Nazarbayev University
Graduate School of Education

Graduate School of Education

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How to integrate language skills into subject learning: NU postdoctoral scholar’s research

Today we will be talking with Laura Karabassova – postdoctoral scholar of the Graduate School of Education. Laura did her Ph.D. in Education at Nazarbayev University, and after she defended her thesis, she continued doing her research at the University. 

What was the topic of your research?

The topic of my doctoral thesis was predetermined by my previous work experience. I worked as a specialist in trilingual education at Nazarbayev Intellectual Schools (NIS). My job was to coordinate the development and implementation of a trilingual education model, apart from that, I was organizing training sessions for teachers. 

As many people might know, NIS students study different subjects in a non-native language. At NIS students are grouped together into homerooms classes, which have either Russian or Kazakh as their primary language of instruction. These groups then take different subjects together with instruction in another language. For example, homeroom classes with the Kazakh language of instruction study some subjects in Russian and English, and classes with the Russian language of instruction – study subjects in Kazakh and English.  Despite studying languages for several years, many school graduates still struggle to maintain a basic conversation in Kazakh or English. This is the reason for using a trilingual methodology of language teaching, which is based on the method of grammatical translation – translation of texts and the explanation of grammatical rules. 

Trilingual education aims to improve students’ language knowledge by teaching them school subjects in different languages. Its introduction has redesigned teaching completely – teachers are now responsible not only for teaching subjects but also for developing the language skills of their students. How do teachers perceive this responsibility?  Do they understand the need for integrated teaching of the subject? How does classroom teaching work? All these questions formed the basis of my research, which was built around particular case studies. To solve these research problems, I analyzed documents and guidelines for teachers, conducted in-depth interviews with them, and observed their lessons. The research took 3 years, after which I successfully defended my dissertation in 2018. I continued to work on this research after the defense as a postdoctoral student.

What are the results of your project implementation or are they expected in the near future?

My doctoral dissertation is the first work in Kazakhstan on the topic of subject-language integrated learning pedagogy. The research has an applied nature. Its results were published in international journals (including Q1 journals) and presented at different conferences.

Based on my thesis, I wrote a book chapter. In addition, I shared the results of my study with NIS teachers. I also used some of the main conclusions of the work for my training sessions that I conducted for more than a thousand teachers of secondary schools.  In 2019, I was awarded a research grant to continue studying these issues in a new context – in general, education schools, which have recently begun their transition to teaching in English. The work is ongoing, and I am constantly looking for various research grants.

What are the most important things when working on a dissertation?