Reflecting Dialogically on Listening Pedagogy: A duoethnography
Department of Global Innovation Studies, Faculty of Global and Regional Studies, Toyo University
School of Education, University of Leeds
The authors conduct a duoethnographic exploration of listening pedagogy relating to authentic listening courses they taught in Italy and Japan respectively. Themes explored include how authenticity is operationalised and how it relates to the politics of text selection. Whether the Comprehension Approach (CA) (Field, 2008) is actually rejected by teachers is examined and discussed in relation to the difficulties and feasibility of teaching listening with a process approach. Learner motivation and how to manage and mitigate demotivation is discussed, while attribution theory (Weiner, 1985) is used to illustrate ways that learners may be taught to approach difficulty in texts. Additionally, feelings of ‘impostor syndrome’ and the generalizability of listening research to classroom instruction are considered. Implications relate to the accessibility of research to teachers, and whether partially implemented research recommendations are pedagogically viable. The duoethnography concludes by noting the potential of learner autonomy in mitigating instruction time constraints, the conflicts between skill instruction and listening for language acquisition and the possibilities of attribution theory for improved toleration of listening difficulties. The viability or otherwise of a process approach to listening instruction is discussed but left unsolved.
Keywords: authenticity, duoethnography, listening, process approach, attribution theory
The listening literature has increased in the past decade, to the extent that listening probably no longer deserves the name ‘Cinderella skill’ (c.f. Vandergrift, 1997). Despite this growth in interest, however, much of the research remains focused on the idea of rejecting the Comprehension Approach (CA) (Field, 2008). One repeated assumption (e.g., Field, 2019; Goh, 2010), is that when teaching listening, teachers depend on a CA, whereby they fail to focus on developing the processes of listening and instead focus on the product of listening, in the form of correct answers to comprehension questions. However, aside from a few valuable exceptions (e.g., Siegel, 2014), little empirical, observational evidence exists showing that this is the case. As Graham et al (2014) argue, this label may be inadequate in capturing the complexity of teachers’ practices and more nuanced accounts are needed that go beyond the focus on comprehension. This is the first reason that has led us to this duoethnography, in which we analyse and reflect on our own practice and knowledge as experienced listening teachers and researchers.
The existing research offers little account of how listening can be taught. Therefore, we wish to contribute to the growing knowledge about listening pedagogy through reflexive accounts of our teaching and pedagogy to address the gap between academic and teaching communities. This work foregrounds our experiences designing and leading two listening courses in two university contexts in Italy and Japan. While much has been written about supplanting the CA through process-based instruction, accounts of using this knowledge to structure a course are limited. We discuss course design and instruction, including the challenges, self-doubt and unresolved issues that innovations in listening pedagogy entail.
To explore the issues faced in our professional lives, we conducted a duoethnography (Sawyer and Norris, 2013). Lowe and Lawrence (2020, p.2) define duoethnography as ‘a qualitative research methodology in which two researchers utilise dialogue to juxtapose their individual life histories in order to come to new understandings of the world’. Thus, duoethnography is a collaborative, dialogic process of writing, where each author explores their beliefs, history, and practices. The dialogic process and exploration were some of the reasons for choosing duoethnography, along with a more direct style resulting from ‘its own stylistic direction as the conversations unfold naturally’ (Sitter and Hall, 2012, p.243). Duoethnography captures the lived experiences of each author and provides a rigorous ‘reality check’ through the coauthor’s critical engagement, though ‘Rather than uncovering the meanings that people give to their lived experiences, duoethnography embraces the belief that meanings can be and often are transformed through the research act’ (Norris and Sawyer, 2012, p.9). It is therefore imperative that we position ourselves as early-career researchers and teachers seeking to build upon our knowledge and create something new.
The methods that we used in creating our duoethnography were straightforward. We met on video chat several times and made notes of themes that came out of our discussions, and reconstructed our discussions for cohesion, logic and scope. If we had produced a document of around seven hours of discussion, this may have filled a book, albeit one with several tangents. Therefore, while the presented dialogue is realistic rather than real, it is formed from the actual conversations that we had, which we then edited and continued probing at in the creation of the document.
The text is organised according to the themes we identified in our discussions: authenticity, purposes for listening, formative experiences, impostor syndrome, and implications. We then provide our conclusion, with caveats and limitations.
