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Investigation into English GrammarProficiency of Teachers of EnglishLanguageGIOVANNA MACFARLANEBachelor of ArtsDiploma of EducationGraduate Diploma in Education – TESOLMaster of EducationInternational Diploma in Language Teaching ManagementSubmitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree ofDOCTOROFEDUCATIONFaculty of EducationUniversity of TasmaniaSeptember 2015

Declaration of originalityI, Giovanna MacFarlane, am the author of the thesis titled Investigation into Englishgrammar proficiency of teachers of English language, submitted for the degree ofDoctor of Education. I declare that the material is original, and to the best of myknowledge and belief, contains no material previously published or written byanother person, except where due acknowledgement is made in the text of thethesis, nor does the thesis contain any material that infringes copyright. The thesiscontains no material which has been accepted for a degree or diploma by theUniversity or any other institution.Giovanna MacFarlaneDate7 September, 2015i

Statement of authority of accessI, Giovanna MacFarlane, author of the thesis titled Investigation into Englishgrammar proficiency of teachers of English language, submitted for the degree ofDoctor of Education, agree that this thesis may be made available for loan andlimited copying and communication in accordance with the Copyright Act 1968.Giovanna MacFarlaneDate7 September, 2015ii

Statement of ethical conductThe research associated with this thesis abides by the international and Australiancodes on human and animal experimentation, as approved by the Human ResearchEthics Committee (Tasmania) Network –Social Sciences, Ethics Reference No.H0012170Giovanna MacFarlaneDate7 September, 2015iii

AbstractThere have been many studies that have supported the teaching of grammar andmany that have not, mainly because grammar teaching did not seem to have amarked improvement on students’ writing. In English speaking countries, traditionalgrammar ceased to be taught in the late 1960s after the Dartmouth Conference of1966, which proved to be a catalyst for change in government policy in thosecountries. As a consequence, grammar has been taught in a progressivelyattenuated manner since that time. Australia has now inaugurated a nationalcurriculum requiring teachers to teach grammar. The question is whether, afteralmost 50 years of this situation, teachers are equipped to fulfil this requirement. Asthis policy has been instrumental in the preparation of teachers in differenteducational sectors (in domestic school settings and in international Englishteaching settings), this study was conducted with a group of teachers in an Englishlanguage teaching centre attached to an Australian university, providing tuition forinternational students intending to pursue tertiary studies through the medium ofEnglish language.The aim of this study was to discover whether teachers of English at the languageteaching centre experience difficulties in their own understanding of Englishtraditional grammar, and, if so, which aspects of grammar cause them particulardifficulty. Those grammar items identified as problematic would be included in aprofessional development program specifically devised for teachers at that centre.Teachers’ views on the importance of grammar were also canvassed. The study wasconducted as an action research project, employing a mixed method approach withcollection of both quantitative and qualitative data. The study was carried out inthree distinct phases. This study was a sequential one, with each phase analysedbefore the next phase began, and with each phase informing the subsequent one.Instruments used in the three phases were (i) inventories; (ii) surveys; and (iii) semistructured interviews.iv

The study had five major findings, the first and most important of which was thatmany of the respondents showed a lack of understanding of certain aspects ofgrammar. There was also some evidence regarding lack of confidence in this area.Teaching grammar in context was the most preferred method among therespondents. The findings fulfilled the study objectives which included gainingteacher views on the significance and importance of grammar knowledge in TESOLteaching; discovering any gaps in the respondents’ grammar knowledge; anddevising a professional development program in grammar specifically tailored totheir needs.Some of the implications resulting from this study are that:(i) universities should take a more visible and concerted lead in teaching grammarto student teachers to better prepare them for (a) teaching grammar in domesticschools to fulfil the aspirations of the new Australian Curriculum; and (b) teachinggrammar to international students, who expect their teachers to impart soundgrammar knowledge to them;(ii) all teaching institutions (both schools for domestic students and English teachingcentres for international students at tertiary level) should provide professionaldevelopment in grammar for current teachers.v

