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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 158-160 ! Contents: Volume 1, Number 3, December 2010 •

Editorial by Jo Mynard (158-160)

Articles •

Beliefs about Self-Access Learning: Reflections on 15 years of change by David Gardner and Lindsay Miller (161-172)

Co-constructing Understanding of Self Access through Conversational Narrative by John Adamson, Howard Brown and Naoki Fujimoto-Adamson (173188)

Listening to the Learner: A Qualitative Investigation of Motivation Towards the Use or Avoidance of Self-access Centres by Hamish Gillies (189-211)

Chinese ESL Learners’ Beliefs and the Implications for their Autonomous Learning by Qunyan Zhong (212-225)

A Case Study of the Development of Oral Production in a Self-Access Center in South-Eastern Mexico by Juan Pablo Alcaraz Lagarriga (226-##)

Conference Announcements •

Advising for Language Learner Autonomy, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan. November 12th, 2011.

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Editorial Jo Mynard, Kanda University of International Studies, Japan

Welcome to the December 2010 issue of SiSAL Journal, a publication set up this year to disseminate ongoing research and practice within the field of self-access and out of class learning support. The journal is an online, open access publication whose pages receive, on average, around fifty views per day. The journal was recently evaluated by several indexes for suitability for inclusion. I am delighted to report that SiSAL Journal will be indexed by Academia.edu, DOAJ (Directory of Open Access Journals), EBSCO Publishing, Open J-Gate (open-access movement for scholarly journals), Ulrich’s Periodicals Directory and WilsonWeb Journal Directory. It is also available for download as an e-book on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 158-160 ! Special Issue on Motivation and Beliefs The current issue is dedicated to the theme of motivation and beliefs and there are five full articles in the issue all investigating the area from a unique angle. Gardner & Miller suggested back in 1997 that more research into learners’ beliefs and motivation for self-access use should be conducted, but only a few studies have been published since then. More work is still needed to inform our understanding and clearly this is a task beyond the scope of one special issue of SiSAL. The contributions do however contribute to our understanding of these complex areas by attempting to tackle questions such as: what to stakeholders believe is the purpose of a self-access centre? Why do students choose to come to a SAC and why do other learners avoid it? What do learners feel is the best way to learn and how are these beliefs transferred to self-access learning? It is appropriate that David Gardner and Lindsay Miller start off this issue by reviewing fifteen years of stakeholder beliefs about self-access in Hong Kong. They focus on the four key belief areas of materials, integration, motivation and effectiveness and find that there has been a considerable shift in thinking over time. They also find that some areas continue to remain under-researched and therefore less well understood. Continuing with the investigation of stakeholder beliefs, in their article John Adamson, Howard Brown, and Naoki Fujimoto-Adamson use the dialogic process of a series of conversational narratives to present perceptions of the purpose of a new self-access centre in Japan. The reported dialogues enabled the researchers to investigate the following areas: metaphors of self-access, language policy, its integration with university curricula, and how it and its staff are positioned in the organization. Hamish Gillies looks into reasons why students decide to use or avoid a selfaccess centre at a university in Japan. The key themes which emerged from the author’s qualitative data were: the SAC as an environment; the SAC as a community of selves; and the SAC as contrasted with the classroom. The author cites identity, motivation and strong ideal L2 selves rather than language proficiency as factors predictive of SAC use. Qunyan Zhong reports on a study which used a naturalistic inquiry approach to investigate five Chinese ESL learners’ beliefs about language learning and their !

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 158-160 ! learning behaviour. Although the article is not specific to self-access learning but applies to learning in general, the research certainly sheds light on how learner beliefs about language learning impacts self-directed study. In the final article, Juan Pablo Alcaraz Lagarriga takes a look at learner beliefs about ways to improve speaking skills as part of a self-directed learning course in Mexico. The author draws on four case studies in order to follow students’ progress with self-directed speaking development and finds that the students’ beliefs seem to hinder their progress. Notes on the editor Jo Mynard is the Director of the Self-Access Learning Centre and Assistant Director of the English Language Institute at Kanda University of International Studies in Japan. She holds an Ed.D. in TEFL from the University of Exeter, UK and an M.Phil. in applied linguistics from Trinity College, Dublin. She has taught EFL in Ireland, Spain, England, the UAE and Japan, and has been involved in facilitating self-access learning since 1996.

References Gardner, D., & Miller, L. (1997). A study of tertiary level self-access facilities in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: City University.

Acknowledgements Many thanks to the contributors for choosing to submit their work to SiSAL Journal, to the reviewers who gave useful and timely feedback and to the editorial team for their input, support and sharp-eyed editing skills.

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172

Beliefs about Self-Access Learning: Reflections on 15 years of change David Gardner, The Centre for Applied English Studies, The University of Hong Kong Lindsay Miller, The English Department, City University of Hong Kong

Abstract This paper examines the degree to which the beliefs of stakeholders in self-access language learning in tertiary institutions in Hong Kong have changed during a 15 year period. To identify changes a comparison is made between the findings of a research study conducted in the mid-1990s in five self-access centres (Gardner and Miller, 1997) and the current situation. The following four key areas are examined: materials for self-access learning, integration of self-access centres and language learning courses, motivation and the effectiveness of a self-access centre. The comparison reveals that the degree of change in these four areas vary. We reflect on the causes of change.

Introduction Self-access language learning (SALL) has become an increasingly important aspect of language learning provisions in all kinds of institutions, with all kinds of learners and for all kinds of needs. In the early 1990s the universities of Hong Kong established self-access centres which they have continued to fund and develop. This has created a large community of SALL practitioners and users and has provided a unique opportunity to study, in a small geographical area, a range of self-access practices within a clearly defined educational context over a relatively long period of time. This paper compares findings from a study conducted in the early days of Hong Kong self-access with the current situation, thus providing a 15-year perspective. The starting point for this paper is a study we conducted in the mid-1990s (Gardner and Miller, 1997) which examined the perceptions held by self-access learning of students, teachers and managers in five university self-access centres in Hong Kong. A multidimensional methodology drew on quantitative and qualitative data collection techniques (Table 1) to provide a large-scale and wide-angled overview of the situation. It also provided

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 a rich depth of detail in specific areas. On the basis of our findings we made a series of recommendations for the further development of self-access learning. Table 1: Data Collection Techniques Number of Informants

Type of Data

5

Qualitative

Questionnaire to Students

541

Quantitative

Questionnaire to Teachers

58

Quantitative

Student Nominal Focus Groups and Individual Interviews

100

Qualitative

Teacher Interviews

10

Qualitative

Source of Data Manager Interviews

The comparison with this initial data is provided by an on-going research project (see Gardner and Miller forthcoming for details of the project) looking at the management of selfaccess learning in Hong Kong tertiary institutions (including the original five institutions studied in the 1990s), relevant literature and conference presentations, and the authors’ knowledge of developments during the intervening period.

Key Areas of Focus The areas of focus covered in this paper centre around beliefs about: materials for self-access learning, the integration of self-access into language learning courses, the motivation of self-access learners and the effectiveness and benefits of self-access centres. Area of Focus 1: Materials The Situation in the mid-1990s Our research revealed a perceived problem with materials in the SACs. Managers were not happy with the commercially available materials but many of them also commented on the unsatisfactory nature of materials produced in-house. Managers felt their SACs

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 needed a wide range of materials. This view was supported by tutors and also by students. Although the managers were unhappy with the quality of materials, many of the students reported that the materials available met their needs. However, it was difficult to know what criteria students were employing in making their judgements. The managers felt tutors lacked the experience and motivation to produce materials that work well in self-access mode. Some of the SAC tutors had less than one year’s experience of teaching English and some had no experience in self-access work. On the other hand, some tutors complained that when they attempted to produce materials, they were not incorporated into their SAC’s material bank. Some tutors also reported a lack of guidance in what was required and a lack of training in materials development. In addition, sources of information on the production of self-access materials had been limited. However, the perceptions of managers, tutors and users were that SACs should have a large stock of materials. This produced a dilemma for managers in deciding how to provide such a stock of materials. We suggested that: SAC managers must conduct a thorough needs analysis, train their tutors in materials writing, and then develop materials which meet users’ needs and wants. (Gardner and Miller, 1997, p119) The Situation in 2010 Since the initial study was conducted almost all of the SACs have changed their physical appearance (in some cases they have changed their location), and some have changed their guiding philosophy. The issues related to the quality of materials are still prevalent. However, these SACs now have a ‘long’ history of operation and tutors who have been working in SACs for a considerable amount of time. As a result several issues related to materials have been addressed. Changes are: a) There are now good learner training materials in the SACs which tutors ask the users to use before they begin to use the SACs. b) On-line directories about the SACs and how to find suitable materials are available. c) The SACs have online catalogues of their materials. d) Some of the SACs have online needs analyses.

