The impact of teacher cognition and classroom practices on IELTS test preparation courses in the Australian ELICOS sector


Philip Chappell

Agnes Bodis

Heather Jackson

Date Published:

1st March 2015

This paper reports the findings of a study of teachers of English Language Intensive Courses for Overseas Students (ELICOS) in Australia. The study investigated what teachers know and believe about IELTS, and how these beliefs and knowledge affect how they teach IELTS Test preparation classes.

The aim of this study was to explore the relationship between the knowledge, beliefs, attitudes and thinking that Australian ELICOS teachers have about IELTS and their teaching practices in IELTS Test preparation courses.

In a first phase, teachers completed an online questionnaire, and were invited to participate in a follow-up interview and classroom observation. It was found that teachers have a sound knowledge base of the format of the test and what is required of the students. However, there was clearly a lack of understanding of the principles behind standardised language testing, which was a partial cause of negative attitudes towards and mistaken beliefs about the usefulness of the IELTS Test. Teachers expressed a range of positive and negative attitudes toward the test based on their beliefs about its fit for-purpose and its applicability across its various domains of use.

Interviews elaborated upon responses given to the questionnaire. Teachers were also asked about their beliefs about language, language learning and what they considered to be best practices for language teaching in general, and IELTS Test preparation teaching in particular.

Together with classroom observations, the data from this second phase were analysed using a theoretical approach to teacher knowledge that goes beyond what teachers declare they know about IELTS and about language teaching, considering how they go about re-contextualising and creating a form of knowledge they consider appropriate for the classroom.

It was found that teachers differ widely in these practices, and indeed, in their methodology for teaching the IELTS course. There was clearly anything but a standardised approach to IELTS preparation in ELICOS, which is cause for concern in terms of the impact the test has on English language courses, as well as the impact teacher cognition has on preparing students for taking the test. It is this opportunity the study highlights as a significant outcome of the research.