Anaheim Open TESOL Seminar – Tokyo, 2014

I have just attended the Anaheim open TESOL seminar, and I am on the way back, typing madly into my tablet so as to get as much transcribed as possible before I get home because as soon as I get back I have to slip into a yukatta and enjoy the hanabi summer fireworks festival with my family tonight.

The conference at Showa Women’s University boasted some big names in the TEFL world, not the least of which was Professor Rod Ellis, along with Hayo Reinders and David Nunan. Sadly for health reasons, David Nunan was not able to attend, and so he was replaced by Anaheim colleague Craig Lambert.

The first speech was from Showa Women’s University professor and long ago PhD student of Rod Ellis, Dr Tomoko Kaneko. She discussed the globalisation programs underway in Japan and in particular highlighted Showa Women’s University’s program which actively encourages study abroad. She talked about the decrease in Japanese students studying abroad, and explained how Showa Women’s University had been able to secure a grant from MEXT to support globalisation in education, called the Project for Promotion of Global Human Resource Development. MEXT explains:

 The Project for Promotion of Global Human Resource Development is a funding project that aims to overcome the Japanese younger generation’s “inward tendency” and to foster human resources who can positively meet the challenges and succeed in the global field, as the basis for improving Japan’ s global competitiveness and enhancing the ties between nations. Efforts to promote the internalization of university education in Japan will be given strong, priority support.

What struck me was how excellent the exchange programs offered by Showa Women’s University seemed, and I was surprised to learn that Showa Women’s University has a campus in Boston, established in 1988, where students can go and live for various lengths depending on their programs. Whilst in Boston the students do various activities to help the community such as volunteering at a soup kitchen, visiting old people’s homes and so on. However, I couldn’t help noticing that much of the globalisation attempts were based around what I would call a culturalist globalisation fallacy. For example part of MEXT’s imposed goals for the program were to increase TOEIC scores by a certain amount. This seemed to be part of the conditions for receiving the additional MEXT funding under the Global Human Resources project. Also the exchange programs required a certain TOEIC score. Although Dr Kaneko was able to demonstrate increases in student TOEIC scores and she did point out that this was only one kind of measure, I think that to acquaint TOIEC with globalisation is to miss the point a little. If this is part of MEXT’s imposed measures I feel it to be rather flawed, since TOEIC is not a particulry good measure of English ability, let alone a measure of Globalisation! At the end Dr Kaneko asked if we had any comments about how to motivate the demotivated students and I wanted to reply that perhaps reducing the emphasis on TOEIC would help. To get the rise in TOEIC obviously the university would have to teach compulsory TOEIC courses. If this is MEXT’s requirements for TOIEC,  I feel that they have fundamentally misunderstood the idea of globalisation. Also, although Showa has programs with other international universities in countries such as Poland, much of the emphasis was on the Boston satellite exchanges. Boston is in the USA, and again for me this does not reflect globalisation, but just internationalisation. I think there is a difference here, and this is linked to what Yamagami and Tollefson (2011) observed in their examination of the media discourse in Japan around the use of the word globalisation. MEXT used to say kokusaika (internationalisation) but now globalisation has become the most favourable term. However, globalisation can be seen as a threat, so is often just paid lip service. Therefore I think that what really seemed to be happening was a rather watered-down version of globalisation; a native-speaker centric idea of globalisation and not a true representation of diversity that I associate with globalisation. This is not a criticism of Showa Women’s University or Dr Kaneko’s excellent speech, it is more a criticism of MEXT if in fact they are using TOEIC to quantify globalisation and use it as a gatekeeper for exchange programs (see also Jenkins, 2014 for further evidence of this). Another target (not met) was to increase the number of foreign faculty, which I took to mean native speakers as this is a common rhetoric in Japan.  However, although it is easy to criticise a university’s attempts to be more international and more global by claiming them to be native-speakerist, I should point out that these efforts are well-meant and clearly taking a step in the right direction. I was very interested to see that as part of the program evaluation Showa Women’s University also administers a self-evaluation on globalisation, the rubric of which included cross-cultural communication, IT skills and critical thinking. This was a much better measure than TOEIC I thought. Overall, I was impressed with the programs Dr Kaneko outlined, despite my reservations about MEXT’s emphasis on TOEIC scores.