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 e) Learner pathways through materials are provided. f) Increased provision of learner advisory services. g) Increased provision of tutor-led small-group activities (e.g. workshops). h) In-house generic-type materials have been produced to focus on target learners but in a resource-effective way. i) There is a bigger emphasis on purchased materials. j) Several CD-ROMs specifically aimed at independent learners have been produced inhouse. k) Some SACs have streamlined their materials collections to include only those which are most used by learners. l) There was a concerted effort to help teachers write quality SALL materials, through workshops organised by the Hong Kong Association of Self Access Learning and Development (HASALD) for all teachers. In the mid-1990s there were strong beliefs in the need for an extensive range of materials in SACs which were tailor-made for the target users. These beliefs provided motivation for the investment of considerable time in materials production. Worksheets were produced to promote learner training and to provide language learning materials both in standalone mode and as support for authentic materials. In-house online and video language learning materials were also produced. In addition, time was spent constructing pathways for learners, materials catalogues, needs analysis procedures, ways of providing out-of-class language learning opportunities, and language advising services. Large amounts of resources went into these provisions during the following decade. More recently there has been less production of paper-based SALL materials but an increasing emphasis on online materials, learner training and language advising. There has also been a stronger focus on the development of language practice activities.

Area of Focus 2: Integration of SALL into taught courses The Situation in the mid-1990s

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 Data from the initial study illustrated confusion among respondents about their perceptions of connections between work done in the SAC and work done in the classroom. Most of the users said that work done in the SAC was not the same as the work done in the classroom. Most of them also said the work done in the SAC was not based on classroom work. Nevertheless, half of them thought there was a connection between work done in the SAC and their classroom work. Data from the tutor questionnaires and interviews showed a similar pattern of confusion. It was, at the time, difficult to know how to interpret the results. We had assumed that with the amount of money, and human resources which had gone into establishing the elaborate SACs in the Hong Kong universities that there would be sound pedagogical links to the language teaching and learning which was going on in the classrooms. We were, therefore, surprised to find out that there were such weak links. In many ways the SACs had been developed in isolation from the classroom teaching. This may have been for a number of reasons: a)

SALL was viewed as non-classroom based work and so had to be different.

b)

The staff responsible for the establishment of the SACs were not aware of the classroom syllabi, did not consider them relevant to the SAC, or did not want to link the established syllabi to the SAC.

c)

SACs had to be set up fairly quickly and the requirements were for lots of materials to fill the spaces without much attention to linking these materials with classroom-based instruction.

d)

The assumptions underlying the uses students would make of SACs were unclear. One key assumption was that students would be able to make use of SACs with little or no direction and be self-motivated.

e)

The management of the SACs did not promote the integration of language learning and classroom-based learning.

In our project report we made the recommendation that: Links between independent language learning in the SAC and language learning in the classroom need to be developed. (Gardner and Miller, 1997, p121)

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The Situation in 2010 Since the study, we have seen a shift in some of the thinking behind using SACs by both staff and students. In most of the institutions there is now an element of aligning classroom-based project work to the SAC, integrating SALL into courses and, in some cases, providing language courses within SACs. There has also been some research into aspects of integrating SALL and the curriculum (see for example, Hafner and Miller, forthcoming; Gardner, 2007; Fisher et al, 2007; Toogood and Pemberton, 2002). Data from the ongoing project into the management of SALL shows that there is a trend in Hong Kong tertiary institutions towards managing SALL in its entirety rather than a SAC as a standalone unit (see Gardner and Miller, forthcoming; Gardner, forthcoming). Area of Focus 3: Motivation The Situation in the mid-1990s In our original study we identified two distinct groups of users within the five SelfAccess Centres: self-directed/voluntary users; and externally directed/compulsory users. Both groups appeared to be instrumentally motivated through a need for either English for study or English for work purposes. However, the activities that many of the students engaged in did not seem to reflect this kind of motivation. The evidence that supports this is that many tutors commented on the heavy use students made of SACs for entertainment, and the most commonly observable activity was watching movies that the students themselves categorised as relaxation and entertainment. Interview data convinced us that the learners believed in their instrumental motivation but in practice were guided by a desire for entertainment. Another paradox in that original data is that most learners (89%) claimed they liked SALL but only half the learners used a SAC regularly. This may also have reflected a difference between their beliefs and their practice. In other words, ideally they would have been good SALL learners but in practice they were not. These inconsistencies in the data on motivation led us to suggest that:

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 There should be further research into the motivation of SAC users. (Gardner and Miller, 1997, p120) Our rationale for this suggestion was that by investigating why self-motivated users go to the SAC and what they do while there, it may be possible to develop materials and activities which encourage them and which also make the SAC and/or SALL more attractive to others. The Situation in 2010 Most of the SACs included in the initial study have since been redeveloped into stateof-the-art learning centres with attractive technology, furnishings and services which have probably contributed to students’ motivation to use them. During the period under review there has been a strong emphasis on developing tutor support mechanisms for self-access learners in the form of language advising (sometimes called language counselling) services to language learners (cf Voller, 1998, Voller et al, 1999) and workshops and language practice activities. These support mechanisms are reported by SAC managers (in our ongoing project) to be highly valued by users and encourage students to invest more time in their self-access language learning. Despite recommending that research be conducted into the motivation of self-access learners only a few studies have taken place within the institutions reported in this paper. For example, Detaramani and Chan (1999) investigated the needs, attitudes and motivations of self-access learners, and Lai (2007) identified a number of factors which contributed to levels of motivation among students participating in a course with an integrated self-access component. Area of Focus 4: Effectiveness The Situation in the mid-1990s At the time of our initial study we had no way of objectively measuring the effectiveness of a self-access centre (SAC). However, our data showed that most learners in the study felt their SAC was effective in improving their English. Only half the tutors agreed

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 with this but, significantly, a quarter of them did not know if their SAC was effective. This may be because the teachers wanted a more objective way of measuring students' language improvement before committing themselves. As a result we made the following recommendation in our report: Innovative ways must be developed to assess the effectiveness of SACs and of self-access learning. (Gardner and Miller, 1997, p122) While writing about this research and later in discussions with colleagues after conference and seminar presentations it became clear to us that there is a difference between measuring efficiency and measuring effectiveness because they serve different purposes. The former measures of the relationship between output and cost, and the latter measures the meeting of goals and we have subsequently emphasised and explained this difference (Gardner and Miller, 1999). The Situation in 2010 In a later research project (Gardner, 2001) inspired directly by the recommendation to find ways to assess effectiveness, an attempt was made to measure the effectiveness of a single SAC by interviewing the four teachers who staffed one of the original 5 centres and a random selection of 50 of its student users. The project was not able to define a simple measure of effectiveness but it did discover the richness of variety in definitions of effectiveness in the context of a single SAC. Probably the most important finding was that effectiveness means different things to different people. There has been little subsequent published research into the effectiveness of SALL in Hong Kong. However, in a currently ongoing research project about the management of SALL in tertiary institutions in Hong Kong one aspect we are investigating is the ways in which the effectiveness of SACs are measured.

Discussion

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 In this section we reflect on the changes we have identified in stakeholders’ beliefs about self-access language learning in tertiary institutions in Hong Kong. Materials There has been a significant shift in attitudes towards SALL materials, most noticeably in a reduced emphasis on in-house, tailor-made, hard-copy materials and an increased emphasis on professionally-produced and/or online SALL materials. The change in the pattern of SALL materials usage may be related to a more copious supply of usable, professionally-produced materials; a disappointing usage rate for what learners perceived as “homemade� materials; and/or reductions in the time staff are willing to spend producing materials. The latter may result from budget cuts and/or the noticeable shifting of staff attention to publishing research and completing higher degrees.

