What are your core beliefs

Subjective theories of DaF teachers - to justify the exclusion of content and methods from teaching

The qualitative study deals with the question of which factors GFL teachers use to justify what they do not do in terms of content and method in their lessons, and determines to what extent this exclusion is based on a subjective (partial) theory. In this way, an aspect is brought to the fore within teacher cognition research that has so far received little attention. Within the scope of this article, the subjective justification patterns of two GFL teachers are reconstructed descriptively and graphically on the basis of interviews and structural images in order to show the relationship between situational-context-dependent and conviction-based reasons that led to this exclusion.

The qualitative study is focusing on the question, why teachers of German as a foreign language exclude certain topics and teaching methods from their classroom and to what extent their individual beliefs are underlying these exclusions. In the context of this article the individual patterns of excluding topics and teaching methods of two GFL teachers will be reconstructed descriptively and graphically to show the relations between contextual factors and the teachers ’beliefs that resulted in their exclusions.

1 Research overview: Subjective theories of teachers in the GFL context

1.1 Research situation and definition of the concept subjective theory

How teachers plan their lessons and make decisions is a highly individual process. In the course of a teaching biography, patterns of action gained from experience mix with theoretically sound knowledge and personal attitudes to form a unique mosaic. In order to track down this diversity, research into the knowledge and skills of teachers has come to the fore within teacher cognition research in the past two decades (cf. Schart 2003: 14; Schmotz 2009: 13-14). It is assumed that teachers develop theories about teaching in the course of their professional activity, which relate to all sub-areas of teaching and its planning and interact with their teaching activities, so that over time a consistent, stable and reconstructable The theory of professional self-image forms (Caspari 2003: 32).

The research situation in the field of subjective theories is quite heterogeneous, which is partly due to the inconsistent use of terms and concepts that are difficult to distinguish from one another (Witte / Harden 2010: 1329). The term subjective theory goes back to the concept of “subjective psychological theories” according to Wahl (1981) and, according to a definition generally recognized by Mandl and Huber (1982: 2), describes “comprehensive aggregates of principally updateable cognitions [...] in which their [the teachers; d. Ed.] Reflect subjective perspectives of experience and action and which are related to each other in an argumentation context. ”However, it must be mentioned here that the concept of subjective theories has so far remained largely limited to the German-speaking area, so that the empirical research results are not readily available Transferring concepts to the international research landscape. In the English-language literature, beliefs spoken.

In his definition, which I would like to use as a guide, Grotjahn suggested the construct subjective theory to be limited by the following seven characteristics (cf. Grotjahn 2005: 42; cf. Grotjahn 1998: 35–36):

  1. 1

    Subjective theories are relatively stable cognitive structures.

  2. 2

    Subjective theories are made up of explicit-conscious and implicit-unconscious cognitions.

  3. 3

    Subjective theories have an - at least implicit - argumentation structure that is linked by causal relationships.

  4. 4

    Analogous to scientific theories, subjective theories fulfill the functions:

(a) Constitution of reality in the form of situation definitions,

(b) explaining, justifying and predicting facts as well as

(c) Construction of draft actions to bring about facts.

  1. 5

    Subjective theories, in interaction with other factors, influence observable action and thus have a behavioral or action-guiding function.

  2. 6

    Subjective theories can be updated and reconstructed.

  3. 7

    There is a need to test the acceptability of subjective theories as objective knowledge.

The extent to which the examination of the subjective theories on objective cognitive dimensions mentioned in the last point appears appropriate depends on whether one understands the subjective theories - as in the research program Subjective Theories (FST) by Groeben and Scheele - as a direct image of the mental structures or whether one understands Schart follows and sees it as the “product of an interaction situation” (Schart 2003: 28) and consequently as constructions that arise to a large extent from the research setting. Then the focus is on the question of how the teachers organize and structure their subjective knowledge in a specific survey situation (Schart 2003: 22–29).

1.2 Knowledge, beliefs, action

For the present study, the first question that arises is what kind of knowledge can be expected from teachers in the context of a verbal reconstruction of their subjective theories. In teacher cognitive research, a broad understanding of knowledge is usually assumed, which also includes beliefs and attitudes, which makes it difficult to categorize and delimit the cognitive inventory retrieved during the verbal reconstruction of subjective theories (cf. Borg 2003: 82).

