Abstract

In this qualitative case study, we explored how ten EFL teachers who attended an in-service staff development programme subsequently integrated professional learning into their classroom practice, and which staff development practices were effective in this process. We triangulated data from interviews, observations, and document analysis. The data were subjected to content analysis. The results indicated that the transformation of learning experiences started with self-reflection, which initiated changes in teachers’ pedagogical beliefs. The results further indicated that although major changes in teachers’ practice followed the changes in their pedagogical beliefs, there was an interactive relationship between the teachers’ beliefs and practice in the long term. The results revealed that this relationship could be regarded as part of a more complex dynamic system where teacher self-efficacy and motivation operated as an affective filter between teachers’ beliefs and practice.

Introduction 1

Enhancing the quality of teaching has been the subject of significant discussion in teacher education; this has manifested itself in a heightened interest in international staff development programmes in ELT. In parallel with the emphasis on constructivism in education, communicative language teaching has been endorsed in most of these programmes. It has been suggested that staff development encourages teachers to develop new roles that complement educational reforms ( Guskey 2000 ), and thus increases student learning by changing teachers’ classroom practice (ibid.). However, one question that needs to be asked is whether and how EFL teachers do actually change their classroom practice after attending a teacher development programme. Thus, this research aims to address the following questions:

  • 1 How do EFL teachers transform and integrate professional learning into their classroom practice?

  • 2 What types of staff development practices are effectively incorporated into teachers’ classroom practice?

Staff development and teacher change

Teacher change is an expected outcome of any teacher development activity ( Richardson and Placier 2001 ; Clarke and Hollingsworth 2002 ), and is widely discussed in the literature on teacher development (Richardson and Placier ibid.); studies fall into three groups in terms of the conceptions of teacher change they suggest. The first set of studies argues that changes in teachers’ classroom practice precede changes in their beliefs and attitudes (for example Guskey 1986 ). The second group suggests that major changes in teachers’ classroom practice follow changes in their beliefs (for example Richardson, Anders, Tidwell, and Lloyd 1991 ). Richardson et al. (ibid.: 579) elaborate on this conception by asserting ‘that genuine changes will come about when teachers think differently about what is going on in their classrooms, and are provided with the practices to match the different ways of thinking’. The third group of studies on teacher change suggests that there is a non-linear relation between changes in teachers’ beliefs and classroom practice in the change process (for example Cobb, Wood, and Yackel 1990 ; Clarke and Hollingsworth ibid.). Cobb et al. (ibid.: 145) highlight the interconnected nature of beliefs and practice by arguing that ‘beliefs are expressed in practice, and problems or surprises encountered in practice give rise to opportunities to reorganize beliefs’.

There are multiple factors impacting on how and to what extent teachers change ( Smith, Hofer, Gillespie, Solomon, and Rowe 2003 ), and these factors may generally be classified into:

  • the school context

  • individual factors

  • staff development factors.

The school context encompasses schools’ socio-economic status, teachers’ workload, and administrative support. Individual factors could be regarded as the differences among teachers in their use of new knowledge and skills. Previous studies have shown a positive connection between teacher change and three major individual factors, namely, teacher motivation (Smith et al. ibid.), self-efficacy (‘a motivational construct based on self-perception of competence rather than actual level of competence’; Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk-Hoy 2007 : 946), and self-reflection ( Woods 1996 ). Staff development factors involve the content and practices of staff development programmes. Among the teacher development practices that positively impact teachers’ classroom practice are:

The study

Method

We employed a qualitative case study approach to track how EFL teachers transformed what they had learnt on an INSET seminar programme into classroom practice, and which staff development practices were effective in this process.

Sampling strategy and participants

We adopted a two-level purposeful sampling strategy in the study. In the first stage, among the events organized for all English teachers working for the Ministry of National Education in Turkey, we selected (through convenience sampling) a five-day INSET seminar programme that took place in a city in the central region of Turkey. Approximately 1,270 English teachers participated in these seminars that took place in three different locations. As the same programme structure was used at every location, we chose one of them randomly, and observed, as non-participants, the entire INSET seminar programme, for a total of 23 hours.