Integration In the mid-1990s the emphasis was on establishing self-access centres which were largely seen as standalone units. Few efforts were made to integrate them with the taught curriculum. There was even some opposition to the idea of integrating SALL with taught courses. As the SACs matured the concept of SALL shifted from a standalone learning approach to an adjunct feature of some courses and then to an integrated part of many courses. This may be because the universities have promoted the acquisition of life-long learning skills; the language teachers have become more familiar with SALL; and many students have been previously exposed to SALL in secondary schools because the Hong Kong Government has emphasised independent learning in its new curriculum. Motivation There has been very little research looking at the motivation of users of SALL in Hong Kong. However, it seems clear that the development of SALL has been based on the commonsense assumption that motivation will be increased if it is conducted in attractive and comfortable surroundings, providing up-to-date and interesting materials and activities which are based on identified user needs. An example of this is the popularity of activities and

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 materials focused on language tests such as IELTS (seen as the de facto exit test for Hong Kong university students). Effectiveness Beliefs in the effectiveness of SALL have increased since the mid-1990s and this is why SACs have been maintained. However, measuring effectiveness (as opposed to efficiency) of SALL is complicated because it requires evaluation of quality rather than quantity. Most of the SACs maintain records of usage (quantity) for administrative and reporting purposes but have had difficulty in establishing quality assurance mechanisms to demonstrate gain which is attributable to self-access learning.

Conclusion There have clearly been significant changes in stakeholders’ beliefs about self-access language learning over the 15 year period under review. However, it is equally clear that the degree of change varies among the areas we have investigated. Attitudes to materials production and use have changed significantly, most notably in the shift from paper-based to online materials. There has also been a major change of attitude towards the integration of SALL and taught language courses with the increasing perception of SALL adding value to courses. Surprisingly, there has been little change in understanding how to motivate selfaccess learners thus restricting the impact of SALL on the student population. There has been no improvement in the ability to demonstrate the effectiveness of SALL which means its raison d’être remains at risk of being challenged by users and funders. Notes on the Contributors David Gardner is the associate director of the Centre for Applied English Studies at the University of Hong Kong. He has coordinated Self-Access Learning, English for Computer Science students and the English courses for science students. He has taught at secondary and tertiary levels in France, Saudi Arabia, England, Thailand and Hong Kong, and has consulted on self-access projects in Mexico and Indonesia. His research interests include computer-

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 assisted learning and self-access learning. He is a founding member of the Hong Kong Association of Self-Access Learning and Development (HASALD). Lindsay Miller is an associate professor in the Department of English at City University, Hong Kong. He has been responsible for designing, developing and teaching a wide variety of courses at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. His main areas of research have focused on self-access language learning, and academic listening. He is a founding member of the Hong Kong Association of Self-Access Learning and Development (HASALD). David Gardner and Lindsay Miller co-authored Establishing Self-Access: From theory to practice (Cambridge University Press, 1999).

References Detaramani, C., & Chan, I. S. I. (1999 ). Learners' needs, attitudes & motivation towards the self-access mode of language learning. RELC Journal 30(1), 124-150. Fisher, D., Hafner, C., & Young, J. (2007). Integrating independent learning: Lessons learned and implications for the classroom. In D. Gardner (Ed.), Learner autonomy 10: Integration and support (pp. 33-55). Dublin: Authentik. Gardner, D. (2001). Making self-access centres more effective. In D. K. Kember, S. Candlin & L. Yan (Eds.), Further case studies of improving teaching and learning from the action learning project (pp.143-160) Hong Kong: Action Learning Project. Gardner, D. (2007). Integrating self-access learning into an ESP course. In D. Gardner (Ed.), Learner autonomy 10: Integration and support (pp. 8-32). Dublin: Authentik. Gardner, D. (forthcoming). Looking in and looking out: Managing a self-access centre. Paper presented at the "If We Had to Do It Over Again" Implementing Leaner Autonomy in the 21st Century Conference, Gaziantep, Turkey. Gardner, D., & Miller, L. (1997). A Study of tertiary level self-access facilities in Hong Kong. Hong Kong: City University. Gardner, D., & Miller, L. (1999). Establishing self-access: From theory to practice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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SiSAL Journal Vol. 1, No. 3, December, 2010, 161-172 Gardner, D., & Miller, L. (forthcoming). Managing self-access language learning: Principles and practice. System. Hafner, C., & Miller, L. (forthcoming). Fostering learner autonomy in English for science: A collaborative digital video project in a technological learning environment Language Learning and Technology. Lai, M. W. C. (2007). The influence of learner motivation on developing autonomous learning in an English-for specific-purposes course. Unpublished MA Thesis, The University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong. Toogood, S., & Pemberton, R. (2002). Integrating self-access language learning into the curriculum: A case study. In P. Benson & S. Toogood (Eds.), Learner autonomy 7: Challenges to research and practice (pp. 85-109). Dublin: Authentik. Voller, P. (1998). One to one consultations. Hong Kong: The English Centre, University of Hong Kong. (Video and guidebook). Voller, P., Martyn, E., & Pickard, V. (1999). One-to-one counselling for autonomous learning in a self-access centre: Final report on an action learning project. In S. Cotterall & D. Crabbe (Eds.), Learner autonomy in language learning: Defining the field and effecting change (pp. 113-128). Bayreuth Contributions to Glottodidactics, Vol 8. Frankfurt am Main: Lang.

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Co-constructing Understanding of Self Access through Conversational Narrative John Adamson, Howard Brown, and Naoki Fujimoto-Adamson University of Niigata Prefecture Abstract This study has shown how stakeholders of a new Self Access Learning Center (SALC) co-construct views about the center’s development though conversational narratives. Conversational narratives are a means in this study to provide important insights into SALC’s growth and also represent sites of valuable social practice to strengthen collegiality among its participants. This dialogic process illustrates a diversity of perspectives which have emerged over the first year in its growth, and which inform the center’s management on metaphors of self access, language policy, its integration with university curricula, and how it and its staff are positioned in the organization. As part of a larger ethnographic study into the center, these unscripted, free-form dialogues are valued because they mirror the flat hierarchical structure which the center aims to support in its community of practice to legitimize its participants’ voices. Keywords: self access, growth, voices, community, conversational narrative Introduction This paper represents part of an on-going ethnographic study into the growth of a self access learning center (SALC) in a new Japanese university. Specifically, it illustrates the emergent nature of that growth by means of extracts of naturally-occurring unscripted dialogues referred to as “conversational narratives” (Ochs & Capps, 2001, p. 2). The participants of these dialogues are committee members (English teachers and SALC mentors) who steer the day-to-day operation of the center. Meeting regularly in the first year of operation to discuss SALC-related issues, four main themes have emerged from the findings: metaphors of self access, language policy, 173


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integration with university curricula, and institutional positioning. Instead of presenting these findings in a conventional summary, they are represented in their original dialogic form in order to illustrate the way in which meaning-making was co-constructed. Before findings are presented, we provide a brief contextualization of SALC, the university in which it has been established, and the participants involved in this study.

