The Shyness Myth
by Christian Burrows
These differences illustrate that students and teachers do not share the same understanding of what compromises 'proper' classroom behavior. Any resistance to a new approach will be because of these beliefs (Wenden, 1991:55). Students' knowledge and attitude are the key to success, so incorporating their cognitive and learning style preference in the collaborative process appears to be an important element. It is also important to recognize that because of these different cognitive approaches teachers need to adopt a wide range of strategies which enable students to improve their learning abilities (Bialystok, 1990:28). Some language learners may agree with the notion that they should be more responsible for their learning, while for others an independent role is something they may prefer to avoid. This reticence shows that they do not study the same way and so must be taught ways to engage, and to avoid student frustration teachers need to supply outlines of the 'rules' expected (Jones, 1995:230). These kinds of false assumptions and prejudices which underlie their attitudes towards their role in learning must be changed, a process Holec (1981) terms 'de-conditioning'.
Once a range of possible strategies has been obtained, the teacher will be able to provide an environment which should enable students to identify those strategies that work best for them. The aim of which is to make students realize the importance of skills that include taking charge, organizing, practicing, memorizing, guessing, and accepting uncertainty (Rubin and Wenden,1987:99). By not stressing strategies, teachers in essence discourage students from developing and exploring new skills, and in so doing, limiting their awareness of their cognitive capabilities (Wenden, 1991:14). Offering the learners the reward of mastering skills that will equip them to proceed would appear to be a basic requirement for teachers. If the students can learn some of these skills they may help overcome any cultural barriers that arise, as good language learners develop and use these strategies for coping with difficulties in communicating (Brown, 1994).
In a country like Japan that values conformity and group feelings over individual expression, trying to inspire some kind of rigorous challenge or competitive interaction can sometimes prove frustrating. Japanese students tend to value consensus rather than confrontation resulting in activities such as discussions that require active involvement appearing somewhat passive and orderly. Students also tend to restrict their use of vocabulary and structures to avoid making mistakes thus reducing the risk of losing face, a powerful deterrent in many Asian countries including Japan. This inhibition can stand in the way of progressing in speaking a foreign language. Feeling uncomfortable in unstructured situations can also prevent learners from seizing opportunities to practice and learn (Rubin and Thompson, 1982:7), another important element of learner autonomy. Such risks are inherently unavoidable as it is recognized that language learning involves some risk to the speaker who must therefore extend the available resource (Bialystok, 1990:28).
In Japan, the teacher 'bestows knowledge' while the learners are passive, letting 'the teacher's wisdom 'pour into' him' (Brown 1994:17). This type of formal environment means that learners have a reluctance to engage, interact, and fully question the teacher because of this status. If the students continue to perceive the teacher as a distant authority they are unlikely to approach thereby limiting their contact. It seems preferable for students to be able to approach teachers if they need help to overcome any linguistic difficulties. Therefore in order to facilitate more interaction activities that promote group work tend to reduce the students' apprehension while at the same time building confidence. Also if teachers actively participate in activities and games during class students can see that they are not there just there to 'teach' but also interact and so will gain confidence and also understand that to interact fully with the teacher is an expected and beneficial exercise of learner-centered learning. This type of interaction will help them to be aware that they need to contribute and will need to be coached in what to do and what the teacher expects from them personally. It is also necessary to make the students aware that the risks cannot be completely avoided merely reduced.
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