This week I am featuring TESOL candidate Samantha Solomita’s thoughtful Reflective Journal assignment. All teacher candidates are required to write reflective learning journals for every course as part of the TESOL Touro program, CR-ITI-BE in TESOL and CR-ITI-BE in Bilingual Education. As teacher candidates prepare for a career in TESOL and Bilingual education becoming a reflective practitioner the hallmark for metacognitive learning and taking an active role in one’s own learning. Therefore, the TESOL Program at Touro College, CR-ITI-BE in TESOL, CR-ITI-BE in Bilingual Education requires Reflective Learning Journals for both professional growth and assessment.
Purpose: To provide teacher candidates with a framework making connections between prior knowledge and new information. The framework engages teacher candidates in a systematic process to guide their ongoing reflection, a process they can internalize and practice as constructive educators. Teacher candidates will be able to engage in this process to improve their teaching throughout their careers. Teacher candidates reflective journal entries will be included in the final portfolio.
Bio: Samantha Solomita, a TESOL candidate at Touro College, GSE currently teaches a 12:1+1 bridge self- contained class in Sunnyside, Queens. Her class is composed of 3rd and 4th graders who have learning disabilities and are mostly English Language Learners. Ms. Solomita is certified in childhood studies and students with disabilities 1-6 and holds a Masters in Educational Psychology.
Description of Highlight(s) – chapter, article or event that pertains to EDPN 673 course.
In the article Sociocultural Perspectives on Foreign Language Learning, the authors Mansoor Fahim and Mastaneh Haghani discuss how the sociocultural theory (SCT) relates to learning and teaching a second language. According to Fahim and Haghani (2012) “In sociocultural theory learning is thought of as a social event taking place as a result of interaction between the learner and the environment (p. 693) Therefore, language learning is optimal when the learner is actively involved in their learning and interacting with others. Language and learning are also strengthened as the individual participates in cultural, linguistic, and historical settings. For example, the learner is involved in interactions within peer groups, families, sports activities, etc. Sociocultural theory uses a holistic approach in which meaning is developed through complex forms rather than isolated concepts; therefore, learners have a role in their own learning process. They are problem solvers and meaning makers in their language acquisition process. In addition, this theory stresses an interconnectedness among teachers, learners, and tasks. Social interaction is believed to facilitate the learning process. Learners work together with their teacher to solve the problems. As they work together to solve a problem, individuals are internalizing how to solve the problem on their own. As the learner is developing the language, he/she is benefiting from others participation in the process. With the support of peers and teacher, students can develop language (Fahim & Haghani, 2012). Vygotsky introduced a concept called Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). With this concept, Vygotsky argues that “psychology should be more concerned with the potential abilities of a child, i.e. what a child will be to accomplish in the future but he/she has not achieved yet” (p. 694). Therefore, scaffolding must take place so that the child can grow and develop. Scaffolding can be referred to as social assistance. Scaffolding can also be anything a learner benefits from. Therefore, scaffolds may be textbooks, dictionaries, and diagrams; however, scaffolds can also be peer feedback and teacher support. Scaffolds may be direct or explicit instruction. The key is that the learning takes place within the learner’s zone of proximal development. Therefore, no learning is “out of reach.” Another concept of SCT is internalization. There needs to be an enhancement of interactions among the learners. The expert role can be applied to the teacher but also to learners as well. Reciprocal teaching may be adopted to have expert learners teach students who are still developing the language. Teachers could adopt a learner-centered approach to instruction to help students with internalization (Fahim & Haghani, 2012). Another essential component of SCT is the activity theory. Activity theory focused on task-based performances which provide learners with an active role. The learner becomes socially and academically motivated which leads to success in the language learning process. Engaging the students in interviews, role-plays, and other real-world tasks increase the value of learning for students. The learners’ motives, goals and values contribute to their success in language acquisition. Overall, the SCT argues that learning is optimal when it is within the learner’s zone of proximal development, scaffolds are provided, and there are interactions within social contexts (Fahim & Haghani, 2012).
2. Initial Emotional Response (surprised, embarrassed, sad, inspired, excited, puzzled, etc.)
Initially, I was surprised when I read this article because I did not think that the sociocultural theory applied to language learning. I have researched and read a lot about Lev Vygotsky’s theory in my undergraduate and graduate courses; however, I do not remember any research focusing on language learning. I was surprised and excited to learn that there are connections between what I have learned in psychology courses and TESOL courses. I was surprised that the sociocultural theory connects to language learning; therefore, I was eager to reflect on this article.
