Curricular Knowledge Base of Nonnative English Language Teachers

Document Type: Original Article

Authors

1 Department of Foreign Languages, Science and Research Branch, Islamic Azad University, Tehran, Iran

2 Tarbiat Modares University

3 Imam Ali University

Abstract

Curricular knowledge, as one of the key components of teacher knowledge base, has received scant attention in second language teacher education. To address this gap, this study was conducted to explore the curricular knowledge base of Iranian English language teachers. Data were collected using a questionnaire developed based on the components of curricular knowledge mentioned in Roberts'' (1998) model. Results showed that the teachers possessed an appropriate knowledge of a few components of curricular knowledge, including their awareness of materials suitability and structures of the lessons, their ability to judge the content of the materials or to translate the instructions in teachers'' manuals into practical activities, and their ability to teach English as a Foreign Language textbooks. However, they showed a less developed knowledge base on half of the components of the curricular knowledge which comprised, inter alia, their cognizance of the content of the exams, cultural aspects of the textbooks, and learner-cantered activities. These findings imply that measures should be taken to help teachers fill the existing gaps in their curricular knowledge through teacher education courses. 

Keywords


1.  Introduction

An important subject in teacher education is to find out the constituents of the required knowledge base for teaching and its relationship with the content and practice of teacher education. Knowledge base refers to what language teachers should know to be effective and how that knowledge is included in both preparation programs and continuous professional development (Shulman, 1987; Tedick, 2005). The knowledge that prospective teachers acquire in such programs provides a framework and foundation for how they teach (Milner, 2005). For a long time, the teaching profession has tried to identify the necessary teaching knowledge base for quality teaching. Many teachers, teacher educators, researchers, professional organizations, and government agencies work together to formulate standards which clarify the required knowledge for effective teaching and hence a framework for teacher education reform, professional development, curriculum, assessment, and evaluation (Farrell, 2004; Kahn, & Walsh, 2006; Khuanwang, Lawthong, & Suwanmonkha, 2016; Stoddart, Solis, Tolbert, & Bravo, 2010; Wu, 2014). With the definition of knowledge base for teaching comes the need to assess the curricular knowledge of teachers who must be provided with opportunities to acquire the necessary knowledge and skills to teach effectively and be successful teachers (Farrell, 2004; Shulman, 1987).

Tamir (1988) defined curricular knowledge as the knowledge of teachers about the organization of topics and skills taught to students through curricula presented in the form of textbooks, films, syllabi, software, and sets of materials of various sorts. Similarly, curricular knowledge for Ball and Bass (2009) consists of educational goals, standards, assessments, and grade levels where specific topics are taught. Angeli and Valanides (2009) considered curricular knowledge as an understanding of the materials, alternative texts, and visual materials. A review of literature shows that studies on teacher knowledge base mostly adopted Shulman's (1987) category. However, they explored one or two components of the model and on small numbers of participants. For instance, Akbari and Tajik (2009) focused on differences between the pedagogic thoughts of eight experienced and less experienced EFL teachers. In addition, Tsui (2003) conducted a case study on four English teachers in Hong Kong secondary school and emphasized teachers' practical and pedagogical content knowledge. However, these studies have ignored teachers' curricular knowledge base which according to Pineda (2002) refers to a knowledge of curricular choices and teach accordingly. Pineda accentuated teachers' awareness of existing curricular materials and their familiarity with the curricular programs of their schools' system to be able to relate their own area of specialization to others. Drawing on the extant body of research in teachers' knowledge base, the present paper aimed to explore the curricular knowledge of nonnative teachers teaching in English language institutes.

2. Literature Review

2.1 Language Teachers' Knowledge Base 

Traditional teacher education viewed teachers as passive consumers of the knowledge transmitted by others rather than active participants in constructing meaning (Crandall, 2000). Language teachers' knowledge base is limited when they have a poor knowledge of language teaching and learning and fail to develop competencies in EFL curriculum (König et al., 2016). This is in line with the statement of Calderhead and Robson (1991), who considered the enhancement of teachers' knowledge and understanding of subject matter, students, teaching strategies, and curriculum as important purposes of teacher education because the teachers attending these programs are better teachers in comparison with other teachers (Ravich, 2010). The quest for a proper description of the components of teachers' knowledge base has been a focal point for researchers and educators (Pineda, 2002). For Manzano Vázquez (2017), teacher knowledge includes knowledge of the subject, the context, the curriculum, and the learners' personal development which will lead to learner autonomy. When learners develop autonomy, they can communicate their own meanings and define who they are as learners or as individuals (Benson, 2012).

