System 33 (2005) 261–276 www.elsevier.

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‘The chinese approach to learning’: Cultural trait or situated response? the case of a self-directed learning programme
Simon Gieve
b

a,¤

, Rose Clark

b

a School of Education, University of Leicester, 21 University Road, Leicester LE1 7RF, UK School of Languages and Area Studies, University of Portsmouth, Park Building, King Henry 1st Street, Portsmouth, PO1 2DZ, UK

Received 31 October 2003; received in revised form 30 July 2004; accepted 8 September 2004

Abstract This paper raises the question of how Xexible approaches to learning are to contextual factors, as opposed to being culturally determined, with speciWc reference to autonomy in Chinese students studying in the UK. We describe the outcome of a research project which investigated Chinese undergraduates studying English language as part of their UK university degree. The programme in question required students to engage in self-directed and Tandem learning. ReXections written by Chinese students were compared with those of European (Erasmus) students, and it was found that the Chinese students expressed at least as much appreciation of the beneWts of autonomous study as did the European students, and claimed to make equally good use of the opportunity. DiVerences in responses to the programme could be attributed to diVerences in language abilities and learning needs. This suggests that, given appropriate conditions, what are apparently culturally determined dispositions towards a certain approach to learning can turn out to be quite Xexible. The alternative explanation, that the particular students in the study were not typical Chinese learners, should alert us to the heterogeneity in supposedly homogeneous cultures of learning, and the danger of characterising groups of learners with reductionist categories.  2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

¤

Corresponding author. Fax: +44 116 252 3653. E-mail address: sng5@le.ac.uk (S. Gieve).

0346-251X/$ - see front matter  2005 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved. doi:10.1016/j.system.2004.09.015

we have there was very little diVerence to be found between the responses of the two groups. Jin and Cortazzi. and that what diVerences there were are in large part attributable to their diVerent language learning needs and not to their cultural background. and that student responses to particular contexts are not stably predicted by .262 S. to Confucian attitudes to education and learning. Instead. or (3) that apparently stable. and in this paper we will focus on expectations for Chinese undergraduate students to display autonomy in the British higher education context. we will examine some evidence to assess whether or not a particular group of Chinese students responded ‘in a Chinese way’ to a programme of self-directed language learning. or to the importance of face (Ho and Crookall. 1993. Cultures of learning. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 Keywords: Autonomy. 1995. Learning strategies 1. and lack of autonomy in study practices. This is in the context of both a pragmatic requirement for and a principled commitment to independent learning. There are three possible explanations for this Wnding: (1) the students in the study were not ‘really Chinese’. Gieve. 1996). Littlewood. We will conclude that on the basis of the evidence. These are often attributed to China being a collectivist culture. 1999). lack of questioning. 1993. The route of accommodation towards what are seen as characteristically Chinese learning styles (in the spirit of what Jin calls ‘cultural synergy’) seems hard to bear. dependency in student–tutor relations. Areas most frequently cited by lecturers as problematic for Chinese students undertaking courses in British higher education institutions (or perhaps they are only problematic for the lecturers!) include classroom participation patterns (non-participation. Chinese learners. writing which simply reproduces published literature without critical or independent thinking. Independent learning. in comparison with a group of European Erasmus students participating in the same programme. (2) the supposed characteristics of ‘the Chinese approach to learning’ are false. no indications of understanding or lack of understanding). After a brief review of the literature on the place of learner autonomy in Chinese educational culture. Institutions faced with often large numbers of Chinese students are wondering what to do about these perceived problems. given apparent diVerences between British and Chinese cultures of learning (Jin and Cortazzi. to a strong sense of hierarchy in social structures. or that there is a suYciently wide degree of heterogeneity to make the concept of a single ‘Chinese approach to leaning’ suspect. Introduction As increasingly large numbers of mainland Chinese students come to study in the west many of us in British universities have had to face questions about how to provide a successful educational experience for them. HE institutions are oVering orientation courses and study skills and EAP training prior to and during courses which otherwise make few concessions to Chinese or other overseas students. culturally determined approaches to learning are far more Xexible to contextual variation than we might expect. that is to say not typical of the vast majority of Chinese learners. R.

