Taking a Situated Look at the Complexity of Classroom Motivation

7 June 2016

This month we published Richard J. Sampson’s book Complexity in Classroom Foreign Language Learning Motivation. It brings together work on motivation in language learning using complexity theory and action research. In this post, Richard discusses how the book came together.

9781783095889Although motivation and self-concept have come to be recognised as key aspects of additional language learning, much work has centred on the development and validation of general theories rather than exploring practical approaches to motivation in the classroom (Lasagabaster et al., 2014). In the research presented in this book, I wanted to start from a different perspective, from the everyday reality of my work as an English as a foreign language (EFL) teacher in Japan. While many of the non-English-major adolescent students I work with seem to recognise the importance of their studies, this recognition often does not translate into engagement and motivation in the classroom. The book presents a practitioner-led journey whereby action research processes – the study deliberately introduced change-action into the classroom setting – were used for the double-edged purpose of working to foster more engaging and motivating lesson environments for my students and to gain a deeper understanding of the motivation of a language learning class group.

A variety of questions thrown up by the emergent processes of action research fostered an increasingly complex and dynamic picture of students’ desire to study in the classroom. What colours of the life experiences of an individual suddenly spur a student into life from some trigger in the classroom? How do students perceive and act on comparisons with others in the learning group? How do the future self-concepts of learners dynamically develop as they interact in the classroom? And importantly, in what ways do these perceptions and actions shape the trajectory of motivation in the whole class group? As the research progressed I found that ideas from complex systems theory offered a useful way of understanding the kind of interactions that I was uncovering to provide some (situated) answers to these questions and more. Although I realize that “complex systems theory” sounds quite daunting, I hope that combined with the multiple perspectives on the same context of action achieved via the action research, the book provides a convincing argument that classroom motivation can be more profitably conceptualised with a focus on not only individuals but also the class group as a whole.

The primary focus of the book is this application of complex systems theory to understanding the dynamic and co-forming nature of the motivation and self-concepts of additional language learning students. However, in presenting the study, I felt it important to maintain a sense that this was research conducted by someone who was also a part of the class group. Indeed, complex systems theory would urge that the observer (in this case myself as teacher/researcher/author) is very much part of that being studied. All too often the teacher/researcher is written out of representations of research. Moreover, I did not feel it methodologically or philosophically justifiable to present a tidied up, static picture of the research which placed a large emphasis on outcomes and positioned myself as an “accomplished expert”. As such, the book provides a detailed account of not only the understandings at which I arrived, but also an exposition of the processes by which these understandings evolved. Through the narrative of my experiences I hope to encourage fellow teachers to become more agentic in the development of educational theories of classroom practice and learning.

If you would like to contact me about the book, please email me at: Richard Sampson, sampson@gunma-u.ac.jp.


Lasagabaster, D., Doiz, A., & Sierra, J. M. (2014). Introduction. In D. Lasagabaster, A. Doiz, & J. M. Sierra (Eds.), Motivation and foreign language learning: From theory to practice (pp. 1–5). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company.

Dornyei-MercerFor further information about the book please see our website. You might also like some of our other titles on a similar topic: Motivational Dynamics in Language Learning edited by Zoltán Dörnyei et al and Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA edited by Sarah Mercer and Marion Williams.

First and Second Language Use in Asian EFL

24 May 2016

This month we published Ross Forman’s new book First and Second Language Use in Asian EFL which explores the issue of using students’ first language in the English language classroom.

First and Second Language Use in Asian EFLAnyone who has taught English in Asia will know that classroom practices and teacher/student roles are often quite different from what we might expect in Western contexts. In other words, I refer of course to the fundamental differences of pedagogy which exist between ESL and EFL.

When I first made the move from teaching ESL in Sydney, Australia to teaching EFL at a Thai university back in the 1980s, I found that so many of my assumptions had to be questioned. One above all struck me: the role of L1 in teaching. Then, as now, L1 use in L2 classes was generally curtailed or even forbidden by a number of Ministries of Education in Asia.

