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Fostering criticality in a beginners’ Japanese language course: a case study in a UK higher education modern languages degree programme

Yamada, Etsuko (2008) Fostering criticality in a beginners’ Japanese language course: a case study in a UK higher education modern languages degree programme. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.



This thesis examines the development of criticality based on an empirical study in beginners' Japanese language courses within a UK Modem Languages Degree Programme. A starting point for this study is Barnett's (1997) claim concerning the significance of fostering criticality and setting educational aims against the current trend of mass education at the Higher Education. The empirical base is inspired by the Criticality Project by the University of Southampton which, also based on Barnett's model, investigates a whole Modern Languages course. This thesis, however focuses on the phases of Modern Language Studies which have not been explored: beginners' level language courses with the example being a n on-European language. The examination of the current issues of Modem Languages Degree Programmes illustrates the fact that there is a problem of a lack of coordination of the diversity of various components within programmes. The nature of language modules, especially at beginners' level, inclines to the acquisition of practical language skills focusing on grammar rather than on 'content', and widens the gap from academic content modules. In this thesis, the notion of criticality is highlighted as a single 'linkage' connecting each component to others. This issue needs to be examined from two perspectives: the empirical study of criticality development in beginners' level language courses and the theoretical concept of criticality. Action Research was conducted in beginners' Japanese language courses at a Modern Languages Degree Programme where the researcher was teaching. Lessons with activities which target criticality development in cultural and language dimensions were inserted in the existing grammar based language course framework. The observations of beginners' level language lessons in other institutions ensured the aims and syllabus of the normal lessons of the target courses have the same standard as them. Various types of qualitative data were collected. Among them, particularly the participants' output data; group interviews and post-lesson questionnaires became the main sources of analysis of this study. The analysis of empirical data made two important resources for criticality visible: skills and knowledge. Skills appeared as the students' theory building process comprising three stages: inquiry, analysis and conclusion. The concept of inquiry stage corresponds to inquiry and scepticism which was highlighted by a review of Critical Pedagogy and Critical Thinking. From these examinations of two perspectives, one from empirical and another one from theoretical, the fundamental concept of 'being critical' is defined as inquiry and scepticism. During the theory building process, various kinds of knowledge are employed, and the students' theories were presented according to nine thematic categories comprising culture, language, and learning process. The factors contributing to the development of criticality are found to be cultural and linguistic dimensions and also the learning process itself. The analysis of empirical data also highlights the existence of criticality specifically in the language modules and that criticality could work as a connection among the components of Modern Languages Degree Programme. Barnett's theoretical criticality model of domains and levels is supported by the empirical data, but they also showed that criticality development does not appear in a neat order nor the steady progression from lower to higher levels as in his framework. It is concluded from this study that both instrumental and educational aims can be and need to be compatible in language modules even at the beginners' level and all the components of Modern Languages Degree Programme need to be connected by a single linkage, criticality, which realizes an educational aim of the Modern Languages Degree Programme. However, it also implies that further research is needed to bring the issues to the level of curriculum development.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Date:2008
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:08 Sep 2011 18:26

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