Exploring teachers’ beliefs about the reading literacy needs of EAL pupils
Across international boundaries, linguistic and cultural diversity among pupils present teachers with pedagogic challenges. Research on teachers’ perceptions (e.g. Pajares, 1992; Woods, 1996; Farrell, 2005) suggests that the beliefs that teachers hold impact significantly on their classroom practices. This study adds to the existing body of international literature on teacher beliefs and literacy practices by exploring teachers’ perceptions about the reading literacy needs of EAL pupils and how these were met in Scottish secondary mainstream classroom contexts. In Scotland, policy specifies a Framework for Inclusion where pupils learning English as an additional language (hereafter EAL) are placed in mainstream classrooms. Schools are encouraged to play a key role in making sure that the needs of such pupils are addressed in an effort to raise achievement. A sociocultural theoretical lens was used to examine the shared and divergent beliefs and reading literacy practices of sixteen mainstream English teachers; five EAL teachers; and five head/depute head teachers across three local authorities. Participants’ responses communicated an undifferentiated understanding of the distinctive reading literacy needs of EAL pupils. The majority of teachers foregrounded reading as a set of universal skills that emphasised a knowledge of vocabulary and grammar. Ill-fitting policies and teachers’ experiences within the varying school contexts appeared to mediate how EAL pupils’ needs were constructed. Findings concerning the beliefs and practices of these teachers revealed that there was a lack of available ways of thinking about how to meet the reading literacy needs of EAL pupils effectively; such a lack impacted on the quality and number of learning opportunities EAL pupils had as they faced the reading literacy demands of mainstream classrooms. Teachers also highlighted their uncertainty about how to meet the reading literacy needs of such pupils effectively and this seemed to impact on how they constructed their identities as teachers within linguistically and culturally diverse classroom settings. In contrast, an overview of classroom literacy practices revealed that teachers enacted confident identities as they operated out of a secure knowledge base for developing reading literacy in monolingual English speaking classrooms. The study concludes with a discussion of the limitations related to the research design, and outlines the implications of the findings for policy, classroom literacy practices, and teachers’ professional development opportunities. It is argued that Scottish schools are no longer monolingual, monocultural environments, but rather cross-cultural sites. It is recommended that policy needs to reconceptualise and broaden how second language development is framed within its documents. It is also suggested that secondary classroom contexts address the importance of multidimensional critical literacy practices as a way to challenge the dominant undifferentiated constructions that permeate teachers’ beliefs about the development of reading literacy for pupils learning EAL. Such changes would position EAL pupils as legitimate participants in classroom literacy practices. The thesis concludes with a consideration of teacher identity and emphasises the need of ITE providers to provide a continuum of provision for pre-service and in-service teachers to enable them to develop the necessary knowledge and practices that would support the growing numbers of pupils learning EAL.