Teachers' subjective perspectives on foreign language vocabulary learning and teaching
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This study examines the beliefs and subjective theories teachers hold about vocabulary learning and teaching. Recent research into teacher cognition has repeatedly shown that teachers’ perspectives on languages, language learning, and pedagogy play an important role in foreign language classes. Teacher cognition research has increasingly addressed various aspects of learning and teaching in recent years, however, vocabulary teaching and learning has not been the focus of inquiry in these studies. To address this lacuna, the present dissertation employs an exploratory multi-case study with three university instructors at a Canadian university who teach German foreign language beginner classes. Guided by a poststructuralist-constructivist conceptualization of beliefs and knowledge as dynamically constructed and embedded in social context, I explore how teachers’ past experiences as learners, their reflections on their teaching, their professional training, and their interaction with peers, students, and educational institutions influence the subjective perspectives they develop about vocabulary. In applying narrative inquiry as the main methodological tool, the following data was collected and analyzed: video recordings of classroom observations, adjunct stimulated recall sessions, concept map drawings, interviews, and a survey. The analyses shows that the participating teachers draw on various sources to construct their subjective perspectives of vocabulary teaching and learning (e.g., their apprenticeship of observation, their reflection-on-action of classroom proceedings, role models, and academic sources of professional development).Furthermore, the findings of the present study show that their personal, lived learner experiences play a key role and appear to be the dominant factor in this process. Experienced academic sources of professional development, in contrast, are considered less important. Subjective perspectives are not stable propositions but negotiated and changed in accordance with dynamics of space, place, and time; as such, they can be considered as embedded within particular sociocultural contexts. The data also show that subjective perspectives are part of the respective teacher’s self-construction and are mediated by processes of self-positioning and other-positioning. Subjective perspectives follow a highly individualized reasoning process. As a result, even though the participating teachers had similar experiences in some areas, their subjective theories on the respective points differ; and vice versa, in some cases different experiences have nevertheless led them to develop similar subjective theories on several points. Besides, the data shows that the subjective perspectives participants report to hold may be rather dissociated from their actual teaching practices. Such tensions between subjective theories and vocabulary teaching practices can be seen as either conscious (e.g., teachers realize divergences and they aim to justify or rectify the discrepancies retrospectively in interviews with the researcher) or unconscious (e.g., teachers are not aware of the gap between their self-proclaimed perspectives and their actions). Subjective perspectives are constructed in mediation with the interdependent constituents of teacher persona, educational context, learner, subject matter vocabulary, and academic reasoning (all of which are, in turn, subjected to change arising from space, place, and/or time). Given that change is an important part in the lived experiences of instructors, the present study suggests that reflected engagement is to be regarded as a life-long process of personal and professional development. It works in ways that engage teachers, invite them to ask questions, and to reflect on how academic knowledge constructions relate to themselves, their learners, the context of their teaching, and the subject matter vocabulary.