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Change in language classroom

culture: the impact of a selfadaptive model of LTE


To a great extent within classrooms, the language used by
teachers and students determines what is learned and how
learning takes place. Wilkinson & Silliman, 2000, p. 337.
Is there a language classroom culture?
Breen (2001) proposes that the classroom be interpreted as a culture. In his
description, classroom culture needs to be construed by all participants as a social
exercise, through the inclusion and active participation of all. However, in practical
terms, that might not be the case. Research in education and language education has
identified a strong culture characteristic of traditionally organized classrooms, and
pointed out that it is not conducive to learning (Palincsar, Brown, & Campione, 1994).
Among the features of such culture is a mode of discourse classified as univocal
(Wertsch, 1998)authoritative teacher dominated discourse; the use of inauthentic
questions by the teacher (Nystrand, 1997)questions to which the teacher has a prespecified answer; and unbalanced power relations between teacher and learnersthe
teacher as absolute authority.
These features contribute to classroom dynamics which preclude assigning students a
meaningful epistemic role, understood as a role the students themselves can value
(Nystrand, 1997). Traditional classroom culture is in accord with a view of teaching
as the transmission of knowledge from teacher to students, which is one of the pillars
of the knowledge transfer paradigm. The rationale behind this mainstream view is that
education is largely a matter of apprenticing learners in the acquisition of knowledge,
defined as a body of justified beliefs, through a process of memorization.

In Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL), for the most part, the
dynamics emerging from this culture facilitate the development of routines; staged
performance devoid of authentic engagement, focussed exclusively on outcomes,
neglecting attention to the practices themselvesinauthentic interaction.
Despite the advancements in education in the past 40 years, specially regarding
critical pedagogy, and all the criticism these features have sustained over decades,
research points out the remarkable resistance to change exhibited by traditional
classroom culture (Wertsch, 1998). In contemporary teacher education, it is not
uncommon to view the endurance of classroom culture as a by-product of teachers
experiences as students, often called apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 2002).
From this perspective, teachers reproduce in their classrooms the practices to which
they were exposed during their entire lives as students.
While in language teacher education (LTE), at least in regard to TESOL,
apprenticeship of observation is traditionally thought of in regard to the period
antecedent to teacher preparation, an examination of the practices commonly
observed in mainstream LTE (see for example Brandt, 2006) suggests that language
teacher preparation courses are in accord with traditional classroom culture
mainstream LTE classrooms share a culture similar to traditional language classroom
culture.
How to promote change in language classroom culture?
One seemingly logical step in the direction of promoting change to language
classroom culture is to create opportunities for novice teachers to experience a
classroom culture based on features which differ from those to which they have been
exposed previously to becoming involved in LTE, before they start teaching.
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If this were the case, novices would be exposed to an alternative classroom culture
they could compare to traditional classroom culture. Change can be promoted through
organising the LTE classroom in the same way the novices are expected to organise
their own classrooms when they begin their teaching careers. If the features of the
LTE classroom culture are opposed to those seen in traditional classroom culture, and
the novices experience these alternative features, they might be apprenticed in the
new classroom culture, bring it over to their own classrooms when they start teaching,
and promote changes to language classroom culture.
In an attempt to explore this idea and investigate whether or not such an enterprise
could be carried out successfully at experimental level, a model of LTE was
constructed, based on features opposed to univocal discourse, inauthentic interaction,
and unbalanced power relations between teacher and learners.
The model was implemented with a group of in-service teachers in Brazil, through a
professional development course, henceforth LTE course. Classroom observations
before and after the teachers took part in the LTE course, among other sets of data,
show that the participating teachers promoted changes to their classroom culture and
that their students responded positively to these changes.
The Self-Adaptive Model of LTE
In order to account for contextual factors, self-adaptability was one of the aims
pursued in the development of the model. This is realised in the way the model
permits course facilitators and participants to co-construct the content of any
instantiation of the model and tailor the course to suit the participants and their
contexts.