Context The university was established in April 2009 and was previously a two-year college. Upon gaining university status, English was designated as the medium of instruction for many content courses and, as a consequence, a full first year of English for Academic Purposes (EAP) instruction was compulsory for all students. SALC was established at the same time and a committee of English language teachers and mentors was immediately set up to direct its operation. The mentors maintain the center and provide advice to students on language learning strategies, resources, and events in the center. SALC itself is a large room with computers, reception, tables, chairs, sofas, and a carpet area. It is stocked with mostly English graded reader collections, DVDs, grammar reference materials, games, paperbacks, reference materials linked to the university curricula, and Chinese, Korean, and Russian self-study materials. Funding for its day-to-day operations is provided by the university (a regional government institution) and supplementary budgets are given for resources from the university, the Ministry of Education, and the regional government. SALC English materials are integrated with the EAP curriculum taught by

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expatriate teachers but are not integrated with the curricula as taught by Japanese teachers of English or of other faculties. Sixteen hours of EAP is obligatory for first year students but second year students are only required to take five credits of English classes a year. Developing a Dialogue Over the first year of operation, the members of the newly formed SALC committee met regularly to informally discuss its progress. From time to time, these discussions were recorded as conversational narratives (Ochs & Capps, 2001, p. 2), or informal dialogues without pre-determined themes which aimed to “co-construct” (Jacoby & Ochs, 1995, p. 171) views and experiences about the center in its, at times, problematic emergent stages of development. The free form nature of such narratives is argued as being representative of the nature of the committee’s membership of teachers and mentors, all of whom had diverse views about self access. In that sense, these narratives constitute the perfect tool for data collection in this context. Extracts selected here illustrate the diversity of views, how views shifted over time showing a process of emergence, and how participant voices were regarded as “legitimate” and “competent” within the committee’s community of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991), whereas in the larger university community they may have been regarded as marginal. This research approach ultimately serves two purposes: firstly, of gathering information for research data by “unpacking” beliefs (Diaz-Maggioli, 2002, p. 2); secondly, by encouraging the telling of narratives or “narrativization” (Hollway & Jefferson, 2000, p. 35) the research process evokes collaborative reflection which represents a healthy, developmental form of “situated professional practice” (Baker & Johnson, 1998, p. 241). As McCabe (2002) 175


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argues, narratives constitute a means of professional development and are possibly “transformative� (Roulston, 2010, p. 220) in that participant views and beliefs may change during the dialogues themselves through this reflection. The committee members who participated in the conversational dialogues from 2009 to 2010 have been given pseudonyms for the purpose of this study. A teacher from the U.K., Peter, is the Committee head. Paul and Lee are fellow teachers and committee members from Canada and Singapore respectively. Sayaka and Keiko are the Japanese mentors and committee members. Conversational Narratives: Extracts and Discussion We now turn to the extract findings from the conversational narratives presented in their original dialogic form as they mirror the co-constructed talk that naturally occurred between the committee members and SALC mentors in the first year of its operation. Of the many themes which were addressed in these interactions, certain ones emerged from the data. They have been selected for this study as they represent issues which arose in conversation repeatedly, showed significant shifts over time, had considerable diversity of opinion, and impacted on the center’s day-to-day function. Each of the four themes is presented in an extract from a conversational narrative and followed by a short discussion. Metaphors of self-access. (recorded after six months of operation) One predominant theme that emerged was that of metaphors. The conversational narratives below illustrate the all-pervading role they play in determining our

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behaviours and “conceptual system” (Lakoff & Johnson, 1980, p. 3) and thus in our decision-making. Paul led the discussion and referred to the self access metaphors by Gardner and Miller (1999). Paul: Gardner and Miller1 wrote about metaphors, such as supermarket, catalogue shop, or games arcade to characterize models of self access. There appear to be a wide diversity of opinions. I personally envisioned SALC as a kind of community centre, where students interact with each other, the wider university community, and the outside community. It would be the venue for events, guest speakers, and student driven activities. But Lee, you had a different image initially. Lee: Autonomy. I conceptualized SALC as a place where students access a room for self study, self-directed learning, a resource center with reading materials, and also a place to seek help from mentors. Keiko: My image of SALC was a place with mentors like a person at a university in the UK where I studied. She was Spanish and spoke three languages - Spanish, French and English - so I saw SALC as a multi-lingual space. Peter: I had the idea of a place where Extensive Reading takes place. Sayaka: I imagined SALC to be interactive with conversations between students, mentors, and teachers. Also, I imagined various sections - a computer room, writing lab, and group project space. Paul: There are other stakeholder voices in this university as well. We have never really got a clear image but some imply that the SALC should be a clinical, white-walled, technology-driven space or a paper-and-pencil focused silent study space with study cubicles for discreet skills practice – a cubicle farm image. It seems that over time that our conflicting and sometimes complementary images of SALC are now blending together. Peter: That’s right, and on an individual level, our own images of SALC are changing 1

In keeping with the nature of conversational narratives, publication dates were not included when referring to

literature in extracts.

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as well. I now think about SALC much more in terms of a community space than I used to. Paul: Yes. And I am moving away from a community interaction metaphor and towards more of the kind of self-directed study space that Lee was initially lobbying for. The concept of metaphors of self access and this particular SALC have revealed a diversity of images and, interestingly, some shifts over the first year. These are shown in the extract, for example, with both Peter and Paul whose metaphors were initially different but were later supplemented – Peter retaining his view of SALC as an Extensive Reading and Listening space and adding the metaphor of a community space. Language policy. (recorded after seven months of operation) Lee, a committee member researching language policy, started this discussion of how language policy, which had been at first strictly “English only,” had shifted as some mentors and teachers did not believe that the students’ first language (Japanese) should be banned when learning English. Lee: One important theme is our overall language policy in the center. I remember one committee member in the first few weeks suggesting strict guidelines on language policy, even asking students to leave SALC if they speak Japanese. Keiko: I was one of the objectors to this proposal as my experience of language center use in the UK was one of flexibility in code switching. Peter: Even as the head of the committee, I find it hard to enforce a hard-line policy because I simply don’t believe banning Japanese is sound practice. I think code-switching between languages is healthy – it contrasts languages. But I admit some students don’t make enough effort.

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Lee: Yes, I’ve noticed that but it’s a matter of encouragement to use as much as possible and for students to regulate themselves, rather than have classroom-style rules to enforce rules. There is some overlap here between the metaphor theme and language policy, as Keiko’s metaphor of multilingual mentors reminds us. As can be seen from the above extract, the initially strict one-language policy was relaxed to accommodate views on the benefits of first language (L1) use. As Peter said, allowing code switching may be sound practice. The center’s current policy reflects the view that L1 (Japanese) can be of benefit in language learning (Creese & Blackledge, 2010) and is a linguistic resource which develops “local, pragmatic coping tactics” (Lin, 2005, p. 46) providing “safe” language practice opportunities (Martin, 2005, p. 80) for less confident students who require, as Lee pointed out, encouragement rather than enforcement. Integration with curricula. (recorded after 10 months of operation) Lee and Paul initiated this discussion since after almost one full academic year of operation, SALC had been integrated closely with the English EAP curriculum as taught by foreign teachers, but not by any Japanese teachers of language(s) or content. Lee: We need to keep our sights on the primary objectives of the SALC, meaning the idea of student self-directed learning. When we opened, we concentrated on the center’s integration with the English curriculum and how important it was to incorporate some SALC activities, reading and listening, into the curriculum so that students needed to visit the center regularly. Paul: One thing we agreed on early on was that a balanced push–pull system would work well for us. The idea came from a JASAC Forum at JALT 2007 where Robert Crocker talked about how they balanced push and pull at his school. Push for us means 179


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activities that push people into the SALC for activities that teachers assign to be done in SALC. Some are simple worksheets kept in SALC instead of being distributed in class, projects like recording free conversations and submitting the tapes for grading, or Extensive Reading and Extensive Listening. These assignments and projects seem to be well integrated into the curricula of various classes and are being monitored by students in their SALC files. Sayaka: I agree that things seem to be OK so far with the ”push” side of our integration with English but we have collected a lot of feedback from students which shows that the points system for ER and EL is too complicated. As each page of reading or each activity is worth certain points depending on the level of difficulty and the time required, it’s confusing and we actually get more questions related to the system than to improving English. Keiko: Yes, I remember that. We mentors agree that the system needs to be simplified for the second year. Paul: The problems with the points system does lead to another concern. There’s some fear that we are leaning too heavily towards a “push” focus. The students are starting to see SALC as a homework zone so we need to move back to more balance thinking of our goals of autonomy and self direction. Are we scaffolding self access or just setting a series of hoops the students have to jump through to pass their courses? The jury is still out. We also need to look at how our students interact with the materials and activities. I think that we are currently operating at a general practice level but need a more focused model as in the Focused practice with an eye towards Transfer to a real skill balanced with General practice from Toogood. Later in the same conversational narrative Sayaka moved on to the integration of SALC with other subjects, an issue which was of concern to the committee. Sayaka: As our center is called a Self Access Learning Center, we should promote other languages besides English. In this region, English, Chinese, Korean, and Russian are all economically and politically important so we need to welcome non-English language teachers into SALC to make it a four-language zone. Peter: Yes, I think we need to take the next step there of reaching out to other language 180


