Learning and Teaching to Read in Kiswahili in Pre-Primary Classes in Tanzania : Teachers' Beliefs and Instructional Practices

Abstract: Teachers’ beliefs have the potential to influence teachers’ instructional decisions and or even accept, resist or renegotiate the mandated curriculum intentions. Knowledge about these relations in pre-primary education in Tanzania is largely lacking.  The purpose of this study is to investigate pre-primary teachers’ beliefs about learning and teaching to read Kiswahili in Tanzania, and then examine how these beliefs are related to instructional practices and curriculum intentions. Knowledge about teachers’ beliefs in relation to instructional practices and curriculum intentions is a gateway to improving pre-primary reading instructional practices, curriculum and learning to read early. The study was inspired by Vygotskian socio-cultural framework and its allied activity theory.Twenty one pre-primary teachers participated in the study. Of these, 3 were males and 18 were females. Of the participants, six had primary teacher education background whereas two had attended a 1 year pre-school training course. Other participants were ‘little’ trained through experiences as they had no formal teacher education background. Empirical materials were generated over a period of six months through semi-structured interviews, classroom observations, post observation video-stimulated interviews, and content analysis of lesson plans and curriculum. Abductive analytical approach and hermeneutic phenomenology informed data analysis and interpretations, respectively.Findings reveal that teachers’ beliefs about learning and teaching reading revolve around direct and systematic phonics-syllabic/bottom-up instruction accompanied with repeated practices, songs, use of pictures, look-and-say, and integration of reading and writing activities. Findings also show that teachers believe that most children can learn to read, only a few experience difficulties due to a number of factors outside teachers’ realm: mental impairment, immaturity, mother tongue, lack of parents’ involvement, and scarcity of teaching-learning materials. To help pupils with such experiences teachers cited strategies like supplemental instruction, within-class mixing, retention, and ability grouping. Though there were concerns, teachers have a feeling of on-going and summative assessment of reading progress. Moreover, the findings indicate that teachers’ beliefs and day-to-day instructional practices are reciprocally informing and are influenced to a large extent by teachers’ own experiences, and the classroom conditions. The findings further suggest that, teacher’s beliefs were not wholly consistent with their instructional practices and the curriculum intentions. The inconsistencies could be attributed to teachers’ beliefs and socio-contextual factors within and outside classroom context such as time constraints, large classes, lack/inadequate professional training, limited curriculum guidance, and school inspectors and parents’ expectations.The study recommends for on-going teacher in-service training to provide teachers with the opportunities to reflect on their beliefs and practices in relation to curriculum intentions. The study also indicates a need to review the curriculum intentions, supportive environment and efforts aiming at addressing contextual factors which interrupt teaching. The review might seek to harmonise teachers’ beliefs, curriculum intentions, and insights discussed in this study as effective in promoting early reading skills.

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