Hayo Reinders at Anaheim Open TESOL, Tokyo 2014
Hayo Reinders at Anaheim Open TESOL, Tokyo 2014

Next Dr Hayo Reinders came on and he was brilliant. Best speaker I’ve seen in a while, I really liked him and he was very charismatic. In a talk that rang bells with the EFL Teacher Journey’s Conference plenary speech by Bill Snyder about informal teacher development, he showed a picture of an iceberg and asked how much learning goes on in class and how much goes on outside of class. Dr Reinders said that very few formal studies have been done and we have an unclear picture. He talked about the problem of assessing learning and also the problem of research not reflecting learning, citing Larsen-Freeman and Cameron (2008, p. 131) who pointed out that research shows different abilities under different settings. He mentioned his forthcoming book with Philip Benson which attempts to understand learning beyond the classroom using as a continuum which includes Location, Formality, Pedagogy and Locus of control – see  Benson and Reinders (2011) for earlier work on the subject. He added to this he complexity of intentional and incidental learning, and explained just how complex this issue was. Then he outlined seven areas for further research into this area, which he said had a  ‘potentially powerful’ link if we as teachers can establish a connection between what we do in class to what the students do outside of class, i.e. in connection with their personal life and their different selves.

Dr Reinders cited a study he had done in New Zealand with Stella Cotterall (2001) on how much exchange students use English on study abroad programs. He cautioned the assumption that students who go on study abroad will use English all the time, in the study he cited the majority of learners reported that they only used the target language ‘sometimes’. It seems a common and rather reductive assumption in Japan that to get fluent you have to live abroad, which negatively impacts the work of language teachers in Japan and could lead to the fallacious belief that one can only get fluent by leaving the country, and also that learning in Japan will not help you achieve fluency. The final and most important of his seven research areas was on teachers promoting learning beyond the classroom, particularly what do teachers do to encourage learning beyond the classroom.

During the Q&A I asked Dr Reinders how the issue of authenticity relates to the two contexts he outlined (in the classroom and beyond the classroom). His answer was quick, and he basically gave a definition of authenticity using the words ‘relevance’, ‘personal’ and the idea that it ‘comes from themselves [learners]’. He clearly felt that learning beyond the classroom involved students engaging with authentic materials. He also mentioned that people used to complain learning a language was hard because they don’t have access to the TL, “of course that’s nonsense in 2014”. I liked that part very much.

Dr Reinders website is full of excellent resources http://innovationinteaching.org/ and he also runs an Online Community for Applied Linguistics on Google+

The next speaker was Professor Rod Ellis, who spoke about individual differences. He explained that there are stable permanent differences and dynamic situated ones. Professor Ellis listed personality and language aptitude under the stable differences, but I found personality listed as a permanent trait to be rather problematic. Menezes (2013) explains that our image of self is constantly re-imagined, and several other studies also view self as a dynamic construct which adapts and evolves constantly  (Mercer, 2011; Mercer & Williams, 2014).

Rod Ellis at Anaheim Open TESOL, Tokyo 2014
Rod Ellis at Anaheim Open TESOL, Tokyo 2014

He criticized several well-known handbooks for language teachers –  Nunan (1991), Ur (1996) and Scrivener (2005) – for failing to adequately mention how to deal with individual differences in the classroom and how to incorporate them into teaching. He mentioned that Self-Access Centres were one good way, but he then mentioned that SACs rarely cater properly for individual differences in terms of the resoruces they provide, noting that Reinders (2012) had once referred to them as “walled gardens”.  He then outlined three methods which teachers could employ which might help them to allow for individual differences. These were Individualization – allowing learners to work on tasks best suited to their learning style, Eclecticism – using a lot of different types of task and material, and finally Receptivity – characterised as “a state of mind that is open to experience” (Allwright & Bailey, 1991, p. 157).  Ellis argued that, since each has its limitations Receptivity is probably the best option because it allows a degree of personalisation and can therefore lead to more motivating learning experiences. This connected with the idea of authenticity for me again, since my view of authenticity is that it is basically a process of personal and social validation, connecting with reality by making something relevant. Ellis then went on to talk further about motivation, criticising the common staff-room complaint that “my students are not motivated” as a lack of onus on the teacher. In his view, it is the teacher’s job to motivate students. Acknowledging individuality is an important part of the classroom learning and teaching process. He mentioned transportable identities (Richards, 2006; Zimmerman, 1998) and explained that students must be allowed to speak as themselves. This is exactly what Ema Ushioda calls for in her person in-context relational view of motivation (2009, 2011), and something that I find central to my beliefs about teaching and learning, a defining component of my view of authenticity.

