Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe
On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751
EBERSOHN, Liesel; JOUBERT, Ina; PRINSLOO, Yolanda and KRIEGLER, Susan. Outcomes of an English literacy intervention on non-mother tongue teaching practices of teachers in rural schools. Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2014, vol.54, n.2, pp.283-303. ISSN 2224-7912.
In South Africa teachers' and learners' mother tongues are often different from the language of learning and teaching, which is mostly English. Non-mother tongue teaching and learning in high schools are impeded by learners' limited proficiency in English as a cognitive academic language. In addition, secondary school English language teachers lack competency to support learners who have failed to acquire core literacy skills in English during their primary school years, because they have been trained to teach English as a school subject rather than to use English as language of teaching and learning. A request to assist six English language teachers regarding this problem in a rural high school initiated this qualitative case study. Data were obtained by way of focus groups, observation and participant observation and were recorded in field notes and photographs. Pre-intervention thematic analysis of the problem of teachers ' experiences and emotional state regarding their language of teaching practices revealed themes of 1) inadequate training; 2) scarce resources; 3) learners' passivity and 4) extremely limited core literacy skills. These limitations were reflected in 1) teachers' feelings of incompetency; 2) powerlessness; 3) confusion and 4) despair regarding learners ' inability to read English. We designed and implemented a literacy intervention framed by theories of social learning and social development and based on phonetic principles. In designing the literacy intervention, we took teachers'and learners 'previous knowledge of phonics as the baseline of their zone of proximal development. Vygotsky's emancipatory concepts of a more knowledgeable other, as well as teaching by way of instruction and modelling conceptualised as scaffolding, were guiding principles. In addition, we incorporated Bandura's ideas about the value of motivation and self-efficacy expectations into our facilitation of the programme.The fluidity of our participatory action research design, framed by a constructivist paradigm, allowed our sample to snowball by way of participant-driven selection and thus to include five additional teachers from two neighbouring primary schools. Our expanded focus revealed a deeper root of the problem we were attempting to address, namely that the primary school teachers were not adequately trained for the challenges of non-mother tongue literacy education in a rural area either. Post-intervention thematic analysis of the data revealed that both secondary and primary school teachers were able to successfully adjust their non-mother tongue teaching practices, with positive outcomes in terms of learners' participation and achievement. Teachers' new experiences were manifested in 1) their utilisation of new techniques; 2) new resources, 3) learners' more confident participation and 4) academic improvement. Learners' changed interaction with teachers in turn seemed to have a positive effect on teachers' attitudes towards them. Teachers' new emotional state was expressed in 1) feelings of excitement; 2) empowerment; 3) inspiration and 4) pride. There exists a reciprocal interaction between teachers' perceptions of self-efficacy, motivation and pride on the one hand and learners enthusiasm and success on the other. Pursuant to the results of this study, we recommend that all teachers should be better trained to implement the best strategies for teaching non-mother tongue literacy. In-service training could be provided by way of distance learning. Because cognitive academic language proficiency is inseparable from successful learning in school, all teachers are in fact language teachers. The challenge to provide the circumstances and practices for acquiring core literacy skills in English is particularly daunting in rural schools. Support of teachers and learners should be ecologically sensitive and should build on existing competencies; such as knowledge of the phonetic foundations of English, as a useful basis for a literacy intervention. Adequate resources, empowerment of teachers, strategies that enhance learners 'participation and guaranteed success for both teachers and learners by way of simple incremental objectives are important considerations. Our purpose with this study was exploratory. In action research, a new cycle would be initiated at this point. However, we hope that this report serves as a point of departure for further discussion and research. The far-reaching implications of the disadvantage faced by rural learners whose language of learning and teaching is not their mother tongue should be urgently addressed.
Keywords : Cognitive academic language; core literacy skills; English as language of learning and teaching; literacy intervention; non-mother tongue literacy; non-mother tongue teaching practices; participatory action research; rural schools.