Over the last decade, task-based language teaching (TBLT) has become a central focus in second/foreign language education policy in Asian-Pacific countries (Adams & Newton 2009; Butler 2011; Littlewood 2007). Governments in the region have designated TBLT as the official discourse in second/foreign language curriculum innovation and teachers across different educational contexts are expected to adopt TBLT in their classes. The teachers’ central role in the implementation of the curriculum has consequently led to growing research interest into English language teacher cognition (i.e., teachers’ beliefs, knowledge and thinking) in relation to TBLT in the region (Canh 2011; Sakui 2004; Yook 2010) as teacher cognition is considered to be a prominent factor in the successful implementation of curricula (Borg 2006). To date, several studies have explored teachers’ implementation of curricula, but they have focused primarily on only one of two major components of teacher cognition, namely their beliefs (Canh 2011; Viet 2013); no studies in the Vietnamese context have yet examined teacher cognition with the purpose exploring both their beliefs and knowledge – two major components of teacher cognition, according to the literature (Borg 2003, 2006). Furthermore, previous studies focused on teacher cognition about Task Based Language Teaching (TBLT) as part of the teaching methodology rather than the guiding approach that informs the curricular content, teaching pedagogy and learner assessment with regards to the introduction of tasks. Given that the task-based curriculum is designed on the three-dimensional interface of curriculum content, teaching pedagogy and learner assessment (Nunan 2004), there is a critical gap in the literature regarding this interface. In the current curriculum innovation in Vietnam, TBLT is used as an overarching discourse defining the curricular content, classroom pedagogy and learner assessment (Van et al 2006a, 2006b). Even now, what the Vietnamese teachers know, believe and practise in the classroom in relation to these dimensions of the curriculum innovation still remains unclear.
This qualitative case study fills the research gap in the literature by exploring Vietnamese teachers’ implementation of the task-based curriculum from a teacher cognition perspective. Drawing on a combined framework of Shulman’s (1986, 1987) categories of teacher curricular knowledge and pedagogical content knowledge and Bernstein’s (1990, 2000) notion of pedagogic discourse, this research project examined the participating teachers’ cognitions and classroom practices regarding the curriculum in the three dimensions (i.e., curricular content, teaching pedagogy and learner assessment) that the curriculum innovation entailed. In particular, this study looked at three research questions:
1. What cognitions do the participating teachers hold about the task-based curriculum in a Vietnamese upper secondary school?
2. How do the participating teachers’ cognitions permeate their classroom practices?
3. To what extent are the teachers’ cognitions reflected in their classroom testing practices?
A case study of six teachers was conducted for the current investigation. Empirical data was collected from interviews (semi-structured interviews and informal conversations), lesson plans, classroom observations, and documents (e.g., textbooks, curriculum guidelines, and test papers). The data was transcribed into the original language that the teachers used (both English and Vietnamese) and analysed using a qualitative thematic approach (Braun & Clarke 2006; Guest et al. 2012).
The findings from the interview data indicated that teachers’ cognitions, classroom practices and assessment all mirrored a structural approach that privileges form over meaning. Specifically, the teachers conceived the curricular content in terms of discrete linguistic items, paying minimal attention to a topic-based content that the curriculum was modelled on. For those teachers, learning English means rote memorization of linguistic items which should be prioritized over students’ communicative skills. Further data from the lesson plans and classroom observations showed a similar focus-on-forms approach. In teaching, the majority of the teachers selected vocabulary-based, closedended and form-focused activities. In addition, these activities were organized in a formfocused sequence, reflecting the conventional Presentation – Practice – Production (PPP) teaching model (Byrne 1986), which is not aligned with that advocated by a TBLT framework of practice (Skehan 1996; Willis 1996). Analysis of data from testing practices indicated that the teachers’ assessment focused on discrete linguistic items and precision of language production at the word and sentence levels, aligning with the focuson- forms approach that the teachers described and delivered in classes. In light of Bernstein’s (1990, 2000) pedagogic discourse, the findings reported from the teachers’ curriculum, pedagogy and assessment showed that discrete linguistic knowledge, rather than tasks, dominated their cognitions and classroom practices. It was likely that the teachers responded to the influence of the examinations, and prioritized the importance of examinations in their classroom teaching. As a result, the teachers’ classroom practices deviated from the underlying purpose behind the TBLT approach in the curriculum innovation, and instead aligned with a ‘teaching-to-the-test’ approach (e.g., Popham 2001) in their implementation of the task-based curriculum.
The findings reported in this study serve to enrich our academic understanding in the field of teacher cognition research from a combined framework of Shuman’s (1986, 1987) concept of teachers’ knowledge and Bernstein’s (1990, 2000) notion of pedagogic discourse, suggesting a rethinking of teacher cognition research which is situated in a local setting. More importantly, this thesis provides empirical evidence for language education policy makers, curriculum leaders, test designers, and teacher trainers to consider in relation to the implementation of the task-based curriculum, and suggestions for making the curriculum innovation a success in local classroom contexts.