Eliciting Student’s Thoughts, Feelings and Opinions
I recently took a course on English as a Second Language instruction, which was focused on participatory teaching methods. In the course I reflected often on how I plan my lessons and have arranged the classroom so students are actively engaged in the learning process. In this post I have shared some of my thoughts and reflections behind my own instruction.
In the course I was asked to consider my language teaching philosophy and to do this I first reflected on what led me into the field of education. My background is in secondary Social Studies (SS) instruction and I chose this career path because I wanted to contribute to the growth and development of students as critical thinkers who would contribute to society, both locally and globally. As I developed my philosophy around education, I saw critical thinking as a major part of my role and have brought this belief with me into second language instruction. Along with my role of developing my student’s four facets of language acquisition-listening, speaking, reading and writing- I also strongly believe it is my responsibility to provide opportunities for my students to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions. Critical thinking and self-expression are the underlying objectives to my short and long term planning. Due to this, it has not been a far jump for me to situate myself among the participatory language teaching movement. Patricia Richard-Amato (2010) said that participatory language teaching “reaches into the very core of the individual by concerning itself with that individual’s place in society and with society in general” (p.93). I believe there are strong connections between the learner’s individual self and their external world, which both creates engagement in learning and deepens a student’s need to fully express themselves. Alistair Pennycook expressed participatory language teaching as the “pedagogy of engagement” (Richard-Amato, 2010, p. 93). Just as I have found that guiding students to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions can be empowering, participatory language teaching also empowers students to look beyond themselves and examine their roles within a social and cultural context.
The question then becomes, how to go from the philosophical notions that drive an approach, such as participatory language instruction, towards planning and creating meaningful and targeted activities that not only profess to empower, engage and challenge, but actually follows through on this objective. To explore this question I believe it is important to examine the basis of critical pedagogy. Participatory language teaching is rooted in critical pedagogy, which Paulo Freire developed with the understanding that students arrive in the classroom with a wealth of knowledge that will support them to become active members in their own learning and empowerment (Richard-Amato, 2010). I believe this is an important factor to consider when developing a learning setting as students are viewed as contributors to their education, who are capable, and identifies the teacher’s role as one of a provider of opportunities, which allows for students to grow. In my experience, in order to encourage critical thinking and self-expression I have needed to embrace many of the ideas of critical pedagogy, and specifically the concept Freire presents of students arriving whole and capable, and the teachers’ role as facilitator.
From the start of my career I saw my role shifting from ‘teacher’, as the knowledge body, to ‘facilitator’, an architect guiding the learning process. In order to successfully guide my students to express their thoughts, feelings and opinions I have focused on, and continue to work to learn the depths, of three practices and concepts within education theory, and more specifically language teaching theory. These factors, which have become the core of my planning come from constructivism and Lev Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory and his concept of the zone of proximal development (ZPD), second the use of Jerome Bruner’s scaffolding techniques and third the affective domain’s central notion of student motivation.
Vygotsky’s ZPD presents that effective learning takes place between where the level the learner is at and what their ability for development can reach (Walqui, 2006). Vygotsky further states that learning needs to come before the development of the learning, and in turn challenge learners to be working ahead of their level (Walqui, 2006). In my own practice I aim to achieve this through providing students with higher level content and vocabulary than their current level range and guiding their learning through the use of Bruner’s scaffolding techniques. I feel the ZPD and scaffolding are highly linked in their collective support of one another. Aida Walqui’s (2006) states that English Language Learners (ELLs) can both learn content and succeed with high-level academic work when the teacher knows how to support them. This support as Walqui states, and I agree, comes from building in strategic scaffolding to support students through the learning and expression process. Bruner describes scaffolds as “a process of ‘setting up’ the situation to make the child’s entry easy and successful and then gradually pulling back and handing the role to the child as he becomes skilled enough to manage it” (as cited in Walqui, 2006, p. 163). I feel the concepts within participatory language teaching, along with scaffolding, builds student’s independence and as a result this builds confidence. The third factory I consider in my planning, and which I also feel is linked to the practice of scaffolding, is student motivation. Within the affective domain Richard-Amato (2010) presents motivation as a four part concept; first the relationship between teacher and students and the classroom setting, second engaging the learner’s interests and overall encouragement for success, third keeping the content and learning related to the learners and fourth providing feedback that is useful. Motivation can mean something different to each learner and as Richard-Amato presents there are different motivational factors and as an educator, who views their role as a facilitator of learning, motivation is a key component to creating value and interest for my students. In order for my students to elicit and draw out their own thoughts, feelings and opinions I feel I must strive to create lessons, which are challenging, structured and reflect the different motivation factors of each individual learner. It is an ongoing process and just as I challenge my students to reflect on their own learning I too ask myself to do the same.
Richard-Amato, Patricia A. (2010). Making it happen from interactive to participatory language teaching:
evolving theory and practice. White Plains: Pearson Education.
Walqui, Aida. (2006). Scaffolding instruction for English language learners: a conceptual framework. The
International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, vol. 9, No.2, 159-180. Retrieved from
Ms. Kolshuk's Blog
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