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BEST: International Journal of Humanities, Arts, Medicine and Sciences (BEST: IJHAMS) ISSN (P): 2348-0521, ISSN (E): 2454-4728 Vol. 4, Issue 11, Nov 2016, 27-36 © BEST Journals

EXPLORING PRIMARY SCHOOL PRE-SERVICE AND IN-SERVICE TEACHERS’ BELIEFS ABOUT EFL TEACHING TO PRIMARY SCHOOL STUDENTS IN BENIN SAKPOLIBA INNOCENT1 & GNONLONFOUN JEAN-MARC2 1

Department of English, Abomey Calavi University, Calavi, Benin 2

GRI-DiGeST/Ecole Normale Supérieure, Lokossa, Benin

ABSTRACT Like other individuals, primary school teachers also bring their unique sets of beliefs to bear in situations and decisions related to teaching, which influences significantly their actual teaching practices. There is then a need to understand their primary school teachers’ specific beliefs about English teaching. That is why the current study investigates the teaching beliefs held by primary school teachers about English. The questionnaire was administered to 200 teachers randomly selected who agreed to participate to this study. A Likert-scale questionnaire with 28 statements was administered to 100 in-service and 100 pre-service teachers randomly selected throughout the country. It emerged from the results that participants have common beliefs about the nature of English language development in primary school children and teaching methods and techniques employed in the classroom, on the one hand, and a high sense of self-efficacy on the other hand. Divergences occurred in relation with the optimum age for children to start learning English, error correction and assessment techniques are concerned. It is hoped that future research will address the limitations of the study to better teacher education and English teaching in primary schools.

KEYWORDS: Benin, Primary School Teachers, Beliefs, English Teaching INTRODUCTION Recent changes in Beninese educational policy have focused on Communicative language teaching so as to meet the challenges of globalization and internationalization. As English has achieved the status of a major international language, the government has been actively expanding the teaching of English as an essential part of the school curriculum. Up to recently, English was a required course for only secondary school and upwards levels. But in 2002, the English teaching policy changed again to require that primary school students begin English learning. Such requirements, however, have not been strictly followed in all primary schools in the country. The implementation of an English curriculum in primary schools has created a huge demand for qualified English teachers for these schools. This has, in its turn, placed more importance than ever on studying the issues related to teacher training. However, the research in English teacher training has, so far, focused on secondary school level. Very little attention has been paid specifically to primary school levels of English teaching and what the teachers think about it. That is why this study attempts to examine issues concerning teaching English in primary schools, with a particular emphasis on the role of teachers’ beliefs.

STATEMENT OF PROBLEM Teachers, actually, have certain preconceived ideas or beliefs about how best to approach teaching. They often Impact Factor (JCC): 1.9287- This article can be downloaded from www.bestjournals.in


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come into classroom conditioned by their previous educational experiences, cultural backgrounds, and social interaction, which may further shape their beliefs about teaching (Johnson, 1992a; Richards & Lockhart, 1996). Primary school teachers are not in rest. As such, since they also bring their unique sets of beliefs to bear in situations and decisions related to language teaching, these beliefs are usually recognized as influencing significantly their actual teaching practices. Therefore, understanding primary school teachers’ specific beliefs about English teaching can inform researchers and teacher trainers about how these teachers are likely to implement their teaching, and how to provide appropriate teacher education programs. In studying teacher training and development, researchers have shown how teachers’ beliefs play a critical role in affecting their teaching and the kinds of thinking and decision making that underlie their classroom practices (Moon, 2000; Trappers-Lomax & McGrath, 1999; Richards, 1998; Smith, 1996). Furthermore, these beliefs are good sources of teachers’ reference, are built up over time, and are related to teachers’ theories of language, the nature of language teaching practices, the roles of themselves as teachers, and relationships with their students (Johnson, 1992b).

