September 24, 2004

Autonomy, critical pedagogy, collaborative development and more

I'm now reading in a number of different fields: autonomy and language-learning, critical pedagogy, participatory approach, collaborative development. There are a number of common elements in these different fields. One of them is the importance of dialogue. A vital element in autonomy training is self-evaluation/assessment and self-reflection, i.e. having students think about what they are doing, as without this they are unable to make future decisions about what to do, which materials to use or how to use them. The teacher's role is to act more like a counsellor, asking questions rather than telling, and helping students get clearer about their aims and purposes.

Dialogue is also important for teachers. Tim Murphey in the AYA book suggests that teachers who regularly discuss matters of education, teaching, learning, SLA, etc., with colleagues, including questioning their own motives and beliefs, tend to provide a higher quality of teaching for their students.

Critical pedagogy involves being willing to question sacred cows and absolute givens. The critical attitude is difficult to maintain alone, and seems to be helped by dialogue with others. The same seems to be true of collaborative development, which involves consciously creating dialogue and agreeing to a certain strategy which seems to be very similar to that of the counsellor as mentioned above. (CD then could be a good way to help develop teachers' listening and counselling skills for autonomy training).

In MI, Tom Hoerr, principal of an MI school, stresses the vital importance of collegiality. Without it, he says, attempts to introduce MI in a school are more or less doomed to failure.

Collegiality, which I think is another way of describing the kind of dialogue between teachers I mentioned above, perhaps a synonym for collaborative development, is also stressed in a plenary speech given by Mary Rane at Dublin's IATEFL Dublin conference in 2000 on the topic of curriculum change or development. Rane sees curriculum development as being impossible without pretty intense discussions and dialogues between colleagues on basic matters such as educational philosophy or vision. She insists teachers have to make an effort to enter into such discussions, even with colleagues they do not personally like or get on with, if meaningful curriculum change is to occur.

There is a section in the Chaos Theory book that my colleague quotes in a forthcoming paper(Briggs & Peat 1999: 74 ff), which deals with group discussions and the work of committees. This is the link I was talking about between Chaos Theory and what my colleague and I are up to. I see all these elements as being interconnected: the discussions that my colleague and I have about teaching, learning, autonomy, critical pedagogy, etc, and the actual class that we collaborate on; our attempts to introduce curriculum change in our department; collegiality and collaborative development (or lack of it) in our department. I think that it is not a coincidence that we are trying to introduce autonomy in our classes and that we have an ongoing dialogue about autonomy, teaching, learning, etc. It is also no coincidence that our dialogues involve a questioning of sacred cows; it is important that we do so because autonomy (at least the most interesting version of autonomy, the "radical" one) requires this from our students. Not much chance of us getting them to do this, if we're not doing it already, eh?

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