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teachers but I’m personally unsure how much autonomy they want to promote. Sayaka: I think we can only try. But it kind of shows diversity in learning languages. We also want to promote a variety of approaches to language learning and learner autonomy. I remember reading Kubota who said western ideas of learner autonomy are not necessarily best suited to Asian students and advises against imposing them through overly “western” teaching and learning environments. Lee: That’s really true. I think we need to be sensitive to other Asian teachers’ ways of teaching. Also, we need to get away from this model of English as being represented by a blue-eyed westerner. Sayaka: I think to some extent that is being achieved by us mentors. We’re not native speakers but offer students a more accessible model, like Murphey’s near peer role models. Another way of doing this has been to invite Japanese teachers of content subjects to SALC to talk in English about their experiences as language learners. This guest speaker programme has been well-received by students. The discussions on SALC’s integration with the university curricula show how there is an emerging concern that the overwhelming “push,” or obligation for credit purposes, to visit the center need to be rebalanced with more voluntary “pull” activities. It is these latter reasons for using self-access which may become embedded in the students’ long-term, self-directed learning repertoires. Additionally, as recognized by the committee members, push activities which are complex, for example the ER/EL points system, can be demotivating for students and need to be replaced by simple, user-friendly systems. Mentors particularly noted the importance of integrating center use with other languages and bringing Japanese content teachers into the center to talk about their subject in English. This is seen as a repositioning of SALC’s image from one in which the English native-speaker model predominates to embracing non-native speakers of English as more attainable models of language use (Murphey, 1996). 181


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Additionally, as Sayaka noted, western assumptions of Asian learners’ abilities to study autonomously need to be rethought (Kubota, 2002) and supplemented with a realistic understanding of students’ own views on how to direct their own learning. Institutional positioning. One underlying point of reference for the theme of institutional positioning, both inside the SALC committee and in the university, has been the concept of “community of practice” (Lave & Wenger, 1991). A community of practice is seen as a group of people engaged in an activity or profession and who develop themselves by sharing expertise. Wenger (1998, p. 72-73) highlights “mutual engagement,” “shared repertoire,” and “joint enterprise” as three key interconnected concepts which constitute the social fabric to nurture collaboration among its members. In consideration of these concepts, the committee has been working towards becoming a relatively tight community of practice by focusing on rapport and collaborative effort among its members. However, a recurring sub-theme of discussion has been how that community contrasts with the larger and looser university community of diverse faculties and management with possibly less of a shared vision. The mentor, Keiko, initiated this discussion a few months after SALC opened and it became a recurring theme throughout the year. Discussions addressed budgets which she was involved in and shifted to the committee, mentors, and positioning in the university. Keiko: Budget negotiation is very difficult because we have three sources of money. When I started in April, I asked the university how much we could spend but it was unclear. Strangely, nobody knew. Eventually, I found out we could spend about two million Yen for materials which later decreased to one million. Another source of finance is from the regional government for furniture. Later, we heard of yet another 182


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source, the Good Practice budget from the national government for more materials and computers. This required us to make yet another budget. It’s difficult to keep track sometimes. Peter: I know but basically having three budgetary sources is good news for us. The problem is that every budget proposal has been reduced creating some tension between us and those asking for revisions. We involve everyone on the committee to source materials for budgets so when we need to revise, everyone gets frustrated because the cutting process can sometimes be difficult and time-consuming. Lee: Yes, I was really shocked to see so many revisions of budgets necessary. The university power structure situation seems really shadowy. Peter: Inevitably, it involves an understanding that other departments and universities are all competing for a slice of the pie and if we are turned down on one proposal, there is probably a good reason for it. It’s what Bourdieu called understanding the symbolic capital of the university and beyond. As we are new, we’re probably lucky to have so much money in this first year. Paul: I wonder how much of our confusion is connected to the “newness” we talked about before. Perhaps it’s not only that we don’t understand the symbolic capital here, but also that the power structure itself is still evolving around us, just like we are. After six months of operation, Peter started a discussion about the committee itself and how it appeared to operate in isolation of non-English faculties. Peter: From the first committee meetings we have made decisions as democratically as possible and have avoided top-down decision-making. I’m inspired by Lave and Wenger on communities of practice and the legitimacy of everyone’s participation, no matter how peripheral they think they are in the university. Keiko: Yes, I’m happy about having a voice in our meetings but I wouldn’t dare speak out in the same way in the university office. Peter: I see. I myself think your role as mentors is integral but is sometimes overlooked by the other teachers in the university. You are unique really in how you sit at the center 183


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of what Little calls the pedagogical dialogue between students, teachers, and other office management. I mean you have actually been coming into some English classes so you know what and how the students are learning. Perhaps more than I do as a teacher. Sayaka: Taking part in English classes was really informative for me and Keiko. I wonder if we can get access to other lessons. Keiko: We could ask but SALC is new, so we are struggling to find our position and identity among other content teachers. One issue possibly impacting upon this is that our committee is mostly made up of foreign English teachers. This is limiting for us all in the sense that we can’t understand the needs of other faculties. If we wish to include a wider spectrum of voices in SALC, then we need to reposition ourselves to meet wider curricular needs, not just those of foreign English teachers. That would naturally mean rethinking who becomes a committee member. Paul: That’s an important consideration. It was unfortunate that in April the decision was made to appoint mostly foreign English teachers to the committee, and no teachers of other languages or content. This final theme of institutional positioning returned to the concept of a community of practice. Keiko’s concerns about the difficulties of allocation of various budgets concur with Lee’s feeling of the “shadowy” nature of negotiations with university and non-university hierarchies. This was perhaps a difficult learning experience for committee members unused to the power relations or “symbolic capital” (Bourdieu, 1988) within the university and also what Paul noted as the “newness” of an institution still unsure of the roles and responsibilities in its own hierarchical structure. Finally, the sense of empowerment of mentors in its committee decision-making contrasted starkly with comments made by Keiko of how she would not dare to speak out to the wider university community. This shows the legitimization of her voice in SALC’s community of practice. However, it may be that the mentors’ pivotal role in the

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pedagogical dialogue (Little, 1995) between language and content teachers, students and university management is yet to be fully exploited.  Implications for Practice Whilst our findings are localized to this particular center, this study has possible implications for other centers from the process employed. This process of data collection has used conversational narratives. The social interaction involved in collecting data this way has been healthy, reflective, and collaborative which leads to the implication that it may be more productive to allow themes to emerge and evolve than to establish a center with pre-determined assumptions which may not necessarily be suited to local realities. Additionally, this dialogic process promotes a flat hierarchy and democratic decision-making. This may represent a healthy model of collaboration between faculty and staff who would otherwise be restrained by differences in their hierarchical positioning. Conclusions This paper has represented the growth of a self access learning center in the form of free-form conversational narratives (Ochs & Capps, 2001) between its committee members over the first year of its operation. As is clear from the extracts, the co-construction of talk reveals telling insights into the practicalities and frustrations of a new center within a new university. This has specifically entailed struggles and reconciliation with the diverse metaphors on self access and SALC’s positioning within the larger university’s more hierarchical system, as illustrated in various forms of budget negotiations and perceptions of mentors. Outstanding issues to be resolved focus 185


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on the limited integration of the center with university curricula, especially with subjects taught by Japanese faculty. This has implications for the make-up of the committee formed to steer its activities which is lacking in its representativeness of the wider faculty. With the close integration with the EAP curriculum as taught by foreign teachers of English, there remain problems of an over-emphasis on teacher-directed push activities in SALC use by students. Positive findings point to a growing awareness of the English-speaking Japanese mentors representing more attainable near peer role models (Murphey, 1996). Additionally, the research being conducted through conversational narratives illustrates how the committee operates with a flat hierarchy to legitimize all its members’ views despite their peripheralization in the institution at large. Finally, the dialogues over the first year are also argued as forming a regular site of social practice and professional development for their participants. Implied within this last observation is the inclusion of additional participants (other faculty and students) to engage in the legitimizing and empowering nature of conversational narratives. Notes on the contributors John Adamson is an Associate Professor at the University of Niigata Prefecture where he teaches English for Academic Purposes. He received his Ed.D. from Leicester University, U.K.. He is Senior Editor of Asian EFL Journal and the Linguistics Journal. His research interests focus on self-access and academic publishing. Howard Brown is an Assistant Professor at the University of Niigata Prefecture in Japan. His teaching interests are in English for Academic Purposes and Content Based Instruction. His current research interests include issues in self access and Content and Language Integrated Learning. He is also involved in faculty development. 186


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Naoki Fujimoto-Adamson is currently completing her Ed.D. thesis from Leicester University, U.K., on team-teaching in Japanese Junior High Schools. She works at the Self-Access Learning Center (SALC) at the University of Niigata Prefecture. Her research interests are in the fields of team-teaching and the history of ELT in Japan.