PURPOSE OF THE STUDY The stated purpose of this study is to investigate the teaching beliefs held by primary school teachers about English. Moreover, because teachers may derive beliefs from their current teacher training programs or teaching career (Selby, 1999), this study also attempts to compare in-service and pre-service teachers’ conceptions of English teaching. This is to see if there exist any similarities and/or differences that result from their status.

LITERATURE Much of the literature on teacher education has suggested that teachers’ beliefs affect their teaching practices and instructional decisions in the classroom (Donaghue, 2003; Muijs & Reynolds, 2001; Richards, 1998; Richards & Lockhart, 1996), but Pajares (1992) noted that difficulties involved in investigating teachers’ beliefs are due to several factors including “definitional problems, poor conceptualization, and differing understanding of beliefs and belief structures”. Indeed, psychological constructs like beliefs must be related to a context and relevant to teaching behavior to be useful for empirical study. Brown and Rodgers (2002) agree with this idea and suggest sub-classifying different areas of language teachers’ beliefs in order to operationalize the construct of beliefs. Actually, teachers’ beliefs have already been classified into various sets of categories by some researchers (William & Burden, 1997). William and Burden (1997) divided their discussion of teachers’ beliefs into three areas: (1) about language learning, (2) about learners, and (3) about themselves as language teachers. Likewise, Johnson (1992b) identified and grouped ESL teachers’ beliefs into three methodological approaches. Most teachers held beliefs that clearly reflected one of the following theoretical orientations: (1) a skill-based approach, which views language as consisting of discrete skills such as reading, writing, listening, and speaking; (2) a rule-based approach, which sees language as a process of rule-governed activity; and (3) a function-based approach, which focuses on the use of authentic language in social context. All these teachers were observed in classrooms, and they were found to be generally consistent with their reported orientations. Moreover, a number of studies have attempted to investigate the beliefs of ESL teachers through questionnaires or inventories (Liao & Chiang, 2003; Hsieh & Chang, 2002; Yang, 2000; Kern, 1995; Richards, Tung, & Ng, 1992). For example, Richards, Tung, and Ng (1992) reported that English teachers held a set of relatively consistent beliefs relating to Index Copernicus Value: 3.0 – Articles can be sent to editor.bestjournals@gmail.com


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Exploring Primary School Pre-Service and In-Service Teachers’ Beliefs about EFL Teaching to Primary School Students in Benin

such issues as the nature of the ESL curriculum, the role of English in society, the relevance of theory to practice, the teachers’ role in the classroom, and others. More recently, five categories of teachers’ beliefs were investigated in Hsieh and Chang’s (2002) study, including: (1) beliefs about the role of culture in EFL learning, (2) beliefs about aptitude in EFL learning, (3) rule-based beliefs, (4) skill-based beliefs, and (5) function-based beliefs. These two studies measured and identified a wide variety of beliefs held by prospective and current primary school English teachers respectively. But little research has compared the beliefs held by these two groups of teachers for similarities and differences. Thus, a further study to demonstrate the relationship between pre-service and in-service teachers’ beliefs seems necessary in order to give a better picture of primary school teachers’ beliefs about teaching English.

METHODOLOGY Research Instrument This study is carried out using a questionnaire to identify and compare beliefs about English teaching shared among in-service and pre-service primary school teachers in Benin. The questionnaire contains 28 statements. It is organized into three major categories to assess participants’ beliefs about teaching English in primary schools: first, the nature of children’s English development; second, teaching methods and techniques; and third, self-efficacy as a primary school teacher of English. Participants The questionnaire was administered to 250 teachers randomly selected who agreed to participate to this study. The 250 participants include 125 in-service teachers teaching in various primary schools around the country and 125 preservice teachers following courses in various primary school teacher training schools (Ecoles Normales des Instituteurs). Some of the pre-service teachers are already teaching English to children at private primary schools. However, it is worth noting that even though the number of teachers in each group is equal, the sample used in this study may not be truly representative of the population of all primary school teachers as a whole. It is relevant to note that the number of valid questionnaires is 200, giving a return rate of 80%. As such, the results and ensuing discussions are based on these valid questionnaires.

