Learning to Teach within the Curricular Reform Context: A Sociocultural Perspective on English Student Teachers' Practicum Experience in South Korea

Open Access
Ahn, Kyungja
Graduate Program:
Applied Linguistics
Doctor of Philosophy
Document Type:
Date of Defense:
February 02, 2009
Committee Members:
  • Karen E Johnson, Dissertation Advisor
  • Karen E Johnson, Committee Chair
  • Joan Kelly Hall, Committee Member
  • Celeste S Kinginger, Committee Member
  • Paula R Golombek, Committee Member
  • Teacher education
  • Curricular reform
  • Communicative language teaching
  • Sociocultural theory
  • Concept development
  • Activity theory
  • Inner contradictions
This study investigates the extent to which the communicative language teaching (CLT)-oriented English language curricular reforms mandated by the Ministry of Education are instantiated in pre-service teacher education in South Korea. Specifically, it focuses on the extent to which a cohort of four pre-service teachers is able to internalize the concepts embedded in these curricular reforms and enact those concepts in their instructional practices during the practicum experience. Sociocultural theory (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006; Vygotsky 1978, 1986) and activity theory (Engeström, 1987, 1993, 1999a; Leontiev, 1978, 1981) were adopted as the theoretical framework through which teacher learning was examined. In particular, sociocultural theory allows us to understand and trace these student teachers' concept development. Activity theory, specifically, the activity system model (Engeström, 1987, 1993, 1999a) was applied to the data in order to identify if and where contradictions emerged that altered the nature of the activity system itself or maintained the status quo. Moreover, this model identified several dimensions of the activity system that appeared to influence their development and finally where and what needs to be changed within this activity system if the outcome of student teachers' learning is to be the ability to teach in line with the mandated curricular reforms. Two teams, consisting of a mentor teacher and two student teachers, were shadowed during a four-week practicum at a Korean laboratory middle school. The data consisted of interviews, classroom observations, team conferences, student teachers' journals, lesson plans, and curricular reform documents. The data were analyzed inductively through a grounded content analysis (Bogdan & Biklin, 1998; Glaser & Strauss, 1967) within the traditions of ethnographic qualitative research (Hammersley & Atkinson, 1995; Hymes, 1964; Watson-Gegeo, 1988; Wilcox, 1982). The analyses revealed that each student teacher experienced different degrees of internalization depending on a range of individual, social, and institutional factors. The student teachers' apprenticeship of observation (Lortie, 2002) grounded in their previous schooling experiences and the everyday concepts with which they entered the teacher education program had a powerful influence how they perceived and enacted the curricular reform concepts during the practicum experience. In addition, the mediational means provided by the mentor teacher and instantiated in the practicum activities worked to socialize these student teachers into the normative ways of teaching English in this institutional context. Moreover, institutional constraints including pupils' lack of classroom participation and limited L2 abilities, the high-stakes nature of school-based exams, and pressure to complete the immediate practicum teaching requirements were found to constrain these student teachers' attempts to enact the CLT-oriented curriculum. Overall, the findings of this study indicate that conceptual, mentoring, and institutional support is critical for pre-service teacher concept development within the context of curricular reform efforts. In particular, the results indicate that broader macro-structures embedded within the activity systems in which these pre-service teachers were learning to teach must change in order for new teachers to fully overcome the contradictions they face in their initial classroom teaching experiences if language teacher education programs are to reorient their teaching conceptions and practices toward the CLT-based curricular reforms. This study has important implications for policy makers, teacher educators, and in-service and pre-service English teachers.