3. Prior Assumptions or Opinions about the described highlight
Prior to reading this article, I thought that second language learning should be mostly teacher-directed. I assumed that for students to learn the language they needed to be passive learners. I thought ENL teaching was very teacher-directed with limited interaction and discussions between peers and teacher. I thought that students simply listened to the teacher and repeated what the teacher stated. I perceived ENL teaching as teaching the basics of English such as grammar, spelling, and verb agreement. I also thought ENL teaching incorporated mostly drill practices and repetition. In addition, I believed ENL was a pull-out service which was separate from content. I thought students were pulled out to practice basic English skills which were not aligned to the curriculum taught in the classroom. Therefore, as a student, I thought that ENL teachers were separate from classroom teachers. I did not realize that an ENL teacher could be a classroom teacher as well. Lastly, I also thought that ENL teaching incorporated specific teacher feedback as opposed to self- and peer- feedback.
4. Source of Assumption or Opinion What made you have such an assumption? (
I had this assumption because most of the videos that I have watched for this course have been very teacher-directed. Also, the readings from earlier on in the course were also more teacher-directed methods. For example, the Audiolingual Method, the Grammar-Translation method, and the Direct Method and very teacher-centered. The teacher is the expert and the students practice language without really understanding the content. The student’s role is mostly to listen to language and then repeat words and phrases. However, when I read the title of the article, I knew that the sociocultural theory focused on interactions; therefore, I was eager to read the article and make connections to language learning. Another reason is, before I became a teacher, I always thought that ENL was teaching simply English. I did not realize that it was integrated. I envisioned the ENL teachers doing basic grammar and sentence structure. From elementary school, I remember the ENL teachers having their own rooms and the students only going to their rooms. I do not remember ENL teachers ever coming into my classroom or teaching general content.
5. Assumption/Opinion Check – Validation/Invalidation
My assumptions about the instruction of a foreign language were invalidated due to research on sociocultural theory and other methods of teaching. For example, Vygotsky’s sociocultural theory proposes for students to be active in their learning in order to create meaning. According to Fahim and Haghani (2012), “the theory also lays great stress on the dynamic nature of interconnections among teachers, learners and tasks and advocates the concept of learning which stems from interactions among individuals” (p.694). Therefore, according to SCT, learners should be engaged in tasks that are meaningful and challenging. Students show optimal growth when learning is within their zone of proximal development and they are supported by peers and teachers. According to SCT, language learning is best when there are meaningful interactions between students and teachers. Similarly, further research has supported and validated the points made by Vygotsky regarding language learning. For example, in the article On Teaching Strategies in Second Language Acquisition Yang Hong argues for creating a learner-centered classroom. According to Hong (2008), “In the learning process, the teacher can guide, facilitate, present materials clearly and answer questions, but the teacher cannot learn the language for students or even make students learn the language” (p. 64). The teacher’s role is the role of the facilitator. It is up to the student to take initiative for their learning. Teachers should facilitate the learners through meaningful tasks. For example, “second language learners are more motivated on tasks that they value (Hong, 2008, p. 66). Students may value a task more if it is applicable to their daily life or if it incorporates their interests. Teachers can try to increase value by incorporating authentic literature, using culturally relevant topics, or providing student choice. Also, Hong argues that teachers should provide opportunities for success. Therefore, teachers should choose tasks that are authentic and appropriately challenging. Appropriately challenging tasks are supported by the Vygotsky’s zone of proximal development. In addition, the Silent Way method also uses some strategies which are reflective of the sociocultural theory. Using the Silent Way Method, the teacher does not have to explicitly model for students. The teacher provides students with learning tasks and activities that encourage student responses. According to Richards and Rogers (2016), “the materials are designed for manipulation by the students as well as by the teacher, independently and cooperatively, in promoting language learning by direct association” (p. 108). Therefore, the students work together to make sense of the content and develop the language. The students rely on each other to strengthen their language; therefore, the students work collaboratively and provide specific, constructive feedback. Also, the silent way uses materials that are meaningful to the students. For example, According to Richards and Rogers (2016). “the materials are designed for manipulation by the students as well as by the teacher, independently and cooperatively, in promoting language learning by direct association” (p.108). Like the sociocultural theory, the Silent Way integrates tasks that are meaningful and authentic in order to promote language learning.