1995. evaluating the learning programme. p. is that it is possible to “create learning environments that will facilitate and enhance the development of learner autonomy”. Gieve. coping with negative aVective factors. Literature on the cultural speciWcity of the value of autonomy in learning suggests that a requirement to work independently of a relational hierarchy which values teacher authority. assessing progress and achievements. 236). Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 263 macro-scale characterisations of nation scale ‘cultures’. She suggests that social factors contributing to Chinese teaching and learning practices may have been more important than the cultural. skills and attitudes which are characteristic of learner autonomy” (op cit p. Stephens (1997) suggests alternative explanations to that of cultural conditioning. R. self-motivation and self-discipline (Ho and Crookall. Thus the East Asian tendency towards the interdependent rather the dependent self. 240). We suggest that the explanation is to be found somewhere between the second and third possibilities. time management. and that individual diVerences may “eventually seem more pronounced than initially perceived or expected similarities” (p. Littlewood (1999) recognises that the inXuence of culturally shared beliefs. may be contradicted in individual cases. 121). p. nurture and benevolence which goes with such authority. would make it “easy to see why Chinese students would not Wnd autonomy very comfortable emotionally or indeed intellectually” (op cit p. 237). Cultural variation in autonomy and dependency Autonomous or self-directed learning is said to include the exercise of the following skills: choosing instructional materials. Stephens proposes that much of the observed diVerence in the behaviour of Chinese students in Britain may in fact be due to linguistic issues. In addition. Littlewood (1999) refers to this conception as ‘proactive’ autonomy. political and economic conditions may now be legitimising ‘individualism’. attitudes and practices on individual learning preferences. 2. and Ho and Crookall maintain that their Hong Kong Chinese learners have “ a cultural background that is almost diametrically opposed to autonomy” (1995. he acknowledges the “powerful role of the learning context” (1999. 121). p. and current changes in Chinese social. with due regard for cultural norms and expectations. and to belief in the value of eVort and selfdiscipline. Their own position. as distinct from a ‘reactive’ autonomy in which the teacher sets the learning agenda but leaves learners to work independently on that agenda. to high rather than low acceptance of power and authority. setting learning objectives and prioritising them. proposing that “the extent to which ideologies of collectivism are internalised in the thought processes of Chinese people in general can be overstated” (1997. p. styles and strategies is moderated – or even negated – in individual diVerences. 83) in providing instances which . though. determining when and how to work on each objective. Moreover.S. with an emphasis on the expectation of care. 242). which will eventually manifest in educational contexts. and they describe a simulation/gaming activity which exploited other aspects of Chinese culture to “develop certain knowledge.

we claim that the expectation to display signs of autonomy is not necessarily resisted by Chinese students studying in UK Higher Education. we could go further than just noting that there are individual diVerences to be found within cultural groups. Jones (1995) also reports how learning activities can be designed for Cambodian students which both acknowledge normative Cambodian educational beliefs and practices and give opportunities for self-directed learning that students respond to positively. p. p. irrevocably and consistently. but also how ‘Chinese’ do I feel I want to be at any time. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 contradict generalisations about collectivist. 2000) emphasise the Xuid and complex nature of identity. might not have the eVects as originally postulated” (op cit p. that is what my students are like’ – and vice versa – and espousing a more contingent notion of culture within particular social contexts. 1999. This study reports an example of a learning context which appears to have the power to promote attitudes and behaviours which contradict expectations of Chinese learners regarding their disposition to engage in autonomous learning. Thus. However. rejecting an essentialising notion of culture that claims that ‘if that is a characteristic of Chinese culture. In the study reported here. These are positions that we endorse. authority-dependent East Asian learners. we have to also enquire whether individuals necessarily feel themselves to ‘be Chinese’ wholly. We suggest that the willingness to adopt practices apparently characteristic of a diVerent culture of learning cannot be understood without also stepping back from a monolithic notion of personal identity. If ‘being Chinese’ does not necessarily mean ‘not Wnding autonomy very comfortable’. Recent understandings of the role of identity in language learning (for example Norton. who seem to want to be told what to do. and accordingly have diYculty dealing with autonomy ƒ where learning is perceived as something static and directed by others. the forms of self-directed learning that we found Chinese students responded to well are not . he says. all factors that Ryan (cited in Littlewood. Gieve. as well as wide freedom of choice and absence of control. R. Pierson likewise suggests that the stereotype of Chinese Hong Kong students as passive rote learners dependent on the syllabus and lacking in intellectual initiative. The extent to which Chinese-ness is shared across regions. urban/rural settings. (for whom) ƒ school is the setting where students absorb the knowledge ƒ (and) the teacher decides what is correct and little room is given for the students to exercise personal initiative in the context of traditional Chinese learning culture (1996. It is not just a question of how being Chinese aVects me.264 S. as represented in the stereotype of the passive rote learner. show little initiative. It thus becomes problematic to talk about the Chinese learner at all. and family background cannot be taken for granted. 52) can in fact be attributed less to cultural factors and more to structural elements of the educational system itself. “the determining role of Chinese culture. rather than ‘independence’. The programme that we report on does however provide a signiWcant degree of concrete support and opportunities for involvement with signiWcant others. 75) says constitute the ideal facilitating environment for autonomy as ‘autonomous interdependence’. Moreover. 55).