During the Q&A, Jo Mynard of Kanda University of International Studies stood up to defend SACs and Professor Ellis acknowledged that he had already mentioned that Kanda had the best SAC he’d ever seen. Another participant asked about individual differences in the teacher (as oppose to the learner) and this was a very interesting point. Ellis mentioned the ‘chemistry’ that happens between learners and teachers and acknowledged that there had to be some kind of match between teachers’ beliefs and learners’ styles. This was identified as an important area for research.

The final speaker was Craig Lambert, who is based in Japan. He was interested in the concept of Engagement and cited several very interesting works on the subject. One of the most interesting of these was Maehr’s Theory of Personal Investment (1984) in which he implicates the importance of Meaningfulness, Investment and Performance as being essential factors in motivation. Lambert used these as justification for an approach to task design that prioritises learners being able to generate their own tasks through a process of personal engagement. I found this to be a very useful contribution to the discussions on motivation and personal involvement that had already surfaced earlier on in the talks by other speakers.

All in all it was a very engaging day of talks by some leading figures from Anaheim University’s Applied Linguistics programs. I was impressed and as I headed home to watch the fireworks with my family, there were already fireworks exploding in my head from the stimulating discussions of the Open TESOL seminars. Thanks to all those who made it so engaging, especially the organisers and presenters. I am particularly grateful to Mikio Iguchi for recognising me and saving me a seat and to Rob Lowe for telling me about the conference.

 

References

Allwright, D., & Bailey, K. M. (1991). Focus on the language classroom: An introduction to classroom research for language teachers. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Benson, P., & Reinders, H. (Eds.). (2011). Beyond the Language Classroom. Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Jenkins, J. (2014). English as a Lingua Franca in the International University: The Politics of Academic English Language Policy. London: Routledge.

Larsen-Freeman, D., & Cameron, L. (2008). Complex systems and applied linguistics: Oxford University Press.

Maehr, M. L. (1984). Meaning and motivation: Toward a theory of personal investment. In R. E. Ames & C. Ames (Eds.), Motivation in education: student motivation (Vol. 1, pp. 115-144). San Diego: Academic Press.

Menezes, V. (2013). Chaos and the complexity of second language acquisition. In P. Benson & L. Cooker (Eds.), The Applied Linguistic Individual (pp. 59 – 74). Bristol: Equinox.

Mercer, S. (2011). Language learner self-concept: Complexity, continuity and change. System, 39(3), 335-346.

Mercer, S., & Williams, M. (Eds.). (2014). Multiple Perspectives on the Self in SLA. Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Nunan, D. (1991). Language teaching methodology: A textbook for teachers (Vol. 128). New York: Prentice Hall.

Reinders, H. (2012). The end of self-access?: From walled garden to public park. ELTWorldOnline. com Vol. 4, June 2012.

Reinders, H., & Cotterall, S. (2001). Language learners learning independently: how autonomous are they. TTWiA, 65, 85-97.

Richards, K. (2006). ‘Being the teacher’: Identity and classroom conversation. Applied Linguistics, 27(1), 51-77.

Scrivener, J. (2005). Learning Teaching: A Guidebook for English Language Teachers. London: Macmillan.

Ur, P. (1996). A Course in Language Teaching: Practice and Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Ushioda, E. (2009). A person-in-context relational view of emergent motivation, self and identity. In E. Ushioda & Z. Dörnyei (Eds.), Motivation, language identity and the L2 self (pp. 215-228). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Ushioda, E. (2011). Motivating learners to speak as themselves. In G. Murray, X. Gao & T. E. Lamb (Eds.), Identity, motivation and autonomy in language learning (pp. 11 – 25). Bristol: Multilingual Matters.

Yamagami, M., & Tollefson, J. (2011). Elite discourses of globalization in Japan: The role of English. In P. Seargeant (Ed.), English in Japan in the era of globalization (pp. 15-37). Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan.

Zimmerman, D. H. (1998). Discoursal identities and social identities. In C. Antaki & S. Widdicombe (Eds.), Identities in Talk (pp. 87–106). London:: Sage.

