Recontextualising communicative language teaching in Saudi Arabia

Alharbi, Ahmed Olayan R. (2022) Recontextualising communicative language teaching in Saudi Arabia. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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In 2004, a project spearheaded by the Saudi Arabian Government formed agreements with international companies to help develop Saudi English language skills so that the Saudi workforce could better meet international companies’ needs. This new project mainly used the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT) approach based on the concept of communicative competence. However, there are some issues with the implementation of this imported approach in terms of whether this new pedagogy fits the broader Saudi context and its pedagogic traditions. Findings of reviewed studies from various non-Western contexts show that there is often misunderstanding and resistance to CLT implementation, which may be related to a lack of teacher education in this area. This research addresses these issues as well as the lack of alignment with Saudi pedagogic culture and summative assessment, using a theoretical framework drawing on theories of communicative competence, Bernstein’s theory of pedagogic discourse, Shulman’s theory of teacher knowledges and Walsh’s categories of interaction in language classes. This framework was used to analyse data generated from the English Language Teaching course textbooks now used across Saudi schools, and from interviews with the teachers and students who use it.

A typical unit from a middle school English Language standard textbook and the associated teacher guidance were analysed. Overall, the lesson designs outlined the possibility of communicative language teaching. Then qualitative case studies of four English teachers working in a middle school for boys were conducted using semi-structured interviews before and after classroom observations to explore teachers’ different understandings about the concept and principles of CLT as recommended by their set textbook. In addition, focus group interviews with students elicited students’ reflections on their experience of learning English.

The case studies demonstrated a gap between the recommended CLT-based curriculum and the teachers’ pedagogic practices which reflected a more traditional method of the Grammar Translation Method (GTM). However, there was significant variation amongst the case studies reflecting residual practices and different approaches to the pedagogic content knowledge of language learning. The teacher interviews highlighted that the Saudi context is a pedagogic culture which is highly exam focused. Notably, the students’ comments also aligned with this exam orientation, which suggests that the power and consensus surrounding this pedagogic nexus is reinforced not only by teachers but also by the students, making it the dominant mode of pedagogy. In this way, the new curriculum and its emergent practices were working against a very different pedagogic culture. The CLT approach typically suggests pedagogy with weaker framing and C- in what Bernstein terms an “invisible” pedagogy. This would encourage students’ participation in weakly framed pedagogy, and a curriculum of C- that draws on students’ life experiences and common sense rather than technical rules or specialised knowledge. However, the official recontextualization field (ORF) of the textbook – though communicative in intent – is still carefully controlled and staged, and so can be understood to navigate a middle position between the Saudi context which typically favours very F+ and C+ in a visible pedagogy and the CLT approach. Overall, the teachers in all four cases constructed different relations with the students to that suggested by the CLT-aligned teacher’s book, as they all recontextualised the textbook material in activities with stronger framing that aligned with their pedagogic content knowledge and professional preferences. The conclusion argues that any imported approach such as CLT will inevitably be recontextualised to be more acceptable within the constraints and pedagogic culture of the particular context.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Elliot, Dr. Dely and MacDiarmid, Dr. Carole and Doherty, Professor Catherine
Date of Award: 2022
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2022-82747
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 18 Mar 2022 10:08
Last Modified: 08 Apr 2022 16:44
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82747

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