They diVer signiWcantly from Chinese students who have previously been sent to study in Britain on government scholarships in that the former were high academic achievers. often without the company of other children. and were to spend two years studying here at undergraduate level. apart from the Wnal two years where they had had American teachers for business and language classes whilst attending their private college. in addition. could lead to a high degree of motivation. in view of our resistance to accepting the notion of a Wxed. We record here some background information about the group of students involved to indicate something of their particularity. and it could be argued that fulWlling parental aspirations. A childhood spent interacting with a computer. The inXuence of such contextual factors. taught by Chinese teachers. The students were divided more or less equally between the genders and were aged between 19 and 21. there was no evidence to suggest that self-directed learning existed as a concept or formed a part of classroom practice in the Chinese College. seemed to be a common home environment for such students. The Chinese students in this study formed the Wrst two. there has been both a lack of focus and detail about the pedagogical and socio-economic contexts in which the subjects (Chinese learners) developed their own approaches to learning and. any description of who the particular students are. Context of the study In the literature reviewed above. They had previously been at a private college in Beijing and were primarily the only children of wealthy parents. 87) predicted. in the company only of adults. The American teachers who were observed used lectures as the basis of delivery for the business classes and a lock-step approach to language learning. None had work experience or the equivalent of a gap year before coming to study in the UK. cohorts received in the School of Languages at a UK University. monolithic view of culture. R. as Littlewood (1999. There was no evidence of either pair or group work in the language classes and the students rarely . 3. for which good English language skills are a pre-requisite. where parental Wnancial sacriWce is involved. Whilst these students were not high achievers they did nevertheless express desires to follow a career in business after graduation. From interviews with their former teachers it appears that such children spent a large part of their leisure time indoors. Gieve. relatively small. The decision to study abroad was usually made by their parents. and from discussions with both Chinese and American teachers. All their education had been in China. which include the economic and political environment. From direct observations of such classes. it is possible that the children of rich parents have little incentive to study hard abroad.S. The great majority of our students were enrolled on a BA International Trade and English degree. p. but also proactive and individual. and reported a strong motivation towards taking business-related courses. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 265 only reactive and group-based. need to be acknowledged and described as well as they can. On the other hand.

culture. either to seek clariWcation or to practice the spoken language. for example. and were on the year abroad element of their university courses. Italy and Germany. Autonomous learning. comprising selfdirected and Tandem learning. leave taking. other tasks involved gathering and analysing diVerent forms of. The style of instruction that the students received in their language classes taught by American teachers was not signiWcantly diVerent from that being delivered by Chinese teachers. They were additionally asked to submit a 300-word ReXection at the end of each term. They were given suggested material designed to explore cross cultural issues as a motivator for communication and joint reXection. focussing on regional diVerences. In the second semester. 20% of the assessment requirement on the Business English course was to follow an autonomous learning programme. In the second semester of this programme. for example. and in particular what you have learned from the programme about English language. The guidelines stated that this should be an honest evaluation of what you have done. France. Much of the classroom time in the language learning classes that were observed was devoted to IELTS practice material. gender. Students were prepared for the SDL programme with in-class material to enable them to better understand their own learning needs. they do not appear to be any more practiced in self-directed and autonomous learning than any other Chinese students. the students were asked to Wnd at least one native speaker to act as an informant for their group.266 S. Gieve. Tasks included Wnding diVerent words for.1. the tasks were more oriented to raising sociolinguistic and cultural awareness. Our view of promoting autonomy: self-directed and Tandem learning As part of year 2 studies. gift giving. 3. henceforth SDL). Thus. and the process of learning. men and women. These were typically from Spain. as perceived by the authors. entailed both an individualised programme of self-study based on students’ own perceived linguistic strengths and weaknesses (self-directed learning. Twenty four European Erasmus students participating in the same programme were included in the study for the purpose of comparison. and register. mostly involving English and business studies. and to put together a proposed plan of SDL work. Over each 12-week term students had to write six 200 word diary entries describing and evaluating what they were doing. and linking these words to the social context in which they were being used. R. money. They were then asked to identify aspects of language learning that they were going to concentrate on. holidays and celebrations as practiced in their home countries). greetings. Supporting materials and tutors were available to be consulted in the resource centre. . The material in the Wrst semester was designed to explore topics that were familiar to them (being an international student. what use it was to you. and a group learning activity (Tandem learning). what you might have done better. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 spoke. The Tandem learning part of the programme required the students to form multilingual groups with other international students.

