Developing strategic competence in oral interaction in English as a foreign language. A classroom study

Abstract: The teaching and learning of English as a foreign language can be studied by analysing a large amount of results (from the national tests, for example) over a long period of time. It can also be studied from the teacher's point of view by conducting deep-level anthropological research. In this thesis, however, it is the learning in classrooms of English as a foreign language that is examined. More specifically, the development of the usage of strategic competences in oral interaction is studied. The purpose of this study is to explore the qualitative differences in the pupils’ abilities to use strategic competence whilst interacting orally in English as a foreign language, particularly in the sense of adapting language to suit interlocutor and situation. In order to be able to fulfil this purpose, classroom-level studies on learning need to be done. Two learning studies informed by variation theory have been used in this thesis. The learning study approach is an iterative research method that combines design experiment with the Japanese teaching development method, lesson study. In a learning study an object of learning is focused on and through the use of variation theory, critical aspects of the learning of this object of learning are identified. A lesson is jointly designed by researcher and teachers in a research group, taught and analysed afterwards in terms of the intended, enacted and lived object of learning. The lesson is revised and taught again by another teacher in the research group. In the learning studies used in this thesis, three cycles have been used. By analysing the learning in terms of changes in ways of interacting and results of pre-, post- and delayed post-tests, conclusions can be made regarding the purpose of the thesis. In the first of the two learning studies, pupils in year 8 (13-14 years old) participated. The object of learning was usage of phrases to adapt language to interlocutor and situation when asking for directions. In the second learning study, pupils from the first year of college (16-17 years old) participated and the object of learning was usage of phrases to create and maintain a good conversation among peers. The results showed that it was crucial for the pupils to identify the characteristics of the interlocutor in order to be able to adapt their language. This meant that it was not enough for the pupils to think about their own language; they also needed to consider the person spoken to. A second result was that it became important to consider the direction of the communication. Is the direction mainly from me as a speaker to the interlocutor or is it to me from the interlocutor? Depending on the direction, different kinds of phrases were needed: phrases for invitation or phrases to refer to others’ opinions. A result from both learning studies, and a result that is also in line with previous research, is that the use of strategic competence can be taught. It is not something that it is better to acquire through natural conversation and that it is not possible to explicitly teach. It is therefore suggested in this thesis that the use of strategic competence in oral interaction should be explicitly taught.

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