In their classifications of knowledge base, Shulman (1987) and Roberts (1998) both referred to Content Knowledge, General Pedagogical Knowledge, Pedagogical Content Knowledge, and Curriculum Knowledge; however, they differed in other components of knowledge base. Knowledge base for Tedick (2005) is what teachers should know and how that knowledge is included in teacher preparation and Continuous Professional Development programs. According to Golombek (1998), teachers' personal practical knowledge refers to teachers' knowledge of factors affecting students' learning like teachers, assessment, as well as lesson plan which as a guide map depicts the teachers' process of thinking and provides a meticulous and organized account of teachers' manner in teaching and interacting with their students (e.g., Neeraja, 2003; Savage, 2014; Woodward, 2009).

In the case of second language teachers, the knowledge base refers to the requirements of being effective teachers (Tedick, 2005); nonetheless, the knowledge base of Second Language Teacher Education (SLTE) is often confused with the Knowledge Base of Language Teaching. The former refers to what language teacher education includes and what language teacher educators should know and can do to educate language teachers effectively while the latter refers to what language teaching involves and what language teacher educators should know and be able to do to educate language teachers (Graves, 2009). The knowledge base of SLTE programs, as Johnson (2009) maintains, includes three areas: (a) the content of SLTE programs; (b) the instructions of these programs; and (c) the formal ways of conveying knowledge. Therefore, the knowledge base of SLTE is the basis for making decisions about preparing L2 teachers to teach. From this perspective, Nguyen (2013) emphasized the attendance of teachers in SLTE programs which represent the knowledge base (i.e., what teachers need to know).

2.2 Language Teachers' Curricular Knowledge Base

There is no agreement on the extent and essence of curricular knowledge. Shulman and Sykes (1986, cited in Ariav, 1991) provided a narrow definition of curricular knowledge referring to teachers' ability to replace the existing curriculum and apply it in a variety of texts and materials. However, Zumwalt (1989) offered a broad definition of beginning teachers' curricular knowledge, that is to say, teachers' perception of various views concerning curriculum and the role of teachers, their familiarity with the process of curricular planning, and the required knowledge to carry it out (Ariav, 1991).

The curricular knowledge, according to Tomašević and Trivić (2015), facilitates the organization, presentation, and adjustment of the content of the curriculum, teaching topics, and subjects pertinent to diverse interests and capabilities of students. As they stated, the knowledge of the curricula and training teachers to interpret them are important elements of teachers' knowledge and are emphasized in different models. Likewise, Zhou, Wang, and Ng (1996) defined the curricular knowledge about a subject as a type of meta-level knowledge about the objectives and the organization of the subject materials, and the way the subjects are to be presented to and discussed with the students. The knowledge of curriculum, for Ball and Bass (2009), is composed of educational goals, standards, state assessments, and grade levels where specific topics are taught to students. Curriculum, as Shulman (1986) pointed out, consists of programs designed for the teaching of specific subjects and topics for which some instructional materials are introduced. Shulman considered three dimensions for curricular knowledge: (a) the alternative curricular knowledge: the knowledge of supplementary materials for instructing a specific subject or content within a grade; (b) the lateral curricular knowledge: the ability to connect the content of a specific subject with other subjects studied simultaneously by students; and (c) the vertical curricular knowledge: the awareness of the topics which students studied before or will study later.

Given the importance of curricular knowledge, Calderhead (1996) considered it as teachers' understanding of the materials relevant to their discipline. In other words, curricular knowledge refers to teachers' consciousness of the topics included in materials, their underlying organization, development, and coherence. Later on, Roberts (1998) defined curricular knowledge as teachers' awareness of teaching materials and the nature of examinations. He believed that teachers should be aware of the relationship between the English curriculum and other aspects of the curriculum followed by learners (e.g., higher education) and the use of cross-curricular activities. He also believed that curricular knowledge refers to teachers' ability to select and edit as necessary appropriate authentic materials which, according to Berardo (2006), are highly motivating and give students a sense of achievement.

Grossman (1989) considered curricular knowledge as the knowledge about choosing and organizing the content of teaching. According to her, when planning instruction, teachers think of what their students know or may have problems concerning a particular subject matter. In her case study of six beginning English teachers, Grossman focused on the differences in the teachers' knowledge about the purposes for teaching English, curricular knowledge, and knowledge of student. The findings indicated that teachers differed in their ideas about the appropriate content and organization of the material. In a study on three teachers, Choppin (2009) conceptualized and documented the formation of curriculum context knowledge, that is, the knowledge of how curriculum materials engage students in a particular context. Choppin found that teachers developed a greater understanding of the resources in the respective units because of the repeated performance. Tomašević and Trivić (2015) used a questionnaire to investigate chemistry teachers' general curriculum knowledge, knowledge of chemistry curriculum, and their views about changes in the curricula. The teachers considered the goals and operative tasks/outcomes as the most important components of the curriculum for their work. The results showed a statistically significant difference between the views of the teachers with different working experience, that is, teachers with suitable teacher training programs could better apply information in the curriculum while teaching.   

