Professional learning communities : learning sites for primary school English language teachers in Vietnam

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The present qualitative case study set out to examine the processes of an innovative professional learning activity, known as professional learning communities (PLCs), which operated as learning sites for primary school English language teachers (PETs) in Thanh Van, a city in Vietnam. A majority of the PETs were originally trained as secondary school English language teachers and therefore were grappling with the new demands of teaching in a primary setting. Their professional learning has been under-researched and so offered a unique opportunity for research into the ways the PLCs assisted (or not) in the PETs’ development. A sociocultural perspective, which highlights the situatedness and interactiveness of teacher learning, was adopted as a theoretical lens to understand teacher learning in this particular context. This study comprised two phases of data collection. The data included 10 observations of the meetings of four PLCs, 4 semi-structured interviews with three PLCs’ leaders and an EFL consultant and 20 semi-structured interviews with seven PETs after observing their EFL lessons at primary schools. Thematic analysis with an iterative coding process was used to interpret the observations and interviews. The research shows that the PLCs were recontextualised, incorporating not only common features of any teacher community as reviewed in literature but also unique features relevant to the particularities of the specific context. These particularities were evident in their formal structure, multilayered leadership and complex learning relationships. The findings clearly suggest that established as a top-down formal professional activity, the reshaped PLCs allowed for bottom-up professional learning. The PETs engaged in their learning process as active and thoughtful learners. Their learning was socially mediated through professional interactions in the PLCs, which promoted situated learning, peer learning and scaffolding among the participants. However, teachers’ full participation was affected by some factors including insufficiently developed collegiality among teachers, cultural expectations on their social roles in leading professional learning and time constraints. However, generally, the PETs and other stakeholders perceived the PLCs to be of benefit to teachers’ knowledge and identity development and networking. The study makes significant contributions to the knowledge about the role of PLCs in teachers’ professional development, particularly within a context where this form of teacher learning is unfamiliar. The thesis makes a number of recommendations, which aim to strengthen the basis for collaborative learning amongst Vietnamese teachers and to suggest models of PLCs appropriate to the Vietnamese context.
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