Pupils' responses to foreign language learning in the context of national concern about boys' performance, with specific reference to single-sex classes in co-educational schools
The thesis investigates pupils' approaches to learning modern foreign languages, particularly within the context of a single-sex teaching group. It represents a response to both the prevailing concern generated by the disparity between boys' and girls' achievements in this subject area, and to researchers' recommendations that the effects of a single-sex setting be investigated more closely (Powell, 1986; Batters, 1988). The findings are based on classroom-based research which adopted a case study approach to observe the practices of five mixed comprehensive schools in the UK which taught languages to one or more segregated cohort for at least one academic year. The data is predominantly qualitative and was collected over a period of two years by the following means: group and individual interviews; a range of questionnaires; classroom observation; and informal discussions with pupils and staff. The thesis begins by contextualising the issue of boys' underachievement in modern foreign languages. The first two chapters undertake a review and analysis of relevant research findings relating to both the reasons for boys' underachievement and the single-sex schooling debate. Chapter 3 describes the methods adopted by the researcher and outlines the central features of the five schools. The empirical findings of the research are analysed in Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7. Chapters 4 and 5 address generic language teaching and learning issues; Chapter 4 focuses on teaching and learning styles and Chapter 5 examines pupils' attitudes to modern foreign languages. Chapters 6 and 7 focus more specifically on the observed effects of single-sex grouping, exploring the pupils' and teachers' perceptions respectively. Chapter 8 draws conclusions from the findings and makes recommendations for further research. In bringing together qualitative data from multiple sources, the thesis gives original and comprehensive insight into an area which is currently of considerable national and political interest. The findings suggest that boys' often negative attitudes to the subject are informed by a complex myriad of variables, including: the perceived relevance and difficulty of the subject; individual personality; learning preferences; the pupils' socio-economic background; and the teaching style. Where single-sex setting is perceived as an important influence on pupils' motivation and performance, it is usually recognised to be operating in conjunction with these other variables.