A subdivision of the teachers' cognitions in relation to the parameters appears to be sensible Proximity to action and Application orientation, as it can be assumed that the teachers link the different stocks of knowledge they have with regard to their teaching practice. Following Alisch's (1981) categorization into non-behavioral and behavior-related cognitions, Schmotz (2009) differentiates between knowledge, beliefs and scripts. Scripts are activated at the moment of action and can be characterized as automated action plans. Beliefs are understood as "object-related and experience-based statements with an affectively evaluating character [...] that can be described as a complex system [...]" (Schmotz 2009: 27). For the teaching activities of teachers, they can be seen as a "bridge between knowledge and action" (ibid.), Whereby within the four belief dimensions that Schmotz differentiates, teaching-related beliefs as "beliefs about the teaching-learning process and the role of the teacher in the classroom" (Schmotz 2009: 41) have the most direct reference to action. They play “a stronger role in the preparation of lessons and with regard to a more general behavioral intention that does not necessarily have to be reflected in the specific lesson situation” (Schmotz 2009: 42).

It is difficult to differentiate between beliefs and knowledge, since teachers often view their beliefs as knowledge (cf. De Corte / Op ‘t Eynde / Verschaffel 2002: 301) and evaluate theoretical findings with regard to the extent to which these can be connected to their experiences. In this way, teachers can incorporate theoretically contradicting knowledge in their subjective theories and combine them coherently in their subjective convictions. In their entirety, subjective theories can thus be characterized as systems of belief that are located at the interface between quasi inert theoretical knowledge and purely application-oriented, automated knowledge (cf. Schmotz 2009: 14-17).

One focus of research into subjective theories and one of the “most central questions in teacher research” (Caspari 2014: 22) is that of the connection between subjective theories and the teaching behavior of teachers. This question is also decisive for the present study, since the planning action of teachers is understood as an active, reconstructable decision-making action, analogous to the teaching action. Witte and Harden (2010: 1329) state that research on the connection between teaching behavior and subjective theories has shown "that for the factual teaching behavior of teachers, their subjective teaching theories [...] are of central importance [...]" (ibid .; see also Smith 1991: 239). Caspari (2001: 256) points out, however, that an action-regulating function has so far only been empirically proven for subjective theories of shorter range. In the case of more far-reaching subjective theories, this can be plausibly assumed; however, no empirically reliable statements could be made regarding the relationship between the subjective theories of individual teachers and their concrete actions in the classroom. This is also supported by the studies by Leuchter et al. (2006) and von Eley (2006), who examined the extent to which there is a coherent connection between abstract, teaching-related beliefs and acting in a concrete teaching situation (cf. Leuchter et al. 2006) or the planning of a concrete lesson (cf. Eley 2006 ) can be proven. Both studies came to the result that in concrete lesson action or planning, primarily concrete, context-bound cognitions aimed at the respective lesson were active and in this phase overarching beliefs about teaching and learning with a higher degree of abstraction did not play a role (Eley 2006: 207-208; Leuchter et al. 2006: 574-577).

Even though subjective theories seem to play only a subordinate role in a detailed, short-term lesson planning process, it remains unclear how great the influence of subjective convictions is on the medium- and long-term planning of lessons. However, it seems plausible to assume that, on the one hand, “subjective theories are not designed beyond any reference to action” (Kallenbach 1996: 40) and, on the other hand, “there is no simple cause-and-effect relationship between beliefs and action” (Schmotz 2009: 42). Rather, a number of moderating influencing variables can be determined, for example the institutional framework conditions of the teaching, but also a lack of knowledge of how the subjective convictions can be put into practice (cf. Leuchter et al. 2006: 577).