6. Realization/Aha Moment or Epiphany
I had an “aha!” moment when I realized how the recent articles I read and the videos I watched related. The articles I mentioned all stress the importance of students collaborating to develop language. In addition, students provide each other with feedback during this process. The teacher works as the facilitator who guides the students through meaningful, authentic tasks. The teacher provides scaffolds such as various materials, teacher support, and peer support to assist the students throughout their language learning process. I believe that this type of second language teaching and learning is the best for my students. For the first few weeks of this course, I was having a difficult time applying the information from the readings and my observations from the videos to my teaching. A lot of the new content I learned about second language teaching was teacher-centered. Methods such as the Audiolingual Method and Communicative Language Method seemed very time consuming and hard to fit in with teaching the general curriculum. Similarly, methods such as Grammar Translation Method and the Direct Method seemed to be very specific and difficult to integrate into content. However, after recent readings and videos, I am envisioning how I can implement strategies into my classroom to teach and support second language learners. After learning more about the Sociocultural theory, I realize that students need to work together more to develop language. Instead of modeling as a teacher, I can have my students act as models for each other. The learning is more valuable when the students are presented with engaging tasks. Therefore, I would like to incorporate more tasks such as the one in the Silent Way video (English, 2013). In the video, the teacher provided the students with a hands-on experience of a floor plan. Students were able to manipulate the pieces and make sense of language as a group. This was a great example for me, students developing language through participating in a meaningful task. Through this task, students learned vocabulary terms, spatial relationships, and prepositions. This was a great “aha!” moment for me because I was able to actually see the concepts that I was reading about portrayed in a lesson. This video helped me put the readings into perspective. Moving forward, I trust that I have research-based practices that I can apply to my classroom to best support my English Language Learners. My thoughts have been changed about second language teaching. I no longer believe that second language teaching should be teacher-centered and teacher dominated. I believe to teach a second language I should use tasks that are meaningful and authentic. In addition, I should provide opportunities for the students to collaborate and provide feedback to one another. I believe that if the students value the learning, they will truly internalize it and strengthen their language.
7. Implications for future teaching practice
As I reflect on what I have learned so far in this course, I plan on making many changes to my teaching and classroom environment. I will incorporate many aspects of the sociocultural theory into my classroom. I would like to incorporate the Zone of Proximal Development as I plan for lessons. As I plan for tasks, I want to ensure that I am selecting materials that are within the ZPD for my learners. I want to make sure that it is appropriately challenging, yet not out of reach; therefore, students can experience success as they work with scaffolds. I plan on scaffolding for my students. Scaffolds will vary depending on the lesson. Scaffolds I would like to include for my students are words walls, reference books, familiar charts, and sentence stems. In addition, I will provide support as a teacher such as prompting questions and guiding the students to refer to resources. In addition, students will scaffold for one another by providing peer feedback. In addition, I would like to implement the Activity Theory in my classroom. For example, I will provide my students with meaningful learning opportunities for them to practice language and learn content simultaneously. For example, I will infuse more group work and partner work into my lessons so that students have an opportunity to share and learn from one another. I will have students participate in authentic, meaningful tasks that target language needs. For instance, my students struggle with prepositions. I would love to incorporate an activity like the one in the video. I would try to connect it to content that is in our curriculum. When my students create dioramas of the rain forest, I can have them practice and use prepositions in their speech and writing. Students task can be to describe the plants and animals in their rainforest using spatial relationships and prepositions. As a group, students can work together to decide where the plants and animals go in the diorama and how to describe them. Similarly, I would like to incorporate real-world mathematics problems in which the students can practice their mathematics vocabulary because that is also something my English Language Learners struggle with. I do anticipate some challenges with incorporating the sociocultural theory into my classroom. I think it will be difficult to incorporate meaningful, authentic tasks into the classroom daily; however, I do believe that it is very beneficial for my learners. Therefore, I will try to start building tasks by evaluating each unit and developing a task per unit. As I continue to develop tasks, I hope to build a repertoire of meaningful tasks that can be implemented into many lessons in all content areas. Overall, there are many strategies that I have learned through coursework that I am eager to implement into my classroom. I trust that implementing concepts from the sociocultural theory will have positive impacts on my English Language Learners.
English, A. (2013, January 25). Language Teaching Methods: Silent Way. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=xqLzbLCpack
Fahim, M., & Haghani, M. (2012). Sociocultural Perspectives on Foreign Language Learning. Journal of Language Teaching and Research, 3(4). doi:10.4304/jltr.3.4.693-699
Hong, Y. (2008). On Teaching Strategies in Second Language Acquisition. US- China Education Review, 5(1), 61-67.
Richards, J. C., & Rodgers, T. S. (2016). Approaches and methods in language teaching. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.