The written ReXections constitute the data for this study.1. so I wasted a lot of time and lost my direction of my academic study at Wrst ƒ After a period study. Many of them commented on the diVerences between Chinese and British approaches to teaching and learning. Gieve. totalling approximately 22. I have to admit that I wouldn’t have focussed on so many structured and systematic activities. but English teachers prefer to do works on heuristic method teaching. I would really like to carry on working systematically on particular areas ƒ Sixteen of the Chinese students (43%) made statements in this category. ReXections on approaches to study ‘ReXections on approaches to study’ are statements about whether the students saw SDL/Tandem Learning as constituting or requiring a diVerent approach to language study compared to the teaching and learning behaviours they had been used to in the past. coming back to Italy.S. Seven European students made comments in this category (30%). Wnding out how many they could beƒ Anyway. according to his/her needs. Comments indicated that it was not the expectation for autonomous learning that was new but the requirement to show evidence that it had in fact been done. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 267 Assessment criteria for both diaries and reXections were also given to all students (see Appendix A).000 words. I thought that a mature person was able to organise his/her work by his/her own. Analysis produced the results reported below. for example: My Wrst impression of English university is the teachers’ teaching methods are quiet diVerent from Chinese: Chinese teachers always do a lot of works to impart their students knowledge directly. R. Some were explicit about the diVerences they noticed. Otherwise. without being forced. during these weeks I have changed my mind: even if sometimes I didn’t feel like working on self-directed learning program. and were subjected to a content analysis. were collected from all 37 Chinese students and 24 European students. I found that I was backward some European students. so I began to study hard by myself. The comment below is perhaps the most explicit on this. I was still waiting for the teachers imparting knowledge to me directly. 4. in which categories of statements emerged from repeated perusal of the data. Analysis of student reXections The texts of the ReXections. Of those. four made negative comments to the eVect that such a compulsory programme was not conducive to maximum eVort. they try to guide the students to get most knowledge by themselves ƒ I didn’t adapt this kind of teaching methods very well when I began my study in our university Wrstly. but it continues by showing appreciation for the degree of structure built into the programme: At the beginning I didn’t agree with this way of teaching. . or the activities took a long time to complete. 4.

There were three negative assessments. Gieve. after do it I can direct to study knowledge by myself. The others mentioned the beneWts of having tasks associated with the selfstudy activities. R. The Chinese students reported learning how to structure independent study systematically (eight students). Fifteen of the European students (62%) made explicit reference to the interpersonal beneWts they derived from it.2.3. to provide motivation and structure. The diVerence may be attributed to European students already being accustomed to managing independent learning. one claimed that group-learning was not practiced in France. and caters more directly to our needs. and also can discover new ways for myself. The large proportion of Chinese students who gave positive reports of how they had adopted study practices which met the challenge of working on their own is striking. but also how it made a wider contribution to their lives: To sum up this semester. Evaluation of the Tandem Learning Programme Twenty European students (83%) and 31 Chinese students (84%) made comments positively evaluating the Tandem Learning programme.268 S. For example: By self-study and tandem learning I also know a good way to receive knowledge.4. Before it I just received knowledge from teacher. 4. learning speciWc study skills such as how to prepare for their assignments (7). So after university study I can study without teacher. In the case of the European students. Evaluation of the SDL Programme Sixteen European students (67%) made positive evaluations of the outcome of the SDL programme. one asking for more support from tutors to keep up the motivation for doing self-directed learning. and learning how to operate in learning groups (2). 4. time management (8). All the changes were reported positively. Statements about changes in ways of study Four European students (16%) and 24 Chinese students (65%) declared that they had learned or adopted new study habits as a result of the programme. It covers a much wider range. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 Twelve explicitly said that they had recognised and met the challenge successfully. . discovering diVerent study strategies (4). and despite the diYculties had changed their approach to learning. 4. and just one resistant to the whole idea of compulsory self-study. Twenty Chinese students (65%) made positive evaluations. The positive comments showed appreciation of how much the programme facilitated their language learning. and the beneWts of working in independent groups were a new discovery. one asking for weight to be given to self-directed learning in the overall assessment pattern. I can learn in every possible way. and a single Chinese student voiced a negative view. I found that self-study is far more important than schooling.