As the preceding review shows, curricular knowledge is an essential component of teacher knowledge base. Van Driel, Bulte, and Verloop (2007) believed that teachers equipped with curriculum knowledge could teach accordingly and make any changes needed to transform and realize it in the classroom. This is in line with Justi and Van Driel's (2005) statement that teachers' curricular knowledge refers to teachers' abilities to improve and/or change the curricular models related to the topics they should teach in their classes. Nevertheless, it has not been explored as extensively as other components of knowledge base, such as teacher content knowledge and pedagogical knowledge. Consequently, due to the importance of curricular knowledge in the success of teachers and students and paucity of research on this component, the current study aimed to explore the curricular knowledge of nonnative Iranian EFL teachers teaching in English institutes. Therefore, the following research question was proposed:

What is the curricular knowledge of nonnative English language teachers?

3. Method

3.1 Participants

The participants in the pilot phase consisted of 80 English language teachers, 55 females and 24 males, with an average of nine years of teaching experience (from 6 months to 25 years). In the main phase, the population comprised of 436 teachers, including 129 male and 307 female EFL teachers, with an average of 8 years of teaching experience. They were nonnative Iranian teachers and taught English at numerous institutes across the country. The teachers were invited personally or through e-mail, friends, colleagues, and chain or snowball sampling method (Dörnyei & Csizér, 2012).

3.2 Instrumentation

To explore the teachers' curricular knowledge base, a questionnaire was developed based on the existing literature, the theoretical foundation of the curricular knowledge base, and the components of curricular knowledge in Roberts' (1998) model. These components included the abilities to recognize the basis for the design of a syllabus or textbook materials, being aware of the connection between ELT curricula and contextual variations (learners' needs, culture, social function of English, etc.), and understanding the nature of the national education system as it affects learners, like examinations.

The first draft of the questionnaire, containing 40 items, was submitted to four content experts for content validity (Rattray & Jones, 2007), and modifications were made based on their recommendations. It was then given to six teachers chosen from the target population to read the items aloud and verbalize every thought they had concerning the wording, grammar, content, and the length of the items. The finalized questionnaire was distributed to different institutes and academic groups. Because some institutes did not cooperate or the number of participants was not considerable, the respondents were required to distribute the questionnaire among friends and groups with the required criteria. Teachers were asked to mark their answers on a five-point Likert scale: (1) Untrue of me, (2) Somewhat untrue of me, (3) Neutral, (4) Somewhat true of me, (5) True of me. Based on the statistical results, three items were deleted. Following the initial pilot work and item deletion, the questionnaire with 37 items was handed or emailed to English language teachers nationwide.

3.3 Data Collection and Analysis

Data collection procedure was similar in both the pilot and the main phases of the study. The questionnaire was administered among English language teachers. In the invitation, the required qualification (teaching in English language institutes) was highlighted. In both phases, a reminder was sent, within three weeks, to those who had not returned the questionnaire. Upon receiving the questionnaire, the researchers checked the items and if there were any missing items, the respondents were contacted to provide the correct answers. Similarly, there were no missing data on the electronic version since all items were marked as required, so the respondents had to answer one item to be allowed to go to the next one. At the pilot phase, 80 and at the main phase, 436 teachers returned the survey questionnaire.

In the pilot phase, after data collection and data entry, the statistical analyses including reliability analysis, mean, standard deviation (SD), standard error (se), skewness, and kurtosis, item-total correlation, and Kolmogorow-Smirnov normality test were calculated using IBM SPSS 22.0 software. Cronbach's alpha, as a means of internal consistency for the whole questionnaire in both phases, was .96, which is well above the acceptable level stated by Dörnyei (2003). Skewness and kurtosis for item 6 were -2.15 and 4.95, respectively. The same statistical results for item 18 were -1.99 and 4.267 and for item 24 were -1.78 and 4.51, in that order. Therefore, these three items were excluded from questionnaire due to high skewness and kurtosis.

Principal Components Analysis (PCA) and Exploratory factor analysis (EFA) were used to explore the interrelationship of variables and remove any unnecessary items. In order to assess the factorability of the data, determinant of the correlation matrix was used. Moreover, Bartlett's Test of Sphericity and the Kaiser-Meyer Olkin Test of Sampling Adequacy (KMO) were used to assess the strength of the relationships and factorability of the variables. Following the PCA and EFA, the data were analyzed based on the research question. The curricular knowledge of teachers was identified using descriptive statistics.

