Monday, October 15, 2007

Instructional Intervention and Learner Autonomy

Professor Koichi Nishiguchi
Osaka University

Koichi discussed how autonomy in language performance develops and raised one of the most crucial issues within the sociocultural study of second language development, namely, its lack of a sound theoretical psycholinguistic basis.

Koichi examined theoretically the expected role of the teachers in engaging learners in different communicative practices. For instance, he remarked on Bakhtin’s (1981) assumption, which in accord with Vygotsky’s (1987) theory of psychological development, that human mental development is rooted in the social interaction with other people. He also noted that Bakhtin’s conceptualization is directly related to Holoquist and Emerson’s (1981: 434) conceptualization of ‘voice’ that is simply ‘speaking personality, speaking consciousness’ (ibid.). From Koichi’s point of view, to nurture this kind of voice with second language words as the material within the learner with respect to particular activity domains is of importance in terms of second language development.

As these voices will be nurtured via internalization of specific speech acts that were experienced in the context of particular interactive practice, Koichi remarked that learners need sufficient opportunities to engage in interactive practices in particular domains of activity and require experiences in which they produce their own speech acts in a specific concrete situation that engenders utterances.

According to Koichi, learners need to “undergo these experiences with an active and optimal support and optimal support and assistance by more capable communicators including the teacher. It is these experiences that form an important site of second language development, i.e., an important site in which each learner grows to be a more autonomous and capable language speaker.”

During the Q&A, a question was raised asking how teachers would be able to observe the interactions. Koichi suggested that a good way to start would be videotaping the class and then watch the video with the students and discuss with them. A practice as such was also described by one of the keynote speakers, Dr. Klaus Schwienhorst, whose presentation on ‘Coming to terms: Learner autonomy, the learner and (computer-assisted) language learning environments’ suggested letting students evaluate their own learning through watching their learning video as a means to help them reflect on their learning.

I was inspired by this talk and temped to try out this approach. However, a couple of questions struck me while I ruminated over how it could be deployed in my class. Would this approach succeed with a larger class / group of students? To what extent would students willingly talk about their learning with their classmates or their teacher? Even though I have these questions in mind, I do look forward to exploring this approach further and searching for the answer(s).


Bakhtin, M. M. (1981) The Dialogic Imaginations: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, Holquist, M. (ed.), (1981), translated by Emerson, C. and Holquist, M. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Holoquist, M. and Emerson, C. (1981) Glossary for The Dialogic Imaginations: Four Essays by M. M. Bakhtin, Holquist, M. (ed.), (1981), translated by Emerson, C. and Holquist, M. Austin: University of Texas Press.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1987) Thinking and Speech. In Rieber, R. W. and Carton, A. S. (eds.) (1986) The Collected Works of L. S. Vygotsky. Volume 1. New York: Plenum.

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