Understanding Chinese EFL Teachers' Beliefs and Practices in the Textbook-Based Classroom

by Xiaodong Zhang (Author)
Thesis 208 Pages
Series: Linguistic Insights, Volume 231


Textbooks have long been considered a pivotal learning and teaching resource in classrooms. However, there is a paucity of research on how teachers use textbooks in relation to their beliefs, with analytic methods in such studies mainly restrained to content-based thematic analysis. To this end, from the perspectives of Halliday’s (1994) systemic functional linguistics (SFL) and Vygostky’s (1978) socio-cultural theory (SCT), this book explores how a Chinese college English teacher acts upon his beliefs and uses textbooks to mediate his students’ English learning in his classroom.
Drawing on constructs of the SFL-based appraisal and speech function as well as interview excerpts, the study reveals that in the textbook-based classroom the Chinese college English teacher acts upon his beliefs that are constructed by diverse contextual factors. Implications of this study include using SFL and SCT to explore educators’ beliefs and practices and also providing effective teacher education for Chinese college English instructors to reshape their beliefs so that they are better prepared to use textbooks in classrooms.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • 1. Introduction
  • 1.1 Statement of the Problem
  • 1.2 Conceptual Framework
  • 1.3 Purpose of the Study
  • 1.4 Significance of the Study
  • 1.5 Methodology
  • 1.6 Overview of the Chapters
  • 2. Literature Review on the Textbook, Teachers’ Practices and Beliefs
  • 2.1 The Role of Textbooks
  • 2.2 Studies on the Content of ELT Textbooks
  • 2.3 Studies on Textbooks and Teachers’ Use
  • 2.4 Studies on Teachers’ Beliefs and Textbook-based Instruction
  • 2.5 Summary
  • 3. Underlying Theories of the Study
  • 3.1 Learning to Use Language: A Systemic Functional Perspective
  • 3.2 SCT as a Learning Theory to Understand Textbook Use
  • 3.3 SFL’s Discourse Perspective on Teachers’ Talk-based Mediation
  • 3.4 Teachers’ Beliefs as Evaluative Stances
  • 3.5 Summary
  • 4. College English Teaching in China
  • 4.1 Necessity of Context of Culture for Research
  • 4.2 The Path of English Becoming the First Foreign Language in China
  • 4.3 Curriculum Change
  • 4.4 College English Test
  • 4.5 EFL Teacher Education and Its Impact on Teaching Practices
  • 4.6 The Textbook and Its Adoption in China’s EFL Classroom
  • 4.7 Summary
  • 5. Methodology of the Study
  • 5.1 A Qualitative Case Study Approach
  • 5.2 Research Site and Participants: Context of Situation
  • 5.3 Researcher’s Role and Ethics
  • 5.4 Data Collection
  • 5.5 Data Transcription and Coding
  • 5.6 Data Analysis
  • 5.7 Limitations of the Study
  • 5.8 Summary
  • 6. The EFL Teacher’s Beliefs about Textbook Use
  • 6.1 Tong’s Beliefs as Evaluative Stances
  • 6.2 A Contextual Explanation of Tong’s Belief Discourse
  • 6.3 Summary of the Chapter
  • 7. The EFL Teacher’s Teaching Practices in the Textbook-based EFL Classroom
  • 7.1 Tong’s Textbook Use: An SFL-based Speech Function Analysis
  • 7.2 Beliefs and Practice: The Relationship between the Two
  • 7.3 A Contextual Explanation of Tong’s Teaching Practices on Textbook Use
  • 7.4 Summary
  • 8. Discussions and Implications
  • 8.1 Research Questions Revisited
  • 8.2 The Power of the SFL-based Appraisal System in Investigating the Focal Teacher’s Beliefs
  • 8.3 A Peculiar SFL-based Stratification of Contextual Factors to Explain the Focal Teacher’s Belief Discourse
  • 8.4 The Power of the SFL-based Speech Function in Revealing the Focal Teacher’s Textbook Use in relation to His Beliefs
  • 8.5 The Peculiarity of the SFL-based Contextual Explanation for the ‘Gap’ between the Focal Teacher’s Beliefs and Textbook Use
  • 8.6 Implications of the Study
  • References
  • Appendixes
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • Appendix C
  • Appendix D
  • Index
  • Series index

← 8 | 9 →

1.   Introduction

Since China opened its doors to the world in the 1980s, the demand for English language users has been on the rise. As a result, English has become the privileged primary foreign language at the tertiary level of Chinese education. To guide the teaching of college English1, the Chinese Ministry of Education issued English teaching standards and has been revising them since the 1980s. The latest version of national standards for college English teaching, the College English Curriculum Requirements (henceforth CECR), came out in 2007.

