Foreign Language Learning in secondary school as social practice: findings from a pedagogic exchange project

3.6 Tensions, extensions, and new formulations in cultural-historical activity research
Paper in a Symposium (Symp)
3:50 PM, Thursday 31 Aug 2017 (25 minutes)
As have other curriculum areas, Foreign Language Learning (FLL) has benefitted from developments in ICT; however, it ‘differs greatly from most other subject areas in the curriculum: it is both skill-based and knowledge-based’ (UNESCO 2004:4). Furthermore, to overcome ICT uses in FLL classes amounting to no more than online textbooks and exercise correction tools which place the learner in a position of passivity, there are recommendations that ‘teachers abandon traditional roles and act more as guides and mentors, exploring the new media themselves as learners and thus acting as role models for their learners’ (UNESCO 2004:5). FLL and teaching, therefore, present a particular context within the school system in which teachers are expected to take on a less didactic role, often set against a backdrop of increased emphasis on students’ outcomes (notably examination results). This suggests some uncertainty for those involved in FLL, both teacher and students, about the ways of doing, being and saying which are appropriate or possible in the context of the FLL classroom. In this presentation I will use a combination of Activity Theory to explore FLL in the context of the school system (Lantolf & Thorne, 2006) and Social Practice theory (and in particular the notion of schools as Figured Worlds, Urrieta, 2007) to explore the positions which teachers and pupils can adopt in FLL classrooms. This exploration will be based on findings from a two-year project investigating Second/Third Language Learning pedagogy in a secondary school in Devon, UK and an all-age school in Galicia, Spain. In both countries, FLL is shaped by social-cultural affordances and constraints that are different from other subject areas, leading to particular tensions within the school context. The project had a dual focus on teachers’ developing understanding of the pedagogic potential of using Apple iPads in FLL classes with 11-12-year-old pupils, and on pupils’ motivation for and attitudes towards learning a second (or in the case of Galicia – third) language. Data collection included online questionnaires, observation and video recording of lessons followed by focus groups with pupils and reflective conversations with teachers as well as engagement in collaborative lesson delivery between Spain and the UK. Teachers’ involvement in the pedagogic exchange project supported reflective thinking about their own practice and Tobin’s dialogic approach to fieldwork was used in the interpretation of their reflections (Tobin, 1997). Teachers voiced their views on the transformative power of ICT as tools to support learning and, as well as their experiences in the project, drew on their own experience of learning a foreign language in different cultural and international contexts. While all pupils said using iPads made FLL work more interesting, reasons why this was the case differed across the two countries, across the ability groupings and between boys and girls. The interaction between self-motivation and competitive classroom culture has been linked to the creative as well as the rote-learning potential of iPads (Naace, 2012), both aspects of pupil motivation highlighted as of particular importance in FLL (Bolster, 2009). However, they played out differently within and between the two school contexts, both in peer culture and school ethos regarding English in the Spanish school, and French/Spanish in the English school. Using Activity Theory and Social Practice theory to think about what it’s like to teach or be taught in an FLL class in a particular sociocultural context helped to go back and forth between individual and system level considerations and to understand better the complex relationship between person and context.
University of Plymouth