This is achieved through the implementation of the three guiding principles of the
model: complementarity, dynamism, and self-adaptation, which in turn lead to the
development of a set of necessary conditions, described here as authenticity,
meaningful roles for learners, balance of power relations between teacher and learners
and self-regulation or homeostasis. These principles and conditions are in accord with
an alternative education paradigm to that of knowledge transferthe knowledge
construction paradigm.
Complementarity
According to the principle of complementarity, teachers and learners are the
possessors of distinct, yet equally important, kinds of knowledge, which need to be
combined so that these can be activated. In regard to the teaching/learning processes,
each of these kinds of knowledge is inert in the absence of the other. This entails that
these two kinds of knowledge are complementary.
Without the participation of the learners, the teachers discourse is characterized as a
static monologue, which can become an empty recitation of explanations. In this
mode of discourse, univocal, the ideas put forward by the speaker coincide with the
ideas of those who listen, or are accepted unconditionally by them. As a result, the
discourse is not renewed, and the ideas stagnate.
With the learners authentic participation, on the other hand, teachers are constantly
reviewing their explanations, producing new accounts, considering the learners
proposition and incorporating what seems helpful, characterising classroom discourse
as dialogic, a mode of discourse believed to serve the generation of new ideas
(Wertsch, 1998). Through the dynamics which emerge from the types of interaction
fostered by dialogic discourse, teachers can engage with their own teaching, learn
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more about what they teach and how to teach ita process of continuous
development (teacher scholarship).
In the case of the LTE course, the facilitators knowledge is understood as being of a
general (theoretical) kindknowing about teaching and learning in general, and that
of the participants is seen as a specific (practical) kindknowing about teaching and
learning in their particular case. The amalgam of both general and specific knowledge
leads to the construction of complex descriptions of language teaching and learning
by the facilitator and participants.
Dynamism
According to the principle of dynamism, knowledge construction is seen as the
process of understanding novel information. To achieve understanding, individuals
call upon their existing knowledge to analyse new information, build hypotheses,
investigate their validity, and formulate possible conclusions.
This can lead to both the construction of new knowledge on the basis of the
information being processed, and the re-evaluation and transformation of the
individuals knowledge base, simultaneously. Existing knowledge is transformed as it
incorporates fresh knowledgeknowledge is dynamic, or ever-changing. Through
social engagement, individuals can constantly update and reshape their knowledge.
Dynamism, therefore, captures the way both kinds of knowledge, the teachers and the
learners knowledge, have the potential to transform one another. As teacher and
learners interact, if each shares their respective kinds of knowledge, both can develop
new knowledge and transform what they already know.
Self-adaptation
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It is understood in the context of the model that learning takes place through authentic
participation in classroom activities, and that participants can transform such activities
as a result of their participation (Vygotsky, 1986). This is in accord with the idea of
learning through imitation, as described by Tomasello (1999)the imitator recreates
the activity, not merely reproduces it.
Given that teaching and learning take place under a multitude of conditions, combined
in unique ways in each particular context, it is reasonable to believe that the changes
in classroom activities promoted by each group of participants would not be unvaried.
To accommodate these changes, it is necessary that classroom activities be
constructed flexibly, in a way that these can be responsive to the context in which they
are implemented.
The impact of the guiding principles
Implementing the idea of complementarity in the classroom leads to a change in the
mode of discourse. If the teachers and the learners knowledge activate one another,
classroom discourse cannot be univocal and has to accommodate a plurality of voices
and ideasdialogic discourse. This is reinforced by the idea of dynamism. Since
knowledge is dynamic, there can be no set solution to any given problem, therefore
every proposition has to be considered on its own merits instead of evaluated on the
basis of whether or not it agrees with existing knowledge.
In this case, learners are assigned meaningful epistemic roles, as activators of the
teachers knowledge and active contributors to the process of knowledge construction.
This, in turn, calls for balanced power relations between teacher and learners, so that
learners are free to contribute and their contributions have the same status of those of
the teacher.
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From such a context emanates authentic interactions which ultimately regulate what
takes place in the classroomself-adaptation.
The implementation of the model
Thirteen teachers participated in this project and four took the LTE course to
completion. The course was held at a State language school in Joao Pessoa, Brazil,
from February to June 2010. Participants met once a week for a 2-hour workshop in
which the principles of the Self-Adaptive Model were implemented. The
workshops were based on collaborative sharing of ideas and open
discussions aimed at the construction of solutions to participants
perceived problems.
The content of the course was constructed by the group of teachers and the facilitator
at the beginning of the course, based on information about prospective participants
expectations in relation to content, collected through a survey questionnaire filled out
by 22 teachers; and Shulmans (1987) theoretical framework, which
divides teacher knowledge into a set of intertwined domains of
knowledge (content knowledge; general pedagogical knowledge;
pedagogical content knowledge; knowledge of learners; knowledge
of curriculum, knowledge of educational ends; knowledge of
educational context), proposed by the facilitator.
Through open discussions, participants decided on: a) which
domains best represented the participants expectations and interests; b) which
domains were relevant to participants; c) the feasibility of addressing each chosen
domain in the course; and d) what should be part of each of the chosen domains, thus
constructing the course content.
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The participating teachers decided that the core content of the


