Edev_502 response wk8_5

I am utterly, completely, absurdly convinced of the value of social constructivism especially as it impacts on second or foreign language learning. I wish that my students were, but your post brings up two points that I should clarify.

1) There are two Japans.

2) Avoiding confirmation bias

Every year at Japan Association of Language Teaching International conference (JALT), I gather around with a few colleagues and informally count the number of institutions represented at the conference. JALT has 3000 members (roughly 50/50 split between foreign-born and native Japanese) and there are roughly 600 presentations at the event. Most of these presentations are conducted by foreign-born educators like myself. Of the 750+ universities, about 30 have a strong presence with about 20 more being less well represented. My own institution type (i.e. a low-ranking provincial private university) is almost entirely absent. Why do I mention this? If you look at the claims made about Japan in English, they invariably come from those top institutions. A case in point is Dornyei and Murphey’s Group Dynamics in the Language Classroom (2010, CUP). The claim is made that the techniques are universal as evidenced by Tim Murphey’s Japanese studies. Tim is an excellent teacher-trainer and works at one of the most prestigious places here. His students are representative of that ‘upper’ level of internationally focussed group, but not of the 650+ universities around Japan.

Imai teaches at Sophia (another international-level institution: in fact, they are set up to mimic Western style universities in principle!). His PhD was in Canada and none of his references are to Japanese papers. Morita’s situation is similar, although I don’t know where she currently teaches.

More representative of the experience of Japanese attitudes is Takahashi (2005) who bemoans foreign teachers’ lack of grammar understanding and (therefore according to her) inability to teach English properly. This kind of study in English is a rarity but abounds in Japanese. My hair stood on end while reading it. The issue at stake here is there is a majority of teachers and students who believe in and expect EFL tuition to be of a particular type (mainly grammar tuition in Japanese with limited if any communicative practice). Anecdotally, I’ve had Japanese professors tell me to my face that Western teachers are only tolerated because each university has to have English classes. I’m a token foreigner in an environment that would rather not have me. (Please don’t infer bitterness in this statement.)

The second point about confirmation bias has to be summed up briefly. Language teaching and social constructivism are (according to prevailing Western EFL teaching beliefs at any rate) so naturally allied that it makes sense to focus on the social nature of cognition (at the dualist level) and the social nature of learning (at the nondualist level) or both. The danger is that we only see one side and ignore theoretical and philosophical weaknesses inherent in holding these beliefs.

Jim

Takahashi, M. (2005). The efficacy of grammar instruction in EFL classes in Japan. Kobe Shoin Graduate School of Letters. Retrieved from http://ksw.shoin.ac.jp/lib/thesis/takahashi/takahashi2005.pdf

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About theCaledonian

Scot living in north Japan teaching at a private university.
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