Body text: 1569 words
Footnotes: 395 words
Language learning in the era of social media
Motivation, affective factors and meaningfulness are key when it comes to learning a language, especially in this era of social media. Over the past years, social media have had a tremendous impact on the way people communicate. And as I as a teacher feel related to the Communicative Language Teaching (CLT), I am going to argue that education should be based on a dialogue. To clarify, I will first explain in brief how social media work. After that I will plunge deeper into my view on an educational approach, discussing it on a theoretical and a more practical level.
On the whole, the Internet is no longer one-way traffic as it used to be in its early days. Due to the rise of social media the Internet has become a sphere where dialogue or even many-voiced conversations have gained ground. People want to express their opinion and their feelings, they want to have the idea that they can contribute. Anno 2015 practically everybody is to be found on Facebook, from young kids to elderly people. This means that everybody is familiar with the new way of communicating, which is no longer top-down or hierarchical.
ON WHY STUDENTS’ NEEDS ARE CENTRAL
Having said that, I will turn to the theoretical framework of this essay. According to the online material of Oxbridge, affective factors are highly related to students’ needs: motivation, opportunity, environment and personality. Therefore it is useful to discuss briefly the Self-Determination Theory (SDT) and the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).
Vygotsky was a Russian psychologist who studied the relation between the mind and language. He developed the idea of ZPD, taking as a starting point the capabilities of a human being which can be developed into skills or competences. ZPD implies that people are dependent on their environment when learning a first or a second language (L2). People develop skills in and through interaction with their social world, but only when they receive help from a person who is ‘more knowing’. ZPD is defined by the intersection between the level of challenge and the level of competence.
Here Deci and Ryan’s SDT fits in quite neatly, which they developed in 1975 and improved it in 2002. The theory is based on the following hypotheses:
- Encourage the autonomy of the student, addressing to what extent the student has a voice in his/her learning goals.
- Provide a good structure, addressing to what extent the teacher is clear about the learning goals, gives positive feedback and is able to introduce challenging activities for all students.
- Encourage the belongingness of the student, addressing to what extent a student feels safe and appreciated.
To my view the concepts of SDT of belongingness and autonomy can be put in direct relation to the current ways of communicating via social media. And so does the ZPD relate to my view that education should be based on a dialogue.
So far I have discussed the theoretical anchors of my view on education, from here on I will try to develop a more concrete completion of the notions mentioned above.
TOWARDS A MORE CONCRETE METHOD
Motivation, affective factors and meaningfulness are key to an educational approach. This statement implies a series of factors that are interlinked to the process of learning a L2.
First of all, people learn a language to be able to communicate. So fluency is of utmost importance. But fluency does not make any sense if the user is making a lot of grammar errors or using wrong vocabulary. So ideally, the objective of a language course is to have the student communicate fluently and accurately in L2. To encourage the student’s confidence of communicating in L2 – which is central to my educational approach - the emphasis would be more on fluency at a beginners’ level. At higher levels the emphasis would be more on accuracy. This does not imply that errors are ignored at a beginners’ level.
To point this out in TEFL terminology: fluency stands in relation to the language skills (being the macro skills, which are ordered here in their natural sequence of acquisition: listening, speaking and/or reading and writing) and accuracy to language areas (being the micro skills: grammar, vocabulary, pronunciation and spelling).
I want to make one specific note concerning grammar teaching: I would suggest to use the inductive version, in which students themselves have to discover and draw the conclusion of what is being taught. This reaffirms SDT: grammar becomes part of a positive learning experience.
Second, if one takes the social media dialogue as a starting point in class, the students’ role is very active and the teacher’s role is more of a language coach. The teacher has a very important role: not in a dominant but in a scaffolding way. At a beginners’ level the teacher does serve as a model, along the way as students make progress the teacher will eliminate aid tools. This model is not as rigorous as described in the Callan Method or the Army Method, but makes use of e.g. generic words – being much more in line with the structure hypotheses of SDT and with ZPD.
ZPD also means – to my view – that students learn from their peers. So the teacher is a playmaker and a need’s analyst, enabling students to react upon each other as well. Besides resembling the bidirectional way people communicate on social media this set up also follows the natural order of how a child learns – implicitly - his or her first language.
Touching on this, during class the mother tongue is to be avoided, all should use the target language, even though students might develop a form of interlanguage. That is a sign that they are making progress and that the use of graded language by the teacher can be deduced.
