How we view learning will dictate how we practice teaching.
You can’t expect a group of young adults to just do as they are told without questioning it. The proposition which states that teachers view of learning dictates how they will teach, or how they were taught will contribute to this view is true for learners as well. They have their own way of viewing how learning a language happens if they have given some thought to it. Even the most passive learner is passive because they believe that is the way to be taught. So they embrace this role and do not dare to question the teacher as he/she is the expert and the authority.
I support the notion that a classroom should be a community of learners who get together to support and help each other understand and use language more effectively. The teacher is part of this community and act as a more competent user of the language who monitors, guide and offer feedback and corrections, but who is not the only one able to help learners achieve their goals. As a language learner myself who learned to speak two languages without the help of experts but the community around me, I find that creating this kind of environment for adults important to develop confidence, foster autonomy and promote awareness about their own learning journey. Hence helping them become longlife learners too.
Not formally, but informally these three stages are present in what happens in my classroom. I’m quite aware though that by the end of a semester or year, not all learners will have achieved this level of understanding of a community of learning as it depends of how education had tamed them and we can all agree that changing habits is really hard. But at least they have a chance to contribute with their own experiences and ideas, experiment with new ones and think about them.
Diagnostic stage: What do I know?
Where they have time to assess themselves through practical activities.
Thinking ahead: What do I need to know/do/learn/? and How?
Where they can set goals and are not just told what to do to achieve someone’s else goals and objectives so motivation is intrisically, not external to them.
Assessing goals and objectives: What am I able to do now?
Where they have the time to reassess and establish new goals for themselves. None of these are done formally and learners are not asked to share those. Each person knows what they want and what I want to promote is the mindset of a lifelong learner who constantly think and reinvent oneself. The process is ongoing and personal.
In our current system where a syllabus is imposed on English learners, shifting paradigms is not easy. I’ve thought long and hard by comparing what I was trained to do and what happens in the classroom to the experiences I’ve had in life as a language learner. Did I ever use grammar books and dictionaries, sure thing! Not saying that understanding the language doesn’t have a place, but presenting it in a super controlled way kills natural communication and students desire to communicate and take risks.
What they think counts, and a lot!
If a learner thinks he only becomes fluent by speaking with a Native Speaker or if he/she takes an exchange program, this will affect his view of classroom interaction and preferences. Because of that, a way I found useful to overcome this is to create a community of sharing and learning where expectations are put on the table, data collected through speaking and writing, and feedback/correction based on samples of what learners do. After all they are adults or adults to be and they deserve this much.
Although I don’t follow andragogy principles as pointed out by Knowles, it is easy to spot similar lines of thought in my own practice as my studies in University cover literacy and adult education which Paulo Freire’s work was all about- adult literacy education. I thought of searching the term and see if anyone in ELT actually had written about it in the ELT context and I was disappointed with my search.
I did find however a mentions in this post by Rachel Roberts where she discusses Oral Correction Insensitive or Vital?. And I totally agree that correction is an essential part of our job and we should not rob our students the opportunity to know where they are in their learning journey. By correcting and giving feedback on their performance, they can assess themselves according to real expectations and goals.
I haven’t read all posts by Rachel but I highly recommend her blog. Here is a list of posts related to correction.
In this post Learning Adults Tony Gurr questions if children and adults are really different or just should be managed differently when comes to learning.
In this post Motivating Adult Learners I found useful thoughts, but it’s a very short post.
The term andragogy doesn’t seem to be a welcoming one in ELT, so I tried adding autonomy to the search and found interesting readings but still not mainstream in ELT I reckon and wonder why.
First, What is learner autonomy and how can it be fostered lies some ground for understanding learner-centeredness and the different ways the term autonomy is being used.
Curtis Kelly explains andragogy with practical examples in this article. He also answers “To what extent should learners be given choices when they engage in classroom activities?” A must read interview piece.
I found this article thought-provoking but couldn’t read it yet. The author discusses the teacher as both authority and facilitator of learning.