Learners' perceptions of teachers' non-verbal behaviours in the foreign language class
This study explores the meanings that participants in a British ELT setting give to teachers' non-verbal behaviours. It is a qualitative, descriptive study of the perceived functions that gestures and other non-verbal behaviours perform in the foreign language classroom, viewed mainly from the language learners' perspective. The thesis presents the stages of the research process, from the initial development of the research questions to the discussion of the research findings that summarise and discuss the participants' views. There are two distinct research phases presented in the thesis. The pilot study explores the perceptions of 18 experienced language learners of teachers' non-verbal behaviours. The data is collected in interviews based on videotaped extracts of classroom interaction, presented to the participants in two experimental conditions, with and without sound. The findings of this initial study justify the later change of method from the experimental design to a more exploratory framework. In the main study, 22 learners explain, in interviews based on stimulated recall, their perceptions on their teachers' verbal and non-verbal behaviours as occurring within the immediate classroom context. Finally, learners' views are complemented by 20 trainee teachers' written reports of classroom observation and their opinions expressed in focus group interviews. The data for the main study were thus collected through a combination of methods, ranging from classroom direct observations and videotaped recordings, to semi-structured interviews with language learners. The research findings indicate that participants generally believe that gestures and other non-verbal behaviours playa key role in the language learning and teaching process. Learners identify three types of functions that non-verbal behaviours play in the classroom interaction: (i) cognitive, i.e. non-verbal behaviours which work as enhancers of the learning processes, (ii) emotional, i.e. non-verbal behaviours that function as reliable communicative devices of teachers' emotions and attitudes and (iii) organisational, i.e. non-verbal behaviours which serve as tools of classroom management and control. The findings suggest that learners interpret teachers' non-verbal behaviours in a functional manner and use these messages and cues in their learning and social interaction with the teacher. The trainee teachers value in a similar manner the roles that non-verbal behaviours play in the language teaching and learning. However, they seem to prioritise the cognitive and managerial functions of teachers' non-verbal behaviours over the emotional ones and do not consider the latter as important as the learners did. This study is original in relation to previous studies of language classroom interaction in that it: • describes the kinds of teachers' behaviours which all teachers and learners are familiar with, but which have seldom been foregrounded in classroom-based research; • unlike previous studies of non-verbal behaviour, investigates the perceiver's view of the others' non-verbal behaviour rather than its production; • documents these processes of perception through an innovative methodology of data collection and analysis; • explores the teachers' non-verbal behaviours as perceived by the learners themselves, suggesting that their viewpoint can be one window on the reality of language classrooms; • provides explanations and functional interpretations for the many spontaneous and apparently unimportant actions that teachers use on a routine basis; • identifies a new area which needs consideration in any future research and pedagogy of language teaching and learning.