entity…. It was a personal history of knowledge and information gained through trial and error, concerning which teaching ideas (and their sources) were effective in which circumstances. As one veteran teacher stated simply, ‘As you have more practice, then you know in the classroom what will work and what will not work.’

Crookes & Arakaki (1999:16)

Studies comparing experienced and less experienced language teachers also shed light on transformations in teacher cognition which may occur over time. Richards (1998) found that experienced teachers engaged in more improvisational teaching than inexperienced teachers. He argues that “this suggests that as teachers develop their teaching skills, they are able to draw less on pre-active decision-making and make greater use of interactive decision-making as a source of their improvisational performance” (idem pp.117-118). In comparing novice and experienced teachers’ approaches to a reading lesson and to teaching literature, Richards, Li & Tang (1998) also identified four areas of language teaching which novice teachers were less skilled at: (a) thinking about the subject matter from the learner’s perspective; (b) having a deep understanding of the subject matter; (c) knowing how to present subject matter in appropriate ways, and (d) knowing how to integrate language learning with broader curricular goals.

2.4 Decision Making and Context

Numerous studies have examined “the social, psychological and environmental realities of the school and classroom mitigate or preclude the implementation of belief systems in decision making” (Kinzer 1988). And Borg (1998) points out that these social, psychological and environmental factors which shape teachers’ practices include parents, principals’ requirements, the school, society, curriculum mandates, classroom and school layout, school policies, colleagues, standardized tests and the availability of resources. It is unsurprising that such external forces that the teacher has no control over may also hinder language teachers’ ability to adopt practices which reflect their beliefs. A research conducted by Burns (1996), for example, also attempted to investigate a multiplicity of features which would reflect the particular classroom contexts in which the teachers worked, and the ways the teacher’s awareness of the broader institutional context had an impact on decisions about lesson planning and content. In examining novice teachers’ difference in the extent to which they abandoned some of principles and practices that they had been taught in their teacher education program, Spada & Massey (1992) found that their different decision making in managing the classroom may have been due to the contextual factors of the school in which different teachers worked in.

Evidence of how context can constrain what language teachers do is provided by Richards & Pennington (1998), Johnson (1996), and Crookes & Arakaki (1999). Richards & Pennington investigated how five graduates of a BA TESL course in Hong Kong survived their first year of teaching by developing a simplified working model of teaching consistent with their classroom and the larger educational context rather than focusing on the principles they were taught in the BA TESL course. The investigation demonstrates that this orientation was no doubt influenced by the impact of large classes, unmotivated students, examination pressures, a prescribed curriculum, pressure to conform to more experienced teachers, students’ limited proficiency in English, students’ resistance to new ways of learning, and heavy workloads.

Johnson also found strong evidence that difficult working conditions affect what language teachers do. In his study, a student teacher on a practicum found there was a key tension she felt between getting through all the material and spending time on individual students’ questions if she struggled to adopt practices which reflected her principles. And she felt she was unhappy with her practices:

I don’t like it when I see myself teaching this way. I want it to be more student-centered and not teacher-centered, but sometimes it’s just easier to stand up there and tell them what they need to know. This is not my vision of good teaching but sometimes I find myself doing it anyway.

Johnson (1996:37)

The modification of the teacher’s classroom behavior reflects that the teacher’s initial enthusiasm was gradually overcome by the contextual realities that she felt were beyond her control. A final example of how context can constrain what language teachers do is provided by Crookes & Arakaki. They found teachers’ pedagogical choices were greatly influenced by their working circumstances. In their study, teachers’ working time averaged approximately 50 hours a week, these heavy workloads surely prevented teachers from preparing their lesson contents and arranging what they would do in their teaching. As one teacher in the study explained, “I will often choose or create an exercise [even though] I know there could be a better one, but I just can’t do it within the time that I have” (p.18).