 

EFL Teacher Journeys Conference: Reflection

I sit here on the Shinkansen home to Tokyo, the obligatory post-conference beer and bento box at hand. I have just attended the EFL Teacher Journeys conference in Kyoto, part of the Teacher Development SIG at JALT, and it was easily one of the best conferences I’ve been to in a long while. I think it is a sort of hidden gem among language teaching conferences in Japan. I’m very glad I discovered it. I didn’t know anyone there, but I met so many people who I feel will likely become firm friends. Thanks to the community spirit of  like-minded individuals, of people telling their stories and listening to the stories of others, this was a fascinating and engaging conference. I was excited about the EFL Teacher Journeys conference, it seemed to be a perfect fit for me because it prioritizes narratives, qualitative inquiry and the issues of identity and development that regularly preoccupy us as teachers. I was delighted when my proposal was accepted. It makes me very happy to report that this conference was fantastic and truly delivered even more than I had hoped for. Although I didn’t know anybody, I was instantly made to feel welcome and introduced around. I even met people who were familiar names that I was citing in my PhD thesis, or people whose work I had read in journals and book chapters. The first talk started at 9:30, I found it hard to choose each of the individual presentations because they all sounded interesting, but I opted first to watch a talk by Sachie Banks. Her talk had a similar theme to mine I thought, being a professional narrative of her development as a teacher, so I wanted to see her talk in order to gauge just how much of a “story” I could put into my “story” presentation. Her talk was exactly as I had hoped, a very personal and contextualized journey from her life as a teacher of Japanese and English, her educational and teaching background detailing her personal and professional growth. It was interesting and although deeply personal and centered around her individual journey, it struck a lot of chords with me and other members of the audience, as evidenced by the lively and interesting discussion that took place after her story was over. People asked other questions or shared their own experiences, which chimed with or added support to hers. Next it was my presentation. I was quite amazed with the large turnout, I had an almost full house with maybe 20 or 25 participants (the conference is nice and small with maybe 70 or 80 people in all). I hadn’t really scripted or prepared what I would say beyond my very visual slides (inspired by the Beyond Bullet Points Approach), and I found myself talking about things which I hadn’t expected I would talk about, being very open because of the receptive audience. And in telling my story, I learned things about myself. I am new to narrative inquiry so this is still a very refreshing experience for me. I especially enjoyed talking about my time at Nova and how I managed to get through all that and come to see language teaching as a life-long career. Many friendly and supportive people congratulated me on my talk afterwards. Slide show here

 

 

Audio here

 

 

Next was the first featured speaker or plenary talk by Keiko Sakui. Her talk was amazing, I would even say brilliant. She had it all, in perfect balance. She had up to date citations but she also knew her history, she had personal details and a story which connected with others in the audience. Another big theme of hers was Social Capital.  The main thing was lots and lots of time for discussion with fellow participants. This was very much a theme which characterized the whole conference. She also showed some great videos, which I will be using in my own classes next week. One of these which particularly stuck in my head was the way people had been encouraged to take the stairs rather than the escalator using gamification:

 

 

This is really relevant to me as it combines education with social issues. I told Keiko later on that her presentation had been very influential in making me more optimistic about the future, since generally I find myself quite pessimistic about people’s ability to adapt to the inevitable power-down we will be faced with in a post-carbon society (don’t get me started! I write about this under a nom-de-plume because it is rather emotive for me, but see here for information* BTW, Heinberg is not my nom-de-plume). As you can see, some of the most eye opening or enlightening topics Keiko Sakui picked up on were Fun in Learning and Gamification. I had, in truth, not thought gamification was something I would be interested in, seeing it as a fad, but what Keiko Sakui did was to put it in context for me and make it seem like something I could genuinely benefit from both as a teacher and as a learner. In her talk she also cited Nicole Lazzaro’s classification of 4 types of fun – Easy Fun, Hard Fun, People Fun and Serious Fun. She also talked about motivational inertia; doing things enough that they become habit and rewarding in themselves, which Bill Sykes who was sitting close to me pointed out was connected to Flow Theory. Bill wrote about Flow in the ELTJ and I also mentioned it in my talk.