In the second stage of the sampling strategy, we explained the purpose of our study to the teachers at the INSET seminar programme, and asked for their voluntary participation in it. From the volunteers, we selected ten primary school English teachers using a maximum variation sampling strategy based on (1) the socio-economic status of the school where they worked, (2) the proximity of their school locations to the city centre, (3) their teaching experience, and (4) their gender. As Table 1 shows, six female and four male teachers participated in the study. Of these, eight had a BA in ELT while two others were English Language and Literature graduates. The participants’ teaching experience ranged from 2.5 to 23 years. Of the teachers’ schools, six were inner-city, two were village, and two were suburban schools. As for the socio-economic status of the schools, five were low, three were low to medium, one was medium to high, and two were high status.

table 1

Characteristics of the EFL teachers

Teacher pseudonyms Gender Educational background (BA) Teaching experience (years) Location of school SES of school Grades taught 
Ada ELL 10 Inner-city school 4, 5 
Bora* ELT Village school  1: L to M
2: L  
4, 5
4, 5, 6, 7, 8  
Cansu ELT Inner-city school 5, 6, 8 
Ceyda ELT 20 Inner-city school M to H 6, 7, 8 
Defne ELT Village school 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 
Emre ELT Inner-city school 5, 6, 7, 8 
Hakan ELT Suburban school L to M 4, 7, 8 
Kuzey ELL 10 Inner-city school 6, 8 
Merve ELT 23 Inner-city school 4, 5, 6, 8 
Selin ELT 2.5 Suburban school L to M 4, 5 
Teacher pseudonyms Gender Educational background (BA) Teaching experience (years) Location of school SES of school Grades taught 
Ada ELL 10 Inner-city school 4, 5 
Bora* ELT Village school  1: L to M
2: L  
4, 5
4, 5, 6, 7, 8  
Cansu ELT Inner-city school 5, 6, 8 
Ceyda ELT 20 Inner-city school M to H 6, 7, 8 
Defne ELT Village school 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 
Emre ELT Inner-city school 5, 6, 7, 8 
Hakan ELT Suburban school L to M 4, 7, 8 
Kuzey ELL 10 Inner-city school 6, 8 
Merve ELT 23 Inner-city school 4, 5, 6, 8 
Selin ELT 2.5 Suburban school L to M 4, 5 

Note: *Teacher working at two different village schools; abbreviations used F = female; M = male; BA = Bachelor of Arts; ELL = English language and literature; SES = socio-economic status; L = low; M = medium; H = high

Structure of the INSET seminar programme

The INSET seminar programme aimed to maximize the success of the reform which had shifted psychological perspectives in Turkish education from behaviourism to constructivism over the last two decades. It therefore set out to achieve three main integrated aims:

  • 1 to update or develop teachers’ knowledge, skills, and abilities to use a communicative approach to teaching;

  • 2 to encourage and inspire the teachers to use the L2 (i.e. English) in the classroom; and

  • 3 to encourage the teachers to engage in self-reflection.

It included 19 theoretical input and workshop sessions regarding methods and techniques in ELT (see Figure 1 ). There were 19 trainers at the seminar, who with a view to providing all teachers with the same content and enabling the sessions to complement each other, used a set of predetermined PowerPoint presentations and instructional activities/materials (except for the ‘Ice breakers and warmers’ session). However, they were also given flexibility in their choice of any other activities they wished to use in their sessions. Besides the trainers, there was also one trainer trainer at the seminar, and she had more instructional flexibility compared to the trainers themselves.

figure 1

INSET seminar programme content

figure 1

INSET seminar programme content

The staff development practices included the use of participant-based methodologies, traditional methods, and English as the medium of instruction. The traditional sessions were mostly characterized by lecturing, dependence on PowerPoint presentations, provision of theory, and low levels of teacher involvement. In contrast, the participant-based sessions were characterized by active learning, the active involvement of participants, communicative activities such as role plays, drama, information-gap activities, hands-on activities, and small-group activities, and less dependence on PowerPoint presentations. The latter practices paralleled changes taking place in the classroom as suggested by the educational reform, and were consistent with the new curriculum-based expectations.

Preparation of interview and observation schedules

We used interviews as the main data collection tool in our study, and triangulated this data with observations from the INSET seminar programme and from the teachers’ post-INSET teaching practice, as well as document analysis. We developed two observation schedules (one for the INSET seminar programme and one for the post-INSET teaching practice observations) and two interview schedules (one to be administered one week after the INSET seminar programme and one to be administered after the post-INSET teaching practice observations).

