Thursday, January 21, 2010

Learning and Theory (part 3)

Welcome back to the last part (for now) of the discussion on learning and theory inspired by a video blog that I saw recently (more on that in part 1).

In the aforementioned video blog, the blogger (Steve Kaufman of "The Linguist on Language") said that Language learning depends on learner, not research. I suppose that when it comes down to it he is correct. Language learning (or any learning for that matter) does depend on the motivation of the learner. That motivation may vary. Some people like the challenge, others want to converse with long lost relatives, and other may want to seek employment opportunities abroad (or one of a myriad of other reasons). Research findings aren't geared toward the learner but rather toward the teacher. If you are one of those lucky teachers that has super-motivated learners in front of them you are very lucky! Your job is much easier!

The fact of the matter is that many people take classes because they have to, not because they want to. My high school 100 and 200 level French classes (intro and advanced intro/beginning intermediate) were all filled with people who could not care less about language - but they had to do it. My 300 and 400 level classes (intermediate and beginner advanced) were motivated people because they did not have to be there (well at least as far as the school is concerned, the parents may have forced them to be in those classes).

Thus, when you have people in your class, that have to be there, but don't want to be there, you need to figure out what makes them tick, how to get through to them, and how to motivate them to achieve. This is where research comes in. There are also hard ways of doing things, and easy way of doing things. People with little motivation will respond to easier things better than hard things. Therefore research can help us determine what is easier and more beneficial for the learners so that language learning doesn't become bootcamp.

Steven commented that research is over-complicating something that is simple: namely language learning. I disagree that language learning is simple. I hated learning languages as a child - as an adult I have more appreciation. Research is not meant to dictate to us "how a teacher should teach" (as steve claims)  but rather how to make the little time spent in class get the most results, and how to structure activities in and out of class to help the learners.

As language teachers we are not required to incorporate every single little theory from every single theoretician out there.  We should read up on the theories and research coming out, we should analyze the conditions that lead to that theory, we should analyze our learners and the context within they operate and see what would be the most beneficial set of recommendations provided by theories for our learners. This isn't a cookie cutter approach - it shouldn't be! If you are using a cookie cutter approach - you are doing it wrong. We need critical and creative teachers. Learning is a complicated process - there are easy ways and hard ways of going about things. Research helps clarify the issues (and sometimes helps to muddle them a bit). The point is that we all do research whether we want to or not (see part 2 on the teacher as researcher). Research taken into context doesn't complicate things - it serves to clarify issues in learning.

And that's all I had to say on that topic - for now.
blog comments powered by Disqus