This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
Douglas Andrew Town1 Introduction In the first of two articles based on my workshop “Promoting self-directed learning: A strategic approach”, presented at the Tenth National Congress of Teachers and Students of English in Bahía Blanca in July, I shall argue that teachers wishing to promote selfdirected learning need to examine their beliefs about language, learning and management –particularly time management - in order to help students to set their own goals for learning within the constraints of the school curriculum. I shall also argue that students can learn to manage their time and make decisions about their learning through the use of a learning diary. The second article will deal with the interrelated issues of motivation, self-esteem and strategy training. The management of learning The management of learning is a complex affair. Whether we are concerned with course management in general or classroom management in particular, success will depend largely on our ability to see language, learning and management as a continuum. Teachers who believe, for example, that language is a social phenomenon and that learners develop communicative competence chiefly by negotiating meaning are unlikely to achieve their goals if their own style of classroom management is teachercentred and authoritarian. However, as Everard and Morris (1990:4) have pointed out: “people sometimes do not behave in accordance with principles which should be obvious to them”. There are many reasons why teachers may feel unsure about their role in the classroom. Firstly, ideas about the nature of language and learning have, in recent years, undergone several paradigmatic changes, leaving many confused about the nature and role of instruction in second-language acquisition. In the 1980´s Krashen (1981, 1982, 1985) argued that communicative competence could not be learned through formal study, only acquired through natural communication. In the 1990’s, the instructed acquisition view gained ground again (see Johnstone, 1992). Then came the Lexical Approach (Lewis, 1993, 1997), which downplayed the importance of grammar, followed by the TaskBased Approach, which placed instruction at the back end of the learning process. However, as Skehan (1994:190) warned "Requiring learners to engage in task-based learning, if not balanced by other activities...” may mean that “... short-term communicative gain assumes greater importance than longer-term grammatical development”, once again emphasising a focus on form. Secondly, as regards management, Everard and Morris (1990:xi) remarked more than a decade ago that “the notion that teachers can and should be taught to manage is still quite young” and that many teachers were, indeed, reluctant to see themselves as managers at all. Little seems to have changed since then. But teachers that lack a solid theoretical framework for what they do in the classroom may, unwittingly, regress to a
Profesor titular del Traductorado Público, Literario y Científico Técnico de la Universidad de Belgrano, Argentina.
more traditional, text-book driven style of teaching – and this is particularly true of teachers who are overworked, under-resourced or forced to implement overambitious syllabuses with large classes of (often uncooperative) teenagers. In such conditions, the pressure to reduce the syllabus to ‘so many units of the course book per term plus songs on Friday afternoons’ is great indeed. However, as Harmer (1983:219) points out, “textbooks tend to concentrate on the introduction of new language and controlled work, both of which were features of the more traditional classroom. Language, Learning and Management Although writers such as Hutchinson and Waters (1987:52) claim that there is no link between language description and language learning, the truth is that certain views of language tend, in practice, to be associated, consciously or unconsciously, with certain methods of teaching. At one end of the continuum, theories of language can be classified in two broad categories: synthetic and analytical. Synthetic theories see language as a stock of discrete elements that stand for already existing phenomena in the “real” world. In this view, “people do not mean something by words, rather words themselves have meanings” (Moore and Carling 1982:150). This view corresponds closely to what Saussure called “langue” (language as an abstract, conventional system). In contrast, analytical theories stress the fact that each individual’s perception of “reality” is somewhat different (otherwise there would be no need for language at all) and that individuals negotiate meaning through what Saussure called “parole” (actual instances of communication involving motivation and thinking). At the other end of the continuum lie theories of management. All managers have to plan, organise, direct and control at least one of the following resources: human, material and financial. Human resources are by far the most difficult to handle, so it essential for teachers to have clear ideas regarding the nature of work, motivation and leadership. Douglas McGregor (1960) identified two types of manager corresponding to two conflicting assumptions about the nature of work: “Theory X” and “Theory Y” (Everard and Morris, 1990). In the context of teaching, it is fair to say that “Theory X” teachers tend to prefer a focus on “langue” and an impersonal, strictly cognitive approach to learning (perhaps seasoned with a few “rewards” like Friday afternoon songs), whereas “Theory Y” teachers tend to emphasise the more personal and social aspects of language and a broader view of the term” cognitive” (see Table 1 below). Understandably, many “Theory X” teachers are so because, with classes of potentially disruptive adolescents, anything else feels “too risky”, as one teacher told me recently in a workshop. The first point to emphasise about this continuum is that both views of language are complementary - there could be no actual instances of communication without a common code, and vice-versa – and the association of one or other of these views with a particular teaching methodology is something that every teacher should question. For example, traditional classroom activities such as dictation, summary and translation are common in business and nobody would claim that, in this context, they are not communicative or meaningful. Yet, I have met many company managers from so-called bilingual schools who can do none of these things very well. True bilinguals are a different matter: they nearly always act as informal interpreters from childhood (Harding and Riley, 1986).
