According to Alwright (1983), classroom-centred research is any study which investigates what occurs in the classroom; that occurrence could be related to the way a teacher interacts with his students; the way students interact with one another; the conditions which promote effective learning; or anything else related to learning in the classroom. Throughout the past five years, the majority of MA ALT research at Newcastle University has been predominantly classroom-centred Why?. Researchers have either examined and scrutinised the teaching practice, approaches and methodologies adopted in their own diverse, international teaching contexts (Aslanidou, 2005; Al-Nufaie, 2006; Abu Baha, 2007; Al-Zughaibi, 2008; Chen, 2009); or they have explored a variety of cognitive and linguistic difficulties that L2 students face when learning English, suggesting possible causes and solutions to these problems (Hu, 2005; Chou, 2006; Huang, 2007; Chen, 2008; Al-Rahbi, 2009). Although classroom-centred research is a fundamental part of ALT and unquestionably serves its purpose; if and when research conducted external to the classroom produces new insights into effective language learning, it is equally significant; as the essential aim of all ALT research is to add to current world knowledge (Hedge, 2000).
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A minute number of MA ALT researchers at Newcastle University have investigated topics which are external to the classroom yet promote effective language learning indirectly (Walter, 2006; Lambton, 2006; Pelik, 2008; Michalska, 2009); surprisingly however, no researcher has ever inquired about the role EFL managers may or may not play in language learning. This is particularly surprising because global EFL institutes such as IH, Bell, and WSI all require clarify these acronyms prospective EFL managers to be MA ALT qualified. These institutes insist EFL managers possess this qualification based upon the assumption that it equips them with the knowledge necessary to be a successful EFL manager. Contrary to their belief, although an MA ALT course does present recent theories and debates regarding language learning, it fails to sufficiently address the specific needs of an EFL manager; this is most evident in the fact that there is no ‘EFL Manager: Theory & Practice’ type module available for MA ALT students.
Due to the lack of research about EFL management, the purpose of this study is to investigate the role of EFL managers in language learning. Although some ALT professors are intrigued by this research project and have clearly stated: “this is an interesting topic” (Windeatt, 2010:2); others have their doubts about its relevance and have said: “I do not feel that this is remotely within my sphere of competence; the question really is whether it is within Applied Linguistics. No need for this in my opinion but u could ask him about it?? Essentially it deals with educational management; the fact that the product is language teaching is no more relevant than groceries are to the management of Sainsburys” (Cook, 2010:3). Though everyone is entitled to his own opinion, this view towards ALT research and EFL management is arguably flawed for the following three reasons:
Firstly, the Board Directors of TESOL Inc. (2005) advise ALT researchers to be diverse in their choice of research topics in order for theories about effective language learning and teaching to continuously advance. They urge researchers to explore the field of ALT from a wide variety of angles and viewpoints; and to be innovative in the type of research they conduct. To date, ALT research has demonstrated that language learning can be affected by learner styles; psychological factors; teaching methods; socio-cultural factors, and many other issues (Hedge, 2000). In spite of this, there is no published material on the influence that EFL managers may or may not have on language learning, which implies this particular project is innovative and has the potential to fill an obvious information gap.
Secondly, the fact that this project is closely related to educational management, is not necessarily a negative point; on the contrary, this type of research may be part of the logical progression of ALT. Historically, ALT research has always followed a similar pattern to Education research (Grenfell, 1998). Both fields were initially predominantly ‘teacher-centred’, meaning the majority of research conducted in these fields focused heavily upon teachers, teaching theory and practice. Over time, their research became ‘student-centred’, meaning the general research focus shifted toward the student, his experience as a learner, and methods of promoting effective learning. Essentially, research in both fields has historically been classroom-centred.
In recent years however, Education research has taken a step outside of the classroom by looking at how external factors such as school administration affects learning (Charles, 2010). As will become evident from the literature review, there has been a substantial amount of research conducted on school effectiveness, which indicate that second only to explicit teaching, school management has the greatest influence on classroom learning. Based upon Education research, coupled with the recent emergence of global ALT seminars on EFL Management and HE courses in EFL Management (ibid); it is reasonable to assume that future ALT research will explore the role of EFL managers in language learning more thoroughly.
Thirdly, the mere fact that a world-renowned scholar of linguistics would imply there is no difference between managing a Sainsbury’s store and managing an EFL school is reason enough to conduct this research. If such a hypothesis is correct, then researching this topic could provide valuable information for EFL schools such as Bell and IH; perhaps they should be employing staff with general management experience and BAs in Business Studies rather than an MA in ALT? On the other hand, if such a hypothesis is in incorrect, then researching this topic could provide ALT researchers with new insights into the role management in language learning. Additionally, as pointed out by one of the participants of this study, research such as this is useful as it gives EFL managers the opportunity to reflect upon their own practice, and the way in which they contribute to a language students learning experience. Moreover, potential EFL managers, such as some of the students on this MA ALT programme, may find this research useful for the theories it presents regarding the role that they will eventually adopt.
“The acid test of theory in an applied discipline such as educational management [or ALT] is its relevance to practice” (Bush, 2002:15).
Scope & Context of the Study
The purpose of this study then, is to investigate the role of management in language learning; and it is arguably a significant piece of research, as it can have both academic and real-world implications for the reasons already mentioned. Initially, over a dozen private British Council accredited ESL schools throughout the U.K. were contacted and asked to participate in the study; unfortunately, all of these schools declined without providing reasons why. Based upon their unwillingness to participate, and the guidance of Windeatt & Cook (2010), it was decided that the most feasible method of research would be to conduct an exploratory case-study on the ESOL department of a public tertiary institute in the North East of England. I donââ‚¬â„¢t know???????
According to the participants who were interviewed in this study, the purpose of ESOL departments in British tertiary institutes is threefold:
1) To provide EFL courses for international students who want to study in the UK for a fixed period of time, then return to their home countries. These students generally tend to study EAP courses in preparation for IELTS exams or entrance to a British university; however, some of them study English for business purposes, whilst others simply want a general English course. Whatever the reason, these courses are similar to the types of courses provided by schools such as Bell and IH.
2) To provide ESOL courses for people residing in the UK who want to live here permanently. These students are generally asylum seekers who have fled their own countries due to severe personal circumstances. They tend to study ESOL courses either in preparation of UK citizenship tests; or to equip themselves with the language skills necessary to communicate by English in their day-to-day lives.
3) To provide teacher training courses for native speakers of English who want to become EFL teachers; or for current EFL teachers who want to gain further qualifications. These training courses can vary from Cambridge CELTA and DELTA courses to academic Diplomas and BAs in TEFL.
The ESOL department which took part in this study was composed of several managers and approximately seventy teachers.
Organisation of chapters
Having justified the purpose of this study and providing background information about its research context, the organisation of this dissertation essay is now presented below:
Chapter 1: Introduction – this chapter highlights the importance of conducting research on the role of EFL managers in language learning, and introduces background information about the context of this research project.
Chapter 2: Literature Review – this chapter presents key theories about educational management and specifically looks at research into the claims Education researchers have made concerning the influence managers have on learning. Based upon these claims, the role of management in an ESOL context is discussed
Chapter 3: Methodology – this chapter states the research question and describes the research design and procedures used in this study, including information about the participants and data collection methods employed.
Chapter 4: Data Analysis – this chapter provides a critical analysis of the results in relation to the literature review.
Chapter 5: Conclusions – finally, conclusions from the entire investigation are presented here.
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