RESULTS OF STUDY Results The findings of the current study are presented in the following table: Table 1 N°

Statement

01

Primary school children acquire English easily when they are doing activities.

02

03

Primary school children have obvious individual variations in their cognitive development process. Teaching English in primary school is (or will be) easy.

Teachers (N=200) Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice

Agree/Strongly Agree

Disagree/Strongly Disagree

93%

07%

91%

09%

77%

23%

79%

21%

17%

83%

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Sakpoliba Innocent & Gnonlonfoun Jean-Marc

04

05

06

07

08

09

10

11

Primary school children should be given opportunities to move around in the English classroom. Primary school children are willing to build up a close relationship with their English teacher. If parents care about their children’s English performance, these children will perform better. It is important to teach primary school children English listening and speaking skills. Multiple assessments should be implemented to evaluate primary school students’ English performance in the classroom. Paper-and-pencil tests should still be widely used in the primary school English classroom.

I get along with children well in English class.

To teach English in primary school is a meaningful job

12

I believe that I am capable of teaching English to primary school children.

13

Every child learns English with different learning styles in the classroom

14

15

16

17

Teaching English in the primary school is (or will be) a lot of fun to me.

I am confident of becoming a good primary school English teacher. If beginning students are permitted to make errors in English pronunciation without teacher’s correction, it will be more difficult to correct them later on. The most important element in teaching primary school children English is vocabulary.

Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice In-service Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice

18%

82%

93%

07%

96%

04%

89%

11%

97%

03%

88%

22%

92%

08%

78%

22%

85%

15%

92%

08%

88%

22%

34%

66%

58%

42%

92%

08%

95%

05%

97%

03%

99%

01%

95%

05%

96%

04%

81%

19%

73%

27%

92%

08%

86%

14%

88%

22%

80%

20%

71%

29%

90%

10%

09%

91%

13%

87%

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Exploring Primary School Pre-Service and In-Service Teachers’ Beliefs about EFL Teaching to Primary School Students in Benin

18

19

20

21

22

Interesting classes can speed up primary school students’ English learning process. Primary school children can learn English better if they fully understand the content of the lesson. Singing and role-playing are appropriate English teaching activities.

We need to teach children foreign cultures coupled with English language.

Primary school children learn English through interactions with other people.

23- Primary school children learn English better when they are using English to do activities.

24

25

26

27

28

It is not necessary to teach Primary school children English spelling and grammar in the early stage of instruction. To integrate games into English instruction can facilitate children’s learning.

It is important to use multimedia equipment in teaching English to primary school children.

It is best for primary school children to learn English from as early as the first grade.

Primary school children should learn English the same way as they learn French.

Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice Inservice Preservice

92%

08%

91%

09%

74%

26%

85%

15%

92%

08%

87%

13%

93%

07%

91%

09%

90%

10%

89%

11%

89%

11%

91%

09%

75%

25%

74%

26%

95%

05%

91%

09%

91%

09%

85%

15%

60%

40%

23%

77%

24%

76%

17%

83%

INTERPRETATION OF RESULTS In general, the majority of participants agreed with most items. However, important differences were found between in-service and pre-service teachers on only three statements (09, 16, and 27). This discussion only explores three major areas in relation with the questionnaire: the nature of children’s English language development; teaching methods and techniques; and self-efficacy as a primary school teacher of English. Exploring the Nature of Primary School Children’s English Language Development In the questionnaire, many statements address the issue of how primary school children learn English in the