course should comprise the general pedagogical knowledge and
pedagogical content

knowledge,

understood respectively

as

knowing how teaching and learning occurs, and knowing how the
teaching and learning of English occurs in the case of speakers of
other languages.
It was decided to briefly explore content knowledge, understood as
knowledge about English, as the initial topic, and to investigate
what the domain would include, since the participants thought that
the understanding of this domain held by the course facilitator and
themselves would filter through the discussions on pedagogical
content knowledge.
The domains of knowledge of learners, curriculum, educational
enterprise and educational context were identified as the areas of
expertise of the participants. It was decided that their expertise in
these domains should be used to ground the discussions in the
course, rather than be the foci of discussions.
The remaining domains: knowledge of discourse, field-specific and
support knowledge were seen as subsidiary. The group decided that
the development of these domains would be a consequence of the
sharing of ideas, and that deeper knowledge would have to be
constructed through further studies in specific areas and through
personal experience.

Methodology
The project followed a case study approach to research. The
participating teachers were observed in their classrooms prior to the
introduction of the Self-Adaptive Model to them (stage 1), following
an observations questionnaire designed to focus the observers
attention on relevant classroom features.
Subsequently to their commencement in the LTE course, the
participants were observed in other occasions (stage 2), following
the same observation system, starting approximately 9 weeks after
the first observation was conducted.
The data collected in stage 1 was compared with data collected in
stage two to establish whether or not there were changes in
classroom culture apparent to the observer. The data was then
reviewed by two independent assessors, for the purpose of
triangulating the researchers results.
Data collection
The data collected include DVD footage of classroom observations, observation
questionnaires filled out by the researcher during classroom observations, transcripts
of the lessons observed, DVD footage of interviews with participating teachers and
some of their students, excerpts from the transcriptions of interviews, review of the
footage from classroom observations by independent assessors, and review
questionnaires filled out by assessors during the review of classroom footage.
Results