Different from previous standards, the latest CECR puts balanced emphasis on speaking, writing, listening, and reading. In particular, they state that the objective of college English teaching should be to focus on “enabling learners to communicate in future study, work, and social interactions” (Chinese Ministry of Education 2007: 1) in the verbal mode (i.e. writing and reading) and the spoken mode (i.e. listening and speaking). That is, college English teaching at the tertiary level in China is expected to develop learners’ knowledge of language use in context, which includes teaching both the form and contextually embedded meanings of the English language (Halliday 1994).

Echoing the CECR’s focus on students’ knowledge of language use in context, the latest College English Test2 (henceforth CET) implemented by the Chinese Ministry of Education also tests students’ knowledge of English language use through listening, speaking, reading, writing, and translation. The CET consists of two leveled tests: the CET 4 (the low level) and CET 6 (the high level). Both tests contain a written and spoken component. The written component of the test includes writing, listening, reading, and translation. The spoken component involves assessment of test takers’ speaking skills; however, this test is optional ← 9 | 10 → and only available to written test takers who have achieved a score of 500 or more out of 710 on the CET 4 test and 425 or more out of 710 on the CET 6. In particular, the written portion of the CET 4 in most Chinese universities is high stakes. That is, students who score less than 425 out of 710 on the CET 4are not eligible to receive a bachelor’s degree; students with a low score on the CET 4 also find it difficult to land a decent job (Adamson/Xia, 2011). Therefore, the high-stakes nature of the CET 4 test further encourages teachers to adequately develop their students’ knowledge of language use in context, enabling them to pass the test.

The above mentioned curriculum implementation, along with test preparation in Chinese college English as a foreign language (henceforth EFL) programs, are enacted primarily through the use of textbooks (Liu 2013; Huang/Xu, 1999). As Huang and Xu (1999) pointed out, Chinese English teaching favors textbook-based teaching. That is, textbooks are given a superior status in the English language classroom. Among several English language textbooks used in China’s universities, Li and Wang’s (2013) College English-Integrated Course has a long history in China and has been used by the majority of Chinese colleges and universities as a primary resource for teaching and learning in class (Dong 1997; Fan 2000). In addition to this widely used textbook, there are also several other textbooks (e.g. New Horizon College English and New Standards College English) used by a minority of universities in China. Regardless of what language textbooks a university uses, all English language teaching textbooks tend to have similar content (Jakubiak/Harklau 2010). Indeed, these language textbooks are generally characterized by units that feature reading texts and language exercises.

Given the similar content in language textbooks, what has become most important in college language classrooms is how teachers make use of the textbook content and develop their students’ language knowledge (Donato/McCormic 1994; Kon 1993; Newton 1990; Nunan 1991). In addition, scholars (e.g. Sosniak/Ethington/Varelas 1991; Sosniak/Stodolky 1993) also suggested that teachers’ textbook use is influenced by their teaching beliefs, as teachers generally act upon their beliefs when teaching in class (Borg 2006; Pajares 1992; Zheng/Davidson 2008). In other words, it is crucial to consider teachers’ teaching practices and ← 10 | 11 → beliefs as two interrelated factors when investigating how Chinese college English teachers use textbooks in the classroom.

In sum, to investigate how Chinese college EFL teachers implement CECR and teach English with a textbook, it is imperative to focus on how these teachers’ teaching beliefs and practices impact their presentation of English language resources from a textbook in an actual classroom.

1.1   Statement of the Problem

Most of the previous research on English language textbooks was conducted in two primary ways. The first way includes a focus on the potential impact of textbooks’ linguistic and cultural content on students’ learning through checklists or students’ and teachers’ responses. For example, one item as a checklist criterion or as a response question would be does the textbook help students’ communication? (Guilloteaux 2013; Litz 2005; Mashuhara/Tomlinson 2013; see also Mukundan/Ahour 2010 for a review). Through the checklist-based criteria or textbook users’ responses, researchers, without doing an empirical investigation, can gain a rough impression of the potential impact of an English language textbook on learners’ knowledge of language use (Tomlinson 2003). In response to a lack of empirical investigations, the other main way is to observe teachers’ textbook use in the classroom (Menkabu/Hardwood 2014; Santos 2008). However, according to Sosniak and Stodolky (1993: 253), such studies still limit our view because they simply focus on “the instruction in relation to the textbook”, ignoring the ways in which teachers’ textbook use is influenced by their beliefs. In other words, Sosniak and Stodolky suggest that textbook study should be directed at connections between teachers’ actual use of materials and their beliefs about their teaching activities. However, a paucity of research in the field of English language learning and teaching has explored the relationship between teachers’ beliefs and their textbook use (Maggioni/Fox/Alexander 2015; Menkabu/Hardwood 2014). ← 11 | 12 →