2.5 Decision Making in Classroom Practice

In analyses of actual practices in the classroom, we can find some reasons most commonly cited by teachers in explaining their instructional decisions. In Gatbonton (1999), the researcher investigated the hypothesis that it is possible to access the patterns of pedagogical knowledge that experienced ESL teachers utilize while they teach, and found that thoughts concerned with managing both the language the students heard and the language they producedwas overall the most common focus in their pedagogical thoughts. An opposite result was found by Nunan (1992), whose research shows that a concern for language (especially in the case of the inexperienced teachers in his study) was not necessarily the teachers’ focus when commenting on their decisions, on the contrary, teachers’ concerns related mostly to the pacing and timing of lessons, the quantity of teacher talk, and the quality of their explanations and instructions. And in examining pre-service teachers’ instructional actions and decisions while they were learning to teach, Johnson (1992) found that a concern for ensuring student understanding and motivation as well as for instructional management was the most common reason given. And “unexpected student behavior is the prominent antecedent condition of pre-service teachers’ instructional behavior” (p.527) was also a conclusion she arrived at in the investigation. Drawing on a corpus of teacher narratives and interviews (however, without analysing actual teaching), Richards (1996) provided a study which illustrated that teachers’ pedagogical choices often resorted to a set of maxims (i.e. the maxim of involvement, planning, order, encouragement, accuracy, efficiency, conformity, and empowerment). In fact, similar principles are also reported in the work of Bailey (1996), who interpreted the basis for the teachers’ in-class decisions in terms of the implicit principles they held and found the following justifications for departing from their plans: serve the common good, teach to the moment; further the lesson; accommodate the students’ learning styles; promote students’ involvement; and distribute the wealth. In this respect, it is believed that the notion of improvisational teaching has been examined by many researchers and they find that most of the teachers’ interactive decisions are owing to their departing from lesson plans.

Ulichny (1996) presented a portion of a case study of an ESL teacher engaging her students in a classroom activity, in which the teacher had to modify her plans because the students experienced many unexpected difficulties in completing the planned activities, though she had specific plans and principles in mind (e.g., promoting learner-centered reading) prior to the teaching. And Ulichny maintained that the moment-to–moment “in-flight” decisions (Jackson 1968) that a teachermade was a constant mediation between enacting planning activities and addressing students’ understandings, abilities, and motivation to carry out the activity. Richards (1998) also made a study of sixteen ESL teachers with different levels of training and experience to find out how they used lesson plans, and found that these teachers made “on-the-spot modification of planned activities” mainly for “maintaining students’ engagement and interest level” (idem p.115). Both experienced teachers and less experienced teachers reported the usefulness of planning in teaching, however, experienced teachers tended to make more use of the improvisational teaching due to pedagogical factors (e.g., the need to simplify a task) and a perceived need for more focused language work. Smith (1996) too highlighted “two types of interactive decisions: those decisions that teachers plan to make during the lesson and those which are unanticipated” (idem p.211). The distinction between two types of decisions was usually prompted by student factors (e.g., affective state of the students or unfinished homework) or teacher factors (e.g., forgetting to bring a key resource to class). And she reported that “student misbehavior and student incomprehension of subject matter are the two conditions that result in interactive changes to lesson plans” (idem p.211), which were not in evidence in the classes she studied. Thus, teacher cognition research shows that teachers’ departing from lesson plans was the result of the constant interaction between teachers’ pedagogical choices and their perceptions of the instructional context, particularly of the students, at any particular time, instead of a shortcoming in their work.

In addition, several Chinese scholars have also explored teacher decision making from different angles. Suping He (1995) examines the relationship between instinct thoughts and decision making in classroom teaching and how the teacher should train their instinct thoughts and apply them to their teaching practice. And Fengju Zhan (2003) discusses the factors, i.e. intuitional factors and intellectual factors, which affect teacher decision making and the way how decisions are made in the process of language teaching.

The study reported here focuses on the most researched aspect of teacher cognition – decision making from different perspectives. Whereas the above studies examined teacher decision -making in “regular” classroom context and ESL context, only few of studies have explored EFL context from teachers’ perspective, and even less comparative studies on instructional decisions between non-native teachers and native teachers have ever been researched in an ESL/EFL teaching context. This study seeks to contribute further to our understanding and research of teacher decision making in the EFL classroom teaching.

Chapter Three Design of the Study

3.1 Research Questions

The study was concerned with the Chinese TEL and native English teachers’ perspective on EFL instructional tasks and context, detailed descriptions of these teachers’ perceptions were developed on the basis of many observations and interviews in and out of the language classrooms. The following broad research questions provided a sensitizing focus for the collection and analysis of the data in the present study:

1. How do Chinese TEL and native English teachers approach instructional decisions respectively in the similar teaching settings?
2. Can we access the similarities and differences in decision making between Chinese TEL and native English teachers?
3. What factors may affect pedagogical decisions between Chinese TEL and native English teachers?
4. Are teachers’ instructional decisions consistent with their theoretical ideas about language teaching and learning?

