Netting the maroro : an exploration of Cook Islands teachers' beliefs about language learning and teaching : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts in Second Language Teaching at Massey University
Teachers' beliefs play an important role in teachers' decision making processes and affect their practice. Beliefs are situated within specific contexts. Little work has been done to investigate the beliefs of language teachers in the South Pacific. This study investigated the beliefs about language learning and language teaching of Cook Islands teachers working in Rarotonga, Cook Islands. The research used a qualitative approach based on questionnaires, interviews, and stimulated recall, including detailed case studies of three teachers. The findings suggest that the Cook Islands teachers involved in this study held beliefs about the language learning process, the nature and use of language, Cook Islands learners, the challenge of risk-taking by students in schools and the teacher's role within the classroom. Beliefs about the language learning process included those relating to initial and ongoing language acquisition, the relationship between written and spoken language, and the teaching strategies best suited to effective language learning. The role of phonics, reading, and the place of modelling were identified as particularly important. Beliefs relating to the nature and use of language included strongly identified beliefs about the links between culture and language and about the relationship between the languages used in the Cook Islands. Bilingualism was seen as an ideal goal but getting there was seen as problematic. Teachers' beliefs about learners included beliefs about affective factors and the idea of learner readiness. Beliefs were held about the particular problems associated with risk-taking in Cook Islands classrooms. Teachers held beliefs about their roles, particularly in the relationships they have with students and school administrators including the ideas of tolerance and patience in providing a good learning environment for students. In situations where decision-making was needed, but individual beliefs were in conflict with each other, the process of more centrally held beliefs overriding other less centrally held beliefs was observed. Many of the beliefs held were influenced by teachers' own language learning experiences. Significant events in the teachers' lives were identified as important sources of beliefs and motivation. The influence of the historical colonial setting was particularly evident. The research shows that Cook Islands teachers have specific beliefs that influence their practice. These beliefs were found to be strongly related to the historical, social and professional context of the believer. Because of the effects of beliefs on practice it is important for beliefs to be considered in any process of teacher change. The findings of this research should help towards an understanding of teacher beliefs necessary for future initiatives aimed at improving language teacher practice.