Most importantly, while there are similar studies in other fields (e.g. writing beliefs and practices, mathematics teachers’ beliefs and practices), these studies suffer from methodological weaknesses in two aspects. One, teachers’ beliefs were studied primarily through verbal elicitations (e.g. interview answers) and approached through qualitative content analysis (see Borg, 2006 for a review), which, according to scholars (e.g. Kalaja 2003; Talja 1997), ignores how specific linguistic resources participate in constructing teachers’ verbalized beliefs (i.e. belief discourse3). Instead, they suggest using discourse analysis as an alternative to investigate how linguistic resources as social semiotics play a role in constructing teachers’ verbalized beliefs. Second, there is a lack of “moment-by-moment” or detailed investigation of teachers’ practices (Li 2013: 176) among studies on the relationship between teachers’ beliefs and practices. Indeed, most studies that explored teachers’ practices tended to use a content analysis of teachers’ practices (Borg 2006), ignoring the detailed interaction between teachers and students in context. To construct a better picture of teachers’ practices in relation to their beliefs, Li (2013) adopted discourse analysis and proved its power in showing the detailed interactional pattern between the teacher and students in the classroom, which also allowed her to have a detailed investigation of the relationship between teachers’ beliefs and practices.

In sum, two problems regarding research on language teachers’ beliefs and their textbook use need to be addressed. One is that there is an imperative need for contributions to the literature in the field of language textbook use and teachers’ beliefs, given the scarcity of similar studies. The other problem lies with the previous analytic method on teachers’ beliefs and practices, which also points to the plausibility of using discourse analysis as an alternative to explore how language as a social semiotic resource constructs both teachers’ beliefs and practices on the use of English language textbooks. ← 12 | 13 →

1.2   Conceptual Framework

In response to the research gaps above, Halliday’s (1994) systemic functional linguistics (henceforth SFL) and Vygotsky’s (1978) sociocultural theory (henceforth SCT) inform the present study for four compelling reasons. First, SFL as a language learning theory provides a lens for investigating what linguistic resources teachers highlight in their textbook use to support their students’ contextual use of language (Gibbons 2006; Halliday 1978). Second, SCT, as a learning theory, is able to shed light on how teachers mediate students’ language knowledge through textbook use. Indeed, teaching through the textbook, similar to other methods of instruction, involves teachers talking to aid in their students’ learning of language knowledge from the textbook (Gibbons 2006; Kohler 2015; Walker/Horsley 2006). Third, SFL also argues from a socio-semiotic perspective that linguistic resources participate in constructing discourses in response to context (Achugar 2009; Christie 2002; Eggins/Slade 1997; Zolkower/Shreyar 2007). For example, the SFL-based speech function (i.e. how language speakers exchange information, services, and goods) can explain detailed classroom interactions from a discourse perspective. Similarly, since teaching beliefs are concerned with teachers’ evaluative stances (Borg 2001; Pajares 1992), the SFL-based appraisal system, which highlights language users’ evaluative stances, also explains how language as a socio-semiotic resource constructs teachers’ verbalized beliefs as a discourse. Fourth, SFL emphasizes the link between contextual constraints, linguistic resources and discourses. This further makes SFL an optimal tool to explore teachers’ beliefs and practices because the constructs of both teachers’ beliefs and practices are contextually bound (Mansour 2009). Hence, SCT and SFL are able to fill in the research gaps in the previous studies and provide a well-rounded conceptual framework to inform an in-depth investigation of teachers’ beliefs and their textbook-based teaching practices. ← 13 | 14 →

1.3   Purpose of the Study

This study aims to contribute to the under-researched area of English language textbook use in relation to teachers’ beliefs through a case study of a Chinese college English teacher’s beliefs and his textbook use. It also aims to show the power of SCT and SFL as a conceptual framework for studying textbook use and teachers’ beliefs. To this end, the study explores the following two interrelated research questions:

1. How does the focal teacher exemplify his beliefs about EFL textbook?

a. How are the focal teacher’s beliefs realized linguistically through his evaluative stances?


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2017 (August)
Systemic functional linguistics Socio-cultural theory Teachers’ beliefs Teachers’ textbook use Discourse analysis
Bern, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2017. 189 pp., 2 b/w ill., 26 b/w tables

Biographical notes

Xiaodong Zhang (Author)

Xiaodong Zhang is an assistant professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, China. He holds a PhD degree in Linguistics (University of Georgia, U.S.A). His research interests include teacher education, second language writing and systemic functional linguistics. His works have appeared in international journals.


Title: Understanding Chinese EFL Teachers' Beliefs and Practices in the Textbook-Based Classroom
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210 pages