It is therefore important to distinguish between the teacher's subjective teaching theory about learning and teaching a foreign language, in which the theoretical convictions and practical experience of the teacher are present in the form of a coherent, coherent teaching theory, and between context-specific influencing variables such as institutional and curricular framework and the target group of the lesson. If one follows Caspari (2001: 256), then one can imagine the persuasive knowledge of teachers as “a kind of filter” that “allows certain possibilities for action, concepts and arguments and rejects others, depending on whether they are in accordance with the corresponding subjective theory To what extent subjective theories and the teaching-related beliefs expressed in them also have an effect on the exclusion of teaching areas and methods, and to what extent moderating influencing variables or more context-bound belief levels play a role, should be illustrated in the empirical part of this article.

2 research design and research methods

The dialogue-consensus methodology developed by Groeben and Scheele (1988) has established itself as a specific research methodology for investigating subjective theories. Characteristic of this research program is the two-stage validation of the interview data: First, in a dialog-oriented phase, the subjective theories of researchers and research participants are reconstructed with the help of interviews and structure-laying techniques (communicative validation), before the so-called explanatory validation is then checked, whether these reconstructions correspond to the teaching reality.

Numerous studies, including the present one, forego explanatory validation, however, since this phase ultimately runs counter to the epistemological subject model, in that it is initially important to collect the data in an interactive process on an equal footing, but then to claim these data afterwards to test from an objective perspective. According to Schart (2003: 29), this is the “attempt by researchers to distance themselves from the data that only came about through their participation in an interaction process.” Rather, the cognitive value of the research process is to make mental structures visible and thus to give an insight into the thought patterns of the teacher.

Suitable interview partners were selected with the help of a questionnaire in which the focus was on the teaching and educational path as well as the teaching philosophy of the teacher, and a subsequent purposive sampling according to Dörnyei (2007). With this type of sampling, in the course of the data analysis, deliberately contrasting cases are gradually selected according to the principle of maximum variation. This is based on the idea, "that the participant selection process should remain open in a qualitative study as long as possible" (Dörnyei 2007: 126).

The semi-structured guided interviews were based on the five subject blocks Empirical knowledge, target group, Framework, Teaching-learning beliefs and own foreign language learning experiences. In the subsequent structure-laying phase, which served to validate the interview data, the research participants were asked to graphically reconstruct the logical structure of the interview, with the aim of showing those parts of the interview in which the teachers excluded areas and Justified procedures from their teaching, and thus ensure that these causal relationships were correctly understood by the researcher. On the one hand, cards were used on which the areas and procedures excluded in the interview were noted and, on the other hand, cards with the respective reasons given by the teachers, which were taken over as far as possible in the wording of the previous interview. There was the possibility of adding new aspects and taking up, modifying or withdrawing statements that had already been made (cf. Hug / Poscheschnik 2010: 103; Groeben / Scheele 1988: 53). The result of this phase was a structural picture (cf. Mayer 2017: 58–69), which was then discussed with the aim of reaching a consensus between the researcher and the researched.

Against the background of the structural picture, the interviews were then evaluated with regard to the research question. Sequence analysis according to Südmersen (1983; cf. also Caspari 2001: 246–249) was used as an analysis method, which made it possible to develop the interviews in the hermeneutic sense by initially collecting thematically related interview points and condensing them as closely as possible Paraphrases (sequences) following the interview text were arranged. In an abstracting and more interpretative processing phase, the central basic beliefs of the teachers, which are equally valid for all areas of exclusion, were then formulated on the basis of the sequences and structural images (cf. Caspari 2001: 238–241; Kallenbach 1996: 98). At a later date, these general didactic beliefs were passed through the level didactic reasons added, which should clarify the different scope of the context-independent justifications. For example, the teachers gave didactic justifications that referred to a specific methodological procedure or a specific content area in isolation that was rejected from a didactic point of view without having the general character of the basic convictions - for example, if teacher F. is convinced that weaker ones Learners often immerse themselves in games and group work and not participate. The justifications at this level therefore have a lower degree of validity than the basic beliefs.

Finally, the justification patterns of each teacher with regard to the respectively mentioned exclusion areas or procedures were presented descriptively and graphically, whereby, building on the respective basic convictions, a distinction was made between didactic, target group-specific, curricular-institutional and biographical justification levels in order to be able to answer the question on this basis the extent to which the teachers' exclusion processes were based on a subjective partial theory. It was assumed here that a subjective partial theory is present if:

  1. an intersubjectively understandable connection is recognizable between the basic beliefs and the reasons for exclusion mentioned,

  2. the justifications are not limited to institutional-curricular and target-group-specific factors, but also include more abstract or theoretical relationships as well

  3. As diverse as possible networked and differentiated justifications are available for an excluded area, so that one can speak of a justification pattern.

