The Tertiary English Language Curriculum in China and its Delivery: A Critical Study

Cai, Guozhi (2011). The Tertiary English Language Curriculum in China and its Delivery: A Critical Study. PhD thesis The Open University.



This thesis investigates the tertiary English language curriculum in China and its delivery, focusing on the intensive reading (IR) course for students studying English at degree level. It examines the extent to which IR realises the aims of the current English curriculum, revised in 2000 with the intention of introducing more contemporary approaches to English language teaching. It also examines how IR relates to the behaviour and beliefs of two teachers who deliver it, and to their students' participation and views. The study applies an ethnographic approach to collect its data and discourse analysis to analyse classroom discourse constructed in teacher-student interaction. Data was collected at a university in China and consists of classroom observations, audio recordings of classes, interviews with the teachers and students being observed, government documents, teachers' syllabi and teaching plans. Data analysis focuses on the textbooks that are used to deliver the revised curriculum; how teachers use these textbooks, and their mediation of book knowledge via the use of PowerPoint slides; and the language choices made by teachers in delivering knowledge from the textbooks and PowerPoint slides. Data analysis reveals that classroom practice is very much at odds with the principles set out in the 2000 Curriculum. Whereas this emphasises the use of Communicative language Teaching (CLT) and Task-based language teaching (TBLT), the use of English as a teaching medium, and a focus on student-centredness, the teaching itself is heavily textbook and PowerPoint slides orientated, with teachers acting as 'messengers' (Scollon 1999). The teachers tend to dominate classroom interaction to the point where students' voices are silenced. They make substantial use of L1 as the medium of instruction. A further disparity is shown between teachers' practice and students' expectations. Driven by the nature of their English language needs and engagements in world affairs, students are asking for more opportunities to practise what they have learnt and express the wish that teachers would move away from a traditional teaching pedagogy towards a more student-centred approach.

This thesis aims to encourage teachers, teacher educators, policy makers, and material developers to reflect on what is happening in ELT classrooms and to consider what steps need to be taken to improve tertiary level ELT in China.

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