however: Actually. It breaks through the paradox of structured self-directed learning as a form of autonomous learning. However. it did not improve their language skills (2). Some of the responses referred to the suggested topics for investigation and discussion being unsuitable or uninteresting (6). strategies reported the more importance was attached to self-study activities and the more investment was being made in the programme. Statements about learning strategies adopted With regard to reports of learning strategies that were adopted. the learning tasks for this semester were very relevant for either a wider contact with native speaker by interviewing which helped me to know more about the importance of “British Culture” in the business study Weld. the worksheets were onerous to complete. Students reported using the strategies given in Table 1. One of these students did recognise that the time could be spent in whatever way they wished. Twelve European students (50%) were negative about the Tandem programme. They can not attract me to talk about them and have a good discussion with my friends because they don’t like them too. On the part of the Chinese students. I like this kind of exercise. Gieve. Some caution is required in accepting this assumption. problems with getting the group to work well together (5). there was little to discuss within the Tandem groups after they had already interviewed their native speaker informants. and marks a stage towards full autonomy. 4. The nature of the negativity was similar to that expressed by the Chinese. R.5. and 25 Chinese students (68%). the diYculty of Wnding a native informant willing to cooperate (3). We can see from these tables that Chinese students are ahead of the European students in terms of the . I really don’t like the given topics for the subject because they are boring. both their fellow learners and native speakers. Table 2 summarises the range of self-study strategies reported by the two groups of students. This constitutes a constructive approach to Tandem learning. there was also a widespread appreciation of the interpersonal contact which the program aVorded. and more varied. of course. Apart from that. Seventeen European students (71%) reported adopting particular learning strategies. Nine of the Chinese students (24%) made speciWc reference to the opportunity for friendship and personal encounters: I was able to get to know people from other country as well as the culture. we assume that the more. Four Chinese students (11%) voiced strong criticisms of the Tandem programme: the topics were boring or silly. That’s way we always try to change topics or did not do it very carefully. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 269 Wnding being required to both interview British informants and then discuss their Wndings in groups a good way to make contact with other people.S. apart from the gains in cultural knowledge and the opportunity to practice language skills.

particularly news Taking dictation from radio Summarising the news Extensive reading (books) Novels Summarise story of a book Daily newspaper Magazines Analyzing newspaper articles Systematic vocabulary study Grammar exercises Textbooks Using dictionaries Using internet resources Watching Wlms Tell story of a Wlm to friends Watching TV Sub-titled TV Taking notes from TV CDs Audio tapes Writing an English diary Recording own mistakes Preview/review lecture material Taking/making opportunities for spoken interaction a % 44 4 4 40 4 4 20 4 4 16 28 4 12 16 44 4 32 4 4 4 8 4 4 4 20 European students Listening to radio. particularly news a % 24 11 1 1 10 1 1 5 1 1 4 7 1 3 4 11 1 8 1 1 1 2 1 1 1 5 4 Extensive reading (books) 8 47 Daily newspaper Magazines Systematic vocabulary study Grammar exercises CD-ROM grammar exercises 6 2 3 7 1 35 12 18 41 6 Using internet resources Watching Wlms Watching TV Sub-titled TV Taking notes from TV Audio tapes 1 9 8 1 1 1 6 53 47 6 6 6 Taking/making opportunities for spoken interaction Pronunciation tasks 7 2 41 12 These columns contain Wgures for the number of students within each group who reported using that learning strategy.0 Europeans 17 61 3.6 15 0.270 S. R. Gieve.4 25 1. a Table 2 Range of strategies reported as adopted by Chinese and European students Chinese Total number of students reporting strategy use Total number of strategies reported Average number of strategies reported per student Total number of strategy types reported Range of strategy types reported/number of students 25 84 3.88 . Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 Table 1 Self-directed learning strategies reported as adopted by Chinese and European students Chinese students Listening to radio.

