This is a quick post to recommend a brilliant new podcast all about Teaching English as a Foreign Language (TEFL). If you think that a podcast about TEFL sounds rather dry and boring, you will be surprised at how listenable, upbeat and interesting the TEFLology podcast is. This will become apparent right from the catchy theme-tune, which is sung by one of the presenters and has TEFL-related lyrics! This is not a podcast for people who teach TEFL but have no interest in their work, or for people who go backpacking around the world and teach English as a way to pay for their air-fares. This is a serious but fun podcast for people who want to know more about the present and the past of language teaching. The TEFLology podcast deals with interesting and relevant issues as well as looking back at the history of TEFL and different approaches to teaching languages. It is done in a light-hearted and upbeat way by three “self-certified TEFLologists” who certainly know their business very well, but who focus more on discussion than academic debate or name-dropping.
The podcast is released bi-weekly and each episode lasts about half an hour. The episodes are split into different sections, including a section on TEFL news, TEFL pioneers and there is also a section in which the TEFLologists discuss various methods or teaching approaches. The three hosts of the show, Rob, Matt and Matthew, demonstrate an excellent balance of rapport, preparation and ad-libbing and I find listening to the podcast is always both fun and informative. I don’t know if this makes me a TEFL geek or a “TEFLolophile” but I just wanted to share the podcast with readers of my blog as I can highly recommend this as a download for your commute or as something to listen to on one of your numerous but short-lived coffee-breaks.
I am delighted to announce that my piece for English Today entitled “The Authenticity Continuum– towards a definition incorporating international voices” has been accepted and is scheduled for publication sometime in the near future. The piece expands upon the need for a less culturally embedded view of authenticity in language teaching. I am very pleased to have been accepted in such a prestigious journal.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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…
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.
The field of CLIL has become a great passion of mine in the last few years, particularly since moving to Japan and working with Sophia University in Tokyo. Under the guidance of Dr. Makoto Ikeda, I have been finding myself more and more involved with Content and Language Integrated Learning and finding that the approach fits well with my existing teaching beliefs and practice.
Last year I taught a class entitled “Approaching Literature from Historical, Cultural, Social and Linguistic Perspectives” as part of a CLIL curriculum for non-English majors at Sophia. I then contributed a chapter a book which deals with CLIL in the Japanese context. My chapter was entitled “Unlocking Literature through CLIL: Authentic materials and tasks to promote cultural and historical understanding.”
The book is:
Watanabe, Y., Ikeda, M., & Izumi, S. (Eds). (2012) CLIL: New Challenges in Foreign Language Education. Vol. 2, Tokyo: Sophia University Press.
Here is the English and Japanese abstract for the book.
Chapter 4: Approaching Literature through CLIL (Pinner)
This paper outlines the role of authentic texts, in this case works from English literature, in teaching students who attended a course entitled “Approaching Literature from Historical, Cultural, Social and Linguistic Perspectives” at Sophia University in the autumn semester of 2011-12. The paper will outline the aims of the course and the students who participated. Following that I will provide the definition of English literature that was used in the course, following which there will be a discussion of the nature of English literature and the role of authenticity. I will examine the way the course was designed and taught using a CLIL methodology, and explain how assessment was conducted and the students’ reception of the course as well as providing a broad analysis of the success of the course in reaching its aims. Of particular note, I will examine the problems faced by non-English major students when approaching authentic texts from English literature and the strategies employed to help students to gain a better understanding and enjoyment of the texts. In the conclusion section, a summarised list of Dos and Don’ts is provided to outline the main practical tips regarding the selection of authentic materials and designing a course around them.
I attended the lecture given by Professor Phil Benson as part of the Temple University Japan Distinguished Lectureseries. 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Engnet-education has been providing eLearning specific consultancy and training since its creation in 2008. In that time we have worked with various clients in England, Scotland, Ireland and Japan, as well as presenting research at international conferences in Europe and virtual seminars attended by people from all over the world.
However, since moving to Tokyo our services have become more diversified and we have adapted to new experiences and challenges, adding more strings to our bow in terms of the types of training, research and consultancy we can provide. For this reason, engnet-education will be undergoing a face-lift in order to reflect our now more diverse offerings. This means that we will now offer the following services:
Pre-Service and In-Service Teacher Training
Content and Language Integrated Learning (CLIL)
Adapting Authentic Materials
Using Literature in the Language Classroom
Motivation in the Language Classroom
Building and Evaluating Language Tests
Doing Action Research
Conducting International Virtual Exchanges
Interactive Whiteboard Training
Using Virtual Learning Environments
Our research has previously focused particularly on Computer-Aided Language Learning (CALL) and eLearning. Now, we will be concentrating our efforts more in the field of CLIL, with a specific focus on the use of Literature in language teaching. In particular, engnet-education will focus on materials, specifically authentic materials and their motivational role in the classroom.
In addition to teacher training and research, engnet-education offers materials development services. We have written language quizzes, text book materials, lesson plans, language tests and assessment criteria, marking rubrics as well as designing and implementing online materials for websites or SCORM compliant items for VLE systems. You can see samples of these plans in the materials section of the site.
The diversification on engnet-education does not mean we will cease to provide our old services. We still offer full and partial VLE implementation and consultancy – from initial choice and development, project management, training, populating, piloting and presentation.
Do you need an MA to be a better teacher? How does learning about theory help you improve your practice?
There is a big gap in language between theory and practice. This is not just true of language teaching, but of many professions and especially more generally in the field of education. There are obvious exceptions, and we try to be one of them here at engnet-education, but for the most part practitioners are too busy with planning and marking to keep up to date on the theoretical side, especially when they perceive it has no relevance for their actual teaching. A good example would be the classic debates about things such as Universal Grammar, X-Bar theory and of course the critical period hypothesis. If you are teaching adults, the critical theory hypothesis – which states that there is a particular age after which learning a second language becomes much more difficult – will be of no use to you because you can’t simply tell your adult learners to all go back in time and study hard when they were children. In the same way, X-Bar theory is of no use to someone, even if you are teaching grammar specifically, because X-Bar theory is only useful to fill holes and add credibility to the idea of Universal Grammar. Even if you agree with Universal Grammar, it doesn’t help you teach a language. Why should teachers and practitioners trawl through peer reviewed research journals about these issues unless they can be fed back into class?
In the same way, theorists will have little or no contact with practitioners when they are researching abstract concepts such as whether language is innate or whether chimpanzees can be taught sing language. However, the examples I have just presented above are in fact extreme and they are really not illustrative of the field of applied linguistics and language teaching. There are countless theories from applied linguistics and even linguistics which have direct relevance on the things we do in the classroom to help our learners acquire language. The Involvement Load Hypothesis is a good example, it can directly influence materials design and the way we structure tasks in the classroom because it shows what type of activities are better for learners in retaining the vocabulary they have learned. For a summary see my essay here. Also, Speech Act theory, although in itself a rather abstract and yet at the same time obvious set of characteristics about how discourse works and what effect it has, can be adapted for the use of developing authentic materials with realistic dialogue and context.
There is a lot more cohesion these days between theory and practice, but people still talk about the gap as if it were a chasm. It is much closer to a simple step like the one on the London Underground – as long as you know it’s there it is not hard to step over it.
If you would be interested in doing a course all about language learning theories that can directly influence your teaching please get in touch with us. I also heartily recommend doing a Masters’ Degree if you are particularly keen and want to seriously enhance your career. King’s College London, the University of Warwick, Manchester all offer good programs which are well respected. Feel free to use the comments box below to add any other programs and thoughts on this topic.