BAAL 2014 Annual Conference, Warwick

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This is a quick post, composed between parallel sessions, about the BAAL 2014 conference which I am currently attending. Unlike many of the attendees I am no good at Live Tweeting since I am already multitasking in my own life so much that if I tried I would lose focus on what’s actually happening. However, I wanted to take the opportunity to post something as the conference is taking place, mainly regarding my own presentation which I delivered yesterday (4th September) entitled Authenticity in a Global Context: Learning, Working and Communicating with L2 teachers of English. I have uploaded the slides from the presentation, as well as the audio below for anyone who missed the session or (very unlikely) for anyone who was so entertained that they simply must listen to it again!

 

[below is the audio file]

When I return to Japan and get back to work I will be posting a full review of both the Nottingham 2014 International Conference on Motivational Dynamics and the BAAL 2014 conference. Until then please enjoy the rest of the conference, whether you are here in person or digitally auditing and come back soon for more updates.

 

 

EFL Teacher Journeys Conference: Reflection

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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

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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

Upcoming talks and conferences

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I have been busy lately. So busy in fact that I still have not written up my report of the lecture I went to see by Jenny Jenkins at Waseda University’s 3rd English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) International Workshop. Coming soon

One of the reasons I have been busy it that I recently completed a proposal for a large writing project which has been accepted to my great astonishment and delight. Again, I will post up more details at a later date when things are confirmed. I have also been sending proposals to international conferences and conferences here in Japan and I just wanted to share some of those here since I am hoping to meet the rare and wonderful people who read this blog and thank them for their support.

I am very excited to announce that I will be attending this year’s EFL Teachers Journey’s Conference which will be held in the historical city of Kyoto on June 22nd. My presentation will be in the category of  Narratives of teacher development and change in which I will talk about my professional development and how this has shaped and evolved with my beliefs about teaching and learning. I am especially excited about this conference because here in Japan I feel sometimes out of touch with the wider EFL community, and this conference seems to share some of my passions for narratives and research which focuses on individuals and their beliefs.  You can view the abstract here.

EFL Teacher Journeys Conference, Kyoto June 22, 2014
EFL Teacher Journeys Conference, Kyoto June 22, 2014

I will also be presenting at the British Association of Applied Linguists (BAAL) Conference in September. This conference is being hosted by the University of Warwick where I am a PhD student at the moment, so I am glad to be able to participate and present. My piece will be about a research project I conducted last year. I took the data from a teacher training session which is part of the Ministry of Education’s teaching licence renewal. I worked with Japanese high school teachers in Osaka and Tokyo and the research focuses on reactions to authenticity and an attempt to move away from the dominant culture of native speakerism by shifting the focus of authenticity into the realm of English as an international language. This will also be a published article which will come out later in the year:

Pinner, R. S. (forthcoming). The Authenticity Continuum: Empowering international voices English Language Teacher Education and Development, 16(1).

BAAL 2014: Learning. Working and Communicating in a Global Context 4 September - 6 September 2014
BAAL 2014: Learning. Working and Communicating in a Global Context
4 September – 6 September 2014

Finally, I will also be presenting at the JALT conference in Tsukuba in November. This presentation will be similar to the one I’m giving at BAAL – I’m too busy to do three completely different presentations. Having said that, I have already given two presentations this year which I failed to mention on my blog. I spoke at the fantastic LiberLit conference (click here for the full schedule) and I also participated as a speaker and panel member at the International CLIL Research Journal Symposium in April.

I've been busy
I’ve been busy

So, I’ve been busy. The PhD, the teaching and being a father is taking its toll on my hair colour and sanity, but at least I’m still passionate and enthusiastic about my work and my professional identity. If you have any comments please feel free to share and also, let me know if you will be attending any of these events or can recommend ones I am missing!

 

 

LinguistList 2014 Fund-Drive

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Many times I’ve needed the help of The LinguistList, a free online discussion board and virtual community of practice. They helped me get data for my MA and I am sure I will need them for my PhD too. Now they need our help to keep running a free service. I see this as a duty to people like myself, who often make use of free sites but don’t always give much back in return. To be honest I tend to only dip in to the LinguistList when I am in the middle of a project. If I see a link to an online survey I will participate if I have time, but I am happy to help out now by posting this plea to support them.

Also, if you make a donation today you will be added to the prize draw which is funded by Multilingual Matters, one of the best linguistics publishers out there in my humble opinion!

http://linguistlist.org/fund-drive/2014/

LinguistList

The Architecture of Language Reconsidered: Noam Chomsky Lecture

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Chomsky

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today on a very rainy day in Tokyo, I had the pleasure of watching a softly spoken 85 year old man stand in front of a microphone, speaking and answering questions on such diverse topics as chimpanzees, bird songs, software programs that try to pass university entrance exams and the choice of whether to use a hammer to build a house or bash someone’s face in. The speaker was Noam Chomsky, the world’s most cited living author.

