First and foremost, it can be seen obviously from the classroom observations that teachers tried to adapt the tasks and activities employed in the new textbook to attract their learners’ participation. Below are two typical extracts from two different lessons implemented by two different teachers.
Extract 1 (Observation 2 Unit 13. Language Focus). In stead of asking students to do exercise 1 on Grammar and Vocabulary (Appendix 6) in their textbook, the teacher created a table of three columns and asked her students to complete the table in order to make adjectival forms of the verbs.
T: Can you complete the table on the board by adding “ing” or “ed” to the verbs? Now two students go to the board.
Ss: (Two students go to the board and complete the table)
Extract 2from observation 2: The teacher helped her students practice pronouncing the sounds /v/ and /f/. She herself found two pictures as visual aids to introduce the sounds.
T: Look at the poster and answer my questions. What’s this?
S: (in chorus) it’s a face /feis/
T: And this?
S: (just silent) …….
T: It’s a vase /veis/. Who can tell me the difference between them?
S: (some audible) v and f.
T: yes the meaning, the pronunciation of these words are different. Today we’ll practice two sounds: /v/ and /f/.
Extract 3: Another extract from observation 1 which describes the way the teacher tried to adapt the tasks provided in the book. Instead of answering four questions one after another in Task 2, p. 148: Listen again and answer the questions, the teacher asked her students to work in groups, then each group had to answer two questions in the table.
T: Bây giờ cô cho 2 nhóm lên bảng, now Questions 1and 3 group A; Questions 2 and 4 group B. Trong khi các bạn 2 nhóm làm trên bảng, các bạn dưới lớp chú ý quan sát và nhắc trợ giúp các bạn nếu cần. (Now two groups go to the board, questions 1 and 3 group A; Questions 2 and 4 group B. While your friends are doing the others can assist them if necessary).
2. he participate (participates) in three world cups
4. He became in (an) international ambassador for the past, working to promote peace and understanding through friendly sport activities.
It can be seen obviously from the extracts above the ways the teachers tried to adapt the tasks provided in the textbook for activating their students to get involved in the activities as much as possible. As a result, it helps the class to run more effectively during the period because they could understand what to do and how to find and retrieve information from the lesson.
I.1.2. Dependence on the textbook
The teachers tried to adapt the classroom activities to get a more interesting and lively lessons. However, the adaptation that teachers made seemed to be simple and really little. Basically, most classroom activities as well as teaching methods and classroom procedures as shown from observation data relied so heavily on the textbook. As a result, the textbook is the center of instruction influencing the teaching and learning process in the class. Below is a typical excerpt from one of the lesson transcripts.
T: Today we come to unit 5 Cities. Let’s start the first part reading.
T(writes on the board) : A. Reading.
I. Before you read
T: Look at the pictures and answer the questions.
T: Now who can match the pictures with the places.
Since all four observed teachers employed a similar textbook-based format for their lessons: before you read/ listen; while you read/listen; and after you read/listen, ect…, I just give only one extract here as a typical example. Although the students could finish all the prescribed tasks in their textbook, they might not be able to improve their language skills. What they did to answer their teachers is simply repeated all the words, phrases and sentences from the textbooks; there seemed not any communicative interactions between the teachers and students as well as among students.
I.1.3. Emphasis on forms rather than on communication
The next issue arising from most observed lessons demonstrates that the teachers tended to focus on forms and there was little emphasis on communicative ability, the meaningful use of language. Two of the excerpts below are typical examples of the problem.
Excerpt 1: from observation 6, a language focus lesson on the use of will and be goingto. The students had just done their two first exercises on the use of be going to and will to express future plans or future predictions. In this part they practiced using will to make offers.
T: (writes on the board) 3. Will: making offers.
T: Ta dïng will ®Ó ®a ra mét lêi ®Ò nghÞ. Ch¼ng h¹n mét b¹n b¶o lµ It’s very hot th× em sÏ ®a ra lêi ®Ò nghÞ lµ tí sÏ më cöa cho b¹n th× nãi thÕ nµo?(points to a students) (We use “will” to make an offer. For example someone says “It’s hot”then how do you make an offer to open the door for her?)
