Earlier this month we published Early Learning and Teaching of English edited by Jelena Mihaljević Djigunović and Marta Medved Krajnović. Here, Jelena gives us some background to the book.
The five year project, which the book Early Learning and Teaching of English: New Dynamics of Primary English is based on, was very stimulating and highly revealing for our team about all aspects of the phenomenon we were investigating. The key findings are reported in the book, but there were many behind-the-scene events which are not included but the members of our research team will remember fondly for a long time. For example, through our annual oral interviews with the young participants we witnessed the changes not only in their attitudes to learning EFL but also in the ways they expressed them. Thus, I still remember vividly how one young participant’s answers to my question about why English was his favourite school subject changed each year: in Grade 1 the learner simply said ‘I don’t know, I just like it‘; in Grade 2 he claimed it was because learning English was fun; in Grade 3 he explained he liked it ‘because we play, and learn how to read in English‘; while in Grade 4 he looked at me in surprise and retorted: ‘Why not?’
Our regular classroom observations, which took place several times a year, provided valuable information about the EFL classroom processes and also showed that we were welcome guests each time we came; the children actually looked forward to our visits and, according to their teachers, often asked when we would come again. The project teachers repeatedly urged us to assess their teaching although we had explained that we were not supposed to ‘influence’ their teaching while the project was going on: they were really eager to use every opportunity to improve their teaching skills!
What motivated us to undertake yet another project in the early EFL field? Well, we thought that comprehensive and longitudinal research of early EFL learning and teaching was needed for at least four reasons. First, the status of English has changed in the last few decades and we believed that some of the basic issues had to be reconsidered. Second, the increased exposure of many young learners nowadays to English in everyday life has changed the role of classroom teaching, causing out-of-class language exposure to feature as an important factor which researchers as well as practising teachers need to take account of. Third, teachers to young learners have changed too; we believed that their increasing knowledge about the impact they have on early learning processes need to be incorporated into our understanding of what goes on in early EFL learning and teaching. Fourth, the number of stakeholders who make key decisions about early learning of English has risen too, with parents taking on a particularly strong role. All these recent developments have created what we came to consider a new dynamic of primary English which warranted close investigation.
The book Early Learning and Teaching of English reports on the findings of our longitudinal, multi-methods research which contextualises early EFL learning at various levels to create ‘the big picture’.
Our ultimate aim was to design a research-informed framework which could serve as the basis for early EFL learning and teaching appropriate for the new, digitised generations of primary learners. This meant that we looked into:
- evidence of EFL development in primary learners (age 6-14) in regular institutional contexts
- affective, cognitive, social and linguistic characteristics of young learners
- classroom-based factors
- relevant characteristics of the broader context
I hope readers of our book will find it interesting, informative and stimulating reading.
Jelena Mihaljević Djigunović, coeditor
For further information about the book please see our website or contact Jelena at the email address above.