When back in Sydney, I kept in touch with Thai colleagues. And then, twenty years later in the early 2000s I took the opportunity to return to my former workplace, but this time as a researcher, to explore with bilingual local teachers how and why they made use of L1 in L2 teaching. Perhaps due to my existing relationships, and perhaps also due to my declared intent to ‘find out why’ rather than to problematise the use of L1, I was able to get fascinating data from nine local teachers through lesson observation and interview.

Teachers were able to speak of the pedagogic value of L1 – speed, accuracy, ensuring that all students could follow the lesson; as well as its affective value – how speakers of L2 ‘feel different’ in the foreign tongue, and how this affords feelings of anxiety, apprehension and joy. Every teacher felt that without some judicious recourse to L1, their teaching of English would be greatly diminished.

Looking at the bigger picture, time and again I was led to see how a newly developing L2 becomes embedded into the existing L1. There are flows of meaning which are multiplicative across two languages; their impact has been under-explored and under-valued to date. Looking specifically at Asian contexts, my book aims to give local EFL teachers a voice in explaining why and how they do what they do.

For more information about this book, please see our website

Exploring the identities of female English teachers in Japan

8 April 2016

This week we published Diane Nagatomo’s latest book Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan. In this post, Diane explains the issues faced by Western English teachers in Japan and how they form both their personal and professional identities.

Identity, Gender and Teaching English in JapanIn a nutshell, my research interests generally lie in trying to find out what makes EFL teachers tick. In other words, what makes them do the things that they do in the classroom and their beliefs on how they should go about doing them.

For Identity, Gender and Teaching English in Japan, I focused on the personal and professional identity development of one group of language teachers: foreign women who are married to Japanese men. The ten women portrayed in this book range in age from their mid-twenties to their mid-sixties, and they teach in formal and in informal educational contexts. As wives and mothers of Japanese citizens, they have established deep roots in their local communities throughout Japan. And yet, as non-Japanese, they are not entirely insiders either. In addition, expectations that they should conform to Japanese gendered norms that place priority on the home and the family have shaped nearly every aspect of their lives. Nonetheless, all of the women in my study have demonstrated extraordinary resourcefulness, resilience and resistance in constructing their English language teaching careers.

My goal in writing this book was to let the women tell their own stories: how they operate English conversation school businesses; how they juggle numerous classes in multiple teaching contexts; and how they assimilate into their workplaces as full-time teachers. But I first wanted to situate their stories within the broader sociopolitical context of Japan in the introductory chapters.

So in Chapter 2, I discussed the historical background of language teaching and language learning in some detail, starting with the appearance of the first Europeans in the 1600s and moving to the economic miracle of the 1980s. In Chapter 3, I described the different educational contexts (conversation schools, secondary schools and tertiary institutions) that foreigners generally work in, and I discussed how ideologies toward the teaching and the learning of English in Japan have shaped, and continue to shape the careers of foreign and Japanese teachers. In Chapter 4, I looked at interracial relationships from a historical perspective and from a current one. Attitudes that consider Western men to be ideal romantic partners for Japanese women, but on the other hand, do not consider Japanese men to be ideal romantic partners for Western women, have influenced the experiences of all Westerners with Japanese spouses. In addition, I write about how these gendered attitudes have carried over into the classroom and how they shape the learning experiences of the students as well as those of the teachers.

The stories that are told by my participants in this book are uniquely their own. However, as a foreign woman with a Japanese spouse who has been teaching in Japan since 1979, they strongly resonated with me, and I believe that they will resonate with other expatriate teachers, male and female, who teach English abroad as long-term and/or permanent migrants as well.

Dr. Diane Hawley Nagatomo, Ochanomizu University, Hawley.diane.edla@ocha.ac.jp

Exploring Japanese University English Teachers'€™ Professional IdentityFor more information please see our website or contact Diane at the address above. You may also be interested in Diane’s previous book Exploring Japanese University English Teachers’€™ Professional Identity.

Early Learning and Teaching of English

24 March 2015

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.

Early Learning and Teaching of EnglishThe 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.