S: I will open the window.
T: Cßn b¹n b¹n nãi tí sÏ bËt qu¹t b»ng tiÕng Anh thÕ nµo?(points to another student)
S: I will turn on the fan.
T: good. VËy lµ chóng ta sÏ dïng will ®Ó ®a ra lêi ®Ò nghÞ gióp ai ®ã.
Excerpt 2: from observation 2 Teacher explained a grammatical phenomenon: “ing” adjective and “ed” adjective)
T (writes on the board) The film is interesting “ing” – active meaning
I am interested in the film. “ed”_ passive meaning
T: ta sử dụng dạng “ing” với nghĩa bản chất của sự việc còn dạng “ed” thì thể hiện tâm trạng.
I.1.4. Teaching is more product-based than process-based
Another meaningful result emerges from the observation classroom data reflects the dominance of mechanical drilling and practice during teaching and learning process. Below I exemplify three extracts from three observations of three different teachers.
Extract 1: from observation 7, a reading lesson (Unit 14 p.142-144). The students read the passage and did the tasks in their textbooks.
T: Now do Task 1. C¸c em ®äc råi kÕt hîp tõ, côm tõ cét A víi cét B.
T (After 1 minute) Have you finished? number 1 with?
Ss (in chorus): b
T: right, number 2 please?
Ss (in chorus): c
(The other words are done in the same procedure)
Extract 2: from Observation 4 Unit 15 p.156-158, reading lesson.
Extract 3: from Observation 5. Teacher let her students practice using “ing and ed” adjectives
T: His success is surprising
Vậy chúng ta có We are ….
Ss( in chorus) We are surprised at his success. (T wrote on the board)
T: làm cho cô câu sau, sử dụng hình thức đúng của từ “tire” trong cau sau, Long.
The long walk is_________
We are _______ of the long walk.
S (in chorus): tiring and tired.
Teachers seemed to be preoccupied with finishing the tasks provided in the textbook with little regard to how much the pupils learned or to what extent the pupils could use English for communication. Students occupied themselves with doing the prescribed tasks in their textbooks or answering teachers mechanically. There was only chance of controlled practicing English and most of the time the students answered in chorus.
I.1.5. Extensive use of L1
Last but not least, there was a tendency towards teaching which remained largely teacher-fronted and the language of instruction and classroom management was mainly Vietnamese. This seems to be one fundamental feature of all English classes.
The following extracts demonstrate this trend.
Extract 1: from observation 3, a reading lesson.
T: (After giving her students 1minute to look at the pictures in their books) Em nµo cã thÓ kÕt hîp tranh víi c¸c ®Þa danh t¬ng øng?
T: Hïng, picture one, please?
Hïng: Tha c« one is a /ei/ the Empire State building.
T: Good bøc tranh thø nhÊt lµ a c« viÕt lªn b¶ng cho c¸c em tiÖn theo dâi (writes on the board 1+a). TiÕp tranh 2, TuÊn nµo?
TuÊn: Tha c« lµ b ¹.
T: OK, 2b së chØ huy liªn hîp quèc. (writes on the board 2+b)
(The same procedure carried out until the last pictures)
Above I presented a description on how teachers used the new English textbook for grade 10 in practice. As can be seen from the results the teachers appeared to implement the new textbook more communicatively in different skill lessons. Most of them made all efforts to adapt the tasks and activities in the book to motivate their students to participate inside the lesson. Teachers divided their classes into small groups or in pairs to play games to do the task. This way helps motivate students much and make a meaningful use of the new textbook. This improves that it was the teachers who implemented the change as what previous researchers asserted “Teachers are the most important change agents” (Fullan, 1991; Markee, 1997). Most of the classroom observations showed that teachers strove for more interesting and vivid lessons with much endeavor in adapting the activities provided in the book. It is also obvious that teachers have tried to adapt the activities to make their lessons more vivid; however, their adoption of the textbook was mainly in pre-task stage. Most of their classroom activities are textbook-based and mechanical drilling and practice. Therefore, there was very little communicative interaction between the teachers and students. It is obvious that “the materials that teachers and learners use – will not necessarily effect a change in language behavior” (Harrison, 1996)
The lessons were somehow leaner-centered in the sense that most of the students actively participated in various activities initiated by the teachers. However, most of the classroom activities were based on the dominance of mechanical drilling and controlled practice. Very commonly used classroom techniques were chorus reading for example, the students were asked to read in chorus after the teacher twice a sentence containing the new structures or to read new words, even the reading text after the teacher’s model. The students had no chance to make sentences on their own or creatively, they just passively and mechanically followed what the teachers required. A couple of the teachers managed to elicit the students, but the elicitation was very simple. They mostly used Vietnamese as a tool of classroom management in order to make sure that the students understood the meaning of new words or the meaning of new structures. The teachers mainly asked display questions prompted in the textbook about the picture, the reading text or the listening section. There was very little time for the students’ creative learning except for occasional chances when the lesson was personalized and the students were free to talk about something familiar to them in English. However, the student talk was usually characterized as very brief. Not many students worked together, and they seemed to be accustomed to speaking Vietnamese in the class.