EFL Teacher Journeys Kyoto
EFL Teacher Journeys Kyoto

After the first plenary, a big group of us went to find lunch, but we all split up when it came time to buy food and not all of us were able to regroup in the labyrinthine underground networks of shops near Kyoto station. I thought it was interesting how we were all very aware of each other’s individual preferences and yet there was very much a desire to stay together as a group as well. Lunch was also a great learning experience for me, and I met interesting people and talked with them, doing some networking which in itself was also a big feature of this (and all) conferences. After lunch I went to see Ethan Taomae who gave a great speech about a piece of research he had done by collecting reflective papers from colleagues who were all teaching a new discussion course. He found that teacher’s beliefs were influenced greatly by contextual factors, and his presentation gave further weight to reflexive practice in general and was eagerly discussed by all the participants, although I think Ethan got kind of bombarded at the end of his talk with questions! I should also mention Michael Hollenback, whose talk was about embracing English as a Lingua Franca. I really wanted to see that, but I did at least get the chance to chat with Michael later. Afterwards I watched Tanja McCandie who talked about how teachers are influenced by those who taught them, and how teachers’ experience as students shapes how they form their identity as teachers. The second featured speaker was by Bill Snyder, whose article all about Flow I found very interesting and am citing in my PhD. His talk was about the importance of informal learning, and he cited the work of Jimmy Cross who says that 80% of learning at work takes place in informal contexts.  He stressed the importance of communities of practice and explained that learning is not about a producer and consumer model, but about interactions between practitioners. He also talked of Social Capital and encouraged us to reflect on our own experience at the conference. I remember that at one point he said that “we actually don’t remember that much” which made us engage with what we might remember from the conference in a week, a year or even ten years. For me, the thing that I would remember was the people and the informal community building which is so essential to any profession, but perhaps especially teaching and certainly language teaching which is all about that rare and essential type of communication that takes place between people with different cultural backgrounds. He said “teaching is grounded in uncertainty” which is something I felt I could relate to, especially since I also mentioned Chaos/Complexity Theory in my talk even though I was still getting to grips with it on the train down to Kyoto. Tired and keen to return home, I almost didn’t stay for the last session, but the topic of Cameron Romney’s talk was irresistible, and I was not disappointed with his very quirky and perfect-as-the-last-of-the-day style talk about using Japanese ( the student’s L1, his L2) in his class. Like all the talks, he framed this as a narrative into his own teacher development, but he made each of his slides in the theme of an internet meme, a format that was both funny and strangely effective in making mini-summaries of the most salient Meta observations from his story. I felt bad that I didn’t have an internet connection since he was quite a high-tech person. Cameron had been live-tweeting my talk and I wanted to return the favour. Sadly, he was a bit ahead of us all there, but we all sat and listening attentively, laughing regularly as he told about how he had always been told not to use Japanese in his class, but  as his Japanese improved he found it essential. He had conducted some action research and found that his use of Japanese in the class was vital in forming connections with the students and that they used English with him more when they knew he spoke Japanese, whereas they used English less even when he had enforced an English only policy. For me this rang a lot of bells with my own experience, which I had written about in one of my first articles. By acknowledging students as Bilinguals rather than people who should leave behind their L1 (and with it their cultural identity) when they attempt to learn an L2, I was able to value the students more and see them as people with their own Cultural Capital. I also like to find common ground with my students, and when they know I too am  a language learner, this is a vital part of the rapport I try to build with my students. Since language is central to what we teach, it seems absurd to leave L1 out of the class. Overall the conference was unforgettably enlightening, and made me really respect the context in which I teach. As an EFL teacher in Japan I am extremely lucky that there is such a thriving community of practice here, and I think I have finally found my people at the EFL Teacher Journey conference. I would like to thank Mike Ellis, Thomas Amundrud, Catherine Kinoshita and Mizuka Tsukamoto as well as Dominic Edsall and Martin Hawkes who made up the conference team. Particularly Mike for his kind and encouraging words  to me at the start of the day. I’d also like to thank those people who came to my talk, and those whose talks I watched. Sharing my story was almost as much fun as listening to other people’s, but the whole experience of sharing and reflecting on our teaching journeys and feeling that I could join a thriving and vibrant community of practice in Japan made me very happy and I will certainly be going again next year and joining the TD SIG as well. A journey of 1,000 miles starts with a single step, as Lau Tzu (Laozi) says, but I would be happy to hear each step described in detail by colleagues as long as they were able to contextualize and personalize them as well as we did at the EFL Teacher Journeys conference.

