Language classes account for a relatively limited amount of the students learning and much (perhaps most) of the learning is done informally, out-of-class. So, how can we as teachers change what we do in lesson to better support what the learners are doing out-of-lesson?
1. Exploring out-of-class learning, mobile devices and Dogme language learning Language classes account for a relatively limited amount of the students learning and much (perhaps most) of the learning is done informally, out-of-class. So, how can we as teachers change what we do in lesson to better support what the learners are doing out-of-lesson? This blog post is a set of notes of my thoughts about out-of-class learning and how it can be supported by in-class activities. The video shows me explaining a mind-map of these ideas, which itself is available as a photo so that it is easier to read. A Note about the Mind-Map and Video I created the map to get a clearer sense of how the contents were related to one another and so to give me a good overview. I have been working with these ideas for some time, but felt that I was getting lost in the detail. I then started to explain (aloud) to an imaginary audience to both fill in gaps (ie add lines and issues) and to get a clearer sense of the nature of the relationships. I decided to film this to be able to share it and the above video is the result. The video itself is anything other than a slick production, but by then transcribing what I said I did end up with a structure for the below text. This is the first time I have used video in this way and I am pleased with the results although I frequently speak out loud to structure what I write, this is the first time I have recorded it. Informal Learning and Emergence The mind-map starts with the learner and how it is likely that most learning takes place outside of the language class. From this starting point, I think it is best to first look at the theory that guides the mind-map namely socially constructed learning. As I started to explore this theory in language learning, I quickly found myself being drawn to Dogme language teaching. Dogme sees conversation as the vehicle for language learning and this in turn draws on the concept of emergent pedagogies. Emergence sees learning as occurring through affordances (language learning opportunities within the conversation) and so learning takes place according to the needs of the students, when the students need it. Essentially it is a just-in-time approach, which contrasts with the just in case style of more conventional language teaching. So, new language (eg lexis or forms) are not pre-taught by the teacher and the teacher does not set out what will be learned in class. Instead, the new language emerges from the interaction in the dialogue.
2. Conversations for Emergence Dogme tends to focus on conversations that take place within the language classroom and there is in fact little discussion of conversations outside this context. The teacher is therefore presumed to play an active role in the pedagogical conversation and the teacher does this through asking guiding questions and scaffolding the language learning as it emerges. I want to look at a broader range of conversations that language learners can potentially benefit from; considering informal, out-of-class dialogues recognizes the greater potential for Dogme-based learning than just what happens within a classroom. I can see a few groups: everyday conversations with unwitting partners (ie they are not aware that the conversation may be helping the learner learn); discussions with informal peer-groups (who may have a greater or lesser understanding of the conversations significance for the learner); and informal class-like groupings such as tandem language exchange partners (who probably are quite aware of the learners intentions and even strategies). Conversations that move beyond simple negotiations of meaning (eg when shopping or asking for directions) will likely be more motivating and offer more (and deeper) affordances. Such conversations I noted down as who am I situations because I think they relate to more personal issues and offer us the opportunity to be heard and understood on our own terms. I think these are likely to be far more engaging and motivating for learners, because they are more relevant to our lives. I also want to include conversations we have with ourselves perhaps hypothetical ones that we have in our head or ones that are basically reflections upon something we are reading/watching. So for example, this text and video is a monologue from me, but as you reflect upon it, are you not having a conversation (of sorts) in your head? Likewise the production of this video came out of a similar process of me talking to myself. Thinking about this reflection as conversations perhaps gives us a (Dogme) framework for considering the reflecting and noticing that takes place. Dogme Learning Expanding the notion of (language learning) conversations to include those taking place out-of- class, opens up the question of whether learners can learn in a Dogme fashion (rather than just teachers teaching the Dogme way). Perhaps learners (in their informal learning) can apply similar strategies to the Dogme teacher in class. Scaffolding is one such tool that Dogme teaching uses in class. It is done to take advantage of the affordances in the conversation, leading to noticing so that students become familiar with new patterns (eg form) to learn the new language. Dogme learning requires the student to learn these same (teacher) skills to be able to take advantage of affordances in out-of-class situations. Teaching students to self-scaffold is effectively teaching the student how to learn the language how to reflect upon experiences and interactions (with conversation and/or text) it is teaching the student metacognitive skills. As such it requires considerable autonomy on the part of the learner; clearly most students would need some time before they had the skills to take full advantage of this kind of out-of-class learning in an independent way. Context and Mobile Devices I want to next turn to context. Context is very much opened up by out-of-class learning. Although classrooms are a context in their own right (both through the social interactions, and to a lesser extent, through the classrooms being a physical environment), out-of-class contexts are more diverse and probably hold greater relevance to the learners life. Contexts are relevant in as much as they relate to the question what does this context (physical or social) mean to me as a leaner? SmartPhones play a key role in opening up context for language learning, because they allow 24/7 access to both online resources and online contact with others. So (language learning) context is both informationally rich and socially connected. These mobile devices blur online and