4. Results

This study aimed to explore the curricular knowledge of nonnative Iranian EFL teachers. In what follows, the results pertinent to factor analysis and other relevant data are reported. Table 1 illustrates the measures of factorability for the correlation Matrix. As it is shown, the determinant is about zero, and KMO measure of sampling adequacy is 0.96, which is well above the minimum required level stated by Beavers, Lounsbury, Richards, Huck, Skolits, and Esquivel (2013) and the Bartlett's test of Sphericity is significant at p

Table 1

Measures for Correlation Matrix

Measure

Value

Determinant

3.73E-010

Kaiser-Meyer-Olkin   Measure of Sampling Adequacy

0.961

Bartlett's Test of   Sphericity

 

 

Approx.   Chi-Square

9157.5

 

df

666

 

Sig.

p<   .001

After the tests confirmed the suitability of data for factor analysis, EFA using PCA with Varimax rotation was run to detect the latent structures underlying the variables in the data set. It should be noted that the sample size for factor analysis was sufficient enough to allow exploratory techniques to be calculated (Rattray & Jones, 2007).  At this stage, factor loading of .4 and above was chosen. To determine the number of factors, based on Kaiser's criterion, eigenvalues of more than 1 were chosen. PCA revealed the presence of five factors (F) with eigenvalues exceeding 1 (Table 2). The factors were (1) Awareness of the materials' suitability, (2) Ability for and awareness of lesson plan and lesson structures, (3) Awareness of the aims of exam and teaching materials in the institute, (4) Awareness of language tests and teaching programs, and (5) Awareness of available ELT textbooks and ability to teach them. They explained 42.61%, 5.14%, 3.64%, 3.04, and 2.85% of the variance, respectively. Totally, these components explained 57.29% of the variance. Based on the results of PCA, three items (12, 16, 19) were discarded because they failed to load significantly on any of the factors.

Table 2

Factors and Related Items of Teacher Curricular Knowledge

Factor

Component

Extraction Sums of Squared   Loadings

Rotation Sums of Squared   Loadings

Total

% of Variance

Cumulative %

Total

% of Variance

Cumulative %

1

Awareness   of materials' suitability

15.76

42.61

42.61

5.76

15.57

15.57

2

Ability   for & awareness of lesson plan and  structures

1.9

5.14

47.75

4.54

12.28

27.85

3

Awareness   of the aims of exam & materials in the institute

1.35

3.64

51.39

3.95

10.68

38.54

4

Awareness   of language tests and teaching programs

1.13

3.04

54.43

3.56

9.63

48.16

5

Awareness   of available ELT textbooks and ability to teach them

1.06

2.86

57.29

3.38

9.13

57.29

 

In what follows, the results obtained from the analysis of data pertinent to the research question are reported based on the five factors. For the convenience of interpretation, the True and somewhat true of me responses were combined to form one response point (positive). Factor 1 consisted of 38% (N = 13) of questionnaire items probing the knowledge of the teachers on the suitability of materials for helping students' personal development and facilitate language learning, among others. Teachers' attentiveness to the emotional suitability of materials and their knowledge about factors increasing the success of language teaching programs obtained the highest and the lowest loading, respectively. As highlighted in Table 3, the teachers' positive responses ranged from 71% (item 28) to a high of 85% (items 13 & 19). As it is seen in the Table, two items obtained the highest percentage (85%) of positive answers, that is, teachers' awareness of factors which increase the success of a language teaching program (item 13) and of teaching materials which increase learners’ personal engagement in learning (item 19). About 84% of the teachers were cognizant of the topical suitability of teaching materials (item 25), and 81% stated that they were familiar with materials which both provide opportunities for learners to practice language at home (item 21) and suit learners at different proficiency levels (item 22). Teachers' familiarity with cultural suitability (item 26), linguistic suitability (item 23) and authenticity (item 17) of the materials was 84%, 80% and 78%, respectively. The percentage of positive responses to items 20, and 27 was the same, that is, 75% of the teachers were familiar with materials which help the personal development of learners and the same percentage of the teachers were aware of learner-cantered activities. The results indicated that a great majority of the teachers (72%) could evaluate the suitability of the textbooks from an emotional perspective (item 24), 71% knew if teaching materials were sensitive to individual differences among learners (item 34), and the same percentage of teachers were aware of the activities helping learners evaluate their own learning progress (item 28).