References Baker, C. D., & Johnson, G.. (1998). Interview talk as professional practice. Language and Education, 12(4), 229-242. Bourdieu, P. (1988). Homo academicus. Cambridge: Polity Press. Creese, A., & Blackledge, A. (2010). Translanguaging in the bilingual classroom: A pedagogy for learning and teaching? The Modern Language Journal, 94, 103-115. Diaz-Maggioli, G. H. (2002). Options for teacher professional development. English Teaching Forum, 41(2), 2-13 & 21. Gardner, D., & Miller, L. (1999). Establishing self-access. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Hollway, W., & Jefferson, T. (2000). Doing qualitative research differently. London: Sage. Jacoby, J., & Ochs, E. (1995). Co-construction: An introduction. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 28, 171-183. Kubota, R. (2002). The author responds: (Un)Raveling racism in a nice field like TESOL. TESOL Quarterly, 36(1), 84-92. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago: University of Chicago. Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning: Legitimate peripheral participation. 187


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New York: Cambridge University Press. Lin, A. M. Y. (2005). Critical, transdisciplinary perspectives on language-in-education policy and practice in postcolonial contexts: The case of Hong Kong. In A. M. Y. Lin & P. W. Martin (Eds.), Decolonization, globalization: Language-in-education policy and practice (pp. 38-54). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters. Little, D. (1995). Learning as dialogue: The dependence of learner autonomy on teacher autonomy. System, 23(2), 175-181. Martin, P. W. (2005). Bilingual encounters in the classroom. In J. M. Dewale, A. Housen & L. Wei (Eds.), Bilingualism: Beyond the basic principles (pp. 67-87). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters. McCabe, A. (2002). Narratives: A wellspring for development. In J. Edge (Ed.), Continuing professional development (pp. 82- 89). Kent: IATEFL. Murphey, T. (1996). Near peer role models. Teachers Talking to Teachers, 4(3), 21-22. Ochs, E., & Capps, L. (2001). Living narrative. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Roulston, K. (2010). Considering quality in qualitative interviewing. Qualitative Research, 10(2), 199-228. Toogood, S. (2006). Taking control or jumping through hoops: Issues with SALL in mainstream courses. In H. Anderson, M. Hobbs, J. Jones-Parry, S. Logan & S. Lotovale (Eds.), Supporting independent learning in the 21st century. Presented at the Second Conference of the Independent Learning Association, Auckland, NZ. Retrieved from http://independentlearning.org/ILA/ila05/ila05_toogood.pdf Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

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The Effect of Chinese ESL Learners’ Beliefs on their Autonomous Learning Qunyan Zhong, Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand Abstract What beliefs do Chinese learners hold about language learning? What is the effect of these beliefs on their autonomous learning? These are the two questions that this study aims to address. I employed naturalistic inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) to investigate five Chinese ESL learners’ beliefs about language learning and their learning behaviour. A number of instruments (interviews, classroom observations and stimulated recall, learning logs) were used to collect triangulated data over a 12-week period. Following standard procedures of qualitative data analysis, I identified five categories of learners’ beliefs. The results revealed that the beliefs that the learners held were context-specific, reflecting their learning experiences. Some of them were conducive to learning autonomy while others were not. The beliefs influenced the level of the learners’ autonomy. The study suggests that educators should take into account learners’ beliefs when promoting autonomous learning. Key words: Chinese learners; autonomy; autonomous learning; learners’ beliefs; self-efficacy; learning behavior Introduction Littlewood (1996) defines an autonomous person as “one who has an independent capacity to make and carry out the choices which govern his or her actions” (p. 428). The definition highlights two important aspects of autonomy: 1) learners’ ability to take charge of their own learning; 2) their independence in decision making, that is, they are able to regulate their learning without relying on others, e.g. teachers. But when operationalizing the construct, a question needs to be answered: to what extent is a learner expected to take control of their learning in order to be regarded as an autonomous learner? Nunan (1996) posits that “it [autonomy] is not absolute, but rather a relative concept” (p.26). Littlewood (1999) concurs, arguing that autonomy is a matter of degree. He distinguishes two levels of autonomy: proactive and reactive autonomy. The former “affirms [learners’] individuality and sets up directions in a world which they themselves have partially created.” (p.75). In this level of autonomy, learners take partial or total ownership of many learning processes which have been traditionally regarded as teacher responsibilities, such as deciding on learning objectives, selecting learning methods and materials, and evaluating progress. Reactive autonomy, on the other hand, ‘does not create its own directions, but, once a direction has

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been initiated, enables learners to organize their resources autonomously in order to reach their goal.’ (p.75). For example, learners go through past examination papers using their own initiative and learn vocabulary without being pushed. Littlewood (1999) points out proactive autonomy is regarded as ‘the only kind that counts’ when the concept is discussed in the West. He argues that it is also useful to consider reactive autonomy either as ‘a preliminary step towards the first or a goal in its own right’ (p.75), particularly for learners in East Asian contexts. In this paper, I examine the notion of the learners’ autonomy and their level of autonomy in light of Littlewood’s framework. There is a general agreement in SLA that learning autonomy is an end that all teachers and learners ought to work towards (Nunan, 1996). However, I argue before promoting autonomous learning, it is essential to detect learners’ beliefs. This is simply because human beings are designers of their own actions (Argyris & Schön, 1974). Behind all actions there are beliefs that underpin them. Hence, learners’ autonomous learning is also governed by their beliefs. For example, if a learner believes learning a language is about using it in communication. The learner is likely to seek opportunities on his or her own to communicate in the L2. In this respect, it is necessary to examine learner beliefs in order to detect if beliefs that learners hold are conducive or hindering to their autonomy (Cotterall, 1995). However, to date there have not been many empirical studies of this nature. This study aims to investigate the beliefs that Chinese ESL learners hold and the impact on their autonomous learning. Specifically, it addresses two questions: 1. What beliefs do Chinese learners hold about language learning? 2. What is the effect of the beliefs on their autonomous learning? In other words, do the beliefs promote or hinder their learning autonomy?

The Study This study employed naturalistic inquiry (Lincoln & Guba, 1985) to collect data on 5 Chinese learners over 12 weeks in 20081. Because the purpose of the study was to provide an in-depth understanding of their beliefs about language learning, purposeful sampling method (Patton, 1990) was used to select the participants - they had to be recent students from China who had been in the New Zealand education system for no longer than 6 months. The 5 learners who were voluntarily involved in this study were all full-time students: 2 were from the elementary level; 3 were from the pre-intermediate level. Table 1 gives a summary of the participants’ profiles. To ensure the

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reliability and dependability of the study, I gathered triangulated data by using the following instruments: (1) Interviews: I conducted two open-ended interviews, one at the beginning and another at the end of the study. Each interview lasted around one hour. Participants were provided opportunities to articulate their thoughts on a set of questions tapping into their beliefs about language learning and their learning behavior. For example, one of the questions that I asked was this: “In your view, what is the best way to learn English?� The purpose was to uncover their beliefs about their approaches to language learning. (2) Learning logs: I asked the participants to write one or two entries of learning logs each week, relating anything about their learning, e.g. their class activities, the role of teachers, their learning activities etc. (3) Classroom observations and stimulated recall: I observed and video-taped the learners twice in their intact classrooms to collect data on their class behavior. Each observation lasted 90 minutes which was then followed by stimulated recall where learners watched pre-selected video clips and commented on what was happening in the classroom, what he or she was doing at that time and why (Gass & Mackey 2000).