In the empirical part of this article, the best differentiated exclusion area is presented.

3 Empirical part: presentation and analysis of the collected data

3.1 On the structure of German lessons at the institution

At the time of the interview, the teachers were teaching at a state university in Jordan. Classes at the institution were held at levels A1 to B1 + and were divided into a general and a technical part. The target group of the German lessons were all students of the institution who had to prove German language skills at level B1 for an obligatory one-year stay in Germany. Accordingly, the curriculum and curriculum were geared towards this goal and the semester tests were also deliberately oriented towards exam-relevant task types, which resulted in a high degree of measurability and standardization. In combination with a curriculum that was very precisely adapted to the textbook, this resulted in tight, targeted guidelines for language teaching.

3.2 Interview with F .: "Studying is a serious matter"

F. comes from a North African country and learned German as a foreign language. He then studied GFL at the same institution where he had been teaching for a year at the time of the investigation. As part of his master’s degree, he spent a year in Germany, where he received important impulses for his own teaching at a language institute:

“In Germany [...] there was much more specialist language, less general language and also a lot of grammar, but you also stood by it, you relied on grammar and consistently was there because you knew that it was useful for your studies in general to cope with so much academic language. "

These experiences form the basis for one of his basic convictions, namely that the students are primarily interested in study-related content and less in everyday language topics: “What the students are directly interested in is the course.” Accordingly, they are only for learning the language to motivate using these topics. Since the students only need everyday language topics at the end of their language training, i.e. shortly before their stay in Germany, there is also the risk that linguistic content will be forgotten again because the students cannot apply what they have learned in everyday life:

“The language material should [...] be based on the course. [...] It always has to be content that speaks directly to people and [...] for students that is the study. Of course, everyday life, private life, situations from different areas of life can be used in class, but there is no guarantee that it will stick. "

F. also sees a very important task as a teacher in preparing students for the compulsory year in Germany, as there are stark differences between the learning traditions in Jordan and those in Germany, both at school and at university. In the Jordanian learning tradition, rigor, discipline and frontal teaching continued to play a central role. The lessons must not be education or pure fun if the students want to take them seriously:

“I have the impression that here at the university [...] that the students should still be educated. [...] I am [...] against this concept that doesn't treat people like adults. "

Instead of educating, German lessons should promote the students' autonomy and personal responsibility, "in order to avoid a possible shock when people go to Germany."

The best differentiated areas of exclusion at F. Games and work in groups where F. makes no difference between the two: "I am definitely skeptical of everything that is done in the group, [...] and games [...] are group work." Both have the same disadvantages when it comes to the behavior of students with learning difficulties. The rejection of games and group work with F. results directly from the above-described rejection of a lesson that does not treat the students as adults, but only entertains them, which runs counter to his principle of serious learning at the university. Games also appear to be of little help when it comes to preparing students for everyday life at a German university. If you carry out games or group work in class, you run the risk that weaker learners will not participate:

“There is a risk that the weaker students will go into hiding, right? If you do group work and leave the group to their own devices, [...] how do you as a teacher know that all four or five group learners have benefited? "

Under certain circumstances, the students would like it if there were games in class; however, they are usually not aware of what they are learning. Here you could possibly achieve more with frontal teaching, i.e. with the help of methods that the students are familiar with from their school days.[1] In addition, group work needs very good direction and has to be done carefully. Last but not least, the amount of work involved in group work is very high for the teacher.

In general, it is noticeable that F. falls back on quite abstract reasons and tries on the one hand to base his theory about teaching on the most general principles possible, and on the other hand to align it as precisely as possible to his target group. It is primarily target group-specific and didactic reasons that form the basis for rejecting content-related areas and methodological procedures from the teacher's lessons. It is noticeable that the framework conditions play a minor role. If F. includes situational reasons, then these only supplement his didactic reasons, which are in the foreground. Otherwise he emphasizes with regard to the influence of the framework conditions on his teaching:

"Textbooks, tests and curriculum have a direct influence on my teaching, but this influence is not so negative that I can say that it restricts me."

