An investigation of the perspectives on language proficiency of teachers, learners and supervisors within Workplace English Language and Literacy classes (AMES, NSW) and teacher practices relating to spoken and written language development within these classes

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This research has investigated two related questions: i) the way adult English as a second language teachers, workplace supervisors and English language learners talk about language proficiency in the workplace and what their expectations of language improvement are, and ii) how teachers teach English as a second language in workplace classes, and how their practices are grounded in current or traditional language acquisition theories or language development models and therefore how they foreground some aspects of language more than others. The 'problem' in the research was to explore the extent to which second language teachers, workplace supervisors and English language learners 'spoke the same language about language'. If there were differences in perceptions about language across the groups and if teachers themselves approached language differently from each other, to what extent might their practices satisfy learners and workplace supervisors in an educational climate of increased accountability? Four workplace English language and literacy classes were observed, recorded and analysed. The conversational data in the classes was used to illustrate what teachers were saying about language, what language proficiency models their metalanguage derived from and how this related to what they had said they believed about language and language learning. Teachers beliefs about language were surveyed in a separate research questionnaire and their course reports and classroom materials were also used to establish their theoretical underpinnings. Twenty-four workplace supervisors of the learners concerned were observed and recorded during teacher/supervisor meetings or sent questionnaires to ascertain their views on the learners and what they expected in terms of language performance and improvement from the learners. Thirty one learners from the four classes were interviewed or sent questionnaires about their views of their own language proficiency. The findings of the research indicated that as a result of certain factors, including professional training, previous language education background and possibly cultural expectations, English as a second language teachers, workplace supervisors and learners did not share the same concepts, understanding and expectations of the language abilities of non-English speaking workers in the workplace. Comparisons of the four teachers' practices indicated a range of teaching approaches which were all noticeably linked to their organisational and theoretical training and incorporated aspects of several current and traditional pedagogical practices. All four teachers were able to articulate their approaches to language learning and beliefs about what are the significant components of communication which were consistently and obviously reflected in their practice. The satisfying of stakeholder needs - learners and supervisors - by teacher practices was found not to be an issue because of the complexity of the expectations as well as the group behaviour of adult learners in workplace classes. However a framework for supplementing the theoretical and practical 'biases' by teachers was proposed to close any gaps which may result from idiosyncratic approaches. Recommendations are made that teachers be assisted to understand their practice through action research, increase their theoretical knowledge in language proficiency and assessment and translate their professional expertise into an intelligible format for workplace stakeholders.
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