Next to that, the teacher’s role is to explain the bigger picture of each and every activity in class. This contributes to the meaningfulness of every activity. It will help the student to see what the necessity is of his/her assignment. This stands in relation to the notion of the syllabus, which is like a contract between the student and the teacher or like a promise of what competences a student will have after completing the course. Consequently, the syllabus is based on a mix of situations and functions, i.e. based on authentic contexts and usage in daily life.
Third, prior knowledge and association are basic concepts of the learning process to take in consideration when preparing a class. These concepts have to do with contextualisation and meaningfulness and also with repetition in order to attain automatisation and retention, which is storage of the acquired knowledge in the long term memory.
In relation to this, it is important to state that assessing is a vital part of the learning process. As teaching does not happen in a vacuum, we are all bound to laws or rules of the country in what one lives or the organisation one works for. This means that some kind of summative and formative assessment (respectively assessment of and for learning) will be in place. Nonetheless, I would suggest to insert assessment as learning. This is in harmony with what is stated above on learning from peers and ZPD.
Moreover, the teacher should correct errors during class as part of continuous learning. The first check could be done amongst peers (which in the Silent Way is being done to the extreme). When the teacher does the correction, the best way is via praising in accordance with the idea of stimulating motivation and guaranteeing affective factors.
SOME PROCEDURES AND TECHNIQUES AT CLASS LEVEL
From here on I will go into further detail on how to organise a class, activities and materials.
The way a class is structured, is according to the CLT. It starts from the idea that the student has an information gap (see ZPD), giving him or her the freedom of choice when answering (see SDT) and then providing him or her with feedback (using realia and personal experiences of students in class (see ZPD and SDT)).
The type of activities in class would include spider webs, role plays and games. Spider webs are helpful for visually orientated students. They also help associating with other words in the semantic field when discussing a vocabulary item. Role plays – especially the freer ones – appeal e.g. to the social media dialogue. And games are the fun factor in class and are in line with SDT and ZPD.
Materials one can use during class are the traditional black board and audio system, but also modern day visuals and realia. Common references such as the Simpsons at Oxbridge are interesting for all ages, making it easy and fun to learn more about e.g. semantic fields of the family or the house or a school. When differentiating in ages, one could use Walt Disney or Japanese anima protagonists for kids, whereas using Calvin and Hobbes or references to Hollywood actors for adults. Realia on the other hand tap into the situation and functional based approach and provide for context and meaningfulness of the activity.
In conclusion, I have tried to portray a coherent view on education, in which the students’ needs are central – taking into consideration the modern practices of communication via social media.
 Notes to the reader: the obligatory terminology mentioned in the assignment description is stressed in bold in this essay. Next to that, I have been quite hesitant to use competences and Vygotsky’s theory in this essay, as all of these concepts have been misused in the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) of the OECD used by the European Union. I am 100% against using education as a means to boost the neoliberal rat race amongst the EU, China and the USA and above all to encourage profit making by big companies.
 See page 8 of Unit 6: Existing teaching methodologies and approaches, produced by Oxbridge.
 Back in 2011, I worked as an (online) communication specialist. My colleagues and I would apply a Facebook strategy for the winter sports holiday company we worked for based on visuals and emotional appeal. It worked, because the emotional aspect fitted firmly into the way people use social media.
 See page 6 of Unit 1: How people learn, produced by Oxbridge.
 As explained in S. Janssen, Leren en onderwijzen (2013), Acco, Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, pp. 182-189 and pp. 215-220. The Self-Determination Theory also clarifies how intrinsic motivation and extrinsic motivation work and how they can reinforce one and another. Intrinsic motivation is a motivational drive from within the student and will stimulated by discovering situations just beyond the ‘comfort zone’. Extrinsic motivation on the other hand is stimulated by external consequences and is not based on satisfying an inner need. Deci and Ryan explain that extrinsic motivation may change into a version of motivation that comes close to intrinsic motivation, when the student comes to see the activity as meaningful and contributing to his or her own personal values.
 See page 6 of Unit 5: Defining a teaching methodology, produced by Oxbridge.
 See page 3 and 6 of Unit 6: Existing teaching methodologies and approaches, produced by Oxbridge.
 See page 12 of Unit 5: Defining a teaching methodology, produced by Oxbridge.
 See page 7 of Unit 1: How people learn, produced by Oxbridge.
 See page 9 of Unit 5: Defining a teaching methodology, produced by Oxbridge.
 See page 2 of Unit 1: How people learn, produced by Oxbridge.
 See page 35 of Unit 5: Defining a teaching methodology, produced by Oxbridge.
 See page 6 of Unit 6: Existing teaching methodologies and approaches, produced by Oxbridge.
 Ibidem, page 8.