Authenticity as a Continuum

My most recent publication is in the ELTED Journal, all about Authenticity in English Language Teaching.

This paper outlines a workshop which I conducted in Tokyo and Osaka in 2013 as part of an INSET program accredited by the Japanese Ministry of Sports, Education and Culture (MEXT). The course, entitled Using and Adapting Authentic Materials to Help Motivate Students, aims to give teachers a better understanding of the concept of authenticity as it realigns itself with the way English is used and taught around the world for international communication. My aims as the teacher/researcher were to understand more about how L2 teachers of English perceive the notion of authenticity and how this concept could be broadened to try and empower L2 users of English by helping them to start reconceptualising authenticity from a more international perspective. This paper first looks at some of the issues that arise when attempting to define authenticity and then, building on the distinctions laid out by Widdowson (1978), that authenticity is not something absolute but relative to learners, I suggest that authenticity might be best viewed as a continuum which incorporates international voices and moves away from culturally embedded definitions. With that in place I will describe the contents of the workshop, followed by an explanation of the data I collected as part of the workshop and how analysis showed that participants reported the notion of an authenticity continuum to be empowering and even increased their motivation to try and make their own classes more authentic.

In order to develop a more inclusive concept of authenticity, rather than trying for a single definition, authenticity should perhaps be seen as a continuum with various dimensions.

The Authenticity Continuum
The Authenticity Continuum

Read the full article here

Interview with Philip Benson – Autonomy

 

This interview took place between Richard Pinner and Philip Benson via Skype. Philip Benson is a leading researcher and expert on Language Learner Autonomy. He is the author of several books on Autonomy and currently teaches at the Hong Kong Institute of Education. 
 

07/12/2012

RP: First, the new edition of your book. Is there anything new in there that wasn’t in the first edition?

PB: Yes, there’s a lot more. It says on the description of the new edition that there are over 300 references added. The first edition came out in 2001, and at the time I tried to do all I could to gather the most important aspects in the field from the last 30 years. But in the last ten years or so, a lot of new work has been done and the amount of research has almost doubled, all in just the last ten or so years. There have been a lot of important developments since the first edition, so the second edition brings everything up to date. There’s also a section on teacher autonomy there too, which wasn’t in the first edition. Also, in the first edition there was already a section on technology, but that’s been significantly expanded now. Obviously the technology then and now has developed a lot, particularly in things like communication and the widespread use of the internet.

RP: So well worth purchasing, even if you have the first edition. I’ll have to go on amazon, because I’m still on the old edition. When I saw you speaking at Temple University, Japan, which was part of the Distinguished Lecturer series that they offer, you dedicated a fairly significant amount of time to your definition of autonomy. Is that also something that is new in the second edition?

PB: No, actually that is work which mostly carries across from the first edition. What I’ve been doing recently is investigating the idea of capacities for control, but that definition hasn’t changed since 2001. I don’t think it’s useful to add more definitions and to keep trying to come up with new ones. Obviously, what we need to do is to drill down into it, rather than widening the definition beyond something that’s useful. I think if we are going to get anywhere then we all need to be talking about the same thing and using terms in the same way. In my definition, I refer to autonomy as “a capacity to control learning” and I’ve just been trying to further define each of those terms.

RP: So, how did you first get involved in working with autonomy?

PB: Well initially it was through technology and my involvement with CALL. Basically, in one of the places I was working they decided to set up a self-access centre, and because I was into computers they asked me if I wanted to be involved in that. When I first started working in autonomy, I suppose I was initially approaching it from a self-access viewpoint, but of course the more I got into autonomy, you know it developed and there is a lot more going on.  I have a background in CALL. Back in the 80s and 90s CALL was about creating programs or applications for language learning. But now, CALL also features an aspect of globalisation –of how people are using technology socially now. Technology has really advanced, so, it used to be that you would look at a program and think “how can I make this better for language learning?” and you would develop the software. But now, you can’t possibly create anything as good as what there already is. You couldn’t create anything better, than, for example YouTube.

RP: So you initially got into autonomy as a natural progression of your interest in technology’s use in language learning? That’s really interesting because that’s quite similar to me in fact, I initially started this blog to be all about CALL and technology, but now I’m more interested in technology and motivation, particularly authenticity and motivation, which I suppose YouTube is a good example of authenticity. In your lecture, you mentioned that there are of course strong conceptual links between autonomy and motivation…

PB: Yes…

RP: … and you said that when students ask you, or you know, say that they would like to write their thesis on the link between autonomy and motivation, you usually advise them not to do it!