As shown in Figure 2 , we developed these schedules based around the relevant literature, and then we gathered expert opinion from a professor with a PhD in Curriculum and Instruction, two English teachers, one teacher trainer, and a PhD candidate in Measurement and Evaluation in Education. Based on their feedback, we modified and piloted the schedules. We piloted the interview schedules with three English teachers who attended a similar local INSET seminar programme. The INSET seminar observation schedule was trialled by observing three sessions during one of the parallel seminars organized for English teachers. The classroom observation schedule was piloted via three hours of observations in the classes of two of the teachers who were involved in the present study, prior to holding the actual observations during teaching practice in their classes. Upon completion of the pilot testing, we re-edited and finalized the schedules, and then collected the data in four complementary stages.

figure 2

Developing the interview and observation schedules

figure 2

Developing the interview and observation schedules

Data collection stages

INSET seminar programme observations

The data collection started with the INSET seminar programme observations (see Figure 3 ). We observed the entire INSET seminar programme, focusing on the instructional methods, activities, and materials used in the delivery of the sessions; interaction among the participants and trainers; and the attitudes of the participants towards the programme. In order to complement the observational data, we collected printed or electronic materials used during the INSET seminar programme (for example PowerPoint presentations, handouts).

figure 3

Data collection stages

figure 3

Data collection stages

Post-INSET teacher interviews

We held the first teacher interviews one week after the INSET seminar programme to allow the teachers time to reflect on their new learning experiences. Questions focused on effective and ineffective staff development practices, the impact of the seminar on teachers and their teaching skills, and teachers’ integration of the new knowledge and skills into their classroom practice. We used an audio recorder to record all the interviews after obtaining consent from the interviewees.

Post-INSET teaching practice observations

After the first interviews, we conducted a total of 50 hours of observations in the teachers’ subsequent classes at two-week intervals, to develop insights into how teachers transformed what they had learnt about into their classroom practice. We conducted three observations for one, two, and two hours, respectively, for a total of five hours in each teacher’s classroom, except for two teachers who were observed for a total of four and six hours, respectively. The observations focused on the teachers’ use of the ideas, skills, strategies, and tools they had learnt about during the INSET programme. To complement the observational data, we collected the documents the teachers used in their classes after the INSET programme (for example textbooks, PowerPoint presentations).

Post-observation teacher interviews

After the classroom observations, we conducted the second interviews, focusing on broadly the same content as the first interviews, but with different questions and prompts. In these interviews, the teachers reflected on the learning experiences they gained from the INSET seminar programme in parallel with their post-INSET classroom practice, and discussed the factors that impacted on the transfer of their learning experiences to their teaching.

Data analysis

We conducted data collection and analysis processes simultaneously. We first transcribed the interviews and observation field notes, and assigned pseudonyms to the participants to protect their identity. During the subsequent data analysis process, we used a preliminary code list (for example ‘self-reflection’, ‘increase in L2 use’) based on the related literature and the research questions, to which we added new codes when further topics appeared while coding. We double-coded all the documents to ‘reduce overlap and redundancy of codes’ and to ‘collapse codes into themes’ ( Creswell 2011 : 244).

Results and discussion

We present the results under three complementary headings emerging from the multiple data sources.

Self-reflection

The results indicated that transformation in professional learning started with self-reflection, where teachers reflected on their strengths and weaknesses as language teachers. The results suggested that self-reflection was triggered by two major staff development practices. Firstly, data from the teacher interviews indicated that the use of participant-based training during the INSET seminar programme enabled the teachers to empathize with their students, and thus initiated self-reflection. To demonstrate, Ceyda stated that the following message was conveyed in the seminar:

… Remember! Actually, you were students as well. You were sitting at these desks ... It’s difficult to sit at these desks. Enjoy [teaching] and your children [students] will enjoy [learning] too.

The data also indicated that the use of participant-based methodology during the INSET seminar programme helped the teachers notice that they had not until then effectively delivered the new curriculum, and encouraged them to use their new learning experiences to increase the quality of the education in their classes. Some teachers even regarded the INSET programme as a ‘wake-up call’ that helped them to explore new possibilities and perspectives in ELT. For example, while discussing how the programme initiated the self-reflection process, Merve said that:

It [the programme] reminded me what I knew about language teaching … I mean I was shaken. Stop, what are you doing? Be a more active teacher.

Secondly, the results indicated that the use of English (L2) as the medium of instruction during the programme also led to self-reflection. To illustrate, reflecting on the trainers’ use of L2, Selin asserted that:

During the seminar [programme], I noticed that I should use English more [in class] … Their [trainers] aim was this: speak English in your classes exactly like us … If they spoke Turkish [in the programme], we [teachers] would speak Turkish in our lessons.

These findings support the association between self-reflection and teacher change (Woods op.cit.) and suggest that employing participant-based methodology and using L2 as the medium of instruction in staff development influences EFL teachers’ self-reflection process.