Table 3

Factor 1: Awareness of the Materials' Suitability

Item

Item   loading

Likert Scale

Mean

1

2

3

4

5

%

%

%

%

%

24. I am aware of suitability of   materials in terms of their emotional content

0.72

2.1

5.5

20.6

40.1

31.7

3.94

26. I am aware of suitability of   materials in terms of their cultural content

0.68

0.7

3.2

11.7

36.5

47.9

4.06

20. I am aware of materials which   help the personal development of learners as members of society

0.64

1.1

6.4

17.4

42.7

32.3

3.99

25. I am aware of suitability of   teaching materials in terms of their topics

0.62

0.7

3.2

11.7

36.5

47.9

4.28

21. I am aware of materials which   provide opportunities for learners to practice language at home

0.58

1.1

4.6

12.8

35.8

45.6

4.20

22. I know if materials are   suitable for learners at different proficiency levels

0.54

0.7

4.1

13.8

36.2

45.2

4.21

23. I am aware of suitability of   materials in terms of their language complexity level.

0.53

1.1

4.6

14

44

36.2

4.10

27. I know the degree to which teaching   activities are learner-centered

0.53

0.7

5.5

18.8

33.3

41.7

4.10

19. I am aware of materials which   increase learners' personal engagement in learning

0.51

0.5

4.8

10.1

42

42.7

4.22

28. I am aware of the activities   which help learners evaluate their own learning progress

0.49

1.1

6.4

21.6

32.3

38.5

4.01

17. I am aware of the degree to   which teaching texts and tasks are authentic and real-life

0.48

0.9

4.1

17

35.6

42.4

4.14

34. I know if materials are   sensitive to individual differences among learners

0.47

2.5

6.4

20

40.6

30.5

3.90

13. I am aware of the factors   which increase the success of a language teaching program

0.42

1.1

2.3

11.2

39.2

46.1

4.27

Factor 2 represented teachers' ability for and awareness of lesson plan and lesson structures. It accounted for 23% (N = 8) of items scrutinizing teachers' perceptions of lesson plans, structures of lessons and activities, and the purpose of EFL materials. As Table 4 shows, the highest and lowest loading factors belonged to teachers' ability to use the instructions in teachers' manual and their knowledge of lesson plan development, in that order. The results demonstrated that the positive answers by the teachers ranged from 79 % (item 7) to a high of 91% (item 12). The majority of the teachers (91%) were familiar with the process of developing lesson plan (item 12), and 84% expressed their awareness of the purposes of EFL materials used in their institutes. Items 15 (the use of teacher's manual in teaching) and 16 (the arrangement and interrelation of the lessons and units) each obtained 83% of the positive responses. Regarding item 3, 82% of the teachers claimed to be able to make connections between materials covered in previous levels and their present materials. As for the materials stimulating interaction among learners (item 18), it was found that 82% of the teachers stated to be aware of those kinds of materials. Moreover, while 80% of teachers were conscious about the suitability of EFL textbooks for learners (item 1), 79% of them knew about the materials taught at different proficiency levels in their institutes (item 7).

 

 

Table 4

Factor 2: Ability for and Awareness of Lesson Plan and Lesson Structures 

Item

Item   loading

Likert Scale

Mean

1

2

3

4

5

%

%

%

%

%

15. I can use instructions given   in the teacher's manual in my practical teaching activities

0.65

0.9

3.7

12.4

30.7

52.3

4.30

16. I am aware of the way the   materials I teach are arranged and interrelated across lessons and units

0.60

1.4

3

12.8

35.1

47.7

4.25

18. I know which materials stimulate   interaction among learners

0.59

0.5

6

12.6

33

47.9

4.22

3. I make connections between   language materials learners have learned in previous levels and their present   teaching materials

0.58

1.4

4.4

12.4

32.3

49.5

4.24

4. I am aware of the purposes of   EFL materials used in my institute

0.52

1.4

5.3

9.4

26.4

57.6

4.33

7. I am aware of materials used at   different proficiency levels in my institute

0.49

0.9

7.3

12.6

33.5

45.6

4.16

1. I know whether or not EFL   textbooks used in my institute are suitable for learners

0.47

3

5.7

11.5

32.8

47

4.15

12. I know how to develop a lesson   plan for my classes 

0.43

2.8

5.7

12.8

29.4

49.3

4.17

Factor 3 included 12% (N = 4) of the items and focused on the teachers' awareness of the aims of the exam and teaching materials in their institutes. It is inferred from table 5 that the teachers' perception of the purpose of examinations received the highest loading while their awareness of the content obtained the lowest loading. The highest and lowest percentage of positive responses belonged to items 8 and 11, respectively. In other words, 84% of the teachers were cognizant of the content of the teaching program (item 8) while only 79% were aware of the content of the examinations in their institutes (item 11). Approximately 83% of the teachers were aware of the aims of the language programs (item 9) and 81% were aware of the purpose of the examinations in their institutes (item 10).