The observations prior to the commencement of the LTE course revealed a set of
features shared by the three classrooms, which were in accord with traditionally
organized language classroom culture: the teachers talked for most of the time;
student participation was minimal; the teachers often answered their own questions;
students were expected to recite formulaic answers which matched the teachers
answer key; the teachers tightly controlled classroom interactions.
Three months after the teachers commenced the LTE course, classroom observations
showed a completely different picture: the teachers gave much more time for students
to talk and in some cases the proportions were reversedstudents spoke for most of
the time; students participation improved; the teachers no longer had to answer their
own questions; the students were expected to share their thoughts; the teachers
allowed emergent classroom interactions.
Discussion
The data collected during the implementation show that the
participating teachers made changes to their classroom culture in
accord with the principles informing the model, that their students
responded to these changes, and that the students behaviour also
changed. The evidence also shows that each of the participating
teachers was able to construct and implement a different approach,
which in turn led to the emergence of classroom dynamics which
were specific to their respective contexts. These findings support
the self-adaptability of the model proposed here.
Both the change in the teachers behaviour and the behaviour itself
are attributed to the teachers participation in the LTE course in
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which the model was implemented. This link can be made in the
absence of other identifiable factors which could explain the
occurrence of dissimilar behaviour observed in these classrooms
between the first and subsequent observations, and also due to the
ways in which teachers classroom behaviour observed in the
process of the implementation conformed to aspects of the model.
Conclusion
One of the most significant propositions in this study is that LTE
classrooms and language classrooms be analogously organized. This
is seen as a crucial contributor to successful teacher education, as it
is an essential condition for apprenticeship, which is understood as
the catalyst of learning.
Based on the results of this study, it is clear that teachers
participation in the LTE course had an impact on promoting changes
to classroom culture. This can be explained as the result of an
apprenticeship promoted through the LTE course: the fact that the
teachers experienced the principles and features of the model as
these were highlighted in the LTE course allowed them to replicate
the LTE classroom culture in their own classrooms.
The following appendices show sample transcripts with students
utterances marked in bold. Appendix one shows a sample transcript
from a low proficiency class in stage 1, prior to the implementation
of the Self-Adaptive Model. Appendix 2 shows a sample transcript of

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the same classroom in stage 2, after the implementation of the


model. Appendix 3 shows a sample of a high proficiency classroom
in stage 2.

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Appendix 1: sample transcript of a lesson in a low proficiency


classroom in stage 1
Teacher:

Last week I gave you this print out for you to answer the questions. However,
some people did not understand the exercise. So I am going to comment on
the questions to see if you can follow. Of course I am not going to answer
every single question, but according to my comments, you will be able to
figure if the answers you gave to other questions are correct or incorrect. I am
going to comment on the first five questions of each block. In the first block,
there are some phrases, and below each phrase you have instructions about
what you need to do with the phrase, OK? So the first phrase is in affirmative
form, and between brackets it is indicated that you should transform the
phrase into a negative. Well, as you already know, where there is the verb to
be we work with the verb to be. Then there is no reason to worry, because the
verb to be will be used to state, will be used to negate and will be used
interrogate. So this phrase here is in affirmative form, and I want to transform
it into a negative form. How do I do this?

Students:

silent

The teacher starts writing on the board.


Teacher:

I thought everyone would get this exercise right

The teacher writes on the board: There are cakes in the kitchen, which is the first phrase of the
first block of exercises on the students print out.
Teacher:

This phrase here (The teacher points at the phrase written on the board); is it
in affirmative, interrogative, or negative form?

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Students:

hesitate

Teacher:

Ah? It is in form A A

Students:

Affirmative

Teacher:

Affirmative! And the exercise requires you to transform this phrase into a
negation, isnt it so?

Students:

Silent

Teacher:

This phrase here, it has the verb to be; and we already learned that there + to
be means there exists, isnt it so?

Students:

Silent

Teacher:

So, if I have the verb to be here, how do I transform this phrase into a
negation?

Students:

Silent

Teacher:

Come on guys, how do I transform this into a negation?

Students:

Silent

The teacher then writes not on the board, directly above are in the phrase: There are cakes in
the kitchen
Teacher:

I just need to write not. Once this is done, the phrase ceases to state and starts
to negate, isnt it so?

Students:

Silent

Teacher:

Here, despite the fact that it says: negative form, what did some students do?
They placed the verb to be at the beginning of the phrase. If it says here that
you should change the phrase into a negative, and the student changes it into

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a question, it can only be for lack of attention! Was the question difficult? No,
it was not difficult! It was the lack of attention which caused the problem
here.1
Teacher:In this phrase here
The teacher writes the phrase on the board in English as she speaks
Teacher:

She washes her clothes every day. It is also asked that this be transformed
into a negation. Look, the majority got this one right, but there were people
who put the verb to be in this phrase. Guys, we have already studied this, you
already know this, you are third year and you know that if the verb to be does
not appear in the phrase, I will not work with the verb to be. I will only work
with the verb to be when it appears in the phrase. It did not appear; I will
have to resort to another element. We have also learned that if I have a verb
with es I will use does.