In addition to the broad research questions, a framework was developed here in order to guide the direction of the study. The research I present here was conceived within an exploratory-interpretive paradigm (Grotjahn 1987). Within this framework, the goal of the research is to understand the inner perspectives on the meanings of those being studied. It is characterized by an idiographic conceptual framework (i.e., which focuses on the meaning of particular events), and by naturalistic rather than experimental research designs. This approach to research views knowledge not as an objective reality that the researcher describes scientifically; rather it acknowledges the personally constructed nature of all knowledge (Bassey 1991). A consequence of this epistemology is that, from an exploratory-interpretive perspective, research is conceived as a task of interpreting human action by understanding why people behave in the way they do (Borg 1998). Applied to the study of decision making of Chinese TEL and native English teachers in language classrooms, this paradigm allows an exploration of how two categories of teachers approach pedagogic decisions in their teaching, and an understanding, from their perspective, of the factors behind their instructional decisions.

3.2 Data Sample

3.2.1 Teachers

Five Chinese TEL and five native English teachers in two institutions participated in this study. Three Chinese TEL and three native English teachers were selected from one normal university and two other Chinese TEL and native English teachers respectively from a teachers’ college. Five Chinese TEL were selected from two institutions so that they are more representative in current Chinese educational landscape, and their individual perceptions of institutional features (e.g., types of students, administrative expectations) and how these affected their planning and pedagogic decisions could be explored among teachers working in the similar setting. A criterion for selecting these Chinese TEL participating in the study was that they all have got an MA degree in applied linguistics or literature (two of them are associate professors); in terms of teaching experience, they ranged from eight to twenty years. In short, it was a group of instructors who were not only quite experienced in classroom English teaching, but also had a solid foundation in second language acquisition theory and pedagogy. The five native English teachers were also working in the same two institutions, the criterion for selection was not so rigorous due to the objective restriction, since we could not find as many subjects to choose from as possible. Fortunately, these native English teachers were from three different countries: one is from Canada, one from England, and the other three from America, they had all taken undergraduate teacher training courses in TESL, many had a master degree of education, and their experience of teaching in China varied between two years and ten years. In addition to their formal ESL/EFL training and teaching experience, most of them had a wide range of experiences working with second/foreign language speakers. Many had also had a wide range of other teaching experiences, including teaching ESL/EFL at the primary and secondary levels; and their teaching setting ranged from language training classes held in hospital to public schools in Inner Mongolia and Hangzhou. As for the courses they taught, they included intensive reading, oral English, literature, cross-cultural communication, reading in international business, etc.. The reason for selection was the researcher’s interest in how native and non-native English teachers handled these courses which were intended to develop English learners’ reading, speaking and listening skills. All these made it possible to have a comparative analysis of group features in teacher decisions for classroom practices and the role that teacher characteristics and cultural factors played in their decision making. Besides, all these teachers taught the same level of students (second year students), which provided a paralleled basis for comparison in terms of students’ variables within and across the two institutions.

3.2.2 Institutions

The two institutions involved in the study were selected because of their similarities. Each is a publicly funded, provincial subordinate teacher-training institute, which can roughly reflect the mediocre education level and the general teaching setting in China; each has a foreign language school and offers courses designed to enhance the knowledge base and promote the basic skills of being a teacher after the student’s graduation. It should be noted here that each institute assigns students to a series of achievement tests offered by their respective institution and levels of proficiency tests (ranging from Band Four to Band Eight) by the State Educational Commission, and students are required to attend at least three hours of instruction a day, typically spending eighteen to nineteen weeks in the university. Classrooms are modernly furnished with desk-chairs (which are generally organized in rows), blackboards, overhead projectors, and electric fans, and some are equipped with multi-functional media equipments. Generally speaking, teachers at this two institutions are, to some degree, obliged to follow specified curriculum and textbooks; so they are not free enough to decide on the shape and content of the their lessons. If the teachers intend to utilize a wide range of contemporary and less recent teaching materials available in the resource rooms or on the internet, they have to deal with the frustration between the completion of course contents and the limitation of teaching hours.


Excerpt out of 114 pages


Teachers’ Decision Making in EFL Classroom
An Empirical Study of Chinese TEL and Native English Teachers
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
File size
948 KB
teachers’, decision, making, classroom, empirical, study, chinese, native, english, teachers
Quote paper
Zhang Youwen (Author), 2017, Teachers’ Decision Making in EFL Classroom, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/370563


  • No comments yet.
Look inside the ebook
Title: Teachers’ Decision Making in EFL Classroom

Upload papers

Your term paper / thesis:

- Publication as eBook and book
- High royalties for the sales
- Completely free - with ISBN
- It only takes five minutes
- Every paper finds readers

Publish now - it's free