Changes in teachers’ pedagogical beliefs and classroom practice

The results indicated that engaging in self-reflection led to a change in the teachers’ pedagogical beliefs. The teachers either developed or intensified their existing pedagogical beliefs that using a communicative approach to teaching and using the L2 more often would foster students’ communicative competence and increase their motivation and participation in lessons. To illustrate, reflecting on her classroom practice prior to and after the INSET seminar programme, Defne noted that:

I was a classical English teacher. I would use few communicative activities ... I learnt how important the things I hadn’t done [were] just by saying ‘There is no need’, ‘I can’t do this’ and I learnt that I shouldn’t take the easy way.

Data from multiple sources indicated that the changes in teachers’ pedagogical beliefs were mostly translated into their teaching practice on the basis of the methods used during the INSET training. Firstly, it revealed that the teachers mostly transformed the knowledge and skills they developed in the participant-based sessions where active learning, active involvement, and communicative activities such as role plays, drama, information-gap activities, hands-on activities, and small-group activities were employed, which is consistent with previous research (for example Tallerico op.cit.; Wei et al. op.cit.). It is encouraging to compare this finding with that of Borg (2015 : 39), who found that ‘enhanced knowledge of ELT techniques’ resulted in ‘changes in practice’. The data further indicated that the teachers were selective in their use of new content and strategies presented during staff development, and they initially tried out short, practical, and motivating ideas and activities presented during the INSET seminar programme. They also increased their use of games, drama, songs, information-gap activities, and hands-on activities, and generally preferred pair- and group-work activities after attending the programme. The data further indicated that the use of English as a medium of instruction during the programme and suggestions by the trainers to use English in class changed the teachers’ classroom practice. After the programme, the teachers started to use significantly more English in the classroom to increase their own language competence and/or to develop their students’ communicative competence. By way of illustration, while discussing the effect of the programme on her willingness to develop her language competence, Ada stated that:

Now, I try to use the language I try to teach [English] more. Both in and out of the classroom ...

Similarly, Hakan said that:

Frankly speaking, I was not a person who would speak English in class. I used to believe that students wouldn’t understand me [if I spoke in English]. But now, I have started to use L2 in class. At first, they do not understand you, but later they listen to you to understand you.

Data from teacher interviews and classroom observations revealed the extent to which the teachers transferred the changes in their pedagogical beliefs to their classroom practice was closely related to their teacher self-efficacy and motivation; teachers who expressed a lack of English proficiency used a more traditional way of teaching (such as translation and grammar explanations) and less English in class compared to those who reported higher self-confidence in using English. In parallel with this, the results further indicated that the teachers who reported having a high level of self-efficacy were more willing to change their practice compared to the teachers who expressed having a low level of self-efficacy. This finding is consistent with that of Guskey (1986) who implies that there is a positive connection between teacher self-efficacy and teacher change. We also found that the teachers who demonstrated a high level of motivation to use what they had learnt during the INSET programme seemed to change their classroom practice more than those with a lower level of motivation. Moreover, data from multiple sources revealed that these teachers continued to use the new learning experiences in the long term.

The interconnected relationship between pedagogical beliefs and classroom practice

The data indicated that the perceived changes in their students’ achievement and attitudes resulting from the changes in the teachers’ classroom practice had a significant impact on the teachers’ long-term practice after the INSET seminar programme. We did not gather data from the students regarding the impact of the programme on their achievements and attitudes. However, the findings from the observational data, classroom documents, and teacher interviews indicated that the lower graders (4th, 5th, and 6th graders: 10, 11, and 12 years of age, respectively) developed positive attitudes towards the changes in classroom practice in English lessons, and demonstrated a higher level of participation and motivation. They also seemed to have improved their spoken competence and vocabulary retention when their teachers introduced changes to their practice. However, the results also indicated that, unlike the lower graders, the upper-grade students (7th and 8th graders: 13 and 14 years of age, respectively) mostly developed negative attitudes towards the use of a communicative approach to teaching in class, which was found to result mainly from their concerns about high school entrance exams and learning habits caused by long exposure to traditional schooling.

The interview and observation data indicated that the perceived positive changes in the students’ achievements and attitudes caused teachers to develop a higher sense of teacher self-efficacy and motivation, whereas the teachers developed a lower sense of teacher self-efficacy and motivation when they encountered negative student outcomes. Thus, the teachers reshaped their pedagogical beliefs about the applicability of new knowledge and skills, and they altered their teaching practice depending on the grades they taught. In the lower grades, they continued to use L2 and communicative activities, preferring to use games, songs, and information-gap activities, and started to use more group- and pair-work activities. For example, elaborating on the impact of his post-INSET teaching practice, Bora said that:

Student attention and interest [among fourth and fifth graders] increased. For example, the students who were not interested in lessons when I used lecturing want to participate in the lesson when there is a game. When they’re motivated, I become motivated as well, and it becomes easier to teach English.