The pattern is broadly the same for both groups. in this case more so by European students (Wve students. In the case of the Chinese students. Six Chinese students (16%) and eight European students (33%) displayed positive aVect of this kind. four of the . About the same proportion of students from each group. 12% of Europeans). concluding that these Chinese students were less committed to Wnding ways of undertaking self-study. not interesting. Typical expressions include onerous. frustrating. and on making use of opportunities for oral interactions.6 diVerent strategies reported by European students compared with 3. While the European students focussed on a narrower range of strategies. on grammar activities. Typical expressions include interesting. The Europeans seemed to concentrate on extensive reading and listening. for. Twentyeight Chinese students (76%) made expressions of positive aVect. diYcult. 13%). the Chinese students were somewhat more demonstrative than the Europeans. and the Chinese mentioned reading and writing more frequently. boring. nice. When it comes to expressions of aVect about the programme itself. A large proportion of Chinese made use of radio listening as well. There was also a certain amount of expression of negative aVect in relation to the programme. 4. two other Europeans felt that the way the Tandem activities were structured did not promote learning.7. (16% of Chinese.6. One student was disappointed that her Italian accent had not completely disappeared. There is no basis then. Statements about learning About 75% of the European students and 97% of the Chinese students made explicit statements that they believed that at least one of their language skills had improved as a result of the programme. On this evidence. conWdence. 21%) than Chinese students (Wve students. so the diVerence in the numbers claiming gains is expectable. not happy. enjoyable. R. tedious. eager.S. happy. expressed dissatisfaction with their language skills in their reXections. it can be said that the Chinese students showed as much enthusiasm and enjoyment as the European students.3 by the Chinese). Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 271 range of strategies that they reported using (25 compared to 15 diVerent strategies). hard. and generally records feelings of happiness and enjoyment engendered by meetings with informants and peers as part of the Tandem activities. but it remains the case that these students expressed their belief that the time spent on the programme was time well spent. 4. they reported pursuing strategies within that narrower range slightly more often (mean of 3. memorable. We must be cautious about how much of any improvement we can attribute to these activities alone. delightful. Expressions of aVect One set of expressions of aVect relates to the interpersonal dimension of the programme. enthusiastic. however. annoying. compared to 12 European students (50%). harassed. Gieve. except that the Europeans mentioned vocabulary improvement more frequently. The European students generally speaking started oV with higher levels of language skills than the Chinese.

feelings that they did not like the course may have been tempered by a recognition that this is what they had signed up for in opting for a UK university. This cannot be ruled out. Also. It is hard to say whether the use of ReXections written for course assessment purposes as data is more or less likely to aggravate . and had improved their knowledge and understanding of Britain and other cultures. We conclude from these data that the Chinese students felt that they were able to beneWt linguistically from self-directed and Tandem learning at least as much as the European students. I still have some weaknesses in grammar and other aspects of English language. we can never be sure of the extent to which the ReXections were written with an eye to Xattering the readers. These are votes of conWdence in self-directed learning. However. may have been prompted by a perception that positive remarks would be assessed more highly than negative ones. Therefore. As a result I met the problem on my homework. For example: I realised that I ignored to improve my writing ability. as manifested in the self-directed and Tandem Learning programme. In addition.8. in order to improve my English to a higher level. 5. 4. Expressions of future plans and prospects Five European students (18%) and 10 Chinese students (27%) made declarations of future intentions which indicated that they took self-study seriously and would make eVorts to continue to structure their own independent learning. In fact I did not do much self-study for my writing. Discussion The positive remarks made by the Chinese students about how successfully they had identiWed and met the challenge of the British university approach to teaching and learning. R. Although it was made clear in the brief for the ReXections what kind of statements would be valued (Appendix A). For example. the self-direct learning and tandem learning are very beneWcial for me. one Chinese student wrote: In brief. although other feedback exercises involving Chinese students have found them far from reticent in voicing dissatisfaction. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 six provided their own remedies for the language problems they felt they faced.272 S. Gieve. There is no evidence here however for attributing diVerential self-presentation to cultural traits. So I will keep my self-direct learning. 13 Chinese students (35%) and 13 European students (54%) observed that they had learned something apart from language. because I found sometimes I could not use the new words freely. I plan to strengthen writing. in the sense that Chinese students might be more likely than others to write strategically.