PB: Yes, well. I think the thing with autonomy and motivation is that, as you say, there are some strong conceptual links there and in fact there is often an overlap in the terminology. I mean motivation, it was really Deci and Ryan, when they proposed Self Determination Theory, autonomy is a component of that. What they argue is that motivation is dependent on three things; autonomy, competence and relatedness. They talk about autonomy as a kind of freedom. In my breakdown of the term “capacity” in the definition of autonomy, I talk about freedom as being part of the capacity for control, and that’s obviously an aspect of autonomy but I think they are slicing the cake differently.

RP: So when they talk about autonomy in Self-Determination Theory they are talking about the freedom to be able to choose what they learn rather than being forced, say, by having to do a compulsory course?

PB: Yes, I think so. So I think that we are in agreement there, but for me autonomy is about more than just freedom as well, there are other things that we look at when we study autonomy.

RP: Right, I see. I’ll have to bear that in mind when I work on my PhD because my tutor is Ema Ushioda, and she was primarily concerned with autonomy and then she got into motivation research through that.

PB: Yeah. Well, as I say there are strong links between the two, but as I said in the lecture at Temple, there is a widespread problem in Applied Linguists in terms of defining abstract concepts, such as autonomy and motivation.

RP: And I’m foolishly trying to tie up three of them in my research. Sounds like I need to do a lot more reading. Do you have any new books coming out in the near future?

PB: Yes, actually, a few things coming out soon. At the moment I am working with sociocultural theory. There is a new book coming out, which is one I’ve co-edited with Lucy Cooker. It’s called The Applied Linguistic Individual: Sociocultural Approaches to Identity, Agency and Autonomy and it’s part of the Studies in Applied Linguistics series published by Equinox. It’s going to feature chapters from experts in the field of sociocultural theory, such as people like James Lantolf and Martin Lamb. One of the criticisms some people have levelled against autonomy research was that it was too individualistic. This book aims to bring the importance of the social context of autonomous learning out. It’s an examination of how individuality is conceptualised. So that’s been really interesting to work on and the book is coming out at the start of next year. The other book that I’m doing is called Narrative Inquiry in Language Teaching and Learning Research which is published by Routledge in the Second Language Acquisition Research Series. I’ve co-authored this book with Gary Barkhuizen, and Alice Chik.

RP: So you’ve been very busy recently I take it?

PB: Always busy. But in terms of current research, right now I’ve been looking at a lot of what happens outside of the classroom. Again, going back to YouTube, there are thousands of people out there it seems who are using YouTube for language learning. If you look at the comments below the videos, it seems very clear that a lot of these people are practising their second language skills, and there is evidence of them using YouTube for development. Now, there are lots of people doing what we call “translanguaging” which is things such as  a Chinese star speaking English in an interview, or an American singing a song in Chinese in Taiwan. And if you look at the comments on there, there is a lot of evidence of language learning taking place. There are people commenting about accent or pronunciation, sometimes aspects of grammar. This is a project that I am currently working on at the moment.

RP: That sounds very interesting. Well, thank you so much for your time and for the very interesting conversation.

PB: Ok, thanks very much.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Phil Benson – Autonomy Lecture at TUJ

I attended the lecture given by Professor Phil Benson as part of the Temple University Japan Distinguished Lecture series. Previously I have attended a talk by Ema Ushioda in the same series and I always find them to be of interest. The first three hours are free, but for a small fee of 12,000 yen you can attend the full weekend of workshops. Sadly, due to work commitments I was only able to attend the first three hours. What follows is a breif description of Professor Benson’s lecture.

Phil Benson is a leading expert in the field of learner autonomy, and he literally wrote the book on it.

 

Professor Benson works at the Hong Kong Institute of Education.

Benson started off the lecture by talking the difference between learner autonomy and autonomous learning about what he had identified as the six different definitions of autonomy.

Learner Autonomy Autonomous Learning
Independence from teachers or teaching materials Learning by yourself (naturalistic)
Independence from teachers Learning by yourself (self-instruction)
Initiative in learning Self-initiated, unpredictable learning behaviour
Responsibility for learning Self-directed learning, learners make decisions.
A capacity to control learning Learning that displays a capacity for control.