MJ: When we think about ‘authenticity’ in language teaching, I am drawn into the circular thinking on it. There is Widdowson’s (1996) notion that texts intended for L1 audiences are not authentic for L2 learners, which takes me into how teachers and learners decide what is or is not ‘authentic’. Consider teachers selecting texts: if learner-centred teaching is our goal, is it attainable if we contradict learner decisions by providing what we think is a good choice? I try to accommodate difficult texts by using short extracts, but this raises the issue of inauthentic practices. Therefore, for me ‘authenticity’, in general listening courses and my Authentic Listening courses I taught at a university, is based on what learners might plausibly encounter outside of the course. I disregard the language background of the text’s assumed audience but consider whether my learners are likely to encounter it. What do you think about ‘authenticity’ and what is ‘authentic’?
CB: This is particularly interesting for me as I called my course “Authentic Listening: Understanding Real Spoken English” to ensure that my learners knew it would probably be different from their previous experiences. You and I both run ‘authentic listening’ courses, yet how ‘authentic’ is it to consciously work on developing L2 listening through, for example, strategy instruction or micro-exercises focusing on sound recognition? Is ‘authenticity’ just defined as ‘coming into contact with unscripted English spoken in real life’? The issue of the authenticity in a listening course has always troubled me. Prior to the Needs Analysis for my course, I assumed a need common to all my students was understanding academic lectures. However, I was told that they did not want to practise understanding lectures and that they wanted to do more ‘informal’ listening.
In terms of texts, I agree that it is not about which sort of speaker a text was intended for, but whether it was made for pedagogical purposes. Materials made for pedagogical purposes are often characterised by slow, artificial speech (Cauldwell, 2018) and learners as young as sixteen realise this and find textbook materials artificial (Bruzzano, 2021). The problem thus seems threefold: authenticity of tasks, authenticity of purposes and authenticity of texts. Do you aim for authenticity in these three domains? If so, would you say you achieve it?
MJ: I feel that teachers select listening texts (other than those accompanying a textbook) based on what they think are ‘worthy’ texts, which might explain the popularity of TED Talks (TED, n.d.). I have also picked TED Talks because of their similarity to lectures. A balance between what is best and what is possible is required: showing a full lecture is time consuming and impractical. However, the lecture is only a single genre that university students encounter outside my classroom. Other genres, while also difficult, do not always require such time considerations so I feel less like I am compromising in those cases. I only select texts based upon student needs and knowledge of stakeholder expectations. Listening materials I have provided include transport announcements, promotional videos, dramas and informative interviews. I endeavour to provide some level of authenticity within all three domains you mentioned above. With authenticity of tasks, authenticity of purposes likely occurs automatically; I cannot think of an occasion where they are likely to be apart. The difficulty here is authenticity of texts because I see natural texts as authentic and graded recorded material as inauthentic. For me, it is much more authentic to use live listening with learners checking meaning throughout than to listen to a recording of a stereotypical ‘native speaker’ speaking slowly. I appreciate that I am often in a minority in my thinking here.
CB: You make some good points about projecting your opinions and balancing different purposes for listening activities. Regarding the first, there is no way that your beliefs and background will not manifest in the selection of materials. ‘Political neutrality’ is something many might aspire to in language teaching, and this is reflected in ‘neutral’ textbook topics (Brown, 2020) – but really, is anything devoid of ideology? Is choosing ‘apolitical’ materials not also a political choice, which is far from neutral? I embrace my positionality and bring it into the classroom, as I do not think language teaching can only be seen in a utilitarian light (i.e. only for proficiency) but it has a strong emancipatory power.
On a practical level, this means not shying away from difficult topics and actively seeking out materials that cover them. Recently, I have used videos about the role of women in science, the history of Gay Pride, and the Cambridge Analytica affair. Although research is done and used primarily in university spaces, the interdisciplinary potential of listening as a tool is also clear to a lot of school teachers. This leads me to your second point, purposes for listening activities. Obviously, I do not wish to indoctrinate my students, but I think the materials we use can spur discussion and reflection. I share this belief with the secondary school teachers I interviewed in my doctoral research: they saw listening as part of an interdisciplinary approach and some of them used listening materials primarily for their content.
