An exploration into pupil participation in target language interactions in modern foreign languages classrooms in three London secondary schools

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


This thesis explores the ways in which teachers and pupils interact in the target language in modern foreign languages classrooms. The investigation considers the influence of policy decisions, stakeholder expectations and teacher beliefs on their classroom practice and on participation in target language interactions in classrooms in three London secondary schools, one state and two independent. In contrast to the traditional polarised debates surrounding maximal or minimal target language use, this study seeks to use tension points in the debate as ground for teacher reflection to consider a more nuanced approach to target language use.

In this largely qualitative study based on a case study approach, data was collected in several ways. A substantial number of lesson observations were made of Year 8 and Year 10 classes in each school over a sustained period of time. These were audio-recorded for analytical purposes. Interviews were undertaken with all the teachers observed. Focus group discussions were organised composed of five students from each of the observed classes, in each school, in order to elicit the pupils’ experiences of target language use in class, and their views about participation in speaking activities. The data sets were subjected to fine-grained, grounded theory analysis alongside target language word count analysis arising from the lesson observations, thus providing a quantitative element to the research.

A grounded theory approach facilitated thematic organisation of the key features in interaction in each of the cases. The findings are reported as three separate cases, to allow for understanding of the contexts in which the interactions occurred. The cases demonstrate the assumptions that are made by teachers and students alike, whilst also showing features that are contextually specific, as well as some commonalities across the cases. Issues arising from the case studies are then discussed across the cases to provide further insights into the processes of teacher affiliation with certain methodologies and the constraints in their communities of practice. The analysis shows an emphasis on the routinisation of target language practices and some resistance to target language use in grammar teaching, whilst also revealing affordances for banter and humour in the target language.

In responding to the research questions and revisiting how target language use is viewed by both teachers and students, this thesis identifies the features that shape educational contexts and serve to influence classroom interactions. Embedded within evidenced assumptions by both teachers and students lies the consideration of missed opportunities for greater participation in target language interactions.

The study is concluded, with the view that stagnant debate around target language use is unproductive and restrictive, whereas methodological tensions are useful in offering a boundary point for reflection on the multiple ways in which modern foreign languages teachers could enact their language teacher identity and use target language in their classrooms. Space for reflection both with pupils and for teachers in their communities was found to be invaluable in promoting a sense of trust and belonging, offering potentially greater participation in the target language classroom learning community. In addition, it was concluded that the potential for reflection on target language use was rich in the initial teacher education space.
Date of Award1 Jan 2023
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • King's College London
SupervisorJane Jones (Supervisor) & Chris Richardson (Supervisor)

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