AcknowledgementsThanks are due to my supervisors over the period of my candidature, namely DrThao Lê, Dr Si Fan and Dr Paul Throssell for their kind help and advice to me – anovice in the research field.I would also like to express my gratitude to the respondents in this study – a mostdedicated band of English teachers.Ms Diana Giblin and Dr Hoang Nguyen very kindly proofread the manuscript andmade very salient suggestions.My daughter, Lucia MacFarlane, formatted the manuscript in the required manner,a task which was beyond me to do.My husband, Nick MacFarlane, and all my family encouraged me to keep going untilI reached the finishing line.This thesis is dedicated to the memory ofGiuseppe and Nicolina Pignalosa, my parents,who always encouraged me to get an education,and who brought me to this country when I was a young child,where it was a case of “sink or swim” in the unfamiliar milieuof the English language.Deo Gratiasvi

Table of Contents123Introduction . 11.1Theoretical background . 21.2Contextual background . 41.3Significance of the study. 61.4Research aim and objectives . 81.5Originality of this study . 121.6Ethical issues . 131.7Structure of thesis . 141.8Conclusion . 16Literature Review . 182.1Grammar: definitions and theories . 192.2The demise of grammar teaching. 232.3The resurgence of interest in grammar. 292.4Grammar teaching controversies . 302.5The role of grammar in second language learning and teaching(TESOL). 392.6Teacher development in the teaching of English grammar . 452.7Teacher development in TESOL grammar teaching . 492.8Grammar in the Australian Curriculum . 582.9Relationship between the literature review and this study. 642.10Conclusion . 66Methodology . 683.1Research paradigms and methodologies . 683.2Mixed method approach to research . 713.3Action research . 733.4Research aim, question and objectives . 803.5Site, participants and sampling for this study . 813.6Research design and instrumentation used in this study . 84vii

4563.7Data collection . 923.8Data analysis . 943.9Validity and reliability of this study . 1003.10Triangulation. 1013.11Conclusion . 102Data Analysis and Results .1044.1Different aspects of data analysis and results. 1044.2Data categories collected – qualitative and quantitative . 1054.3Data Analysis . 1084.4Relevance of analysis to research aim, question and objectives . 1234.5Conclusion . 139Discussion .1415.1Research Objective 1 . 1415.2Research Objective 2 . 1465.3Research Objective 3 . 1515.4Research Objective 4 . 1645.5Research Objective 5 . 1695.6Research Objective 6 . 1725.7Conclusion . 173Conclusion .1756.1Summary of research findings . 1756.2Significance of the research . 1806.3Author’s reflections . 1816.4Research strengths . 1836.5Research limitations . 1846.6Educational recommendations . 1856. for government . 185Recommendations for educational policy makers. 185Recommendations for curriculum designers . 187Recommendations for teachers . 1886.7Possible future research directions . 1896.8Conclusion . 190References .193viii

Appendix 1Phase 1: Grammar Inventories - problems experienced.206Appendix 2Phase 1: Grammar Inventories - teacher requests .211Appendix 3 Phase 1: Grammar Inventories – analysis of problemsexperienced.213Appendix 4 Phase 1: Grammar Inventories - analysis of problems plusrequests .214Appendix 5Phase 2: Survey – qualitative questions (Section A) .216Appendix 6Phase 2: Survey - grammar reviewAppendix 7Phase 2: Survey – Section A - aggregate answers.221Appendix 8Phase 2: Survey – Section B - aggregate answers .238Appendix 9Phase 3: Interview transcripts.241(Section B) .217Appendix 10Phase 2: Survey - respondents’ scores (Section B) .254Appendix 11Professional Development in Grammar - Session 1 .256Appendix 12PD Session 1: Participant Evaluation Forms .274Appendix 13Research Authorisation Documents.286ix

List of Tables and FiguresTable 2.1 Advantages and disadvantages of various grammar teachingmethods in TESOL . 39Table 2.2 Year level grammar items from the Australian Curriculum . 60Figure 3.1: Seven stages of action research . 79Table 3.1 Research Objectives (R.O.) for this study . 80Figure 3.2 Relationship between the 3 phases of the research project andthe resultant PD program . 85Table 3.2 Contribution of each instrument to the Research Objectives (R.O.) . 91Table 3.3 Issues arising from Phase 2 (Section A) and how they were linkedto Interview Questions in Phase 3 . 97Table 3.4 Category & coding system for grammar items identified as difficultfrom inventories and from grammar review . 99Table 4.1 Issues emerging from inventories, subsequently included ingrammar review .119Table 4.2 Phase 2, Section B, Grammar Review: number of itemscontributing to the marking scheme .121Table 4.3 Number of years teaching English and scores on grammar review .133x

