What students want changed in their Languages Education

What students want changed in their Languages Education


The question that we’re going to pose this afternoon is: How well do we actually know who our learners are? And, one of the studies that really impressed me, because, for once, it was a study that actually asked the learners themselves. And we talk about student voice and so on, but we’ve got to more frequently ask the students themselves. And, in this study, Joe found that the student interest is strong, but the programs are academically weak. The students want schools and teachers to fix it, but ask us. Fix it, but ask us. So, there was a feeling that not all is well in their language learning for these students of Japanese and Italian in Melbourne. And they wanted it fixed. In other words, they wanted to stay with language learning, but they wanted some of their issues fixed, but ask us. In other words, don’t make your unilateral decisions which of course is so easy. And I always look at needs assessment in that regard and we say, “oh, needs assessment in language learning”. And has it occurred to you, that somehow, the students’ needs under needs assessment always end up being expressed in curriculum terms? Well, students don’t speak curriculumese. So what’s happened in that process that we suddenly describe “students’ needs” in inverted commas, and it ends up being in curriculum speak? So in other words, we kind of half listen in needs assessment, but we then put our own overlays onto it. Now, let’s be careful again. I’m not saying that the students’ voice is the sole voice, but what I am saying is that if we would want engaging education, we’ve got … languages education, we’ve got to ask the learners, we’ve got to know the learners. And, so what Joe says in this quote: “This is a call for improvement, in terms of both the quality and rigour. The students decry the programs, saying, “It’s a bludge!” But they do not mean by this that they enjoy the fact that the program demands little of them. The Q-sort evidence is clear: the students are not saying in the face of what they interpret to be poor provision that the program should be terminated. Instead they are demanding improvement.” And our job in knowing our learners is to understand something about how this can possibly … how this work that we’re doing, this activity that we’ve organized, this experience that we’ve organized, how can that be meaningful to the learners themselves? How can it become memorable? That’s the actual book, and this is the study that Joe Lo Bianco did with Renata Aliani. And, what they actually propose in the study is that they’re interested in communication, but they actually want to learn more. It’s clear to me that this pitter patter of buying train tickets and so on, they’ve had enough of that already. And they also want excursions. But then, we know well that students always like excursions. And obviously, in this domain, they see the value of overseas and you know trips overseas would obviously be important. They also say, teach us the culture as well as the language. They’re certainly saying less worksheets. It’s boring. It’s tedious. They don’t want it. What they want instead, is real-life experiences. And I didn’t know that at the time of this particular volume coming out, but I too, I have changed my sense of … in my work with teachers, I no longer talk about activities and tasks, but I actually talk about experiences because it is experiences that make that moment of learning memorable. And we have to make the learning of languages much more memorable. So, experiences more than a task or an activity. But we can’t just keep going on excursions every day. So, how do we get experience? Do we need to think about experience differently? There are so many things that we can do in the classroom in terms of juxtaposing texts. It’s not just one text that we drill to death, but we bring in different perspectives, different points of view. Those too are rich meaningful experiences in the then and now. So the class, the classroom, is an experience in itself? Absolutely. It’s an experience
in itself. And I think that it is the discussion and reflective work around the task that puts it in perspective, tells the students or guides the students into thinking why this matters so much. What is the real significance of doing this? Why should I bother? It’s kind of built in. You don’t get up and say, “Well, you should bother because this is good for you” or, “This is important.” But, through the actual experience of looking at these multiple texts, that you get a real buzz of saying, “Wow! I can see that if you are an insider you have this kind of perspective, but if you are an outsider to that culture you will see it in a completely different way.” And so we create the moments – they have to be created as moments in the classroom. And, I think that it’s … well, our work with teachers, Michelle, shows that teachers are eminently capable of doing this. I think another thing for me that I’ve reflected on is the idea that there has to be something memorable and often memory is associated with our emotions and our connection and the kind of reactions we have and that they seem to be the memorable moments. And so inviting students to think about their emotional connection, their affective connection, the sort of the impact and so on through our tasks, I think. And, what I’ve moved to more and more are texts that actually provoke some sort of reaction. I mean, sometimes it happens anyway, even in what appears to be a very … Like your polygamy text. That’s right. You know, but texts that invite the students to have to take a position or to see something and consider their own reaction to it. I think those … and we’re very good at providing very sanitized, I call them sanitized, or you know, texts, and often our textbooks are like that. And, we really need some of those authentic texts to really kind of provoke the emotional connection that the memory, the understandings that students will take on to the next experience. Yes, and I think that there’s another resource in the classroom that we ignore at our peril. And, that is the resource of the diversity of the students themselves. We can read texts. And how engaging it is to actually see that different people in our own classroom respond differently to the same text, or the same scenario, or the same experience. Whatever it is that is the prompt for our engagement. Just then pulling out those different ways in which different students have responded, opens up a conversation about comparison and then we can say, “Why did Michelle understand it in that way, whereas Anna understood it in a completely different way? Where does that difference in understanding actually come from? Why is it like that?” And really getting into the why. I think that the students are calling out for more depth, a much more intellectualized engagement because it’s through that that they come to understand themselves better and the phenomenon of communicating across languages and cultures much, much more strongly.

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