Learning to speak a foreign language, especially English, remains an essential skill for anyone who wishes to benefit from globalization. For students in Japan, Korea, China, Brazil, or elsewhere, strong English language skills lead to further education and more opportunities for finding a good job. However, the study of English or any second language should offer much more than a financial incentive or job security. When students learn a foreign language, they learn to appreciate and understand a foreign culture in depth, they learn to see things from a different viewpoint, and they have the opportunity to introduce and share their unique perspective, ideas, and values with a foreign audience. This exchange of ideas promotes peace in the world and enriches the lives of students in numerous ways. I view my job as one of the most important in the world. Certainly, I want my students to find a good job when they graduate. But more importantly, I want to build peace in the world and help my students to enjoy a richer life.
With little doubt, I believe the best way to study a foreign language and culture is by living and studying in a foreign country for a year or more, immersing oneself in the language, art, activities, and culture of the place and building close relationships with local people. However, few students have the time or resources for an extensive study abroad. For these students, I believe that modern technologies offer the next best means of studying a foreign language and culture. When used wisely, carefully, and creatively in a blended (or hybrid) learning environment, I believe that modern technologies offer students the opportunity to immerse themselves in the language, art, activities, and culture of a foreign place, especially when guided by a caring teacher who has the knowledge and experience to ensure that the technological resources are being used to motivate the students and engage them in the right ways. Also, for students returning from a typical study abroad experience, these same technologies and study methods provide the best means to keep in touch with the friends and culture of their study abroad, allowing their language skills and cultural knowledge to continue to flourish.
When designing environments, activities, projects, or tools for exploring foreign cultures and learning a second language, I am inspired and motivated by five important principles, and technology plays an important role in all of them: (1) Advanced technologies promote the agency of language learners, helping to build motivation and confidence; (2) Learning activities are more fruitful when students create something real, an artifact connected to the real world; (3) Good language learning promotes the learners’ realization of individual values, group values, and community values (including global and foreign values), and challenges the students to critically explore these values; (4) A caring and safe atmosphere promotes better learning outcomes; (5) Students must join the new culture of learning, becoming autonomous learners who acquire healthy habits and skills for life-long learning.
I believe that advanced technologies promote the agency of language learners, inspiring them to pursue a more meaningful and effective language learning experience. I agree with Leo Van Lier who said, “learning depends on the activity and the initiative of the learner, more so than on any inputs that are transmitted to the learner by a teacher or a textbook” (2008, p. 163). I think that instructors have a responsibility to provide environments for students where numerous actions are possible, information is abundant, and progress toward short and long-term goals is manifest by countless affordances. And in my opinion, advanced technologies are indispensable for stimulating the agency of students in any learning environments. Technology is fun, exciting, and rewarding in many ways.
I believe that language learning activities are more fruitful when they are connected to the real world and students make something real. I am inspired by Hay and Barab’s exploration (2001) of constructivist learning environments that show the benefits of apprenticeship and other forms of learning by creating something real. When students create an “artifact or shareable product,” (Hay and Barab, 2001, p.283) they invest more energy, care, and thought into its design and final form. Hay and Barab say that technology serves as a “cognitive medium” (2001, p. 283) for the sharing and exploration of ideas in the group work that produces these artifacts. In this way, technology is an ideal tool for apprenticeship or constructivist learning because ideas can be explored, changed, deleted, saved, manipulated, copied, colored, duplicated, remixed, saved, photoshopped, and co-created ad infinitum.
I believe that good language learning environments help learners to realize their individual values, their group values, and the values of their community. And at the same time, these learners and their teachers should work to create a safe ecosystem where everyone cares for one another. Language learning is a social activity, and language learners are part of a community with values and needs that both promote and constrain actions. If students fail to get along, they fail to communicate: “Speaking and listening thus demand an ongoing commitment to directing others and being directed by them to alter one’s attention and action, so that movement from lesser goods (i.e., one’s present position, achievement, or goal) to greater goods (i.e., values) is realized” (Hodges, 2007, p.599). Naturally, when practicing this kind of values realizing, language learners become sensitive to the values, customs, and differences of others (including foreign people), promoting stronger intercultural communication skills and greater mutual understanding.
In addition, I believe that values realizing is not complete without challenging the students to critically explore their values, their community values, and the values of others. When encountering differences in the culture (i.e. values) and language of a foreign people, students will naturally reflect on their own culture and make comparisons. These comparisons are unavoidable, and I believe that foreign language teachers are irresponsible when they discourage or avoid these natural, critical impulses in their students. Thus, a careful implementation of critical pedagogy should be woven into the planning of every foreign language course, and should be managed in a way that promotes a healthy and respectful understanding of differences, rather than the opposite. And ideally, students should feel empowered to become agents of change, to make their world a better place.
Finally, I believe that language learning activities should help the students assimilate into the new culture of learning. Thomas and Brown have thoroughly described this pervasive new culture of learning (2011), and have warned that we might fail to appreciate it because it differs so substantially from our previous culture of learning from books, schools, and teachers. And yet, though almost invisible, this new culture of learning is radically transforming the way that people learn: “The new culture of learning actually comprises two elements. The first is a massive information network that provides almost unlimited access and resources to learn about anything. The second is a bounded and structured environment that allows for unlimited agency to build and experiment with things within those boundaries” (Thomas & Brown, 2011, p. 19). When these two elements are combined in the right way, a powerful learning is possible, and no student should be left out. In the 21st century, students have access to a seemingly infinite supply of materials for learning a foreign language, and a good teacher will show them how to use these materials for enriching, life-long, and autonomous learning.
Richard Graham Schoonmaker
Hay, K. E., & Barab, S. A. (2001). Constructivism in practice: A comparison and contrast of apprenticeship and constructionist learning environments. The Journal of the Learning Sciences, 10(3), 281-322.
Hodges, B. H. (2007). Good prospects: Ecological and social perspectives on conforming, creating, and caring in conversation. Language sciences, 29(5), 584-604.
Thomas, D., & Brown, J. S. (2011). A new culture of learning: Cultivating the imagination for a world of constant change.
van Lier, L. (2008). Agency in the classroom. In J. P. Lantolf & M. E. Poehner (eds.), Sociocultural theory and the teaching of second languages. London: Equinox, 163– 86.
Young, M. F., Barab, S. A., & Garrett, S. (2000). Agent as detector: An ecological psychology perspective on learning by perceiving-acting systems. Theoretical foundations of learning environments, 147-173.
My Teaching Philosophy is influenced by the following :
- Critical Pedagogy
- Distributed Language
- Communities of Practice
- Reflective Teaching
- Action Research
- New Literacies & Multimodal Communication
- Ecological Psychology
- Sociocultural Perspectives
- Peace Studies
- Intercultural Communication
- Dialogical Perspectives
- Computer Assisted Language Learning
- Task & Project Based Learning