Table 5

Factor3: Awareness of the Aims of Exam and Materials in the Institute 

Item

Item   loading

Likert Scale

Mean

1

2

3

4

5

%

%

%

%

%

10. I am aware of the purpose of   examinations in my institute

0.80

2.3

6.2

10.3

25.5

55.7

4.26

9. I am aware of the aims of the language   program in my institute

0.72

1.1

5.7

10.6

23.2

59.4

4.34

11. I am aware of the content of   examinations in my institute

0.65

2.8

5.7

12.8

29.4

49.3

4.17

8. I am aware of the content of   the language program in my institute

0.58

1.1

4.6

10.6

31.4

52.3

4.29

Factor 4 comprised 15% (N = 5) of the items akin to the teachers' cognizance of language tests and teaching programs, the appropriateness of tests and their connection with the materials, and their familiarity with theories of language teaching programs (Table 6). As the table shows, the highest and lowest loading belonged to teachers' awareness of appropriate tests for learners, and their acquaintance with interesting and motivating teaching materials, respectively. The positive answers by the teachers ranged from 72% (item 33) to a high of 82% (item 32). The majority of the teachers (82%) stated their familiarity with the materials increasing students' motivation for learning (item 32) while 72% were aware of theories and views about teaching programs (item 33). The positive responses to item 29 (i.e., the connection between the content of the teaching materials and the tests) were 78%. Similarly, 76% of teachers' were able to perceive their students’ achievements based on their test scores (item 31) and relatively the same percentage of teachers were aware of appropriate tests for students (item 30).

Table 6

Factor4: Awareness of Language Tests and Teaching Programs 

Item

Item   loading

Likert Scale

Mean

1

2

3

4

5

%

%

%

%

%

30. I am aware of appropriate   tests for particular groups of learners

0.64

2.8

6.4

14.9

36.5

39.4

4.03

31. I am aware of the degree to   which tests scores show learners' achievements

0.64

2.8

5.3

15.6

40.1

36.2

4.02

33. I am aware of different views   and theories about language teaching programs

0.57

1.6

9.4

16.7

38.3

33.9

3.94

29. I am aware of the connection   between materials and test contents used in my institute

0.55

1.8

6.2

14

33.3

44.7

4.13

32. I am aware of the materials   which increase learners' motivation for learning

0.4

2.1

3.4

12.4

35.8

46.3

4.21

Factor 5 entailed 12% (N = 4) of items about the available EFL textbooks and teachers' abilities to teach them or choose appropriate materials according to learners' proficiency. As demonstrated in Table 7, teachers' familiarity with EFL textbooks and their ability to skilfully teach them in their institutes obtained the highest and lowest loading, in that order. Regarding the awareness of available ELT textbooks and ability to teach, the positive responses ranged from 71% to 86%. The majority of the teachers (86%) could skillfully teach EFL textbooks in their institutes (item 14) and 82% could choose materials appropriate to learners' proficiency level (item 5). teachers' familiarity with EFL textbooks (item 6), and their awareness of available EFL textbooks in the market (item 2) were 76% and 71%, respectively.

Table 7

Factor5: Awareness of Available ELT Textbooks and Ability to Teach Them 

Item

Item loading

Likert Scale

Mean

1

2

3

4

5

%

%

%

%

%

2. I am aware of main EFL   textbooks on the market

0.64

3.2

12.2

13.8

38.3

32.6

3.85

6. I am aware of other EFL   materials which can be used in language teaching

0.64

1.8

7.3

14.9

38.5

37.4

4.02

5. I know how to choose EFL   materials appropriate to learners’ proficiency level

0.57

1.4

5.3

11.2

37.4

44.7

4.19

14. I can skillfully teach EFL   textbooks used in my institute

0.52

0.2

3.4

10.3

35.8

50.2

4.32

5. Discussion

This study was conducted to explore the nonnative English language teachers' curricular knowledge based on Roberts' (1998) model. The participants were recruited from English language institutes. The results, in general, demonstrated variations in teachers' curricular knowledge. In this section, the results are discussed based on five factors. Regarding factor 1, the findings showed that the teachers were more knowledgeable about factors contributing to the success of a language teaching program and materials enhancing learners' personal engagement in learning. This indicates the teachers' appropriate level of curricular knowledge and their attentiveness to the observation that learners can improve their learning if they are involved in the process of their own learning. The results lend support to the findings of the study by Borg (1998), who in a study on an EFL teachers' pedagogical knowledge of grammar confirmed the importance of awareness raising, the knowledge and needs of the students, and the active engagement of students in their own learning process. The results are also in line with those reported by Liu, Liang, Wang, Chan, and Wei (2003), who focused on knowledge transfer from instructors to students and considered questioning and answering, informative feedback, and explanations to be influential in improving knowledge transfer as an aspect of interactivity in the classroom.The concept of interactivity is also introduced by cognitivists who emphasized learners' engagement and attention as important factors in learning (Siau, Sheng, & Nah, 2006).  

