for a Learning-Centred,
Computer-Enhanced Syllabus for
Japanese University ELT Classes
Rationale for such a Flexible, Learning-Centred, Computer-Enhanced
In the 1980's, the movement towards learner independence in
ELT was complementary to the communicative and humanistic
approaches that had developed a decade earlier. Indeed, the
educationist Bruner was a proponent of learner independence
back in the '60's, as had been Dewey even earlier. "Instruction
is a provisional state that has as its object to make the
learner or problem solver self sufficient
[not] to create
a form of mastery that is contingent on the perpetual presence
of a teacher" (Bruner 1966, p. 53). Sheerin points out
how this movement for learner independence "springs from
the powerful yet commonsense perception that it is learners
who do the learning
" (Sheerin 1991, p. 2). Not
only philosophically, but empirically, as well, research into
the attributes of a "good language learner" (GLL)
tends to support this notion of learner independence (e.g.,
Rubin 1975; Wenden 1987; Naiman 1996).
over definitions characterized the early days of learner independence-What
is 'autonomy'? What is 'self-directed learning'? What is 'individualization'?
Recently, though, these "concerns seem now to have been
superseded by the more urgent practical need to develop effective
mechanisms for allowing students a degree of choice and for
helping them to exercise it" (Sheerin 1991, p.2). These
mechanisms include what in language teaching has come to be
known as 'learner-centredness', a term that, as Brookes notes,
has since subsumed other aspects of learner independence.
"One corollary of learner-centredness is that individualization
will assume greater importance, as will the recognition that
the autonomy of the learner is our ultimate goal." (Brookes
and Grundy 1988, p.1)
term "learner-centredness" is not unproblematic,
however. Hutchinson and Waters argue for a more culturally-contextualised
view of language. "We feel the term 'learner-centred'
is misleading, since it implies that the learner is the sole
focus of the learning process. Education is, by its very nature,
a compromise between the individual and society. Thus, we
would reject the view that a communicative approach is learner-centred:
rather, it is learning-centred, and this implies taking into
account the needs and expectations of all the parties involved."
(Hutchinson and Waters 1984, p.108) Indeed, considering this
"learning culture" model becomes important when
justifying a learner independent approach in the TU language
syllabus. Certainly, this author's experience teaching in
Japan (Poole forthcoming), supports the view that cultural
notions of teaching and learning are not necessarily "culturally
bound" (cf., Valdes 1986) but instead fit well with "western"
ELT research into classroom culture. This in turn, is supported
by Holliday's (1999) concept of a "small culture"
view of the global classroom.
explained above, the "teacher culture" at HE institutions
in Japan can be partly characterized by an overworked, undertrained
staff which results in low morale. Although a learning-centred
model would potentially benefit EFL students, such an approach
could seem threatening to the teachers. Holliday (1994) points
out how this is probably a concern for TESEP teachers around
the globe who are accustomed to more didactic teaching modes.
They are not given direction with the vagueness of learner-centredness.
Because of the perception that students are to be "set
free" by this approach, the power and status of the TESEP
teacher's position is eroded.(2)
other concerns, including political issues such as loss of
peer respect, these fears are related to notions of teaching.
NOTIONS OF TEACHING
points out that in the "west", if "we believe
that the chief responsibility for initiating and shaping the
language learning process rests with the teacher as the learner's
chief source of knowledge about the target language, we are
likely to think of [more learner independent] systems as a
form of teacher-substitute
" (Esch and Little 1989,
p.30). Though similar mental barriers to learner-independence
exist at many colleges in Japan, notions of teaching at primary
or early secondary school often purport "learning-centredness"
models (see Cave 1998).
has been emphasized by "western" applied linguists
in recent years is not far from the notions of teaching that
are to be found among Japanese educators. "The terms
'individualized teaching' or 'individualization of teaching'
or 'individualization of learning' cover a wide variety of
The common feature of all these
practices is a desire to increase the degree of adequacy of
the teaching for the recipient, the learner" (Holec and
Europe 1981, p.6). Indeed, the entire educational system in
Japan is presently being swept with koseika, or "individualization"
(Cave 2001), the next in a wave of such post-war educational
"movements" in notions of teaching, beginning with
kindaika (modernization), and then kokusaika
(internationalisation) (cf., Goodman 1987; McConnell 2000).
Large lecture classes being the norm in most subjects at Japanese
colleges and universities, this notion of teaching in an "individualised"
manner is often said to be "not practical". What
is forgotten by observers however, though not necessarily
by the teachers themselves, is that individualised notions
of teaching is a "norm" in schools in Japan, and
certainly not foreign to any competent zemi (seminar)(3)
lecturer at tertiary institutions either.
kyooiku, or guided-learning, is a Japanese notion of teaching
that fits well with some of the warnings about what L2 educators
need to be wary of in adopting a learner independent model.
First, Naiman (1996, p.ix) asserts "
that learners each have their own preferred strategies and
that these should not be disturbed is pretty nonsensical.
Teachers have a responsibility to extend the repertoire of
individuals' learning styles, for individuals are not fixed
entities." Then, Nunan (in Harris 1997, p.ix) repeats
this qualification of learner independence when he states
"[i]t is a mistake to assume that learners come into
the language classroom with a natural ability to make choices
about what and how to learn." And certainly notions of
zemi and shido kyooiku fit with what Holliday
is implying when he explains his views on mediating learning.
"The purpose of teaching should be for learning to take
[T]hat the learner is the recipient of this learning
goes without saying, but this does not tell us what to do"
(Holliday 1994, p.175).
"We feel guilty to stand up in front of the class."
In Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate Methodology and Social
Context. Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
(3) This is a project-based class at Japanese universities
that involves collaborative research and presentations. It
is decidedly student-run and student-centred, if not always
page 4 of 5
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