The Tandem programme did involve a more tightly speciWed series of suggested activities. . which explicitly outlined its autonomous study expectations and provided structured support for them. and no evidence of having followed them was required. We wanted to create a perception that selfdirected learning was an integral part of the language programme. students might not be aware of what it was they needed to become aware of. even more so than in the case of activities with an explicit language learning focus. centred around the classroom. would be likely to Wnd equally positive responses from Chinese students in terms of their willingness and ability to respond to it. But it is not an adequate criterion for the success of a learning programme that participants exactly follow the process and learn the content given to them by the programme. In fact. It seems that some of the European students had higher expectations of the opportunities that the Tandem Learning programme potentially oVered but which did not satisfy their needs. We spent some time attempting to establish links between classroom learning and independent learning so that they should be seen as complementary to each other. The message is ‘you must do what you want to do in this way. the Chinese students were clearly able to recognise and take advantage of the self-directed and Tandem Learning programme. We would consider it a strength of the programme if the structure itself promoted the possibility for making ‘deviant’ uses of it. and self-directed learning. on the grounds that. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 273 this potential problem. Our attempts to address this paradoxical position included oVering complete freedom within the SDL programme to undertake any kind of work. who explore the opportunities available. or even to look for. however. not assessing the work itself or even asking for proof that such work had been done. Any self-study requirement emanating from within such a programme is therefore starting from a paradoxical position as far as the promotion of autonomy is concerned. R. We suggest that any programme. compared with interview or other techniques of data collection. Students were advised that these were only suggestions for activities. however. it may demonstrate rather the opposite – that Chinese students feel comfortable with the programme because it does in fact structure their learning for them. apart from language programmes. Appreciation of the SDL and Tandem Learning programme does not in itself constitute a display of autonomy. This line of argument requires us to examine closely how the self-directed and Tandem learning was setup. Two examples were found in evaluations of the tandem programme in which students reported that they went a step further in making a better Wt between what the structure of the programme aVorded them and what they perceived as most relevant for their own needs. and designing a reporting and assessment structure which aimed at valuing process (reXection) rather than product. For the Chinese students.S. and the SDL and Tandem activities were part of assessed course-work. the opportunities seemed to match their needs more closely. so that we can assess your work’. if it additionally prompted learners to think about what they could do that they could organise for themselves. Our own approach to self-directed learning was that there should not be an exclusive distinction between course work. As active participants. Gieve. and what we understand by ‘autonomy’.

The view presented here also accords with acculturation theory. 1988). and not acknowledge any contradiction between ‘being Chinese’ and following ‘Western’ learning practices. to discover how Chinese students in British higher education – or indeed any group of students commonly thought to display a lack enthusiasm for independent learning – organise their study strategies in contexts structured . is an ethnography of autonomy (as advocated by Riley. But. situationally based cultures of learning. Certainly the work on the learning strategies of learners in large classes (Coleman. would allow for students taking on the attitudes and practices of diVerent social and cultural groups simultaneously. personal identity also has to be considered. This implies. Although we have made little of it here. Sarwar. What we have not done here. and simply observation of the classroom behaviour of East Asian learners.274 S. instrumentally. aVects individual behaviours. it may be that generalised concepts such as collectivism. and Xexibly. so a ‘Chinese culture of learning’ would be seen not so much as the way they do things in China. a way of doing things for certain purposes. is manifested here only indirectly insofar as the authors’ experience with the way students carried out the Self-directed Learning programme was reXected in subsequent versions of guidelines. This point of view would accord with Accommodation Theory. that individual behaviour constructs the context of its own performance. may not be suYciently robust to predict how learners behave outside classroom contexts. contingently. 2001. 2001) suggests that we may be unaware of the focused learning activity that students engage in independently of a teacher. Culture is seen as a set of more or less deeply rooted normative practices. The obverse. A conceptualisation of identity which accepted Xuid and multiple identities. which identiWes processes in which prior cultural values. given the right conditions. and what remains to be done. LoCastro. attitudes and practices are relinquished in favour of new ones with which individuals come into contact. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 6. the interdependent self. rather than cultural heritage. will encourage the display of cultural values and behaviours more typical of the Chinese stereotype. which may. Conclusion An appeal to culture as an explanation for variation in learning practices and preferences has the eVect of making these practices appear less amenable to variation than if they were attributed to the context of situation. and high power distance. however. and deference to the requirements of diVerent authorities. of course. which focuses on how aspects of social context. material and assessment rubric. as we are presumed to carry our ‘culture’ with us unchanged wherever we go in a wide range of diVerent contexts. Gieve. 1989. we suggest that on this evidence an ethnically based notion of culture may be less powerful than commonly assumed compared to local. We would emphasise that these results relate to this speciWc group of learners. A monolithic notion of personal identity would suggest that as Chinese students adopt new attitudes and practices they are becoming less ‘Chinese’ and more ‘British’ or ‘Western’. as the way learning takes place in contexts often found in China. be created or adopted relatively quickly. that they may be equally rapidly unlearned and cast aside when situational constraints change and accommodation to diVerent peers. They might still feel themselves to be very much Chinese. On the other hand. R. insofar as they are one group of Chinese learners.