MJ: This might be the same way I think about it, but also comprising genres and communicative functions. ‘Politically neutral’ materials are so asinine that when learners are taught to listen to/with something more substantial, they enjoy it, even when it is more difficult. I am not sure whether many commercial materials make the transition from graded, unnatural language to ungraded, natural language; I hope so, but I remain doubtful. However, any guidance on how to transition from graded language to ungraded natural language in teacher-accessible literature is scarce, so it often comes down to enthusiasts working alone and learning through trial and error.
Materials that ‘spur discussion and reflection’ should be integral to our pedagogy because one would hope we are not just playing media extracts without any reaction or interaction. When I am at this stage of a lesson, I remain neutral, at least momentarily, which causes friction with some students because they see it as question avoidance. I explain that I want them to get the most out of the discussion first, but that I will share my opinion later. Teachers have greater social capital (Bourdieu, 1986) than students, therefore it is easy to create a climate where the teacher’s opinion is the de-facto ‘correct opinion’. The videos I used were all mainstream and uncontroversial; the lack of consensus on action stimulates discussion, and this is deliberate. While I was previously precarious in employment, I did not want to risk student complaints. In the past, at different workplaces misunderstandings between colleagues and students resulted in non-renewal of contracts. While I am not shy of stating my beliefs, I have tempered them to maintain my career and I am not alone in this.
CB: I do not think I have seen many commercially available materials that transition from graded, unnatural language to ungraded, natural language. This relates to the limitations of ‘global ELT’ and its McDonaldisation (Littlejohn, 2012; Ritzer, 2013): there is a delusion that English language learning can be packaged into easily followed steps, which defies the way languages are learned. This is also reflected in how listening is packaged in some commercial materials, with little space for unpredictable natural speech. However, we are approaching a moment of reckoning, because students encounter real English outside of classrooms: the secondary school students I interviewed for my doctoral research called the English in the textbook ‘artificial’ and ‘annoying’.
PURPOSES FOR LISTENING
CB: While I am aware that listening can have a myriad of purposes, in the ‘listening pedagogy’ community, we have perhaps overemphasised our wish to reject the CA (Field, 2008) – i.e., listen/answer comprehension questions/check – and embrace process-oriented listening instruction. This has also led us to overlook the fact that in many contexts, listening cannot just be for the process, and it also has potential on a content level. I am not claiming that focusing on the processes of listening is useless, but I am saying this reaction against the CA may have been taken to the extreme and led the academic community to forget that listening is a powerful tool to do many other things than just listen for the sake of developing listening.
MJ: Regarding the dominance of the CA, many teachers seem to believe that they follow an implicit listening orthodoxy (Jones, 2017). While there are overlaps between the participants’ statements, what actually emerged was a diverse array of practices. These were mainly top-down skills, and teaching bottom-up skills was only a stated classroom practice for a minority of teachers. The reasons were not explicit, but it could be a lack of phonology knowledge, a lack of knowledge of learners’ L1s, or that they had not considered it as valid. Perhaps people believe that ‘good practice’ is found in pre-service education or is the norm in commercial materials. However, it is worth reminding ourselves as a global profession that there are local differences in both teacher education and commercial materials, and these have effects on what teachers believe about teaching, which holds true for listening, too.
There has to be a point in listening to and understanding speech, such as to be entertained, to be informed, and to use what is learned to discuss, synthesise ideas and understand one another. This may be idealistic, but if we focus on how difficulties arise in parsing and how to overcome them, we are doing what needs to be done
CB: This may be true for your classes and mine, at university level. Can it be just as applicable in schools or in university classes where students have low proficiency levels or low motivation? In other words, do they not need some motivation, perhaps carefully structured comprehension questions? I wonder how feasible it is to abandon the mindset that students ‘need a reason to listen’ (beyond trying to understand), which in common practice means assigning comprehension questions.
MJ: I feel that my philosophy should hold for other settings and abilities, at least as an ultimate destination. However, in ‘lower proficiency’ classes the majority of students need help to reach the destination. Metacognitive and cognitive strategies need to be fostered while building bottom-up skills to develop as full a phonological inventory for the language as possible. As they develop we can set more naturalistic tasks. Despite this, I still believe it is possible to source texts that interest students and use short sections of difficult texts to facilitate successful listening.