I knew I might not get to see the Chomsky lecture. Seats were limited to 700 places and they were likely to be gone quickly. It was being done on a first come first served basis. What I didn’t know was that they were available from 8 am. When a student told me this at around 10:30, adding they were almost all gone, I ran to the auditorium but of course too late. This preamble is necessary as it was only thanks to my friend and mentor Makoto Ikeda that I was able to get to see the lecture, and not only that but from a seat from which, if I had wished, I could have thrown a screwed up piece of paper and seen it bounce of Chomsky’s head.

In the language instinct, Stephen pinker (a former colleague of Chomsky’s at MIT) mentions something about Chomsky being a pencil and paper theoretician. So, despite having a very cool poster for the lecture series event and lots of screens, theses were all turned off at the start of the event. Chomsky delivered his lecture with only a few pages of crumpled notes.

Chomsky was introduced twice and then, to my surprise, stood up to deliver his lecture. For an 85 year old to make his way all the way to Japan and still be lucid enough to deliver such a deeply technical lecture was impressive, but to do it standing I thought was just downright cool. He was cool, as well. In truth, being an applied linguist myself rather than a linguist, Chomsky sort of orbits my world rather like an impressive comet. Going to see his lecture was kind of like going to a rock concert for me. I didn’t expect to enjoy it in the moment so much, I just wanted to be able to boast that I had been. It was the experience I was after.

He did raise interesting points. His citation range was very deep, mainly historical and philosophical. He talked about Darwin on language and the meaning of ‘foremost infinite’. He also quoted Galileo on the alphabet being “an achievement surpassing all recognition”. But he was also contemporary and contextual, citing an article which had appeared just that morning in The Japan Times about a machine which could pass the Tokyo university entrance exams. He did point out that the machine was pointless, saying once it got in to University it would be finished.

Other choice moments were when he said language allowed for innovation without bounds, as language can engender thoughts in others. He also mentioned Humboldt, who said language made infinite use of finite means.

Then it got a bit technical, and some heads began to nod. Chomsky was talking about X + Y merge into Z and he kept saying merge over and over again. So I decided to survey the audience quickly and take stock of the cross-cultural elements and simultaneous translations that were taking place to accommodate people from diverse linguistic backgrounds. This is a strength of Sophia University and one that makes me proud to work here. There were people doing simultaneous translations into Japanese which was being relayed by headphones wirelessly. Pretty good. But most interesting were two separate sign-language camps. People were sitting in these camps and watching signers who had a feed to Chomsky’s microphone. What made this doubly impressive was that Chomsky, as I mentioned, is a soft spoken man. His sentences contain a lot of asides and can get quite embedded. He’s a mumbler too. All of which is part of his endearing demeanour but I couldn’t help but think that Chomsky wasn’t the only impressive linguist in the auditorium that day. I especially wanted to make a point of mentioning those heroic people who made Chomsky’s talk accessible for others.

It was a very interesting talk, and I felt a great buzz to be in the presence of such a famous man who I respected (note, there are more famous people than Chomsky who I wouldn’t throw water on if they were on fire in the street – celebrity isn’t a big wow for me). Great lecture or not, clearly the Q&A was always going to be the most interesting part. Even if you evaluate it only on the purely quantitative basis of how many notes I took. Looking back over my notes, Chomsky’s entire lecture, which lasted almost exactly an hour, took up two and a half pages of my little notepad. The Q&A took up five pages.

The first question was, in my opinion, the best. A girl stood up, thanked Chomsky for the lecture and then asked him a long question basically about his view on how language is used for some ill purposes, such as propaganda or worse when people don’t speak out at all when they should. It was a heartfelt question and one which beautifully synthesised Chomsky’s two main areas – linguistics and human freedom. His answer was fantastic. He said:

“Language is like a hammer. It’s just there for you to use. You can use it to build a house or you can use it to bash someone’s head in.”

Now that I write this up I find it interesting that he used a tool as his central metaphor for language, which reminds me of Lev Vygotsky.

Other choice quotes which I scribbled down as close to verboten as I could manage include:

“The States don’t need a State Secret Act if people are so obedient and conformist that they don’t question what’s in front of their eyes.”

He also talked about, following George Orwell, how ideas can be supressed without the use of force by the media and their agendas, which often lie in the pockets of wealthy capitalists. The media mind-control experiment is quite sickening to behold on a global level. Especially in so-called developed nations where we have a notion of free-speech, because there are observable trends in which freedom is becoming endangered right under our noses because we are lulled into a fake sense of security. Chomsky also said:

“Our intuitions about the world are a starting point for inquiry, but we can’t rely on them.”