Table 1 Participant Profiles Name

Fey

Shan

Ding

Peng

Bing

Gender

Female

Female

Female

Male

Male

Age

28

41

21

25

35

Educational background

University graduate

University graduate

High school graduate

University graduate

Art academy graduate

Length of time learning in N.Z.

2 weeks

2 weeks

2 weeks

2 weeks

6 months

6 months

18 months

12 months

10 months

6 years

Junior high school

High school

Primary school

Primary school

A few months before coming to N.Z. from a

Length of time living in N.Z. First time learning

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private tutor.

English proficiency

Pre-intermediate

Pre-intermediate

Pre-intermediate

Elementary II

Elementary II

Data analysis Standard procedures of qualitative data analysis (Lincoln & Guba, 1985; Patton, 1990; Strauss & Corbin, 1998) were followed. I started with open coding the set of data for the first learner.!This involved affixing codes to the units of analysis in the data which could be single words, short phrases, complete sentences, utterances or extended discourse. The open coding was then followed by category construction where I grouped the codes denoting similar themes or concepts into tentative categories. They were then tested against the second set of data for case two to see if the tentative categories existed and held up. When new tentative categories were identified, I would reexamine the previous case and added the new provisional categories to the subsequent data analysis. The recursive process continued until all the data had been analyzed and saturation point had been reached, i.e. there was no more new information or insights forthcoming. During this process, some categories remained while others were added, collated or renamed. In the end, five categories of beliefs emerged from the data. Results and Discussion 1. Beliefs about exams. The most salient belief surfacing from the data was the significance that the learners attached to the role of exams in their learning. Four out of the five learners were of the view that exams could exert pressure and “push” them to revise and summarize: …tests can give me some pressure. Humans are lazy by nature. But if I have tests, I will treat them seriously. The revisions before the tests had a big impact on me. They made a great difference….if I revise before exams, I can perform better. Tests help you learn and give you some pressure to learn more. For me it works very well. (Shan, Int II) Another reason for more tests was related to the evaluative feedback they received from exams:

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Tests can detect what I am clear about and what I’m not so sure of. If I made mistakes in the exams, they would leave a stronger impression. Next time I won’t make the same mistakes again. (Ding, Int II) The significance that the participants placed on the role of exams may arise from their previous learning experiences in China where exams were usually high-stake. In other words, the test results played a vital role in their lives. For instance, they were used as the criterion for admission into university, applying for jobs and career promotions. Although they were in New Zealand, the influence from their previous learning still came into play. They reported responding to the test demands on the course and relying on tests as an external incentive to motivate them to learn and to provide feedback on their learning progress. Because exams decided the direction of their learning activities, I regarded their learning autonomy as reactive. By contrast, Fei was different. According to her, I don’t think exams have a lot of impact on my learning in New Zealand. They don’t affect my entrance to university or jobs… I learn at a pace that suits me…I don’t change my learning behaviour due to the demands of exams. (Fei, Int II). In her opinion, Exams provide very important evidence for my progress, there are many other ways. For example, if I don’t look up new words as often after reading for a while, I think this is a progress. (Fei, Int I).

Apparently, Fei changed her belief about the role of exams in her learning in the new learning context. Exams were not the drive in her learning anymore. On the contrary, she was in control of her own learning. She knew how to plan and evaluate her learning. Her learning behaviour was not reactive anymore but proactive. 2. Beliefs about accuracy. Another noticeable theme among the five participants was their concern for accuracy. All the learners were of the opinion that error correction was “crucial” and “important” in their learning. They always wanted to be corrected:

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I welcome error correction all the time. Only after errors are corrected will I know what went wrong. In this way I won’t make the similar mistakes next time. I don’t want to repeat the same mistake twice. (Peng Int II) In addition, Bing, Peng and Fei associated accuracy with their dignity and level of education: If you use correct grammar and appropriate words, you will not be considered as illiterate. I hope people will consider me to be well-educated. I really care how people think of me. (Fei, Int II) Shan and Ding expressed similar views: “I won’t engage in communication with Kiwis until I’m sure what I said is correct.” (Shan, Diary: 18 Aug) Rubin (1975) lists one of the features of good language learners is their willingness to live with a certain amount of vagueness and their willingness to make mistakes. Cotteral (1995) also points out central to good language learning was learners’ willingness to take risks, a behaviour which may not be as important in other school subjects, e.g. Maths or physics. The corollary of these learners’ concerns for accuracy was the attention they paid to grammatical features of English. This may lead to their neglect of the communicative function of the language and their high expectations of teachers to impart the correct knowledge to them. 3. Beliefs about their own effort. All the learners held a firm belief at both times that their own effort was pivotal to the success of their language learning: You have to work hard. If you don’t work hard, external factors can’t change your situation. (Fei, Int I) Your own effort is the most important. You have to work hard. No one can help you unless you help yourself. ( Shan, Int I) Their beliefs in the value of their own effort meant that these learners were willing to take individual responsibility and strive to achieve their goals. This was evident in their consistent and substantial use of metacognitive strategies to regulate their learning by: (1) determining their own learning goals:

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Most people say I should listen more and speak more. But my listening is okay. If I know the word, I will understand it regardless how it was said and in what environment. So for me it is vocabulary size that prevents me. Only after I have had enough words can I improve my listening and speaking. So I have to consolidate vocabulary and memorize more vocabulary. (Bing, Int I) (2) selecting their learning methods: My main obstacle still lies in vocabulary, i.e. I can’t remember spellings. It is very frustrating…I think it would be great if we could form learning groups. Apart from learning in class, we could learn in groups outside class where we could discuss grammar, memorize wordlists, practise speaking and grammar, use words and help each other learn. (Bing, Diary 23-09) and (3) self-assessing their progress: …during my conversation with Mohamud [her classmate], I had to ask him to write down what he said in order to understand what he said…this means that my English is still far behind. Otherwise, why are the teachers and the other fellow students able to understand [him] not me? (Shan, Diary 13-08) During this process of self-regulated learning, most of the learners demonstrated proactive autonomy, that is, they made independent decisions about their learning objectives, learning methods and self-assessment. Gan’s study (2009) compared students from the mainland and Hong Kong also found that the mainland students use more self-directed strategies, which he attributed to their institutional context and social environment, e.g. under-resourced teaching staff and teaching facilities. 4. The Role of the teacher While they believed their own efforts led to successful learning, all the learners except Fei held a predominantly traditional view of the role of teachers: to teach and transmit knowledge. They expected teachers to deliver interesting lessons, clarify the confusion they had in their English learning and correct errors from their course work. They believed that teachers should exert some pressure to push them to learn by giving more exams and homework and monitoring their learning: Teachers should give pressure to students and monitor them, for example, their homework and class performance. The pressure should be moderate so that students are able to achieve it. Lessons should be interesting and you won’t feel bored so you can focus on them. The way they teach should be heuristic. They can clarify concepts. They can use class activities and a variety of teaching techniques to get students involved. Although the teaching content is from textbooks, they can present it differently. (Peng, Int II)