With compelling materials and tasks the need for contrived comprehension questions is bypassed. An example may be to decide whether to buy concert tickets based on information from a television interview. If learners select texts, then a reason to listen is present, and teachers only need to provide guidance about whether the text is too difficult at the learners’ current state of proficiency, and how to deal with difficulties in the text itself. However, this requires use of either non-contact time, which teachers often lack, or requires use of teaching time for syllabus negotiation, which may not be welcomed by learners (Bloom, 2007).
Working with less-motivated students can be difficult. They need practice to develop skills to access more interesting, intrinsically motivating tasks. Unfortunately, they are unmotivated to practise sufficiently, and their situation becomes a cycle, requiring reliance upon extrinsic motivation to break it. Here, educational realpolitik comes into play: nobody wants students to fail a class, so negotiating a contract with them – do X amount of practice, Y times a week and you will at least pass – is necessary. It is likely to lead to greater learning gains for those learners, because it is better to have students making some progress toward an extrinsic goal than to have them disengaged due to having no intrinsic goals, or because they are working toward fictional ones to meet teacher expectations. Comprehension questions can be useful here: students listen, attempt the question, get a right or wrong answer, and that is something they can cross off their list. For the more motivated students there must be something meaningful, to prevent demotivation, and with some luck, perhaps the less motivated take interest in what the more motivated students are doing.
CB: That’s a good point about students ‘copying’ what other students do, as vicarious experiences are one of the precursors of self-efficacy beliefs. Self-efficacy, or one’s belief in one’s ability to accomplish tasks, is determined by a number of factors, including previous experiences of success and failure, verbal persuasion (e.g., a mentor telling us that we can succeed) and emotional and physiological states (e.g., listening anxiety may not be conducive to high self-efficacy beliefs about listening). Another key source of self-efficacy beliefs is vicarious experiences: having good role models, whether in teachers, guardians or peers, helps us form good self-efficacy beliefs about ourselves (Bandura, 1997). What is harder is fostering this in an online environment.
MJ: I believe reflection is necessary, about what did and did not work in the listening process, and what kinds of practice students do outside the classroom. Sharing ideas and self-study materials is one way of doing this. This might be dismissed as unworkable due to time constraints, but it is possible to structure some of this as homework, and if done meaningfully at the start, can lead to learning and motivation gains by the end of a course. Doing this online is tricky due to the time required to build rapport necessary for learners sharing experiences with peers. Most learners have had both success and failure in language learning. Building on these experiences by learning from peers as well as teachers can develop learners’ reflective practices (Schon, 2008) related to their language learning.
CB: Individual and group reflection should become more central if we are to teach listening ‘properly’. What you say about the feasibility is true, but only insofar as ‘listening for acquisition’ (Richards, 2005) is prioritised over listening for developing listening. There is this belief that listening is mostly “for something else” (Bruzzano, 2021), such as vocabulary learning, speaking or grammar. I am not saying that listening for acquisition has no place in the classroom: on the contrary, recent findings show that listening helps, for example, with the acquisition of formulaic language (Lin, 2021).
However, if we only carry out listening activities ‘for something else’, we run various risks. The first is that our students think of listening as a subservient activity and not something worth doing in its own right. The second is that students focus overwhelmingly on catching words or grammar structures when they listen (Yeldham, 2016). In my own research, this was true especially when learners expected to be tested on the vocabulary and grammar from the listening (and I would imagine it is more likely to happen in a school context). Third, and perhaps most importantly, if we do not focus on the processes of listening and on understanding difficulties therein, how do learners understand that there is a way to improve? If they do not understand, how can they progress? Listening development may be perceived as different from, for example, vocabulary acquisition: if we think like our learners, improvements in vocabulary acquisition and techniques to enhance one’s vocabulary may be more tangible than those related to listening. In conclusion, I would say that post-listening discussion should be a key activity in the language learning classroom.
While I understand what you say about creating rapport, the feasibility of this can be severely restricted by the number of students online. I recently conducted an Authentic Listening course with six students. The course was entirely online, so we never met in person, yet we created an environment where everyone could share their views fairly easily. Based on end-of-course feedback, these discussions were useful to them as they had started thinking about listening in a different way. For example, one student said her perception of her difficulties had changed radically: before, she did not normally stop to consider that her difficulties may be related to her lack of contextual knowledge. This was a proficient learner whose bottom-up decoding was highly developed; what was sometimes missing was background knowledge. Throughout the course, she claimed that she started to notice that her small breakdowns in comprehension were often due to this and now she knows not to panic. To me, this is a huge success.