3. offline, which is quite new because previously we considered access to knowledge to be location specific (eg via an expert who is physically somewhere, if only mobile in his/her own right or via a library, which is even less mobile). With a SmartPhone there is no need to go out of our way to get information or assistance. I should mention that I dont see SmartPhones as essential for this kind of learning, but I do think that these compact, connecting devices do represent a step change in how we can exploit new (everyday) environments for language learning. Put another way, much of this approach could be achieved without electronic technologies, but it would likely be cumbersome (carrying dictionaries around) and there would be many obstacles along the way (quickly gaining access to people and information). As a bit of a side note, I want to mention that this approach is different from some mLearning projects that focus on pushing content (from an instructor via an iPhone app to the learner); instead, information and interactions are pulled (or sought) by the learner according to need and interest. Contact with others via SmartPhones can either be with people we know or with strangers. People we know are available via our social networks; strangers are available according to specific areas of common interest or shared location. Geo-tagged twitter and BrightKite.com are good examples of conversations being mediated by these mobile devices; they enable (locally based) conversations according to what we are interested in rather than according to who we know. Both network-based and location-based conversations open up the range of relevant and motivating interactions that (potentially) support language learning affordances. A personal example of this is my using the online dictionary, www.wordreference.com, to find out what saca las cuentas means. I saw the phrase on a billboard in La Paz and so I took a picture and uploaded it to the forum. I received a reply in less than 5 minutes! In this moment the online forum acted as an in situ peer-group for my language learning. Implications for Language Teaching The informal, out-of-class learning that students are already doing represents a great opportunity to leverage it from within the language class. Not only does these out-of-class activities provide relevant and engaging material for in-class conversations, but both the efficacy of the activities and the meta-cognitive skills needed to learn from them can also be explored and fine-tuned in class. Essentially the teaching will move in the direction of teaching how to learn and away from simply teaching the language itself. As such, this interpretation of Dogme teaching is that it facilitates Dogme learning. Scaffolding (as done by the teacher in a Dogme lesson) is now modeled by the teacher for the students to do on their own. Noticing is therefore dealt with explicitly so that students are aware of the benefits and the practices of noticing. The technique for the teacher to hold this space for the student to notice and self-scaffold is the same as when teaching the language itself: scaffolding. Class activities can also change to both draw on the experiences of out-of-class learning and model activities that can be carried out independently between lessons. listening to what students already do out-of-class enables the teacher to understand what can be done, what appeals to the students and how informal learning fits in with their interest in learning the language. Discussions of how and why certain strategies may be effective, allow students to gain metacognitive skills that help them select new activities. The language lesson changes to include counseling type activities, where the teacher giving the student space to reflect upon their own language learning.
4. Emergent Syllabus Although the lessons may take on a more responsive or reactive tone, there is still probably opportunity to do so in a proactive way through considering a syllabus that allows the language learning to emerge. I am currently putting together an emergent syllabus for some students who want a greater sense of what they will be doing each week. I am creating a menu of topics and situations for them to choose from so that the structure is based on their communicative needs rather than on specific (grammatical) forms or skills. I am creating the menu to offer students guidance and structure, yet I want to offer them choice and freedom to interpret as they wish. Syllabuses seem to be closely related to tests and although I struggle to feel at ease with testing, I am now thinking that it would be possible to test in an emergent way if the students themselves are setting the goals and deciding upon meaningful indicators. Students certainly need to be autonomous learners to be able to carry out such a task and to take on the sharing of responsibility for measuring their progress. In my example, I suggest that students could aim for goals that relate to their personal interest (approaches to teaching, in my case) and adjust it for the students level of competency. Conclusion Although I am interested in the practicalities of how to use mobile devices in language learning (for capturing and organizing information; for gaining access to information; and for being in contact with others), it is the question of autonomy that I think plays a more significant role (than the technology). Informal, out-of-class learning may be highly motivating and bring context to the fore in language learning, but it also requires considerable autonomy on the part of the student both in terms of specific teach-yourself-skills and in terms of the self-awareness needed to take responsibility for your own learning. Bibliography The bibliography itself will follow, but in the meantime here are some names of authors I have been reading Phil Benson Jeremy Cross Fiona Hyland Agnes Kukulska-Hulme Leo van Lier Hayo Reinders Klaus Schwienhorst Scott Thornbury Leily Ziglari http://www.avatarlanguages.com/blog/dogme_mlearning/