The teachers were asked about the suitability of the material they taught. It was interesting that the majority of the teachers were more cognizant of topical suitability rather than linguistic, cultural, or emotional suitability. This indicates their appropriate level of curricular knowledge on the text topics and the language of the textbook, although they need to improve their knowledge about the other aspects. Moreover, they knew that students' familiarity with a topic would help them better understand and enjoy the lesson. These findings are reinforced by Calderhead's (1996) assertion that curricular knowledge refers to the teachers' awareness of the topics, their underlying organization, development, and coherence. The results are also in line with those reported by De Jong, Van Driel, and Verloop (2005) and Van Driel, De Jong, and Verloop (2002), who investigated the Pedagogical Content Knowledge (PCK) of preservice teachers and found that the more teachers are aware of specific teaching strategies, the better they can understand the students' opinion about the topics. On the other hand, although more than half of the teachers claimed to be aware of the linguistic, emotional, and cultural suitability of the materials, they demonstrated relatively lower awareness in comparison with other components of curricular knowledge. Therefore, they should improve their abilities in these aspects because, as Richards (1998) maintained, knowledge about language and the target culture are the components of knowledge base.

As to materials, the teachers demonstrated a good understanding of materials which were suitable for studying at home and of materials appropriate for learners at different proficiency levels. The results indicated the teachers' satisfactory level of curricular knowledge and their consciousness of the fact that the materials for studying at home are beneficial to students who have achieved an appropriate level of autonomy and independence. This is in accord with Benson's (2012) claim that learners can communicate their own meanings and define who they are as learners or as individuals when they develop autonomy. The findings are in line with Tamir's (1988) definition of curricular knowledge as teachers’ knowledge about the curricula presented in the form of textbooks, films, syllabi, software, and sets of instructional materials. However, the teachers' familiarity with authentic materials was not very satisfactory, indicating that they need improvement in this area of curricular knowledge. The results are also in accordance with Roberts' (1998) description of curricular knowledge as teachers' ability to select appropriate authentic materials. As Berardo (2006) argued, authentic materials are highly motivating and give students a sense of achievement. Another component of Factor 1 was the teachers' cognizance of teaching materials which help the personal development of learners as members of society. Although three-fourth of the teachers were aware of these materials, they still need to be more familiarized with these kinds of materials given according to Cheung and Won's (2002) curriculum should provide each student with rewarding experiences that contribute to personal development. Moreover, Manzano Vázquez (2017) believes that teacher knowledge includes knowledge of the subject, the context, the curriculum, and the learners' personal development.

As for factor 2, the diversity of preferences and choices made by the teachers indicated different degrees of awareness of the components of curricular knowledge. However, the majority of the teachers believed they had knowledge about the process of developing lesson plans and their crucial roles in teaching. The finding is consistent with Golombek's (1998) definition of knowledge of instruction as teachers’ knowledge about the roles of factors affecting students' learning, such as teachers, students, and lesson plans. The finding also corresponds to Woodward's (2009) belief that the preparation of lesson plans assists teachers to have more effective and easier interaction with their students. Moreover, Savage (2014) believes that lesson plans reflect teachers' process of thinking (i.e., the way they plan teaching to a group of students).

Another component in Factor 2 was the teachers' awareness of the purposes of EFL materials. The data showed the teachers' high level of curricular knowledge. This finding is consistent with Roberts' (1998) argument that the teachers' awareness of existing materials serves as a criterion for curricular knowledge. It is also in line with Angeli and Valanides’ (2009) definition of curricular knowledge as an understanding of the materials for instruction. When asked about the teachers' manual and the organization of the materials, many teachers expressed their ability to effectively use teachers' guide in teaching and their awareness of the arrangement of the units across the textbooks. Also, the teachers manifested a satisfactory level of curricular knowledge and recognized the role of manuals in effective and successful teaching. The findings are consistent with the reports provided by Smith and Sendelbach (1979) and Horton (2013). In their study, Smith and Sendelbach (1979) explored the ability of a science teacher to translate instructions in the teachers' manual into real teaching. They realized a decrease in the quality of instruction due to the teachers' divergence from the curriculum and attributed it to her limited subject matter knowledge and her difficulty in finding information in the manual (Clark & Peterson, 1984). Horton (2013) considers curricular knowledge as the teachers' understanding of the materials and their underlying organization. The provision of positive answers to the ability to connect the materials covered in previous terms and the present term was indicative of the teachers' curricular knowledge. It denotes vertical curriculum knowledge defined by Shulman (1986) as the "familiarity with the topics and issues that have been and will be taught in the same subject area during the preceding and later years…" (p. 10).

