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Title: The implementation of critical thinking as EFL pedagogy : challenges and opportunities
Authors: Alnofaie, Haifa Abdullah
Issue Date: 2013
Publisher: Newcastle University
Abstract: The introduction of critical thinking into education has recently become a global aim. The implementation of critical thinking as language pedagogy in the field of English as a Foreign Language (hereafter EFL) has started recently, and it consequently requires further investigation. Despite Atkinson’s (1997) claims that critical thinking is a Western concept and could not be applied for foreign language education in non-Western contexts, findings from research reveal that critical thinking pedagogies have been effective for developing language learning in non-Western contexts. Despite this evidence of success in implementing critical thinking as one element of EFL pedagogy, the number of existing studies is limited, and most of these studies have focused on the development of learners’ reading and writing skills. The present study is a naturalistic inquiry that examines the processes of implementing a critical thinking pedagogy for developing the quality of classroom dialogue. The specific focus is on whether this pedagogy increases/decreases learners’ involvement in high quality talk, characterised by the complex use of language and the application of Higher Order Thinking Skills (HOTS). The merits of and challenges to applying this pedagogy for developing the quality of dialogue were identified through regular interviews with participants, audio recordings of classroom talk, observational field notes, pre- and post-tests for measuring language complexity and questionnaires. The study was carried out over 12 weeks at a language institute run by a private university in Saudi Arabia. Participants were an EFL teacher and 18 high school graduates taking a compulsory language course at this institute before starting their undergraduate degrees. The findings suggest that this pedagogy was more challenging for the teacher than for the learners, and this was due to the effects of power relations found in the Saudi educational system. In Saudi universities, educational policies, plans and decisions are limited to the Council of HE and the MOHE. With regard to university governance at the internal level, decisions are mainly made by male authorities who govern both male and female universities. Teachers cannot implement classroom interventions without authorities’ permission. This indicates that power is not shared equally between university authorities on one side and their staff and students on the other side, more specifically female staff and students. The teacher’s feeling of powerlessness in this study has led to unsatisfactory outcomes. Her classroom practice was affected by her inability to have an access to power. This was more evident towards the end of the study, when classroom talk had regressed from dialogue to a more traditional Initiative/Response/ Feedback (IRF) exchange structure. The teacher dominated talk to minimise opportunities for criticising social issues or talking about issues that were not in tune with the students’ culture. Although the teacher’s use of language and interaction did seem to have some negative effects on the development of learners’ language complexity in dialogue, there were some examples where the thinking lessons provided learners with opportunities for thinking and learning through dialogue, more specifically when using mysteries. The learners valued these opportunities to think and seemed to be tolerant of ambiguity. The main contribution of this study is a framework for infusing critical thinking pedagogy across courses in EFL skills that are taught to post-secondary school learners in Saudi Arabia. The framework is informed by Burden and Williams’ (1996) SPARE model, Moore’s Transdisciplinarity framework (2011) and my own reflections on the context. Another contribution is that the study brings together two language learning theories: the socio-cultural theory and the critical language awareness theory. In other words, the study explains that learners’ cognitive and metacognitive skills, highlighted in the critical language awareness theory, plays a significant role in engaging learners in successful interaction, through creating participation opportunities based on the notion of critical thinking. This point is evident in participants’ discussions of Turkish Series and Mystery 4 in Chapter 6, which reflected high level of interaction and criticality employed by learners. The study is likely to be of benefit to teachers, researchers and policy makers in the Saudi context and other contexts that are concerned with the application of critical thinking for developing language teaching and learning.
Description: PhD Thesis
Appears in Collections:School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences

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