Stories from the Classroom

I thought I’d share here two stories from my own class that might illustrate some of the problems implementing a sociocultural approach within a specifically English as a foreign language classroom and what is says about, perhaps, cultural or contextual beliefs about classroom discourse.

The first was a girl of five in a new young learners class who, while I was organising an activity, turned to another student and said (in L1 Japanese) “Why does this guy keep talking at us?!” Before this, on the surface, she seemed quite badly behaved – she would talk a lot in L1 and run around the classroom – but once she said that I realised that she was merely interpreting her role within this classroom space in a fundamentally different way which explained a lot of her behaviour, and it stemmed from a clash of beliefs about the function of the classroom space and what was actually occurring within it. For her, the classroom was a ‘play’ space as opposed to a ‘learning’ space and so she interacted according to those beliefs. Within this ‘play’ space, she had no need for an L2. The L2 here becomes, in fact, a barrier to her perceived function of the space as it merely interrupted her play and she would react against it accordingly.

The second example was a lady in her 50s or 60s in a group general English class who, during a role-play activity, turned to me and said, in some distress, “Teacher, what should I say?!” I think in this case, and I’ve encountered similar examples many times, the problem was the result of more cultural beliefs about learning, the classroom and students’ role within it. For her, I think, the classroom is not, in fact, a ‘communicative’ space within which her role is to genuinely interact but is instead a ‘performance’ space, more like a test, where her role is to demonstrate knowledge of the correct answer and the teacher plays an ‘adjudicating’ role. A more open-ended situation like in a role-play, however, can lead the student to occasionally freeze, just as some people are better than others at open-ended test situations.

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