This is also related to the reasons to which learners attribute their successes and failures. The more they connect their performance to external uncontrollable factors, the less likely they will be to persevere in the face of difficulty (Weiner, 1985). There are studies on attribution retraining in fields other than ELT that suggest that training learners to re-think their attributions may be beneficial (Hilt, 2004). This may be an avenue to pursue when it comes to listening, where learners often hold maladaptive attributions. In your experience, is this something that might be useful to learners, or does it require too much self-awareness and/or willingness to share one’s beliefs with others?
MJ: Giving rationales for the work that we set could help learners forge connections between their skills and knowledge, or at least understand their difficulties. It is tempting for both teachers and learners to blame the text, like ‘it’s too fast’ or ‘it’s too difficult’. Conversely, focussing on individuals’ skills and knowledge may provide a sense of hope. Examples of doing this from the learners’ point of view may be akin to ‘I am not used to processing this much information at once, so I need to listen in chunks then rest’. From the teacher’s perspective, an example may be ‘A lot of students are lost from the text after a matter of seconds. If I try to build up the amount they listen to little by little, they might be able to handle it better’. If we focus on things that can change (i.e., people’s actions, thoughts and behaviours) rather than things that cannot (i.e., recorded texts), then handling expectations may become easier. Students sometimes expect to be able to listen to anything they select and get frustrated when they have difficulties after a semester or even a year of lessons. By understanding themselves and how they approach texts with bottom-up and top-down skills together, more realistic goals can be set and possibly even faster progress can be made.
CB: A few years ago, I took a pre-intermediate German class, and I was stunned to find I could use many of the same strategies even in a language I was not very proficient in. I think this helps me when it comes to teaching listening – not only because I can model strategies, but also because I am a non-native speaker, so I can often predict what will be difficult for fellow non-native speakers (especially if we share our L1), using what Field (2008) calls a prognostic approach. I have wondered whether this is different for native speaker teachers and whether you struggle to predict learners’ difficulties or gauge the difficulty of materials before using them in the classroom?
MJ: I think I pitch things too hard most of the time, which Ryan and Deci (2017) state is likely to demotivate students. However, I feel my job is to make the difficult accessible: by providing skills and tactics, making sense of a difficult recording or interaction comes to be possible. There is then a development of confidence and competence in overall listening skills. I do take L1 differences into account, though, mainly when I think about how/what to revisit for listening Focus on Form (Long, 1991).
CB: I suppose if you ask teachers whether they think they pitch things too hard, many would answer that they do, if they work with ‘authentic’ materials. I also think that it is precisely dealing with difficulty that we need to embrace more in our classes. Listening is perceived as unpredictable (Bruzzano, 2021) and uncontrollable (Santos and Graham, 2014), so we should help students manage that unpredictability and uncontrollability. Plus, Graham (2014) makes the point about ‘instrumentality’ i.e., the connection perceived by students between their efforts and their results. If students continue thinking that when a recording is ‘too difficult’, they can have no impact on it and no way of understanding even a little, then they are unlikely to see much point in making an effort at all (Ryan and Deci, 2017).
MJ: Teachers can create a trap for themselves if they avoid working within the difficulty, unpredictability and uncontrollability of authentic texts. This is where repetition and modelling how to work through the difficulties of a text can help. Stimulating students to question themselves about what they hear, and what is a reasonable guess based on the context of the text, and the phonemes, morphemes and whole words they heard, builds autonomy. Obviously, this depends on the time available for teaching listening, and other priorities that learners and other stakeholders have.
CB: Yes, but this returns to the issue of priorities and of how teachers conceptualise ‘teaching listening’. If teaching listening means using listening for acquisition, or for other purposes, then activities like giving feedback on listening processes or modelling strategies will be among the first to be cut because they are perceived as less important.
There are few studies about how teachers may hold collective beliefs, especially when they work in the same institution: Breen et al (2001) investigated precisely this and found that teachers working in the same context and with similar levels of experience held some shared ‘pedagogic principles’, which they realised through different sets of practices. Conversely, the same teaching practice was ascribed to different pedagogic principles by different teachers. In our case, would it be unfair to say that listening is perceived by many as being subservient to other skills and systems, and thus given less time and priority in classroom instruction?