Of course, I am not advocating a return to the grammar translation method. But there are ways to make these activities meaningful in the classroom. For example, a communicative variation on the traditional classroom dictation is to get students to do short dictations from part of a tapescript in pairs, underlining each other’s possible pronunciation and intonation mistakes and checking afterwards with the tape, rather than focusing exclusively on spelling. This is meaningful because, in real life, misunderstandings are often the speaker’s fault and, in this way, both students have something to correct. Similarly, evaluating alternative translations or summaries of a text in pairs or small groups can be a valuable awareness-raising and communicative activity. Such activities “[make] salient the less obvious aspects of the input, so that it is the learner who does the extraction and focusing, but as a function of how he or she has been prepared.” (Skehan 1998: 49) Conversely, teachers should be aware that pairwork and groupwork do not automatically lead to “negotiation of meaning” and independent learning. All too often, adolescents only work with friends whose opinions they already know, making many ‘opinion gap’ activities about fashion, music, school discipline etc (the type often found in ELT textbooks) almost meaningless. In many cases, group dynamics actively discourage students – especially boys - from ‘trying too hard’. Without the chance to set individual learning goals and reflect on their learning (for example, in a guided learning diary) and without the chance to show individual achievement (for example, in a learning portfolio), students may well find their individuality submerged in the group. The second point to emphasise about this continuum is that although language description need not drive teaching methodology, the way that teachers – consciously or unconsciously - perceive their managerial role certainly will. This is why I have preferred to use the terms “ langue” and “ parole” rather than the more widely used distinction between “ Syllabus A” and “Syllabus B”. “Theory X” teachers may not be able to change much towards a more student-centred approach; but “Theory Y” teachers should remember that accuracy has its place in the real world. “Langue” 1. Emphasis on tradition: Language as a finished product Words have fixed– i.e. dictionary – meanings that reflect “reality” 2. Emphasis on form and accuracy: Language is either right or wrong – e.g. as in FCE Paper 3 (Use of English), Paper 4 (Listening) Grammar translation method; audio“Parole” 1. Emphasis on innovation: Language as a creative, on-going process People mean things by words and create their own reality through words 2. Emphasis on content and fluency: Language is more or less appropriate - e.g. as in FCE Paper 2 (Writing), Paper 5 (Speaking) Direct method; total immersion; process-
lingual method; early Council of Europe functional-notional syllabus 3. Objective needs Emphasis on “generally useful” language for academic, work or social purposes. Emphasis on institutional needs and conforming to these 4. Individual learning Grammar translation method: learners expected to “think for themselves”. Audio-lingual method: exposure to mistakes is “dangerous” Early Council of Europe functionalnotional syllabus: emphasis on stereotyped interactions. 5. Teaching and conscious learning – deductive approach Emphasis on explanations, translation, models, exercises, drills... 6. Sequential learning Mostly left-brain learning. Favours students with Practical and Conceptual learning styles Lockstep procedure; linear methods
based syllabuses; task-based syllabuses
3. Subjective needs Emphasis on personal interests, experience and self-expression. Emphasis on people’s uniqueness.
4. Social learning Pair and group work Learning through “negotiation of meaning” – i.e. through making mistakes Learner-initiated topics and activities that involve learners’ emotions
5. Unconscious acquisition – inductive approach Emphasis on extended reading and listening, social interaction, tasks... 6. Holistic learning Mostly right-brain learning. Favours students with Adventurous and Social learning styles Pairwork and small group work, recursive methods 7. Teachers as “Theory Y” classroom managers Democratic. Believe that people can be self-directed if properly led. Trust in their learners’ potential for
7. Teachers as “Theory X” classroom managers Authoritarian. Believe that most people are uncreative, irresponsible and need to be directed. Motivation, activities, materials and
evaluation are best left to the teacher Impersonal, strictly “cognitive” approach to learning. Fixed furniture and seating plan; Teacher talking time is high.
independent learning and self-evaluation Personal and social aspects of language and language learning. Broader view of “cognitive” Flexible furniture and seating plan; Student talking time is high.
8. Pre-packaged materials The textbook and the publisher set the syllabus. The teacher “goes by the book”.
8. Student-produced materials Realia - not written for ELT classroom – plus student internet pages, class magazines, videos, wall posters. .... 9. Criterion-referenced assessment Emphasis on motivation, process, cooperation, originality. Criteria negotiated with the students.