The Future of K-12 Teaching is Content-Based Instruction

5 March 2015

This week we published Kate Mastruserio Reynolds’ book Approaches to Inclusive English Classrooms which attempts to bridge the gap between theory and practice to prepare teachers for the needs of English language learners (ELL). In this post, she gives us some background to the book.

“Greetings all, I am the ESL Department chair at NAME High School in CITY, TX, which is located in the largest refugee neighborhood in the city. Our current enrollment is 61% ELL, but we expect to be more than 70% ELL next year, so we are looking to expand our team. We have a diverse mix of students from all over South Asia, Africa, and Latin America, many with limited or interrupted schooling. We are looking specifically for TESOL or CELTA certified teachers with experience teaching teens or adults, and ideally with experience teaching English for Academic Purposes or for Specific Purposes, as most of our ESL classes are content support classes (English for Science, English for Math, etc.).”

This job announcement posted today on a jobs list might sound like gibberish for many pre-service educators or teachers just entering the job market. The knowledge of English as a second language (ESL) that inform this advert start with the acronyms, ESL, ELL, TESOL, CELTA and advance to ‘English for Academic Purposes and for Specific Purposes’ and ‘ESL classes are content support classes (English for Science, English for Math, etc.)’ Although this position is for an ESL specialist, increasingly content area educators (i.e. teachers of Math, Sciences, Social Studies/History, Literature and Language Arts) are called upon to work with learners whose first language is not English.

Approaches to Inclusive English ClassroomsBy 2050, US national statistics indicate that English language learners (ELLs) will be the majority of learners in the US K-12 public schools. Not only are many educators not adequately prepared for this change in the demographics of our school system, neither is our teacher preparation system. Pre-service teachers, those in the process of gaining teacher licensures at universities, rarely are provided any information or training on the ELLs they will encounter in their professional work. Many in-service teachers are confronted by this lack of preparation and need to gain more professional preparation in the field of ESL in order to sufficiently meet the unique linguistic needs of the second language learners.

It is not an easy fix. There is a lot to ‘sufficiently meet the unique linguistic needs’ of second language learners. Teachers cannot simply make one change to their instruction, like using cooperative learning, in order to scaffold instruction for ELLs. First, teachers need to be aware of how they communicate with students. They need to become culturally knowledgeable about the learners’ cultures and strive to make their own speech comprehensible to the language learners. Second, they need to be able to teach the skills of language—speaking, listening, reading and writing—as well as grammar and vocabulary. I’m not talking about the traditional grammar translation method here either. Teachers need to be savvy in their use of time to situate grammar into the content material they are teaching. For example, they need to teach how to write using regular past tense (–ed form) when describing the accomplishments of ancient China in Social Studies class.

Several models and methodologies to approaching the instruction of ELLs have emerged in the field of ESL/EFL, called content-based instruction (CBI). All these models (CALLA, SIOP, RtI, etc.) focus on various ways to engage ELLs and teach them content and language simultaneously. No one method is a cure all. All of them have their advantages and drawbacks. Some of them were developed for specific contexts and populations, such as the ExC-ELL model that emphasizes academic literacy for a non-native speaking population who have strong oral proficiency skills in English. Knowing which methods to employ and when with which population is one way that I would like to empower K-12 educators.

My book, Approaches to Inclusive English Classrooms: A Teacher’s Handbook for Content-Based Instruction, addresses these issues and more in a practical way that provides insight for pre-service and in-service teachers on teaching ELLs effectively.

If you would like more information about Kate’s book please see our website.

Pronunciation in EFL Instruction

18 November 2014

Pronunciation is a difficult but essential part of language learning and this month we are publishing Pronunciation in EFL Instruction by Jolanta Szpyra-Kozłowska which examines the issues and controversies of English pronunciation teaching. Here, Jolanta describes how the book came about and why pronunciation is an important aspect of teaching English.

Pronunciation in EFL InstructionWhen some years ago I was asked to devise a syllabus for a course in English pronunciation for Polish students at a teacher training college, looking for helpful guidelines, I consulted several well-known books on phonetic instruction. My first observation was that they were full of advice for what to do and what to avoid doing, usually either without any or only very little empirical evidence to support various proposals. Moreover, it was striking that the majority of the sources I consulted dealt with pronunciation instruction to immigrants in English-speaking countries and were therefore of limited use in those educational contexts, such as Poland, where English is a foreign language and where pronunciation teaching and learning takes place in very different circumstances. Consequently, as I could not find the sufficient help I needed, a certain degree of disappointment with the available textbooks was inevitable.

