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An experiential look at learner engagement in University EFL courses in Japan

Jones, B. A. (2018) An experiential look at learner engagement in University EFL courses in Japan. EdD thesis, University of Reading

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Despite extensive public and private spending in Japan on English education, Japanese young adults continue to underperform on international measures of English language proficiency and in cross-country comparisons of English language skills. And although all Japanese high school graduates will have studied English for a minimum of six years, the large majority of Japanese university students actually drop in English language proficiency over the course of their university studies. This, at a time when the Japanese government is wringing its hands over slipping levels of global competitiveness. At the same time, the absolute number and percentage of Japanese university students studying overseas is declining. One line of mainstream educational scholarship that offers promise in rectifying both problems is related to student or learner engagement. The current exploratory study was thus aimed at understanding how learner engagement is experienced in Japanese university English as a Foreign Language (EFL) learning context, confirming the relevance or fit of established theoretical models of engagement, and testing a conceptual framework with a deliniation between motivation (composed of context & self systems) and engagement (action). An ethno-phenomenological case study approach was employed that involved classroom observations, questionnaires, follow-up interviews with teachers and learners, learning diaries and various support documents. I was mainly concerned with exploring ways in which individual learners become engaged or disengaged in university EFL classrooms and how engagement manifests itself for groups of learners and their teachers in these contexts. My interest in these areas stem from a desire to help teachers reduce the risk of disengagement and is based on the assumption that deeper levels of engagement will result in better quality language learning. My main research question was, How is “learner engagement” experienced in university EFL classrooms in Japan? Subsidary questions included, (1) In what ways do instructional practices (or approaches) influence learner engagement? (2) In what ways do teacher characteristics influence learner engagement? and (3) In what ways do contextual features influence learner engagement? This investigation involved a review of how theorizing on learner, or student, engagement in mainstream education literature aligns with or compliments that in second language acquisition (SLA) literature. Engagement theory has reached a certain level of maturity in educational psychology and developmental psychology, and there is well documented agreement that engagement is a multidimensional construct, with behavioral, emotional and cognitive engagement being the most commonly recognized dimensions. In the field of SLA, there has been some overlap or cross pollination with mainstream education, but direct reference to engagement theory is sparse, and motivation has been the dominant focus. Thus, the current study also aimed to explore whether or not engagement theory might inform SLA investigations and identify some practical applications of this theory. Analysis of classroom episodes where deeper (emotional) engagement was evident support assertions that learner engagement in these classes is experienced: - through the interactions with peers and the instructor, - through instructional activities that are appropriately challenging, - at a variety of levels (individual, small group, and whole-class), - dialogically between the individual and the context (i.e., individuals are influenced by the context and exert influence on the context), - differently by each individual, and - when individuals are involved in personally meaningful activities.

Item Type:Thesis (EdD)
Thesis Supervisor:Courtney, L. and Fuller, C.
Thesis/Report Department:Institute of Education
Identification Number/DOI:
Divisions:Arts, Humanities and Social Science > Institute of Education
ID Code:80616


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