An excellent call for people to exercise critical thinking, starting with their own beliefs and prejudices.

As a language teacher and applied linguist though (and also wanting to keep politics out of it since that’s the theme of his lecture tomorrow) I was very happy when a fellow British member of the audience asked:
“Is there any way your theories can apply to second language acquisition?”
To which Chomsky replied:

“Well, that’s really for language teachers to decide.”

That got a few laughs, but it also confirmed something I already knew about Chomsky. He’s not a language teacher, he’s a linguist.

Also worth mentioning was the rather odd moment when a person in the audience got the microphone to ask a question and then asked if he could use Japanese. There was an almost audible groan from the audience, I could feel the prickles as people wondered “who would come to a Chomsky lecture and ask him a question if you can’t even frame it in English?” Chomsky was trying to use a special headset so he could get the simultaneous translation. There was a bit of feedback from the microphone. The audience awaited the offending question. It was asked. I really had trouble understanding it, and unfortunately I couldn’t catch what the guy asked. It seemed to be something about building a house. It seemed to be related the first question, asking about his politics. The curators were making signs to each other to move on to another question, which was done swiftly. The next question came from on of the signing groups which I mentioned earlier. The signer stood up and signed his question to the interpreter. She translated it from Japanese Sign Language into English with an effortlessness that was impressive, and the question was beautifully simple. The man just asked “Are you interested in sign language” to which Chomsky basically replied “yes”, although in a lot more words. Another question came about music and language, and that’s how the birdsongs came up. There was another question about signing and Chomsky mused “do signers dream in sign?” indicating a possible area for research. And then the questions were over and the auditorium filled with applause.

For me, the most impressive thing was that Chomsky’s lucid mind (which must have been jet-lagged as well) was able to listen to questions on such a wide range of topics, many of which outside his specialism, and answer each one with relevance and insight in a way which was truly inspiring to behold.

Sadly I won’t be able to attend the lecture on politics tomorrow because the tickets are all sold out. Despite working at Sophia I was too late to reserve my seat and, as I mentioned earlier, I almost didn’t get to watch it today either. But it was hands down a fascinating and inspiring experience. Thank you again to Makoto Ikeda for getting me the seat, thanks to Sophia and SOLIFIC for organising the event and thanks to Noam Chomsky for coming all the way out here to engage our minds.

 

 

You will be able to watch both the Sophia lectures at this link http://ocw.cc.sophia.ac.jp/

Tokyo CLIL Workshop July 6th 2013, Senshu University

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This is a quick report on the workshop given at Senshu University last weekend. Many thanks to Stephen Ryan of Senshu for inviting us, to Kay Irie of Tokai University for her enthusiasm and support, and for leading a great panel discussion. We would also like to thank Mr. Tsuchiya at the Language Laboratory at Senshu which organised the event. We are also especially grateful to all the attendees who came and took part, it was a great day!

The slides are shown below in order of each presenter.

Makoto Ikeda – ABCs of CLIL

Richard Pinner – CLIL Demo Lesson: Factory Farming

Handout:

Chantal Hemmi – Critical Thinking in CLIL

engnet-education.com becomes UniLiterate.com

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Dear valued followers, readers and clients

Recently, due to rather irritating circumstances and a fall-out with my registrar (123-reg) I have had to move my blog to a new domain. As they kept the name and that has now been bought by another company (sigh) I have had to migrate everything to a completely new domain and come up with a new name and a new image for my language learning consultancy and blog. Thus, Uniliterate was born.

Despite the rather frustrating origins, I had actually meant to move the site or to re-brand it anyway. Previously I had focused specifically on technology and language teaching, which is still a passion of mine. But whereas engnet-education was established as a consultancy and we sold VLE implementation and training, my own professional focus was moving away from this and into new areas of language education – mainly the issue of authenticity and Global Englishes, in particular content-based learning and content and language integrated learning (CLIL).

So, this site will continue the work I established as engnet-education, but with the re-branding comes a change of theme and focus. One of the primary reasons for me wanting to move away from a focus on the use of technology in language teaching was that, as I found during my MA research and as Graham Davies himself predicted, CALL and the use of computers is not so much a separate thing in education any more. It is becoming more and more common, and indeed many people, myself included, view it simply as a tool for learning. This is certainly still interesting and still valid, but my approach is now to view technology in the language classroom as part of another field of enquiry, rather than looking at it in isolation as I was before.

So, once again I would like to thank my clients and readers and to ask you for your patience while I sort out this transition and please stay posted for more exciting developments and hopefully an improved flow of content and discussions.

Interview with Philip Benson – Autonomy

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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

Reading Time: 4 minutes

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.