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classroom. More than 80% of the participants agreed or strongly agreed with the statements that doing activities with English, moving around, having fun, and interacting with others in the classroom and getting support from teachers and parents can facilitate students’ learning, and students should study English with their own learning styles. Further, more than 78% of the teachers supported the statements that children have individual differences in their cognitive development and that it was important for them to comprehend the lesson content. However, more than a third of the primary school teachers investigated did not believe that primary school children should learn English the same way as they learn their mother tongue, which is French in the Beninese context. The findings from these teachers’ beliefs about children’s English development appear to be consistent with the literature (Vale & Feunteun, 2003; Brown, 2000; Moon, 2000; Cook, 1996). Participants indicated that physical activities such as playing games, making things, action songs, rhymes and drama can provide excellent contexts for children to learn English. When children are having fun, they usually want to continue the activities. Children also need individual attention and support from the teacher to make them feel more confident and secure about learning English. The data collected also show that the two groups of in-service and pre-service teachers differed significantly in their responses only to one statement (statement 27) in this category. While 60% of the in-service teachers supported the statement that it is best for children to learn English from as early as the primary school, only 23% of the pre-service teachers supported this statement. This suggests that in-service teachers tend to believe that younger children are better English learners and should consequently reach higher levels of proficiency. This belief may explain the fact that many private primary schools with strong financial support have implemented English instruction as early as the first year. On the other hand, the lower percentage of pre-service teachers’ agreement with the same statement may reflect more of their willingness to follow the national educational policy. This different belief held by in-service and pre-service teachers is also noted as far as the relationship between age and English learning is concerned. From the neurological perspective of language acquisition, Lundeberg (1967) hypothesized that there is a period in a child’s development during which language can be acquired more easily than at any other time. This critical period is believed to last until around puberty. Piaget (1972) further outlined children’s intellectual development through different stages. He stated that, during the concrete operational stage (8-11 years), children depend more upon concrete referents before they become capable of formal thinking which transcends concrete experience and direct perception. Therefore, as found by Walsh & Diller (1981), lower-order processes such as pronunciation are learned optimally in primary school, while higher-order language functions such as semantic relations (e.g., grammar, vocabulary), which are more dependent on late-maturing neural circuits, could be acquired more efficiently later on. Moreover, it had been observed that teaching English to children at an early age might not necessarily prove as efficient as allowing the children to wait until their analytical abilities have improved. However, the significant difference of opinions between the two groups of teachers seem to indicate that more in-service teachers are inclined to consider that the younger the students are, the better their learning capacity will be. Teaching Methods and Techniques Teachers’ understanding of how children learn English will determine their teaching approaches, styles, methods, and classroom management techniques. In this study, the majority (more than 91%) of teachers investigated considered the use of multiple assessments, songs, role-plays, games, multimedia equipment and culture teaching to be essential. Additionally, some 82% of them endorsed the statements that it is necessary for children to learn English listening and Index Copernicus Value: 3.0 – Articles can be sent to editor.bestjournals@gmail.com


