Beliefs of teachers of Chinese in Australian schools: how teacher perceptions of culture in language teaching impact their interculturality and their teaching of Chinese
thesisposted on 28.03.2022, 16:58 by Scott Anthony Smith
In the last decade, it has been identified that the study of Chinese language in Australian schools, despite political rhetoric and funding, has been struggling to attract and retain students. The Chinese teacher professional community is keen to achieve greater learning outcomes in an increasing number of students. Understanding the cultural context of language use, and 'culture teaching', is placed today in the foreground of foreign language pedagogy. In current language pedagogy, which has been shaped by sociocultural theory, the teaching of culture has moved from being an isolated "extra" element of language, to being integrated and embedded, and 'intercultural' in orientation. With 90% of teachers of Chinese having been educated in China, it has been suggested that current Chinese teaching in Australian schools, may be perpetuating older models of culture learning. The individual teacher's voice is largely absent in current research on Chinese teacher education programs in both China and internationally. This study meets that gap, examining teacher beliefs, which we know shape teacher practice, and thus student learning. The research questions of this study were: 1. What beliefs do teachers of Chinese language in Australian schools hold about culture as it relates to language and the teaching of language? 2. How can the interculturality of teachers be understood from the way they describe themselves and their beliefs about culture, teaching, language and values? 3. How does this interculturality impact upon pedagogy in the teaching of Chinese language? This qualitative study employed two approaches to data collection. The data collection instruments used in this project were firstly an online survey to capture a broad picture of Chinese language iii teacher beliefs nationally. Secondly, to achieve depth in four case studies, semi-structured interviews and classroom observations were employed, to construct ethnographies of the four teachers. The theoretical frameworks of the study are sociocultural theory and the theoretical model of Communities of Practice. The results of the survey showed that teachers perceive culture as long-established customs or ways of living, including common behaviours and beliefs, largely manifested in relationships and ways of communicating, or celebrated in practices such as festivals and iconography. In addition to commonalities, the ethnographies revealed the nuanced and individual nature of construction of beliefs and interculturality in the four teachers, underlining the need to recognise diversity within any investigation of a professional group. The study has provided, counter to the frequent essentialisation of supposed beliefs amongst Chinese teachers, a mapping of the diverse beliefs evident in the professional community of practice, and teachers' interest in forward change and innovation, some of which can be aligned directly with aspects of interculturality. The study concludes with a number of implications for future professional development of the Chinese teacher community.