The findings related to factor 3 indicated that the majority of the teachers were aware of the content and purpose of the examinations and language program, both of which are the components of curricular knowledge. This may be due to the institutes' policy to inform their teachers of their educational programs. In effect, teachers' familiarity with these issues is a requirement for curricular knowledge. The findings are supported by Roberts' (1998) description of curricular knowledge as teachers' cognizance of teaching materials and the nature of examinations. However, as it can be inferred from our findings, the teachers were less familiar with the purpose and content of the examinations held in their institutes compared with their knowledge about the teaching programs. This poor awareness runs counter to teachers' need to increase their understanding of assessment. As Cheung and Wong (2002) and Ball and Bass (2009) stated, curricular knowledge contains teachers' cognizance of not only educational goals but also instructional assessments.

Regarding factor 4, the teachers demonstrated to be greatly familiar with motivating materials. This shows their ability to suggest appropriate materials to their students. The teachers also demonstrated relatively great degrees of curricular knowledge on the other components in this factor. They stated that they had the knowledge to decide if the tests were based on the materials, could interpret test results, and could choose suitable tests. The findings are consistent with Cizek, Schmid, Germuth, and EvalWorks' (2013) belief that familiarity with different types of assessment is necessary for the teachers and should be considered in training courses. However, the teachers demonstrated to be far less familiar with the concepts and theories about language programs. This is in contrast with Mishra and Koehler's (2006) and Roberts' (1998) contention that teachers must know and understand the subjects they teach, and be aware of related concepts and theories. 

The analysis of the data pertaining to factor 5 demonstrated that the majority of teachers could effectively teach EFL textbooks and choose suitable materials according to their students' proficiency level. These findings support Roberts' (1998) description of curricular knowledge as including, among others, teachers' awareness of teaching materials. The findings are also in line with Van Driel, Bulte, and Verloop's (2007) assertion that curriculum knowledge assists teachers to teach according to the curriculum and make necessary changes while teaching students.

Based on the findings, the teachers manifested an awareness of other EFL textbooks and the available materials on the market, besides those used in their language institutes. This is consistent with Pineda's (2002) statement that curricular knowledge base entails teachers' understanding of curricular choices and their awareness of the existing curricular materials. The need for this knowledge was also accentuated by Calderhead's (1996) consideration of curricular knowledge as teachers' understanding of the materials relevant to their discipline.

6. Conclusions

This study explored English language teachers' curricular knowledge. According to the findings, although the teachers are competent in more than half of the aspects of curricular knowledge, they need to enhance their knowledge on other aspects. In general, from the responses provided by the teachers, it can be concluded that they have the curricular knowledge base about developing lesson plans and their ability for teaching EFL textbooks, identifying important factors in the success of a language teaching program, and judging the topical and linguistic suitability of the textbooks. However, their awareness of learner-centered activities, available and authentic materials, theories of language teaching, and aspects of testing constitutes the poor components of their curricular knowledge.

Based on the variation in teachers' knowledge about the components of curriculum it can be concluded that relevant teacher education courses can assist teachers to promote their curricular knowledge. It follows that these courses, either preservice or in-service, should be oriented toward a sustainable development of teachers' curricular knowledge to enable them to continuously refresh their knowledge. These programs should be tailored to the needs of the teachers and foster their curricular knowledge. It is through these courses and collaborative reflection sessions that teachers can improve their curricular knowledge for more effective teaching.

Like other research, this study had a number of limitations. First, the teachers participating in this study were recruited from different cities and language institutes with different training and experiences. In future studies, teachers' educational background and teaching experience can be considered in investigating teachers' curricular knowledge. Second, this study was limited to the content of the pre- and in-service training programs of English language institutes; therefore, the findings may be more relevant to these groups of teachers and cannot be generalized to others groups, such as school teachers. Third, the study was founded only on those aspects of curricular knowledge proposed by Roberts (1998) and hence does not imply their knowledge on other components of curricular knowledge specified in other models. Finally, the researchers acknowledge that although the study was conducted on a relatively large number of participants, one should be cautious about the generalizability of the results.

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