Monday, October 15, 2007

Language Advising: Between Imposition, Laissez-faire and Negotiation

Professor Marie-José Gremmo
Département de Sciences de l’Éducation, Université Nancy II, France

Marie-José Gremmo posed the question that all language advisors have to face. How do we help our learners without imposing or ignoring? In order to have meaningful meetings advisors and learners negotiate, but how does this negotiation occur? Marie-José’s recent research has focused on this question by analysing the discourse.

Her data consisted of recordings of learner/advisor meetings, interviews with learners and advisors, and recordings of ‘cross-confrontations’ between the four advisors who took part. The aim was to find out what is at stake in the negotiation and to illuminate the nature of the ‘helping’ relationship.

Marie-José introduced the concept of advising 'postures' which she explained as coherent sets of linguistic behaviours and actions, and that these postures can become tools for advising. Such postures may be seen as full advising or they may relate more to teaching. Others may refer more to companionship, as in cases where the advisor offers personal examples and experiences. Advising is seen as a contextualised activity which requires progressive adjustment between advisor and learner. The process consists of alternation between work/study and advising sessions thus ‘giving time to time’. Advising should have this structured time dimension and continuity in the relationship between learner and advisor. The advisor also needs reflexive time for her own activity, including self-observation.

She described the relationship in language advising as
- non-decisional
- not founded on power
- having its focus on the learning process
- reactive, negotiated and adaptive
- non-programmed
- centred around a specific coherent conceptual framework of language didactics

Marie-José illustrated her talk with examples from her data. In one case, the advisor felt that the learner controlled the situation and stuck to her own criteria, describing it as a laissez-faire situation. The learner also described the relationship as that of pupil/teacher or expert/non-expert. This appeared initially to be disappointing but nevertheless Marie-José found evidence of negotiation in the discourse and the learner did change her learning activities in spite of maintaining her own conceptual criteria.

There are three polarities in a triangle of advising:
- the ‘sensitive’ advisor: interacting and perturbimg

- the ‘helping’ advisor: informing and preventing
- the ‘thwarting’ advisor: laissez-faire and solving

Marie-José concluded that advisors need the validation of a community of practice. Advising is a professional genre with a common ideology and a competence that can be acquired through professional training.

Marie-José Gremmo has considerable experience in the practice and theory of advising. She referred in her talk to a ‘second-generation’ advisor, of which she herself is a good example. Another experienced advisor, Marina Mozzon-McPherson, also spoke at this conference of the need for broad-based research and the development of international professional training. I too think this is an excellent aim. The role of language advisor is complex and new for many teachers. However, we already have a wealth of experience and research and our efforts and results should be combined in joint projects.

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