The teacher writes the auxiliary does on the board.


Teacher:

Well, if I have es in the verb; if I have here third person singular, in which
tense is the verb?

A student:

Hesitates then says: Present

The teacher complements the students answer, emphasizing that it was incomplete and that
the correct answer is simple present, as she stresses the word simple.
Teacher:

It is in simple present

The teacher points at the verb wash in the phrase she washes her clothes every day written on
the board.

1 In the printout given to students, all the instructions for all the exercises are
written in Portuguese.

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Teacher:

The verb wash; it is a verb which is not an auxiliary verb, it does not have the
same strength as the verb to be. I cannot make a question or a negation with
this verb. It is not an auxiliary. Then I will have to get assistance from an
auxiliary verb. Which one might it be? Might be?

Students:

Hesitate and then say: does 2

Teacher: Does! This does, to transform this phrase into a negation, in which position in the
stage will I place it?

2 The word does is already written on the board and was mentioned by the
teacher a little earlier.
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Appendix 2: sample transcript of a lesson in the same classroom in


stage 2
Teacher:

In previous lessons, in the two or three previous lessons, what did we see exactly?
Who remembers?

A student:

Pronouns

Teacher:

Pronouns? What pronouns?

Students:

Subject

Teacher:

Subject pronoun and what other type of pronouns?

Students:

Object

Teacher:

Who remembers the subject pronoun and object pronoun? How do we use one and
how do we use the other one?

Students:

Silent

Teacher:

In what situation in a phrase, in what function in a phrase do I use subject pronoun?

A student:

In subject function

Teacher:

Yes, but in what position will it be in a phrase?

Students speak simultaneously, producing two main answers


Students:

At the beginning of a phrase

Students:

Before the verb

Teacher:

What about the object pronoun?

Students speak simultaneously, producing three answers


Students:

It is the complement

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Students:

Direct object

Students:

Indirect object

Teacher:

It is a complement which can be a direct object or indirect object. Complement of


what?

Students:

Of the verb
Teacher: That is it; complement of the verb. In the last class I asked you to research,
in your other previous course books, the subject pronouns and object pronouns. Were
any of you curious? Did anyone remember to look? No? Nobody? Look guys,
remember that I cannot do anything on my own; you need to participate. Dont wait
for me to bring everything to class, because if you come here with the content
roughly understood, our lesson becomes much easier. But lets go on. Who
remembers which are the subject pronouns?]

Students:

I, you, he

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Appendix 3: sample transcript of a lesson in another, higher


proficiency, classroom in stage 2
Student 1:

About a week ago I was reading some articles about India, which pictured India
as the Holy country. I read it in a magazine, ah, super inters... How do you
pronounce this: super interessante?

Teacher:

The magazine?

Student:

Yes

Teacher:

Super interesting, but you can say it in Portuguese, because it is a proper noun.

Student 1:

Ok. Super Interessante. So I found out that 70% of India is rural area and only
30% is urban area.

A student:

So most of it is farm?

Student 1:

Yes, Most of it, 70%. So in this part, 70 %, you can see a very traditional life.
How is a very traditional life? For example, couples

Teacher: Couples (other students also help saying the word out loud)
Student 1:

Couples cant, in Valentines Day, go out together, walk together or kissing and
hugging each other, because...

Teacher:

Because it is not allowed?

Student 1:

No, it is not allowed, in this 70 %, because the Police look at him... look at them
and say: no, you are going to jail. Because it is denied.

A student:

It is what?

Same student:

What did you say before? It is?

Student 1:

Ah; is denied.

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Student 1:

The other 30% is urban...

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