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It appears that the learners expected their teacher to take charge of their learning. Their beliefs about the importance of their own effort and the role of teachers were clearly in conflict. How could they emphasize their own effort on the one hand and yet expect their teachers to take responsibility for their learning on the other hand? The paradox can be explained if I trace the source of the conflicting beliefs. Most Chinese learners grow up with the value that diligence is a virtue, which is inculcated at home, at school and in the society. Working hard is a desired social behaviour. There are many sayings in China about the value of hard work, for instance, “constant grinding can turn an iron bar to a needle.” The role of students is to work hard using the resources they have been given and to persist in pursuing the goals that have been set for them, mostly by their parents, relatives or teachers. On the other hand, teachers have been held in high esteem in the Chinese society. Teachers of today may not hold the same status as is reflected in such an ancient saying as “He who has taught a person for a day deserves the same respect as his or her father for a lifetime.” However, the traditional views of teachers are still deeply seated in the Chinese society. Along with the reverence for teachers come the high expectations of teachers. They are expected to set a good example and to teach and build the moral characters of students. Their responsibilities for their students go beyond the curriculum requirements. For example, they also include the pastoral care of their students. In such social context, learners were barely given opportunities to make independent choices regarding their learning objectives and resources, which was taken for granted to be their teachers’ responsibility. Learners were not expected to manifest proactive autonomy but they had to demonstrate a high level of reactive autonomy. When the learners came to the new learning context, New Zealand, they expected teachers to play the same roles as their counterparts in China. Whereas teachers in New Zealand embrace the notion of learning centredness or learner-centredness (see Nuan, 1996 for details). They see themselves more as a facilitator, a class manager and organizer rather than as an authority figure in the classroom. A mismatch between teachers and learners arose: In China, teaching is regarded as more than a job. It comes with solemn responsibilities. Teachers think for their students as to what to do outside the classroom and how to help them pass exams. In New Zealand, teachers don’t think about this for their students. Teaching is just a job for them. (Bing, Int II)

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An exception to this general pattern was Fei. She demonstrated that she had the ability to take full charge of her own learning. At both times she was of the view that “one shouldn’t over rely on teachers. Teachers were a guide. How far you can go as a learner is entirely at your disposal” ( Fei, Int I). She planned her learning goals on her own, selected her own materials and self-assessed her learning progress (e.g. communicating in real life). The following quote illustrates how Fei set her learning goal and chose her own learning materials:

{I think with my current English level I should act from the basics. For example, [I should] enlarge my vocabulary, practise grammar and do more speaking and listening. More haste less speed. I have to do things one at a time. In the future, I’d like to learn more and read more. Eventually I can combine the two cultures together…I believe the best thing to start off is to read some books which are higher than my current English level. Reading valuable books is the best way.} (Fei, Int I) In this regard, Fei was entirely self-directed. She demonstrated a high level of proactive autonomy. 5. Self-efficacy beliefs. A noticeable change among the learners was their self-efficacy belief. Self-efficacy is a construct that originates in the work of Bandura (1977a, 1997). He defines perceived self-efficacy as “beliefs in one’s capabilities to organize and execute the courses of actions required to produce given levels of attainments” (Bandura, 1998, p.624). In this definition, it is clear that self-efficacy deals with personal judgements about one’s control over behaviour itself. Therefore, selfefficacious language learners will be equally autonomous as they are confident about their ability to control their learning and take actions. Table 2 compares the learners’ perceived self-efficacy at time 1 and time 2. It shows that the five learners’ perceived self-efficacy about learning English varied at time 1. While Peng and Fei were very confident about their abilities to learn English, Bing, Ding and Shan held a low selfefficacy belief about their capabilities. Their levels of self-efficacy ranged between 3 and 4. The interview data provided some insights. Bing’s low self-efficacy seems to be related to the belief that “I don’t have good memory” (Int I). Shan also believed that poor memory constituted a major barrier in her language learning. In addition, she considered herself to be lacking in perseverance. She was not sure ‘if I can persist with my learning to the end’ (Int I). Finally, Ding considered herself to be ‘very low’ in aptitude. She did not believe in herself and relied on teachers to give feedback on her progress and asked her friends to help with her homework.

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Table 2 Comparison of the learners’ self-rated self-efficacy at times 1 & 2 Bing

Peng

Ding

Shan

Fei

Time 1

4

8

3

4

10

Time 2

6

8

6

8

10

* The self-rating scale ranges from 1 to 10. 10 is the maximum.

However, at time 2, to a varying degree, the five learners had all become more confident. According to Ding, Now I’m completely different. I know better about myself. I know which skills I am good at and which I am not. Although I am still not very clear [about grammar], I have my own opinions now. (Ding, Int II) Shan’s self-rated confidence about learning English shifted from 4 to 8. She did not ‘feel English difficult to learn anymore” (Shan, Int II). Her “motivation to learn has been boosted” (Shan, Int II). She believed “If I work hard, I can handle it [English]” (Shan, Int II). What has given rise to the changes? Shan attributed the changes to the school, the teachers and her language progress: I felt that this[her confidence] had to do with teachers and school management so I want to continue to learn. If I came across teachers who didn’t take teaching seriously and who didn’t care about attendance, I would’ve given up half way through…I have studied for only 3 months but I feel that I have made huge progress. Now I have become more confident. I know as long as I don’t stop learning, I’m confident that I can learn the language well. (Shan, Int II)

Ding also linked the growth of her self-efficacy to her language progress: In the past I never believed what I said was correct as I really didn’t know. Now I have learned a lot of grammar and I know the reason why it is correct. I don’t ask him [her friend] for help anymore. I feel he is not as good as I am and why I should believe in him. (Ding, Int II) It seems when learners see some tangible changes after comparing where they were before and where they are now, they become more motivated to learn and their confidence about their

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ability increases. This suggests that language proficiency enhances the learners’ self-efficacy and autonomy. In comparison, Peng and Fei’s self-efficacy was very high. At both times, Peng rated his capability at 8. His confidence seems to come from the realistic goal he set for himself: My goal is to be able to communicate in daily life. I think it is achievable. (Peng, Int I) Fei, on the other hand, was an extremely confident person. Her high self-efficacy seems to be related to her past successful mastery experiences in learning. Successes have helped her develop into an extremely confident person. At both times, she rated her ability to learn English at the maximum of 10. In her view, I believe you have to believe in yourself so that you can make progress. I believe the only person you can rely on was yourself and your own effort. (Fei, Int I) The finding suggests when students perceive themselves as competent and capable, they are most likely to learn autonomously. That is, they tend to plan, monitor, and participate in their learning. They may be more likely to persevere in face of obstacles in learning and achieve in their future learning.

Conclusion This paper reported on a qualitative case study investigating the effect of the learners’ beliefs on their learning autonomy. It identified five beliefs that the learners held about the role of exams and teachers, about the importance of their own effort and accuracy and about their self-efficacy. These beliefs were constructed in the social and learning contexts the learners had been in. Some of them were more conducive to autonomous learning (e.g. effort and self-efficacy) while others were not (e.g. the role of teacher and importance of accuracy). These beliefs were very complex and sometimes were contradictory. For instance, their beliefs about the role of teachers were at odds with those about the importance of their own effort. Furthermore, the beliefs that the learners held played a significant role in their learning and influenced their learning autonomy. The study also revealed that the learners varied in their level of autonomy. While Fei’s autonomy at both times

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was predominantly proactive, the other learners were initially more reactive. However, at time 2, they also showed an increase in proactive autonomy. This variation and development appear to be related to the different beliefs they held about language learning. The findings suggest that it is essential to understand the beliefs that learners hold about the different aspects of their language learning and the extent to which learners’ behaviour is influenced by these beliefs. This understanding can help teachers promote learner autonomy and avoid misunderstandings between their intention and learners’ interpretation. In order to be aware of their learner’s beliefs, teachers should encourage their learners to express them overtly. This can be done by asking them formally (e.g. with interview questions) and /or informally (e.g. at the end of a class activity) (see Barkhuizen, 1998, for details). Once they have become aware of their learners’ perceptions, teachers can plan and implement more effective strategies aimed at fostering learner autonomy. Acknowledgements I feel indebted to my supervisor, Professor Rod Ellis, for his insightful comments on some ideas of this article and also to the two anonymous reviewers for their invaluable feedback and suggestions.

Notes on the contributor Qunyan Zhong is a lecturer at Unitec Institute of Technology, New Zealand, teaching English as an additional language to adult immigrant learners. She holds an MA in Applied Linguistics and also an MA in Linguistics. Currently she is at the last stage of her doctoral study. She has been teaching ESL for over 10 years and her research interests are learner beliefs, learning strategies, and classroom research and SLA.

NOTES 1. The participants were part of a case study which involved 8 learners. The research project had a number of aims: 1) To examine the evolution of learner beliefs over the observed period 2) To investigate the changes of the learners’ learning strategy use

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3) To examine the relationships between beliefs and learning strategy use and their effects on the changes in language proficiency

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Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 1(3)