Macquarie University
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Teacher autonomy in college English classrooms in China: teachers' attitudes and practices

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posted on 2022-03-28, 10:01 authored by Lina Qian
Autonomy is widely acknowledged as a necessary capability of the language learner and a prominent goal for successful language teaching (Benson, 2011; Holec, 1981; Lee, 1998; Little, 1999; Smith, 2008). Little (1995) claims explicitly that learner autonomy depends on teacher autonomy. Benson and Huang (2008) also observe that research on autonomy is in a transition from a focus on foreign language learning to foreign language teaching. However, most previous studies on teacher autonomy were from a theoretical perspective, so they lacked empirical evidence from practice in language classrooms. In China, College English is a compulsory course in most of the public universities, and its teaching is under strict control of accountability and national policy. This context provides an excellent lens to observe how teacher autonomy functions in such classrooms. Therefore, this study took a Chinese public university as a case to investigate teacher autonomy in College English classrooms. The case study focused on the following four research questions: 1) What are Chinese College English teachers' attitudes toward learner and teacher autonomy in their work? ; 2) What are CE teachers' practices in their classrooms? ; 3) Do their teaching practices align with their attitudes toward autonomy? ; 4) What does teacher autonomy mean in the context of CE teaching in China? To address these research questions, semi-structured interviews were utilised to understand teachers' attitudes toward autonomy. In addition, classroom observation was conducted to investigate participants' teaching practices, and stimulated recall protocols were adopted to interpret teachers' understanding of their practice. Fourteen College English teachers in the case university participated in this two-month study. Interviews, selected video clips of classroom observations and stimulated recall interviews were transcribed and analysed qualitatively. As a result, three themes emerged: context of teaching, teachers' attitudes toward autonomy, and their classroom practices. Three main findings were as follows. Firstly, the fourteen participants could be categorized into three groups based on their varied attitudes toward teacher and learner autonomy in their work. They were the less autonomous group, moderately autonomous group, and more autonomous group. Second, the comparisons of classroom observation and semi-structured interviews revealed that participants' teaching practices were consistent with their attitudes toward autonomy. Thirdly, a learner-centred pedagogy with improvisational teaching practices and rich learner-supportive interactions was the main demonstration of teacher autonomy in language classrooms in which the institutional, instructional, and physical contexts were not so autonomy-friendly. In conclusion, the findings contribute empirical evidence to supporting the theory of teacher autonomy. In addition, the findings also suggest that the more autonomous teachers should be role models for other teachers to pursue a more flexible and positive attitude toward autonomy, a more improvisational teaching method for learner-supportive purposes, and a more learner-centred pedagogy in EFL education even under contextual constraints. Finally, the study calls for more systematic and individualized professional education or development programs for EFL teachers in China to promote their autonomy.


Table of Contents

Chapter 1. Introduction -- Chapter 2. Literature review and research questions -- Chapter 3. Methodology -- Chapter 4. Context of teaching -- Chapter 5. Teacher attitudes -- Chapter 6. Group one : less autonomous teachers -- Chapter 7. Group two : moderately autonomous teachers -- Chapter 8. Group three : more autonomous teachers -- Chapter 9. Discussion -- Chapter 10. Conclusions and implications -- References -- Appendices.


Bibliography: pages 284-303 Theoretical thesis.

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Human Sciences, Department of Linguistics

Department, Centre or School

Department of Linguistics

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Phil Benson


Copyright Lina Qian 2017. Copyright disclaimer:






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