Critique of Incidental Displays of Cultural Knowledge in the Nonnative-English-Speaking Teacher’s Classroom by Anne Lazaraton

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Critique of Incidental Displays of Cultural Knowledge in the Nonnative-English-Speaking Teacher’s Classroom by Anne Lazaraton

The article “Incidental Displays of Cultural Knowledge in the Nonnative-English-Speaking Teacher’s Classroom” by Anne Lazaraton explores the incidental cultural knowledge displays by two distinct nonnative-English-speaking teachers (NNESTs) in their intensive but different English program classrooms. This research by Lazaraton goes beyond the existing work on the reflections, impressions and beliefs of nonnative-English-speaking teachers. The main research questions in this study include:

  • What is the nature of the discourse present in English as a second language (ESL) classes taught by nonnative-English-speaking teachers?
  • What cultural topics emerge in ESL classrooms and how do teachers display their discernment of them?
  • Does an analysis of the discourse present in ESL classes indicate real problems with teaching, language or culture?

The data used in this article was collected from a larger study of two MA ESL graduate students. These students working as teaching assistants in an intensive English program that was affiliated with an MA ESL program in a university in the United States were observed whereby data was collected through participant observation of cultural knowledge displays of the two teachers (Lazaraton, 2003, p. 221).

The population in this research consisted of two teachers who were chosen for the study because they were the only nonnative-English-speaking MA ESL students working on the English program at the time of data collection. It is imperative to note that both teachers identified themselves as nonnative speakers of English despite being uncomfortable with the term. Thus, the sampling process for the study involved selecting only nonnative-English-speaking MA ESL students so as to determine their cultural knowledge displays when speaking and teaching English.

The process of data collection involved approaching the two teachers and seeking their permission to videotape a negotiable of their teaching sessions in class. The two were informed about the general objective of the research but not the specific questions that they might be asked in the study. Once the teachers had granted their permission to be videotaped once for three months, they talked to their students who also agreed to being videotaped. The classroom was fitted with a Sound Grabber table microphone at the front of the classroom, numerous external microphones suspended from the ceiling, as well as, two mounted remote-controlled upper-corner cameras. These devices were used to record the conversations, dialogues and monologues in the classroom so as to obtain data for the research. Moreover, the settings in this study for determining the research questions were well-designed and in line with the research standards discussed in class.

Data analysis involved dubbing off the audio portion off the videotapes and transcribing them under the supervision of Lazaraton using the conventions of conversation analysis. The outcome was approximately one hundred and fifty pages of transcribed classroom discourse. These transcribed discourse formed the database for further analysis. The nonverbal demeanor of the teachers and students was also transcribed using a second-line transcript method whereby the nonverbal demeanor was separated from the verbal channel. Albeit there are more intricate systems for representing gaze, gestures and body position, Lazaraton chose the second-line transcript method because of its ease of reading and representation. The general precepts of that guided the data analysis in this research were those commonly associated with conversation analysis, an inductive approach to assessing authentic spoken discourse that originates from sociology but is recently embraced by applied linguists. The data analyzed was presented in numerical and percentage forms.

There are methodological and practical conclusions that can be drawn from the research conducted by Lazaraton on the incidental displays of cultural knowledge in the NNESTs.  For instance, a wide range of cultural topics arose in class and teachers were able to deal with the cultural topics through their display of cultural knowledge in a competent way with the exception of the missed opportunities whereby teachers failed to admit that they did not have sufficient cultural information. The displays of cultural knowledge by teachers provided the chance for the students to become cultural informants in the classroom setting. These conclusions are justified in light of the data presented in this article.