From what were observed I realized that grade 10 students were quite eager to learn English, but they were too shy and timid to initiate exchange so that they did not speak unless their name was called upon. Students were interested in describing the pictures in Vietnamese before reading. Although students’ participation was good, little actual learning did happen because the students were mainly asked to speak from the textbook and there was little communicative interaction between the teachers and students.
Another matter from the excerpts above is that teachers mainly used traditional teaching approaches. The observed lessons looked as if it was student-centered; however, it is wondered there was real learner-centered learning occurring.
The teachers had to work very hard from the beginning to the end of the forty five- minute lesson. They had to move around very often, modeled the new language phenomenon, talked a lot, and asked the students to do all parts provided in their books. When they gave pair work or group work to the students, they did not monitor the students’ work. And there seemed to be little creativeness on the role of the teachers because they had to made all effort to finish the activities prompted in the curricular innovation but most of the time their lessons were left unfinished when the bell rang.
In order to get more in-depth data for the study I conducted semi-structured interviews with all the teachers whose classes I visited. The post-observation interviews were about 20-30 minutes each, focusing on the critical issues from the observed lessons which helped the researcher get more information about the reasons why they implemented the new textbook in such a way so that it helps to know factors affecting teachers’ use of the new textbook. This provides the answer to the last research question of the study: What are the teachers’ rationales of their innovation implementation. All the interviews were conducted in Vietnamese in order for the participants to fully articulate their views without being constrained by the use of English or it helped them to avoid getting confused in understanding the English interviewing questions and giving answers to the asked questions. They were then fully, translated and analyzed by the researcher to uncover the emerging themes. The full translated transcript of the interviews is given in Appendix 4.
According to what participants revealed in the interviews, I categorized the reasons why the teachers used the book as the way they did as follows:
I.2.1. Teachers’ understanding of communicative teaching approach
When being asked to name the new teaching methodology underpinning the new textbook, the teachers’ answers semed to be vague. They gave different names to the teaching methodology such as “the learner-centered method”, “the innovative method” or “the guiding method”. They were even unable to clarify what the method meaned, and all of them seemed to have a positive attitude toward the teaching methodology prescribed in the curriculum on the account that it helped to motivate their students to involve in classroom activities. Talking about the merits of the new teaching methodology embedded in the textbook, they all made a rhetoric statement that it required the students to be active and pro-active in their learning, in using English for communication while the teacher played the role of a facilitator, the guide, and the enabler. Explaining the meaning of communication, all of the teachers said:
We let our students do the exercises in oral as well as handwritten forms on the board in order to improve their communicative ability of speaking and writing. (Teachers in post-observation interview 2, 3, 4, 5 said)
Dealing with their problems emerging from the implementation of the new textbooks all the interviewees said
We have tried to motivate our students by adapting tasks given in the new textbook and managed really hard to apply the new method underpinning the curricular innovation but it still seems not successful.
