Keeping Watch on Learners' Language: Implications for a Transformative Pedagogical Outlook on the Use of Home Language

Keeping Watch on Learners' Language: Implications for a Transformative Pedagogical Outlook on the Use of Home Language

Janice E. Jules (The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-4075-6.ch003
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Generally, Caribbean teachers seem to have limited engagement with applying observation of young learners' language in the classroom setting. For this chapter, a sample of 40 Grade 1 to 3 teachers from six Caribbean countries provided information to examine teachers' use of observation of learners' oral discourse to inform instructional pedagogy in English Language teaching. Based on primarily qualitative methods, a standardized structured-interview guide, focus group discussion, and classroom observation guide were used to collect data on teachers' classroom instruction. The findings revealed that while teachers declared knowledge of the merits of applying observation for evaluating learners' real language, the evidence of application of this assessment strategy was missing. In addition, results which showed that some teachers appeared to lack awareness of utilizing information about learners' home language use to cater to their individual language needs, warranted attention to transformative pedagogical perspectives in English Language instruction.
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Attending to Learners’ Language

One of the fundamental roles of every teacher is to focus on learners’ general behavior in the classroom setting and (Rencken, 1996; Clay, 2016) to gather information to guide decisions about the most effective instruction to enhance learners’ overall development. Yet, during this observation process, no attention seems to be given to learners’ language. Thus, the apparent lack of awareness of the significance of examining learners’ language prevents teachers from capitalizing on the potential benefits derived from information they can gather. This means that teachers are unable to assist learners adequately in (Kumaravadivelu, 2001; Sharman, Cross & Vennis, 2007) recognizing that their idiolect showcases the unique features of their language, inclusive of self and cultural identity.

Moreover, although (Rencken,1996) observation enables teachers to focus on what learners know and to record their strengths, often they seem to have a preoccupation with (Craig, 2006; Simmons-McDonald, 2014) learners’ challenges to produce the standard variety. While the importance of such details is not discounted, when learners’ actual language use and their range of competence are not evaluated, such inaction appears retrogressive. Indeed, (Tompkin, 2012; Clay, 2016) when the information gathered from observation becomes a central component of instruction planning, teachers are better prepared to create an environment that is conducive for learning. Further, this type of setting correlates with a (Cummins, 2001; Farren, 2019) transformative perspective which elevates learners’ self-esteem and level of motivation to position them for optimum language learning success.

According to Rencken (1996) observation is the foundation of all teachers’ duties and this (Clay, 2001, 2016) information can diminish their bewilderment in the classroom and improve instruction. This is especially so (Rencken,1996; Hart & Risley,1999; Clay, 2016) in learners’ developmental years as teachers use observation findings to modify their instruction and cater more to each learner’s individual needs. Such needs can be associated with the (Farren, 2019) transformative strategy of encouraging young learners to demonstrate proficiency in using their home language for critical thinking.

Furthermore, as (Wardhaugh, 2010; Kumaravadivelu, 2001) every learner is exclusive, through observation, (Rencken, 1996; Clay, 2016) teachers can monitor each learner’s ability to use language skills adequately. In particular, effective observation revealed that (Simmons-McDonald, 2001) Caribbean classrooms consist of learners who are proficient in English with competence in the vernacular, learners whose first language is an English-based Creole, and learners whose first language is a Creole from a non-English lexical base. Indeed, such valuable information of learners’ real language proficiency enables teachers (Clay, 2016) to accelerate further assessment of learners’ progress. These teachers are well-positioned to adopt a transformative perspective and (Cummins, 2001; Farren, 2019) provide learners with quality support that empowers them to acquire lifelong language skills.

As a consequence, for this research, one area of major concern was Caribbean teachers’ attention to observation of learners’ language in the classroom setting. Furthermore, another related aspect was how Caribbean teachers apply observation results to adopt transformative pedagogical practices to assist learners who use home language to acquire or transition to the standard. For these reasons, the chapter sought to examine:

  • 1.

    The way in which a purposive sample of (n=40) Grade K to 3 Caribbean teachers applied observation as a strategy to assess learners’ ability to use their home language effectively in the language learning process.

  • 2.

    How teachers used information gathered about learner’s language to influence their application of pedagogical practices to assist learners in utilizing their home language to acquire or transition to the standard.

  • 3.

    The implications for transformative pedagogical perspectives based on teachers’ application of home language strategies.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Accountable Talk: Talk which inspires higher-order thinking and assists learners in reflecting on their learning process and communicating their ideas effectively.

Language Diversity: The existing variation and differences in language among speakers.

Observation: The act or instance of viewing or noticing a fact or occurrence for some scientific or other special purpose.

Learner Autonomy: Learners taking control and responsibility for their own learning in relation to what they learn and how they learn it.

Oral Discourse: The use of language for extended speech.

Idiolect: An individual’s language identity associated with his or her unique and distinctive language use and behavior.

Communicative Competence: The language abilities which enable learners to convey and interpret messages and negotiate meanings in various contexts.

Cultural Diversity: The different cultures that exist within a society.

Home Language: The language which members of a family speak most commonly for everyday communication; also called the mother-tongue of first language.

Transformative Perspectives: Teachers’ critical analysis of their instructional practices and beliefs to develop alternative perspectives of understanding and executing their pedagogy where necessary.

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