This was the case with the four experienced teachers in my research. They made a claim that I suspect may be common if you interview language teachers: that due to time and curriculum constraints, they could not give listening the time they would have liked to. However, when probing further, I found that no strict requirements existed for syllabi or course contents and the teachers enjoyed great freedom when deciding on materials, contents and assessment. In this scenario, they originally framed the lack of time and curriculum constraints as external impediments of sorts; nevertheless, upon further probing, they realised that they had internalised some tacit, common understandings in their context, which had led them to establish certain priorities for themselves (for example, teaching L2 literature). Can we assume that most teachers will internalise the belief there are more important things than listening, even when they ostensibly claim that listening is important?
MJ: There are various things that teachers feel are important, but which are deprioritised due to a perceived lack of time or perceived beliefs of managers. Given the previous focus on English for university entrance exams in high school English classes (Underwood, 2012), I cannot imagine that changes have occurred in the practices of most teachers in the last decade. I imagine that the backbone of many teachers’ listening syllabi is based on Japan’s Eiken English test, given its familiarity. Whether this is a matter of practising test questions or teaching of how to listen and facilitating language acquisition, I do not know. All that I see is that there is a gradual improvement in the baseline proficiency of the least able students entering the programmes I have taught at universities over the past few years, but that their listening skills have been consistently the same and that most students had not been taught listening skills, only listening practice, prior to entering the programmes.
CB: Impostor syndrome is a big theme for me. Even after studying listening for almost ten years, training teachers on it and teaching whole courses about it, there is still a part of me that wonders whether there is a point to it. Research (e.g., Graham, 2011) and my experience show that listening instruction that focuses on listening processes and developing metacognition helps learners develop self-efficacy and possibly metacognitive awareness (Siegel, 2015). I am fairly confident that this can be achieved. However, if we turn to whether what students learn can be transferred to real life listening on a long-term, sustainable basis, I am sometimes doubtful. Field (2008) maintains that listening can have a diagnostic role, whereby teachers deal with listening problems as they arise and provide remedial micro-exercises. However, in practice this is problematic, as it is often difficult to pinpoint the origin of a comprehension breakdown. Sheppard and Butler (2017) do this for bottom-up problems, and it is a fascinating study; but how feasible is it in a real-life classroom? How do we know that we are not making wrong assumptions about why learners did not understand? Further, even assuming that we ‘correctly’ identify the source of a learner’s mishearing or misunderstanding, and we deal with it, how useful is this for learners?
MJ: I agree that it is difficult, but I think there is a point to instruction. However, like everything else in language teaching, learners need to engage deeply with what is being taught; unfortunately, because listening is difficult, I find that students in my contexts have been less willing to invest time and attention as deeply as they might with other skills, possibly because listening is seen as less academically relevant than reading and writing, and improvements are not easily observable.
I also share your pessimism regarding the feasibility of teaching listening. It should be possible to teach the same methods, strategies and tactics across lessons to enable practice and consolidation. Segmental and suprasegmental phonology can be taught as a Focus on Form (Long, 1991) at the point of need, with items selected as needed by learners rather than sequenced for teacher convenience. Teaching at the point of need should make items more salient, and lead to greater noticing (Schmidt, 1990) and then, over time, acquired. However, whether this is possible under current neoliberal conditions in ELT (Gray and Block, 2012) is debatable, due to the high contact time and low preparation time.
CB: I am convinced of the value of Focus on Form, though I do worry about students understanding this value. My philosophy is that learners need to know the basics of how language learning works, then how and why I work with emergent language. I fear that if I fail to do this, they will think my teaching is haphazard and lose motivation and focus. Do you think your learners understand why you do what you do?
MJ: I have had pushback from students, ignoring instructions or treating them as optional, so I had to give a rationale to illustrate that they were spontaneous ideas, but there were valid theoretical foundations. This rationale has not always helped students to feel more motivated, but it has seemed to help with engagement in lesson activities because students do not feel that they are wasting their time when they work hard.
