Learners beliefs & Attitudes #1

I usually talk to students and collect feedback from them, both formally and informally. And it never fails to amaze me how much we think we know about each other. Teachers and Learners assume too much and in this pointless world of assumptions a lot of miscommunication happens. Maybe, assuming is not so pointless if we bring them into the conversations we can have with each other, or use them as a base to find out what learners really think and understand their attitudes towards English, learning, doing things, the teacher, teaching, their own classmates and so on. In this series, I want to document my learners beliefs and attitudes according to their own words, instead of basing them on my assumptions. The following statement was collected through a Google Form.

I think we should try to do conversation classes so that we can improve our pronunciation.

Background information: This group is formed by five students who are 14 years old. Two of them have just started the course this semester and their contact with English is somewhat limited to listening to music. The third student loves Manga and Anime. He is an introvert. He likes drawing Manga too and just started the course but after taking a placement test he advanced couple of semesters. And although I know he might have more vocabulary than the other two students, he acts like a total beginner. The fourth student has been studying with us for more than two years. She’s a good student. She loves music and loves reading books in L1, but she doesn’t feel confident to speak in English. She can understand a lot though.

The fifth student had never had English classes and just started having classes with us. He’s the perfect student type. All teachers will follow in love with him. He’s independent, autonomous and down-to-earth, self-aware and why not a dreamer. He didn’t connect to me until he found out I spent few years drawing and painting. Since then, every week after class he asks me questions about art. I’ve already lent him books and I’m about to give him art DVDs to support his dream to become a professional artist.

How well does he speak in English? Well, He was never shy to speak in English but he seemed to lack words and the question “how do I say ——- in English?” with time became less frequent. Despite the fact that he thinks there is no conversation going in our classes, we speak a lot to each other in class and after that and only in English. And can he discuss anything in English? Oh, boy. He can! I noticed the other students when these interactions occur and it might not be as he assume it is, but I’d like him to have sometime to think about this some more.

His suggestion can mean many things but I think it’s a waste of time to assume anything at this point. I am happy they feel free to tell me what they think we should do or being doing. So, in order to understand his proposition better I think I would need to:

1) talk to him about it.

2) or, bring it to the other students to see how they feel about it.

The first student who is a beginner is a girl and she isn’t shy to give it a try. I talk to students in English quite a lot and support them ( I encourage them to reply in English, I feed the words or help them formulate it in English, and I try to correct them on the spot only when I feel it might not affect their confidence). The second student is a boy, a beginner and he doesn’t feel comfortable when I help him formulate the sentences. The third student is similar to the first one despite the fact that he does know more than the second one in terms of vocabulary knowledge. The fourth student is the quiet type, she only says something if she really has to. I’ve noticed that the fifth student expects her to speak in English because she has been studying more than two years now. I’ve seem them shooting comments at each other and they sit on opposite sides of the room. So whatever they say to each other is hard to miss.

My perception is that pushing them to speak won’t do any good. S5 seems to think that is what they need. Trying not to assume anything, I wrote the following in his notebook. I have no idea yet how he’s taking this and what he’ll choose to do about it as I made clear he is not forced to answer the questions at all.

20150611_07544120150611_075459I’m not assuming anything, but I’m anxious to see if this will challenge his assumptions.

Follow-up post soon!


8 thoughts on “Learners beliefs & Attitudes #1

  1. I’m already looking forward to the follow-up post.

    Assumptions about each other are strange things in that we think they are obvious but they tend not to be.

    Thought provoking. Thanks Rose!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Marc,

      I’m glad you liked it.

      A student from another class suggested a board game and he gave me a wonderful idea to use with English for Zombie Apocalipse. I’ll make a reading comprehension through a board game.

      I told students who didn’t make any suggestion that if they don’t do it, someone else will do it for them. And this week homepractice has three options to choose from. Two of them were learners suggestions.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Hi Rose, I must admit that I personally have a tendency to *assume*. I’d say that it’s one of my biggest character imperfections, which has got me into trouble many a time. Very often, things are not what they seem to be. This reminds me; yesterday I watched a film adaptation of Lady Windermere’s Fan and I thought of this post immediately – the characters in the film kept drawing lots of conclusions based on their assumptions, but none of their conclusions was actually right. When they started talking to each other and clarifying things, things got much better. The same happens in our classes, as you point out. Thanks for writing this post.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Hana! 🙂

      Your comment made me think of John Fanselow article “Beyond the Rashomon: Conceptualizing and observing the teaching act” where I first read about the Rashomon effect. While I was checking if the article was available online, I found this interesting short film. I think you will like it.

      This is what John Fanselow reminds us over and over again since he wrote that article in 1977, and I’m so shocked to see that we still don’t get it. I mean generally speaking, because observations are still pretty much done as John writes in Breaking rule book as “Judgments added to prescriptions”. The same goes for our relationship with learners and our we view teaching. In the past, perhaps with the lack of resources it justified the authoritive role of the teacher. In the 21st century, learners can learn much more easily by themselves and we often fall to hear what they think is good for learning. But they are not immune of suffering from the same preconceived notions that guides our perceptions. Therefore, I believe that learners should engage in reflecting and learn to challenge their own beliefs too, just as teachers must.

      I had thought long and hard about how our conversations about CBs go around in circles and I realized that it’s based on again the preconceived notions we carry with ourselves and although I never really advocated by one method/approach over another I seemed to fail to make this point clear. Things are not clear cut and without engaging learners in the process of learning, not by luring them to participate or creating activities/tasks that they might like, but by allowing learners to make decisions about what to learn and how and experiment with different estrategies.

      Learning to negotiate is a life skill so important yet a school that claims to teach for life does not give learners the chance to develop skills that are essential. But this is analysing the problem from the education point of view, after all one may argue that in a language classroom we teach language. We do? really? Well, we do that too. But learners who are active (talking about teens and young adults) outside the classroom and know what they want, and who are eager to learn another language do not wait for the school to provide it. And there are those who are not really interested in learning another language, the teachers job becomes much more of a motivator or someone who shows or gives them a reason to learn. In between these two profile we have a number of variables but clearly our role has changed, but we haven’t.

      I keep Carol Goodey’s post (2013) in mind because how can I teach all there is to teach about the language, give them enough opportunities to use the language, often rehearsing for the future, when there is so little time available in an EFL teaching context? It makes sense and obvious to me that we should be showing them how to learn and promoting them opportunities to put what they learn outside to use inside to help assess (teacher and their peers) where they are in order to create new goals for themselves. So, I can do this well but I still need to develop here.

      “But how do we cover all the many possible contexts learners will want to participate in? There isn’t enough time. There are too many learners. Their motivations, interests and goals are too diverse. Well, we don’t. Realistically, we can’t.” Carol Goodey

      Liked by 1 person

  3. That’s a great idea Rose. I reckon you are going to have a surprise, perhaps the introvert will bring to you something, most of the time Introvert students are the greatest observers in our classes. And the girl will write to you in L1, what it is good enough as well. Moreover, What you are doing is fabulous, and it will encourage them to think critically about their own learning process. I am eager to read the next episode! 🙂


  4. Pingback: Learner-centeredness: treating adults as adults. | ROSE BARD – Teaching Journal

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