Graphic 1

Basic beliefs and exclusion from teaching F.

On the basis of the above-mentioned characteristics of subjective theories, F. can speak of a subjective sub-theory for the exclusion of games and group work: It is true that there is a logically understandable connection between basic beliefs and the area of ​​exclusion, that there are differentiated and diverse reasons for this area and that the interviewee does not focus exclusively on institutional-curricular or target group-specific factors, but also includes theoretical convictions and practical experience. For the exclusion of methodological procedures, he primarily refers to his principle of adult-friendly learning and consequently excludes all methodological procedures that he classifies as not adult-friendly from his teaching.

3.3 Interview with G .: "It's about the intercultural preparation of the students"

The teacher G. grew up in a German-speaking country and comes from school. She has ten years of teaching experience in the field of German as a foreign language, eight semesters of which have been at the relevant institution in Jordan. In the interview with G., a high degree of abstraction and self-reflection is noticeable, for example when she characterizes herself as a follower of the communicative approach with a strong influence of the behavioristic learning theory. This didactic orientation is also derived from her school days and her studies:

“When I think back to my school days [...] then we used the grammar translation method. And if I now see what communication skills came out after 13 years of Russian lessons, then I would say it is almost zero. [...] The method doesn't work. [...] Maybe that was the impetus that I now work very speech-oriented. "

As a result, oral dialogues are given priority in their lessons, with the aim of applying what they have learned as quickly as possible in everyday communication situations.

The characterization of the target group plays a decisive role in their teaching at the institution. The target group comes from an "authoritarian [...] learning culture" in which the lessons are largely frontal and the teacher, as an "inviolable authority figure", takes on the central role. Therefore, the students lack “secondary virtues” such as problem-solving thinking, independent reflection and personal responsibility. As a result, the intercultural preparation of the students for the Germany Year is one of the most important goals of their teaching, since it is precisely these skills that the students urgently need for their semester at a German university. It is necessary to change the cultural character of the students:

“You break up mentalities and [...] I wouldn't do it so primarily now if I didn't know that they are going to Germany. Because that is an important prerequisite for the Germany Year, otherwise every student of us fails, yes? "

Their didactic positioning and their characterization of the target group inevitably result in an exclusion of literary texts. Since the teacher considers it sensible to limit himself to everyday topics up to level B1, literary texts do not play a role in their lessons, especially since the transition from literary texts to everyday communication situations is likely to be difficult. However, G. is not satisfied with just didactically and methodically justify her rejection of literary texts. She also points out that literary texts only played a marginal role in the Common European Framework of Reference, and thus relates to the curricular framework. But especially with regard to the target group, working with reading texts in general and with literary texts in particular makes little sense. The target group's learning culture is characterized by G.

"Then there is also the fact that people don't read in culture, yes, these are all things that have to be taken into account in class."

Since the students hardly read in their free time, literary texts offer no points of contact for the students and literary texts are usually too difficult for them in terms of language:

"Linguistically, they are mostly at a level where up to B1, I would say, makes relatively little sense, unless you are really looking specifically for simple literature. Educationally, you then lead them to a genre, what is really implemented? I think the framework is simply too small for that to happen. "

Even with target groups interested in reading, she would not use any literary texts in lessons up to level B1, since everyday preparation is the goal. However, the teacher admits that she has had little experience in using literary texts in the classroom.

When excluding literary texts, a pattern of justification can be recognized that on the one hand it cites didactic convictions and links these with specific characteristics of the target group and their learning culture, so that

Graphic 2

Basic beliefs and exclusion from teaching G.

some teaching content does not seem to make sense. The focus here is on the target group-specific explanations, which make the life-world and linguistic requirements of the students appear so unfavorable that literary texts can hardly be used in the classroom due to this perspective on the target group. This is linked argumentatively with their didactic-methodical basic conviction that everyday topics should represent the essential reference point of the lesson in order to promote the communication skills of the learners. This argument is flanked by curricular and learning biographical explanations when it emphasizes that literature hardly plays a role in the Common European Framework of Reference and that, as a teacher, she has not yet gained much experience with the use of literary texts in class.