Benson’s own definition is the last one in the table, that learner autonomy is “a capacity to control learning.” He then went on to expand on this and to break the components of capacity and control down into how they relate to the learner and their context.

What is a capacity?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When talking about the word desire he explained that he had purposefully avoided the term motivation because of what he termed to be a widespread problem in the field of applied linguistics in defining abstract concepts. He went on to explain that Autonomy suffers from the same issues, i.e. that short definitions tend to be too broad and all encompassing, whereas longer definitions exclude too much. He acknowledged the overlap between authenticity and motivation, but joked that when students wanted to write their dissertations about the links between autonomy and motivation he usually discourages them from doing so because it would be too much of an abstract set of concepts.

Benson then explained what he meant by control. He had done a meta-analysis of the research in order to see how the word control was used in relation to language teaching and learning. This lead him to arrive at the following categorisation, which he explained whilst pointing out similarities with the term capacity, although the two do not map perfectly onto each other, he noted.

Controlling What?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

For Benson, autonomy has moved a long way from being synonymous with self-access or self-study. For him the autonomy debate is much more of a conceptual question which relates directly with what approach is used in class and how teachers and learners interact in and around the classroom. However, he acknowledged that much of the work on autonomy focuses on adult education and his current research at the Hong Kong Institute of Education has brought him into contact with teachers who work at schools with young learners. He sees no reason why autonomy should be limited to adult education.

He also quipped that in many ways the teacher is seen sometimes as the enemy of autonomy because they impose what is learnt on the students, preventing them from choosing themselves. Benson advocated that ‘control over the learning content’ or learners having a choice of what is learnt is central to autonomy. For me, this is what made the session very relevant to my own research into authenticity. Benson’s ideas on the need for interest and choice in the content being used for language practise strongly coincide with my own on authenticity (see Pinner 2013)

Benson also talked about who controls the learning, and how there are many constraints on autonomy. He mentioned a recent study he had done (Benson, 2010) where teachers had attended an autonomy training seminar, but said after that they could not initiate such a methodology in their own class because they thought parents would complain, despite the fact that no parent had ever previously complained about such an approach. Finally, Benson talked about how students learning experiences of constraints of autonomy are all mediated through teacher. Despite pressures from the government and the department heads all influencing the teacher, the students’ experience of this all comes directly from the teacher and thus teachers are usually seen as the ‘enemy’ of authenticity.

This led the session onto a discussion about teacher autonomy. Benson said that teacher autonomy may be an unuseful [sic, un-useful as in not very useful but not useless] phrase because it is very different conceptually from learner autonomy. Unfortunately in the three hour session there was not enough time to get into detail about this, and this was another reason why I wished I could have attended the full weekend session.

Overall this was a really enlightening session and I took a lot away which I think will be useful in my research. I gained a better and updated view of what autonomy is and how it is being researched today.

References

Benson, P. & Voller, P. (Eds.) (1997) Autonomy and Independence in Language Learning. London: Longman

Benson, P. (2001) Teaching and Researching: Autonomy in Language Learning. London: Longman Pearson

Benson, P. (2010) ‘Teacher education and teacher autonomy: Creating spaces for experimentation in secondary school English language teaching’. Language Teaching Research, 14 (3), 259-275.

Pinner, R. S. (2012) “Unlocking Literature through CLIL: Authentic materials and tasks to promote cultural and historical understanding” in Watanabe,Y.,Ikeda,M.,&Izumi,S. (Eds). (2012) CLIL:New Challenges in Foreign Language Education. Vol. 2,Tokyo:Sophia University Press.

Article published

 

I just wanted to quickly announce that my piece in the Journal Studies in Self-Access Learning (SiSAL) has been published this September. It is a special issue on eLearning and mLearning for self-access and also features an article by Mark Warschauer and other venerable researchers! I feel greatly honoured to have had my piece accepted by them. Read it here

http://sisaljournal.org/issues/
http://sisaljournal.org/archives/sep11/pinner/

 

 

Autonomy

Here is an updated Bibliography now listing only articles that deal with both Autonomy and CALL or Technology. This list was updated thanks to comments by Steve (see below).

If anyone has experience using technology for Autonomous langauge learning or experience with Online Self-Access Centres (OSAC) please add a comment to the discusion below.

Continue reading “Autonomy” »