9. Norm-referenced assessment “Objective” tests – multiple choice, matching, true-false, etc. – with one correct answer. Numerical scores; being “right”.
Head and teacher final reports - mainly for Ongoing assessment. Peer and selfthe school and other institutions and for assessment. Emphasis on feedback. parents Fig. 1 - A Language, Learning and Management Continuum
Self management and learning diaries The first people that teachers must learn to manage are – of course - themselves. Rogers (1983) lists the personal qualities that a teacher needs to facilitate learning: ‘realness’ (entering into a relationship with the learner without a façade or a front), prizing, acceptance and trust, and empathetic understanding. These qualities can be developed partly through teacher education and development courses but, in my experience, failure by teachers to respond adequately to students’ needs and the resulting hostility, frustration or apathy that can build up on both sides have less to do with teachers’ personalities than with ineffective time-management both inside and outside the classroom.
Students, too, can learn to plan and manage their learning better by using a learning diary. However, if students are to keep a learning diary and write it up after each activity, time must be set aside in each class for doing this – at least until students can be trusted to do this outside the class (generally speaking, any new learning strategy takes seven to eight weeks to ‘sink in’ and should not be rushed). Similarly, the teacher must have enough time to check these diaries regularly and give students feedback. With a class of thirty students taking lessons four hours per week, this will mean seeing eight students in each lesson in order to give individual feedback to every student once a week. So, decisions will have to made about when to collect the diaries, when to see the students, what to prioritise in the short time available, etc. Because of time pressure, I would suggest a structured approach to diary-keeping rather than the open-ended type of diary recommended by Wenden (1998:102). The diary could be written on photocopied sheets of A4. Each sheet would contain the following questions with spaces for answers, as well as the date, the student’s name and the teacher’s comments:
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. What task did you complete? How long did you spend on the task? What strategies did you use on the task? What was the main thing you learned? How would you do the same task again?
Once completed, the diary page would be kept in the student’s folder for assessment together with any completed work and consulted the next time the student had to complete a similar task. The main point to remember is that enough time should be scheduled for these learner training activities before any decisions about specific lessons are taken. Giving choices to students In order to promote self-directed learning, it is obvious that students must –at least occasionally - have a choice of activities. Of course, this does not mean making radical changes overnight or giving students more responsibility than they (or the teacher) can comfortably handle. Learner training should be seen a process, like ‘democratic’ parenting, which respects the learners’ freedom within clearly defined and enforced limits and with high expectations of performance. Although there is no recipe or formula that can be applied to every class, teachers can begin to reflect on how to offer students more choices by (say) taking their class timetable for the last four weeks, noting down all the activities done with one particular class (including negotiations, assessment and homework) and coding the activities according to the following classification:
CORE SYLLABUS 1. 2. Textbook / tapes with NO choice of activities Textbook / tapes with choice of activities
OPTIONAL SYLLABUS 3. Teacher-driven (e.g. songs, games – if chosen by the teacher) 4. Student-driven - group / individual (e.g. self-access work, small-scale project work) 5. Student-driven - whole class (e.g. large-scale project work, school play, social evening) Fig. 2 – A Continuum of Choice The next step would be to decide how the timetable could be modified to include an optional syllabus (if there is none) and to give more responsibility to the students, e.g. by moving – at least sometimes - from 1 to 2 or, if this change has already been consolidated, from 3 to 4, remembering to allow time in this schedule for diary writing and individual feedback. References Everard, B and Morris, G. (1990). Effective School Management. Paul Chapman Publishing Company. Haring, E. and Riley, P (1986). The Bilingual Family. CUP. Harmer, J. (1983) The Practice of English Language Teaching. Longman. Hutchinson, A. and Waters, T. (1987) English for Specific Purposes. CUP. Lewis, M. (1993). The Lexical Approach, LTP. Lewis, M. (1997). Implementing the Lexical Approach. LTP. Moore T. and Carling C. (1982) Understanding language: towards a post-Chomskyan linguistics. MacMillan Rogers, C. (1983). Freedom to Learn in the 80’s. Charles E.Merrill Publishing Company. Saussure, F. de (1915, 1978). Course in General Linguistics. Fontana Collins. Skehan, P. (1994). "Second Language Acquisition Strategies, Interlanguage Development and Task-based Learning" in Bygate et al. Skehan, P. (1998). A Cognitive Approach to Language Learning. OUP. Wenden, A. (1998). Learner Strategies for Learner Autonomy. Prentice Hall. © Douglas Andrew Town, 2004 Training materials may be used if source is cited.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue reading from where you left off, or restart the preview.