As for the upper grades, the teachers started to use less or no English and fewer or no communicative activities, and preferred individual work activities in the long run. This was a kind of return to the traditional way of teaching. To illustrate, Defne said that:

Students [seventh and eighth graders] developed negative attitudes. They say ‘we don’t understand anything’, and, in fact, there has been a decrease [in their class performance]. I mean, at first, I spoke English continuously. Now, I have to use mostly Turkish in the seventh and eighth grades. I think it is easier to use English in the fourth and fifth grades.

These findings are consistent with the ideas of Tschannen-Moran and Woolfolk-Hoy (op.cit.: 945) who state that:

Efficacy beliefs are raised if a teacher perceives her or his teaching performance to be a success, which then contributes to the expectations that future performances will likely be proficient. Efficacy beliefs are lowered if a teacher perceives the performance a failure, contributing to the expectation that future performances will also fail.

Overall, the results of the present study indicate that although major changes in teachers’ practice after staff development follow the changes in their pedagogical beliefs, there is a non-linear relationship between the teachers’ beliefs and classroom practice in the long term. This is an expected outcome of the change process, but has implications for future INSET programmes. Our results suggest that this non-linear relationship could be regarded as part of a more complex dynamic system where teacher self-efficacy and motivation operate as an ‘affective filter’ between teachers’ beliefs and practice, and where the perceived changes in students’ attitudes and achievement impact on this interaction. It is encouraging to compare this finding with the ideas of Phipps and Borg (2007 as cited in Borg 2011 ) who suggest that when there are changes in teachers’ beliefs, teachers are more likely to transform what they have learnt into practice. Our findings also corroborate the findings of Clarke and Hollingsworth (op.cit.) and Cobb et al. (op.cit.) who found an interconnected relationship between changes in teachers’ beliefs and classroom practice.

Implications for INSET programmes

Although it was conducted in a national context, the findings of our study have a number of international implications for future practice in terms of developing the quality and design of staff development programmes which have similar characteristics. The empirical findings in our study are summarized below.

Use a communicative approach

One effective way of enabling teachers to use a communicative approach to teaching is actually practising what is preached during staff development seminars. Using participant-based training and English as the medium of instruction during INSET programmes could trigger self-reflection, enable teachers to empathize with their students, and change their pedagogical beliefs and practice, respectively. Among the effective participant-based staff development practices that could be translated into teachers’ classroom practice are the use of communicative activities (for example role plays, drama, information-gap activities, and small-group activities), active learning, and the active involvement of participants.

Offer relevant training

EFL teachers are selective in their implementation of new knowledge and skills. Thus, they should be provided with instructional methods and materials compatible with the expectations and aims of the curriculum, and offered practical, motivating, applicable, and adaptable activities, materials, and/or ideas. This highlights the importance of appropriate INSET content selection meeting the curriculum-based expectations and related needs of the teachers.

Provide strategies to develop student motivation

As negative student outcomes have an impact on the sustainability of learning experiences through impacting on teachers’ motivation and self-efficacy in the long term, teachers should be provided with strategies on how to deal with problems linked to student motivation (for example negative attitudes to L2 use in class) during staff development. We also recommend that further research be undertaken to investigate in greater depth the impact of teacher development programmes on students’ achievements and attitudes.

Improve teacher motivation

INSET programmes for EFL teachers should aim to enhance teachers’ motivation for teaching as well as their self-efficacy. We also believe further research should be done to investigate ways of increasing teacher motivation and self-efficacy.

Sustain the learning experience

We believe that in order to encourage teachers to use INSET programme knowledge and skills in their long-term classroom practice, and thus to increase the sustainability of learning experiences, staff development programmes should include a follow-up to teachers’ post-INSET practice led by experienced and qualified trainers.

Conclusion

This article examines how EFL teachers transform and integrate professional learning into their teaching, and thus it explores the connection between effective staff development practices and teacher change. It suggests that high quality and sustained staff development could be promoted by understanding how teachers change as a result of INSET programmes. It further suggests that if effective teacher development practices are utilized, staff development holds a key role in encouraging teachers to reshape their classroom practice parallel with curriculum-based expectations.

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1
This article is a part of the first author’s unpublished PhD dissertation from Middle East Technical University, Ankara, Turkey.