Another reason why they applied the new teaching methodology underpinning the curricular innovation in the way they did was that the big class size hindered them from managing their classroom activities. They said
There are about 50 or even over 50 students in each class. How can we let all of them practice speaking or reading, etc. in only 45 minutes? If we ask them to practice English together, it turns out to give them a chance to make much noise influencing badly the class nearby. (Three of the teachers frankly said)
What is more, they had to work very hard to finish the textbook. This was in the following words
The new textbook is interesting, meaningful and practical but the prescribed lesson is so long, especially the reading is full of new words and grammatical structures. There are three Tasks in each part of the Unit, but the forty five minutes lesson is enough for just two Tasks. We have to push the pupils all the time; otherwise, we will “have the lesson plan burnt”.
This matter is also what the teachers complained about the shortage of time for the students to practice inside the classroom. This leads to a noticeable gap between the teachers’ verbal support for, and their actual implementation of the intended innovation.
The reason given by the teachers for the use of the traditional method which focuses on language knowledge other than on language meaningful use in the interviews was the pressure of the regular assessment through National examination, calling the National Baccalaureate.
The paper format which typically focuses on reading comprehension skills through the knowledge of grammar, vocabulary and structures may not be compatible with the methodology of the new textbook. This examination, therefore, has a backwash effect on the innovative method of teaching and learning of English at high secondary school.
The teachers are reluctant to use the new teaching approach just to accept a high rate of failures at the examinations. They are not allowed to write their final term and final school year-tests so their caution about the new teaching method is understandable. Most of the teachers frankly said that
We only spend a half or two thirds of the period on Speaking and Listening skills since the remaining time is used for asking the students to do grammatical exercises which we supply them. The national examinations do not require them to speak or listen to the tape recorder. Doing exercises focuses on forms is interesting and much more helpful for them, especially for 12th grade students. Furthermore, if the students do not get good marks on their tests, we, their teachers are considered to be incompetent.
I.2.2. Teachers’ perceptions of their students’ level of English proficiency
Firstly, the teachers still used much Vietnamese instead of English in class because they were afraid that their students can’t understand what they are saying so not many students cuold participate in classroom activities for their poor level of English proficiency. All of the teachers said that
The students’ ability of English is quite poor and we have to use Vietnamese most of the time, especially in explaining new words and grammatical structures.
They also explicated that
The new textbook requires us to change the teaching method to be more dynamic. Yet our students have great difficulty participating in communicative activities due to their English deficiency and they just pay attention to grammar learning and translate everything into Vietnamese.
I.2.3. Teachers’ perceptions of their students’ motivation and attitudes toward learning English
Students’ motivation was another concern. Lack of exposure to the target language as well as the absence of a well-understood English language education policy has affected negatively the students’ motivation. Three teachers said in frustration
They don’t know what they are learning English for, except for the examination. Not many of the parents or even the authorities are aware of the importance of knowing English. Although the students’ English knowledge is not good, it does not affect badly the achievement of the school.
The students were reluctant in using English in the class, so the obstacles to the development of their communicative skills are on the increase. Consequently, the teachers use more and more Vietnamese instead of using English in their work inside the classroom. All interviewees shared
Our pupils’ English is very poor. They would be unable to understand if we spoke English to them. Maybe they weren’t used to listening to teachers speaking English when they were at lower secondary school.
Most of them assumed that
I must speak Vietnamese in order that my students can understand and I believe that explaining new words and phrases as well as the grammatical structures in Vietnamese is necessary for them to understand.
All of the participants admitted the great substantial aspect of the new textbook such as what Richards (2005) noted “In an English as a foreign language context it may even constitute the main and perhaps only source of language input that learners receive and the basis for language practice that occurs both inside and outside the classroom” (cited by Dr. Nguyen Thuy Minh. (2007, p. 6)). However, how to use the new textbook more communicatively and effectively is really a matter of concern. All of them believe that
It is really inextricable at present because the textbook authors tend to write the book for future use, for 10 years later use. It can be sure that the earliest time for applying successfully the new teaching method underpinning the new textbook is in a few years.
The findings from this study which are presented above provide a clear picture of how and why the teachers at Hadong senior high school implemented the new textbook as the way they did. There is a causal relation between teacher factors and learner factors in implementing the new textbook. Hence, it is not surprising that in responding to interview questions most teachers were expecting some positive changes from the local educational authorities.