Several years later, filled with intensive research into various aspects of English pronunciation teaching and learning carried out by me and my colleagues, the present book came into being. It attempts to address the most vital issues regarding contemporary pronunciation instruction aimed specifically at EFL learners and based on relevant empirical studies. These two concerns have determined the structure of the book with the division of each chapter into Part A, with a general discussion of key problems, and Part B, which provide selected research-based evidence for the claims advanced in Part B. In other words, Pronunciation in EFL Instruction approaches English phonodidactics both from the global and general, as well as local and more specific perspectives. Moreover, as it has grown out of the author’s experience as a theoretical linguist (a phonologist), experimenter (mainly in phonetics and acquisition of EFL pronunciation) and English language teacher (predominantly of Polish college and university students of English), the book tries to combine up-to-date phonodidactic theory, empirical research and teaching practice, all, in my view, being essential ingredients of a publication that can be useful to a competent EFL instructor.

In order to provide English pronunciation teachers with the necessary know-how, two major questions should be answered, namely, what to teach and how to do it effectively. The first of them involves two key issues: a complex and controversial problem of the choice of an appropriate pronunciation model for EFL learners, recently made particularly acute by the concept of ELF (English as a Lingua Franca), and determining a set of phonetic priorities for foreign students (Chapters 1 and 2). Just as important is the selection of effective and attractive instructional procedures and proper teaching materials to be employed in the course of phonetic training (Chapter 3). The book offers many novel theoretical and practical solutions to all these problems, such as, for instance, the idea of NELF (Native English as a Lingua Franca), a new approach to pronunciation priorities and proposes a holistic multimodal phonetic training which, catering for various learning styles, combines articulatory, auditory, cognitive and multisensory activities.

If you would like more information about this title please see our website.

Willingness to Communicate in the Chinese EFL University Classroom

2 April 2014

Following the publication of Willingness to Communicate in the Chinese EFL University Classroom by Jian-E Peng we asked the author to tell us a bit more about her book and the background to her study. She also added in the extra last paragraph about the publication process with Multilingual Matters (with no bribery required on our part!)  

Willingness to Communicate in the Chinese EFL University ClassroomThis book is based on my research that investigated Chinese university students’ willingness to communicate (WTC) in their English language class. Utilizing a mixed-methods design, I examined the interrelationships between WTC and motivation, communication confidence, learner beliefs and classroom environment using structural equation modelling. A follow-up multiple case-study was then carried out to track the focal students’ WTC fluctuations over time and across situations and to identify themes underlying the fluctuations. The results were further integrated and interpreted from an ecological perspective, which revealed that WTC in this research context is socioculturally constructed as a function of the interaction of individual and environmental factors inside and beyond the classroom walls.

The reported research has been inspired by my experience, or more precisely, my puzzles as an English teacher for many years. I often feel frustrated when students are reluctant to participate in class activities and once they do, they tend to be stuttering rather than conversing. Their ‘communicative incompetence’ may largely be attributed to their lack of practice or their lack of willingness to communicate using English in the first place. In the English as a foreign language (EFL) context where I am from, such a willingness is of paramount importance because they do not have ready linguistic contact in real life that many other second language learners do. It is my hope that my research, along with many other studies in this field, can contribute to the craft of decoding the ‘black box’ of EFL students’ minds and inspire students to proactively engage in English communication and become competent English users.

Publishing with Multilingual Matters has been very much delightful and rewarding. This is a team who are highly professional, efficient, and supportive. I am thankful that my book proposal was quickly accepted, book draft timely sent out for review, and the final draft meticulously proofread and edited. This process has been incredibly smooth which greatly enriched my academic development. I would like to take this opportunity to express my deep-felt gratitude to the staff at Multilingual Matters.

For more information about this title please see our website.

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