Thursday, October 18, 2007

Learners’ voices

Our (Debbie Corder's, Dave Murray's and Sergio Valdivia's) presentation was the result of a year of continuous electronic communications, using email, chat and wiki resources -actually, we met at the Conference for the first time. We ended up putting together what I sketch in the following introduction to our presentation. If interested in getting more details about it, please let us know (post a comment).

The Independent Learning Association
2007 Japan Conference

“Learners’ voices: critical reflection in portfolios from three
cultural/linguistic settings”

Sergio Valdivia, Debbie Corder, David Murray


AUTO-L, our Research Network discussion list, has given many of us the opportunity to communicate beyond our discussions and bring together individual projects such as this presentation. Our individual interests have found echo among other teachers so we will present to you, our common and different experiences from three different cultural and linguistic settings: New Zealand, Japan and Mexico.

Autonomy promotion

From the time, we all learned about 'autonomy' -and probably before, without being conscious of it, we all became promoters of it. We have probably changed our ways of teaching, visited self-access facilities more often or grew some interest in learning more about autonomy and attended conferences such as this.

In this quest, we have also been attentive to what our role as autonomy promoters is. Why? Because we feel we are (partly) responsible for making(?), facilitating(?) or just letting(?) students become 'more' autonomous -I personally believe, we are autonomous learners, at some point, from birth. This concern has made us move in different directions. Sometimes, coinciding with others, other times taking an opposite direction. But at the end of the day, do we feel we are doing a good job? Probably, 'yes' ... probably, 'no'.

What do we normally do in order to foster autonomy? One of the things we have learned from our readings, is to raise consciousness in students of the learning process, they go through. In a Constructivistic view of learning, being conscious of our learning process is an integral part of it. Also, we have learned from Cognitive psychology that a 'proper' thinking process does enhance our learning, too.


So, now, the buzz word is Reflection -invite your students to reflect upon their learning. Take advantage of metacognition, introspection and retrospection. Not only good planning is necessary but an evaluation of what has worked and what hasn't. Cognitive psychology has given us a green light to intervene (invade?) private mental processes with the aim of 'enhancing' them by making them explicit and public. Contructivist psychology has also given us another green light in becoming observers of the process, learners go through and in being witnesses of how every learner finds his/her own ways and how this experience (struggle?) will eventually transform into something meaningful and significant for them.

So our focus is on Reflection. But what should we understand by reflecting upon our learning? In a constructivist learning relationship, teachers require students to take responsibility for making their own meaning, rather than accepting prefabricated meanings of information or instruction. It is therefore seen as substantially different from a relationship where teachers as experts transfer knowledge to students. Attributes of constructivism are said to include student initiative, higher-level thinking, social discourse between students and teachers, and the use of raw data, primary sources, interactive materials to encourage multiples perspectives on an issue (Brookes & Brooks, 1993).

Also, learners are expected to work towards autonomy and self-regulated learning, and to achieve greater understanding of the processes of learning itself. They (learners) become the observers of their own behaviour and through reflection gauge their own progress, judge the extent to which their knowledge is effective action and gain the insight necessary to improve their own learning (Brown & Palincsar, 1989). Teachers are expected to develop knowledge of the different learning styles of their students, thus enabling them to personalize learning. Socio-constructivism is where students work together, supporting each other and learning from each other.

Kohonen also mentions that in sociocultural, socio-constructivist and experiential learning theories, the learner is seen as a person consisting of a self with a social identity and as a member of and participant in a society and a culture. He/she has access to knowledge, power and resources and has an identity and a variety of contextual social roles. And Philip Riley discusses the notion of individual identity in terms of a distinction between self and person. Self refers to individual, personal identity: what makes "me" as me, as opposed to all other individuals. Person, on the other hand, is a question of social identity: what makes this individual like other individuals in terms of shared characteristics, memberships and rights. But, the importance of this identity has become apparent in the use of the e-portfolio, Debbie will talk about this later.


A topic to discuss is still how to get students to reflect effectively. Some teachers and language advisors have used portfolios, questionnaires, check lists, interviews, group discussions, sound and video recordings, etc. All these have proved some usefulness in different settings but still, we are in a constant search for better tools. In our case, we all three have used portfolios of some sort which have proved effective. We believe in these tools as something that will raise consciousness when reflections turns back to a private practice.

So after all those guidelines of the importance of reflection in learning, we have to take some role (intervention?) in what seems to be our contribution to autonomy promotion. Our main rationale behind our acting is based on finding better ways of learning and by better, we mean more efficient in the classroom or in a self-access facility. We strongly believe that learning a foreign language needs this intervention - for better or for worse.

In making public what seems to be a private practice, we have taken simple-complex, guided-open, paper-electronic efforts to make learners' reflections not only public but analyzable, observable and discussable (metacognition). This metacognitive approach has proved valid in various senses as we will show you in the following three case studies of the use of learning portfolios in New Zealand, Japan and Mexico.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am interested in your presentation in general and in particular about the use of learning portfolios in New Zealand, Japan and Mexico. I plan to use a portfolio in my General English university classes in Japan from April 2008 and want to find out about usage in similar environments and if possible reference portfolios that have been used. If you have any useful information and could post it here or to fodwyerj[at] it would be great.

Best regards,