several researchers (e.g. Richards, 1998; Felix,
1999; Riley, 1997) our system of beliefs monitor
what we do in the classroom. These beliefs about the
process of teaching and learning may also directly
influence students´ motivation, attitudes, and
learning strategies. In addition, they are demonstrated
in the classroom practice based on what participants
believe to be relevant to second language teaching/learning
Differences in teachers` and students` systems of
beliefs certainly lead to results that are not the
expected ones. Thus, to reduce these discrepancies,
which interfere in the teaching/learning environment,
it is important to investigate the beliefs regarding
the process. Our studies should, therefore, stop being
a mere description of these beliefs and should start
to look at beliefs into specific contexts and as a
personalized expression of concepts and ideas. There
is also a special need of reflection and discussion
on this subject, which should take place in our classrooms,
since our beliefs undoubtedly exert a deep influence
in our academic life.
2. THEORETICAL BACKGROUND
One of the
main sources of the origins of our beliefs is in
the influence exerted by our previous educational
experiences – as students or, occasionally, as
teachers. According to Kindsvatter, Willen and Ishler
(1998), teachers´ system of beliefs is built
up over time and it is derived from many different
sources such as (1) their own experience as language
learners; (2) experiences concerning the learning strategies
which lead to best results; (3) preferred or imposed
teaching patterns; (4) personal preferences for a particular
approach or method; (5) educationally based or research-based
principles; (6) principles derived from a specific
approach or method.
the sources of beliefs mentioned above and the influence
that suggestions and opinions of
teachers, friends, relatives, and other respectable
and reliable people can exert over teachers and students’ systems
of beliefs, we can also cite some other sources such
as culture, literature, and the media.
that teachers are somehow guided by their system
of beliefs, a better comprehension
of these beliefs regarding the teaching, development,
and evaluation of the oral skill may be especially
useful in order to promote an improvement of how to
deal with the oral skill in the classroom. One of the
possible ways of investigating the oral production
in a way to contribute to teaching is to try to understand
how teachers and students of a foreign language approach
this ability. Thus, the main objective of this study
is to examine teachers' and students’ beliefs
about the teaching, learning, and evaluation of oral
production. As pointed out by several researchers (for
instance, Abraham & Vann, 1987; Barcelos, 1995
and 2000; Horwitz, 1987), it is important to understand
teachers' and students’ beliefs about the nature
of the learning and the teaching of a foreign language
because these beliefs possibly influence these two
and 56 English students of a foreign language of
the Extracurricular Course of Languages
at the Universidade Federal de Santa Catarina, from
the basic to the pre-intermediate level, were invited
to participate in the present study. To collect the
data, two questionnaires - one for the teachers and
one for the students - were used. The questionnaires
were adapted from Barcelos (1995) and Félix
(1999). The questionnaire for teachers contained 17
questions, 3 of which were open. For the students,
the questionnaire contained 16 questions, being 4 of
them open. In both types of questionnaires, the closed
questions had as possible answers the categories “I
fully agree”, “I partly agree”, “I
have no opinion about it”, and “I don't
analysis of the first 14 – closed
- items of the questionnaire answered by the teachers
revealed that 71, 4% of them agree with the relationship
between students´ motivation and their success
in speaking the foreign language. To 43% of these teachers,
there is no objective way to assess the oral performance
in a foreign language. To them, the students´ grades
reflect their performance in written rather than in
oral tests. When teachers want to encourage conversation
in class, 86% of them simulate real life situations.
In the opinion of 93% of these teachers, the competent
oral production is directly linked first to lexical
precision, followed by grammar, and pronunciation.
Also, to 64% of them, it is the lack of lexical, syntactic
and phonological knowledge that causes the non-fluent
oral production. To the great majority, that is 86%,
oral fluency can be achieved through a repetitive practice.
When questioned about which aspects are more important
when evaluating their students´ oral performance,
all of them pointed out “naturalness” and “explicitness” as
the most important aspects, followed by good pronunciation
and confidence when speaking, good vocabulary, and,
finally, good grammar. Regarding the open questions,
93% of the teachers indicated that, when speaking,
it is important that students express their ideas successfully,
even if not using grammatical structures correctly.
In other words, in these teachers´ points of
view, the priority is meaning and not form. Finally,
when requested to define with their own words what
it means to speak a foreign language fluently, 50%
of the teachers mentioned “to be explicit” as
the main definition, followed by “to have grammatical
knowledge” and “to express oneself naturally.”
these results show that for most of the teachers
who participated in the study, the teaching
and evaluation of oral production are complex aspects
of their pedagogical practice. In fact, the definition
of fluency itself seems to be a complex aspect for
teachers. For instance, they use subjective and vague
terms when trying to define it (to speak fluently a
foreign language is “to speak without thinking
too much before doing it”; “it’s
to speak without worrying about it”; “it’s
to be natural and explicit”). Also, in trying
to be more objective, they choose “to have grammatical
knowledge” as a definition in contrast to the
fact that they have chosen the lexical aspect as the
most important in the ability.
of the questionnaires answered by the students revealed
that to 75% of them, pronunciation
is important when speaking the foreign language, followed
by good vocabulary, and, in third place, grammar. Most
of the students (70%) believe that speaking a second
language is difficult. When asked to mention the activities
they perform to enhance their oral skills, students
mention dialogues, activities in groups and conversation
as the most important ones. Part of the students, that
is 47%, believe that pronunciation is the most important
aspect to be evaluated in oral tests, followed by grammatical
knowledge. Finally, 50% of them define speaking a foreign
language fluently as “making oneself understood”,
40% as “having grammatical knowledge”,
and 10% as “having good pronunciation.”
Comparing teachers´ and students´ answers,
it is possible to affirm that both groups resemble each
other in the perception they have that the ability of
oral production is complex and difficult. However, while
teachers seem to emphasize the lexical aspects of oral
production, students consider pronunciation the most
important item – in production and in oral evaluation.
Finally, teachers´ and students´ beliefs
are also similar concerning the definition of fluent
speech: for students, “to express oneself”
and “to have knowledge of grammar” of the
language are the most relevant definitions.
of this study was to examine teachers’ and
students’ beliefs about the teaching, learning,
and evaluation of the ability of oral production in
a foreign language. In general, the results revealed
that the predominant beliefs to both groups is that
speaking a second language is difficult. Specifically,
teachers believe there are no objective ways of evaluating
oral production. Although they point out to a way of
promoting the development of the ability – through
the practice of conversation – they also affirm
that repetitive practice is an efficient way of developing
it. For students, however, pronunciation is the most
important item to be evaluated in oral tests, although
for them speaking fluently is a synonym for “being
understood” and “having grammatical knowledge.” Altogether,
the results of this study point to the fact that teachers
and students lack elements for a better understanding
of what is involved in the development of oral skills.
According to the results of this study, it seems that
teaching, learning, and evaluating oral production
is a random process without any possibility of effective
pedagogical intervention. Such situation could be modified
if more attention were given to the oral production
in teachers´ education programs and in the research
in foreign languages.
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