Through this connection of different knowledge bases and levels of argumentation or abstraction, it is possible to assume a subjective partial theory for the exclusion of literary texts. There is a logically comprehensible justification construct in which didactic, target group-specific and institutional or curricular justifications find their place and which thereby gains a persuasive power that goes beyond the concrete teaching environment. The exclusion of this area can thus be derived consistently from their teaching theory.

4 interpretation and conclusion

The analysis of the individual cases has shown that for each of the interviewed teachers at least one area could be identified in which the justifications on the different levels are so condensed that a subjective partial theory regarding the exclusion of an area or procedure from the Lessons can be spoken. In particular, for those areas and procedures that were diametrically opposed to the teaching philosophy of the teachers, a direct influence of the basic convictions or the subjective theories could be demonstrated. In these areas, the best differentiated justification patterns emerged, which on the one hand were logically comprehensible and well-founded, and on the other hand were related to the basic beliefs and did not have exclusively institutional-curricular or target-group-specific justifications. In the areas and procedures excluded from the lessons, the subjective teaching theory of the teacher or teachers was reflected in the negative, and this made it possible to clearly distinguish oneself from them. The present study was thus able to tie in with the statement by Witte and Harden (2010: 1329), according to which “their subjective teaching theories [...] are of central importance for the factual teaching behavior of teachers.” Analogous to this It can be stated that the subjective teaching theories are of decisive importance for the exclusion of content-related areas and methodological procedures from teaching.

In the course of the analysis, however, it also became clear that a clear categorization and assignment of the statements made in the interview to the justification levels was not always possible. For example, teacher G. gives the reason "In the culture is not read" for the refusal to deal with literary texts in her lessons, which on the one hand relates to the target group, but on the other hand goes beyond it and represents a generalized contextual belief about the target group's culture of origin. An assignment to the justification levels thus remained difficult in individual cases.

In view of the fact that all teachers worked in the same teaching environment, the question of the relationship between subjective teaching theory and the perception of the teaching environment also arises. The results of this study suggest that the teachers' subjective teaching theory determines how narrowly or broadly, how selectively or holistically the teachers perceive the teaching context. F. does not feel restricted by the general conditions of teaching, while G. cites them as the main factor for excluding methodological procedures from teaching (cf. Mayer 2017: 96–97). Similarly, the teachers justified their methodological and didactic decisions in essential points with characteristics that they ascribe to the target group of their lessons, for example if they argued a frontal orientation of the lessons by assessing the learning biographical background of the students. It therefore makes sense to follow up on the assessment made by Smith (1991: 9-10), also to understand the subjective perception of the teaching framework and the target group as part of the teaching theory of the teachers. The subjective theory of the respective teacher about the institutional and curricular framework as well as the learners represents the interface between the superordinate teaching theory of the teacher and the teacher's action in a specific teaching situation with a certain group of learners subjective theory in a broad sense, as situationally changeable resp.context-dependent factors are integrated. In addition, it is plausible to assume that the teacher adapts his or her teaching theory to the specific teaching conditions on site and implements that part of it that appears feasible, so that it can be assumed that there is a mutual between the narrow and the broad teaching theory There is an interaction. The teachers' selective perception, which is due to the different subjective basic convictions, is reminiscent of the metaphor used by Caspari (2001: 256), according to which the teacher's knowledge of convictions can be compared with a filter - but not only in the sense of a comparison of cognitive stocks with regard to their compatibility with the respective teaching theory, but also with consequences with regard to the direct perception and assessment of the teaching environment by the teachers.

As a result, it seems necessary to take a closer look at the specific teaching context and its perception by the teachers in order to be able to answer the question of how teacher training courses must be designed so that the didactic-methodical teaching repertoire can be successfully used in a specific teaching repertoire. To specifically expand the learning environment by expanding the teachers' subjective teaching theories and to enable the teachers to put their subjective convictions into practice and thus to design the lessons more diverse. Because it is not the subjective theories and the beliefs contained therein that are the real danger or problem, but the lack of examination of one's own thought patterns and the resulting one-dimensional perspective on teaching.

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