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speaking skills, but not spelling and grammar, in the early stage of teaching. Furthermore, only a few teachers (11%) believed that teaching children English vocabulary is the key aspect of the process. Up to this point, these teachers’ beliefs seem compatible with some underlying teaching principles of the Competency-based approach (CBA) in use currently in Benin. Some of the cardinal features of the CBA, as indicated in the literature include: role plays (to help students to adjust their use of English to different social contexts), games (because they are real communicative events), the focus on the spoken language (with reading and writing taught only after an oral base in lexical and grammatical forms has been established), and less attention placed on grammatical rules in terms of their overt presentation (Brown, 2001; Celce-Murcia, 2001; Larsen-Freeman, 2000). Indeed, the present curriculum implemented is required to develop students’ communicative competence, which could explain why most teachers’ beliefs are consistent with CBA and Communicative Language Teaching (CLT). However, there are significant contrasts between the in-service and pre-service teachers in some statements. Each group seems to have different ideas about how to assess students’ learning achievement and when to correct their mistakes in English. For example, around 34% of the in-service teachers agreed with the statement that paper-and-pencil tests should still be widely used in the English classroom, whereas more than 58% of the pre-service teachers tended to agree or strongly agree. Furthermore, while 71% of the in-service teachers believed that if they do not correct beginning students’ errors, it will be more difficult to correct them later on, many more pre-service teachers (91%) expressed the same thought. These high percentages may imply that pre-service teachers tend to have a somewhat restricted view of English learning in comparison with their more experienced peers. A possible explanation lies in that paper-and-pencil tests are just one of a number of possible types of assessment in the classroom. Thus, they may need to expand their repertoire of strategies in assessing learners’ overall performance for their future teaching career. Next, teachers often feel that students can learn from their mistakes, and so they need to make sure that everything students say or write is correct. However, it is now widely believed that teachers do not need to correct students all the time, as this may lead to students becoming unwilling or unable to produce any output. If teachers, especially pre-service ones, maintain the belief that they should be directive or authoritarian in correcting individual students’ every mistake, such teaching behaviors may lead to a high degree of language anxiety on the part of learners (Young, 1991). Then, primary school teachers should be realistic and tolerant of students’ errors, so that students feel at ease to express them more freely and develop fluency. Self-Efficacy as a Primary School Teacher of English Here, the primary school teacher participants’ personal features and the affective domain of teaching are investigated by exploring how they place worth and value on their teaching career. Indeed, it is known that individuals in general, and especially teachers, are more likely to engage in certain behaviors when they strongly believe in their capacity of executing those behaviors successfully, or when they believe they have a higher self-efficacy. In this study, most teachers (98%) overwhelmingly felt that teaching English in primary school is a meaningful job and they are capable of doing this job well. Many of them (84%) either agreed or strongly agreed that they are confident of being (or becoming) good teachers, are having (or will have) a lot fun doing this job, and can get along with children. Nevertheless, only 17% of the teachers either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement that teaching English in primary school is (or will be) easy.

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As Brown (2000) pointed out, “people derive their sense of self-esteem from the accumulation of experiences with themselves and with others and from assessments of the external world around them”. The participants in this study seem to make and maintain self-evaluations as primary school teachers of English working in Benin societal and educational contexts. The results show that these teachers often demonstrate a strong level of self-efficacy, and believe themselves to be capable, significant and worthy of their jobs. The literature also tells us that people’s self-efficacy influences other aspects of their behavior, including their choice of activities, their effort and persistence, and eventually their achievement (Bandura, 1977; Schunk, 1989; Ormrod, 1999). In this study, teachers felt that they face a challenging job in terms of teaching English in primary schools. But, they still believe in their ability to accomplish the teaching tasks and requirements. Furthermore, no significant difference was found between in-service and pre-service teachers in their self-efficacy levels.

CONCLUSIONS It is often true that teaching is greatly affected by the belief systems of its practitioners. However, teachers’ beliefs need to be explored before teachers can critically reflect on their teaching practices or facilitate changes to teach more effectively. The results of this study reveal that both in-service and pre-service Beninese primary school teachers have common beliefs about the nature of primary school children’s English language development and English teaching methods and techniques employed in the classroom. These are in tune with the teaching principles of the CBA. They also share a strong sense of self-efficacy in teaching English in terms of doing their work, which may have a positive impact on their performance. Moreover, successful primary school English teachers are generally thought to have such key characteristics as a pleasant personality and an optimistic attitude towards teaching, ability to effectively use various classroom teaching and management skills, and a good command of the English language. However, a few divergences between in-service and pre-service teachers have emerged as far as the age for children to start learning English, error correction and assessment techniques are concerned. Other differences have also been noted as to the value attached to the building and maintenance of harmonious relationships with their students and care for their own physical fitness. The researcher is aware that there are some limitations in the treatment of the topic. Future researchers will have to address such limitations so as to explore the sources, development, or changes in primary school teachers’ beliefs, or how these teachers teach English to primary school students based on their own beliefs. Researchers engaged in such studies may use research instruments such as interviews and observations to get more open-ended answers from these teachers. Such data are hoped to provide more insights into the role of teachers’ beliefs in their teaching.

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5 ijhams exploring primary school pre service and in service teachers’ beliefs about efl teaching to