Form-focused instruction in Irish-medium immersion education: a critical examination of teachers' perspectives and practices. A small-scale qualitative case study

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Ó Ceallaigh, Timothy Joseph
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University College Cork
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It has been suggested that the less than optimal levels of students’ immersion language “persist in part because immersion teachers lack systematic approaches for integrating language into their content instruction” (Tedick, Christian and Fortune, 2011, p.7). I argue that our current lack of knowledge regarding what immersion teachers think, know and believe and what immersion teachers’ actual ‘lived’ experiences are in relation to form-focused instruction (FFI) prevents us from fully understanding the key issues at the core of experiential immersion pedagogy and form-focused integration. FFI refers to “any planned or incidental instructional activity that is intended to induce language learners to pay attention to linguistic form” (Ellis, 2001b, p.1). The central aim of this research study is to critically examine the perspectives and practices of Irish-medium immersion (IMI) teachers in relation to FFI. The study ‘taps’ into the lived experiences of three IMI teachers in three different IMI school contexts and explores FFI from a classroom-based, teacher-informed perspective. Philosophical underpinnings of the interpretive paradigm and critical hermeneutical principles inform and guide the study. A multi-case study approach was adopted and data was gathered through classroom observation, video-stimulated recall and semistructured interviews. Findings revealed that the journey of ‘becoming’ an IMI teacher is shaped by a vast array of intricate variables. IMI teacher identity, implicit theories, stated beliefs, educational biographies and experiences, IMI school cultures and contexts as well as teacher knowledge and competence impacted on IMI teachers’ FFI perspectives and practices. An IMI content teacher identity reflected the teachers’ priorities as shaped by pedagogical challenges and their educational backgrounds. While research participants had clearly defined instructional beliefs and goals, their roadmap of how to actually accomplish these goals was far from clear. IMI teachers described the multitude of choices and pedagogical dilemmas they faced in integrating FFI into experiential pedagogy. Significant gaps in IMI teachers’ declarative knowledge about and competence in the immersion language were also reported. This research study increases our understanding of the complexity of the processes underlying and shaping FFI pedagogy in IMI education. Innovative FFI opportunities for professional development across the continuum of teacher education are outlined, a comprehensive evaluation of IMI is called for and areas for further research are delineated.
Immersion education , Form-focused instruction , Bilingual education , Immersion teacher identity , Irish-medium education , Immersion teacher knowledge , Instructional input , Corrective feedback , Learner output , Learner interaction
Ó Ceallaigh,T. J. 2014. Form-focused instruction in Irish-medium immersion education: a critical examination of teachers' perspectives and practices. A small-scale qualitative case study. PhD Thesis, University College Cork.