and what degrees of freedom of choice and absence of control. Dudley-Evans. Thompson..). Breaking with Chinese cultural traditions: learner autonomy in English language teaching. and the reasons for these successes and failures.. You provide little evidence that you are self-aware as a language learner and a resident abroad... able to devise strategies that enable you to identify your own wants. Low marks will be given for ReXections in which ƒ You do none of the above. L. Just how sensitive are diVerent groups of learners to diVerent expectations and diVerently structured learning programmes provided by educational institutions? How much and what forms of concrete support. in which you evaluate what you have personally learned about the process of learning. References Coleman.). Jin. 205–216. D. H. You are able to identify what opportunities were missed or could have been developed better. It would also be interesting to see what happens in reverse situations. Gieve. 1993. 1989. 1995. and what kinds of out-of-class activities would have better served your needs. Prentice Hall Macmillan in association with The British Council. 235–243.. and say how you would go about your independent study in the future in the light of your experience during the semester. Leeds.. Lancaster-Leeds Language Learning in Large Classes Research Project. Cortazzi. Jin. You review your needs wants and goals in the light of your experience. needs. L. are required to counteract individual and group approaches to learning which fail to meet institutional expectations and requirements? Appendix A. M. In: Graddol. what you have managed to achieve and what went wrong. 1996. problems and goals and Wnd ways to address them.. R. In: Hewings. L.. Crookall.. This way is very diVerent from chinese ways. System 23 (2). Language and Culture. . of supposedly ‘individualist’ learners studying in a ‘collectivist’ educational context. Byram. and to learn from your experience. Learning and Teaching in Large Classes: A Bibliography. Cortazzi. M. pp. wants and goals. You do not show that you are self-critical.S.. T. M. showing little or no attempt to think about the success or failure of your Self-Study and Tandem Learning programme. Marking criteria for self-directed and Tandem learning reXections High marks will be given for ReXections in which ƒ You oVer a systematic retrospective analysis of the work described in the diary. You identify and reXect on the productive and unproductive uses of your time in both self-study and tandem learning. Cultural orientation and academic language use. M. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 275 diVerently from what they have been used to. J. what kind of opportunities for cooperative involvement with others. Evaluation and Course Design in EAP. or only half-heartedly. Ho. (Eds. (Eds. BAAL and Multilingual Matters. Hemel Hempstead. as well as what you have learned. Clevedon. D.

. London. Grundy.. 113–124. Language and Education 11 (2).. Individualisation and Autonomy in Language Learning. H. Norton. Gieve.. Taking Control: Autonomy in Language Learning..S. Harlow. J. 228–234.. Ethnicity and Educational Change. V. 493–496. Pearson Education. P. W. ELTJ 49 (3).)..F. R. DeWning and developing autonomy in east asian contexts. 71–94. 2000.. B.). A. R. P.D. In: Brookes. TESOL Quarterly 35 (3). (Eds. Identity and Language Learning: Gender. 1999.276 S. Modern English Publications in association with the British Council. W. LoCastro. 1997. Innovations in large classes in Pakistan. Li. Large classes and student learning. Or. Hong Kong University Press. 2001. Cultural stereotyping and intercultural communication: working with students from the People’s Republic of China in the UK. Self-access and culture: retreating from autonomy. Clark / System 33 (2005) 261–276 Jones. 497–500.. 1996. 1988.. Applied Linguistics 20 (1). Stephens. K. 1995. In: Pemberton. 2001. E.. Littlewood. TESOL Quarterly 35 (3). Z..F. (Eds. Sarwar. Learner culture and learner autonomy in the Hong Kong Chinese context. The ethnography of autonomy. Hong Kong. Riley. Pierson.

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