1IntroductionThe English language can be considered the modern lingua franca, that is, it iswidely used as a means of communication between people whose first languagesare diverse. From the Middle Ages until recent history, Latin was used as the linguafranca (Powney, 2013); however, its place has now been taken by English, which is,at this time, commonly used in international communication between businesspersons from different language backgrounds, for whom English is a second or thirdlanguage. Moreover, towards the beginning of the 21st century it was estimatedthat non-native speakers of English outnumbered native speakers by 2:1(Rajagopalan, 2004) or even by 3:1 (Crystal, 2003). The Internet-based Ethnologue(2013) has given a later estimation of 4:1). This has implications for the teaching ofEnglish as the market continues to grow for effective English language teaching tointernational students, and for imparting effective knowledge about language todomestic students.Historically, grammar and language structure were important parts of training in thestudy of English language. In recent decades, however, English grammar teachinghas been given progressively less emphasis in English speaking countries (Hudson &Walmsley, 2005), as more emphasis has been placed on spontaneity and creativity,rather than on correctness of form. There now appears to be a realisation thatgrammar needs to be imparted even to native English speakers for the purposes ofclear communication. Thornbury (1999) explains that, historically, no other issuehas attracted the attention of researchers and teachers as much as the grammardebate. Moreover, he goes on to assert that the history of language teaching isreally “the history of the claims and counterclaims for and against the teaching ofgrammar” (p. 14).The inherent problem in the imparting of knowledge about grammar is thatteachers have been increasingly poorly prepared for this task over the last 50 years(Hudson & Walmsley, 2005). As teachers have not been well prepared for the1

teaching of grammar in their teacher education courses for such a long period oftime (Mueller & Grant, 2011), the concept of grammar teaching has now become achallenge in Australia. This is all the more so since the new Australian Curriculum(Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority [ACARA], 2012b)requires all school teachers to be responsible for the teaching of grammar, and alsosince international students expect their English teachers to be knowledgeableabout grammar in order to effectively teach it in their English courses.This introductory chapter consists of sections on both the theoretical and thecontextual backgrounds to the stated problem of lack of grammar knowledge onthe part of teachers of English language. This is followed by a section on thesignificance of this study. The research aim and objectives are given next, followedby originality of the study. It will then move to ethical issues and structure of thethesis. A concluding section then brings this chapter to a close.1.1Theoretical backgroundThere are two aspects to the background of this research. One concerns teachers ingeneral and the other concerns specialist teachers of English. In January 2008, theAustralian Federal Government announced the introduction of a nationalcurriculum (Gillard & Rudd, 2008). By February 2010, the federal Minister forEducation at that time, Julia Gillard, was reported as saying “For the first time,grammar will be set out explicitly at every year level” (Rodgers, 2010). In the Englishstrand of the new Australian Curriculum (ACARA 2012b), the teaching of grammar isto be included at all levels in both primary and secondary schooling; furthermore,all teachers will be responsible for this task, not only teachers of English. This couldpresent a problem – the question needs to be asked as to whether current teachersin schools understand grammar concepts, be they teachers of English or teachers ofother subjects, or indeed specialist teachers of English language to internationalstudents. Further to that question, another of even greater significance is whethercurrent teachers have themselves been taught grammar. The new AustralianCurriculum makes it clear that literacy knowledge and skills are developedprogressively and are essential for student success in all learning areas. Therefore,2

the imparting of literacy knowledge for the development of literacy skills isconsidered to be the responsibility of all teachers (ACARA, 2010). Grant and Mueller(2010) argue that there is a large gap

English as the market continues to grow for effective English language teaching to international students, and for imparting effective knowledge about language to domestic students. Historically, grammar and language structure were important parts of training in the study of English language. In recent decades, however, English grammar teaching