Chinese teachers' self-reported beliefs and practices related to majority and minority students in Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region
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This study begins to address the questions of what beliefs Chinese teachers hold about teaching and learning, about different student groups, and how these beliefs and expectations mediate their daily instructional practices. A triangulated mixed methods design was used for this study. This is a type of design in which different but complementary data was collected on the same topic. Guided by aspects of Cultural-Historical Activity Theory (CHAT), research instruments were designed and applied. CHAT connects Chinese middle school teachers’ beliefs about teaching and learning, and hence their instructional practices, to cultural, political, organizational and personal frame factors related to the local schooling system. Research data was collected in three multicultural and multilingual middle schools in the city of Urumqi in northwest China. A 66-item questionnaire was completed by teachers in the three schools. Concurrent with the survey, qualitative data including interviews, observation field-notes, and documents and other artifacts was also collected. The concurrent collection and analysis of both quantitative and qualitative data strengthened the research, added rigor to the study and its findings, and enabled comparison of qualitative and quantitative findings, thus improving validation. The study’s findings followed four major themes: 1) The beliefs of the Chinese middle school teachers in the sample were shaped and reshaped by cultural values and historical sediments; 2) Teachers’ beliefs were mediated by their various personal background; 3) Teachers’ beliefs were influenced by political and organizational mandates, policies, regulations and rituals; 4) Teachers’ beliefs influenced their choices of instructional practices. This study makes several contributions to the field. The major contribution is that it offers evidence that Cultural Historical Activity Theory (CHAT) is a powerful lens for exploring and understanding the educational activities in different cultural systems. CHAT fruitfully enables the researcher to move from an analysis of individual actions such as those of teachers’ and students,’ to the analysis of their activities’ broader cultural and political contexts, and back to the individuals again. A second contribution of the study revealed that in the local activity system, political and organizational frame factors sometimes suppressed personal frame factors, and sometimes even cultural frame factors. The study suggests that understanding correlations between teachers’ beliefs and their associated teaching practices might have the potential to significantly affect teacher preparation and professional development. Certainly this study has limitations, most of which are related to where, when and how data was collected. One area of concern pertains to the limits produced by local political and organizational environment. Another crucial limitation has to do with my dualistic roles as both a native Chinese educator and a U.S. researcher. To enhance and extend our understanding of the relationship between teachers’ beliefs and their associated instructional practices, I recommend a longitudinal study with sampling of more minority groups than were covered here, as well as sampling and evaluation of student subjects.
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