MJ: Earlier we discussed having time for meaningful work with listening and how this can deter teachers from enacting recommendations from research. If you only have an hour a week with a class, then you are limited in the interventions you can provide. This was a reality for me a few years ago, with other teachers at a school I worked at providing mainly reading instruction in ‘listening lessons’ due to perceived test washback (Bachman and Palmer, 2010). However, many recommendations seem like all-or-nothing, when most of the time something is preferable to nothing, and easier to build upon than a botched attempt at everything due to a lack of time.
The jargon-heavy names given to constructs are rarely teacher friendly, and I am as guilty as anyone about their overuse. While convenient for researchers, do the terms metacognitive strategies, top-down/bottom-up processing, suprasegmental phonology mean much to teachers? Borg (2009) says that teachers do not read research because they do not have time. If they do not have time to read research, they likely do not have time to do a few web searches for definitions of terms that different researchers operationalise differently.
CB: I agree with much of what you say but have two qualms. The first is to do with ‘most of the time something is preferable to nothing’: are we sure it is? One of the problems with listening pedagogy is that teachers are unaware of how listening works, hence they are unaware of how listening can and should be ‘taught’. Doing ‘something’ sounds to me like incorporating a few activities here and there without fully understanding their purpose: as Borg (2006) also reports, these types of teacher development interventions are not accommodated within the teacher’s existing belief system; therefore, they may ultimately be short-lived innovations. This leads me to my second point: how do we ensure that teachers understand the fundamentals of how listening works and can be taught? You mention that much jargon exists and that it is not teacher-friendly. I would agree, but I would also say that in my experience, jargon can be kept to a minimum and it can also be stimulating for teachers. Teachers have been deskilled for decades: is presenting them with a ‘dumbed down’ version of ‘best practices’ not another way of deskilling them?
MJ: As for incorporating activities based upon evidence, there needs to be at least partial buy-in from teachers when they are incorporating activities that are evidence based. So, yes, you and Borg (2006) are both right, because what we do not want to see is ‘short-lived innovations’ or a lack of teaching proficiency, which will occur if new techniques are not tried out and practised sufficiently.
I am glad that you got to the topic of deskilling teachers, too, but I think that jargon might be an obstacle to mitigating the deskilling. If we as a field keep on writing articles that are rich in content but are undecipherable without a huge amount of internet searching, I think the deskilling will continue because there will be less motivation, and less time to attempt to read for continuing professional development (CPD). There is a need for familiarity with common professional terms, but it needs to be facilitated. Teachers are not stupid, they just lack time, and the amount of articles that claim to be aimed at practitioners but seem to require postgraduate-level study as a prerequisite for understanding only leads to gatekeeping, whether this is the intention or not.
CB: I can see what you mean about gatekeeping, even when unintentional. We may have to disagree about ‘jargon’, however: in my experience leading in-service professional development initiatives, the use of limited and useful jargon was well-received, and it gave teachers a tool to begin to understand listening (especially if they decided to read up about it afterwards). Understanding basic terminology related to listening may simply mean understanding bottom-up and top-down listening processing, metacognition and listening strategies. Without this basic knowledge, I wonder why teachers should think to introduce process-based instruction: they might simply do it because they have been told to, but without properly understanding why.
While both authors largely agree in the discussion above, it is clear that there is also some disagreement when attempting to explore good practice. However divergent ideas about this reflect the reality that our practices are contextualised and locally situated.
Our understanding of the terms ‘authentic’ and ‘authenticity’ are reassuringly in accord, even as the term can be operationalised differently to describe texts, tasks and purposes. We hope that others will recognise the potential of using authentic texts in their teaching and assist their learners in overcoming the difficulties associated with understanding ‘natural’ language. With greater tolerance of difficulty comes greater autonomy and in turn greater gains in skill development and language acquisition. Additionally, autonomy can mitigate the lack of time for classroom instruction.
However, one must think about the purposes for listening. It may be useful to conceive two different concepts: listening skills development, and language acquisition through listening. Rather than dictate practices to teachers, it may aid professional development to consider whether skills development or language acquisition tends to be the goal of one’s lessons. If there is a skew in one direction it may be beneficial to rectify the balance. We suspect that most teachers skew toward the use of listening for learning grammar and vocabulary items, thus bringing in more listening skill development is likely to be more rewarding.
Furthermore, in teaching more listening skills development, learners can face their listening difficulties and confront them, and teachers can facilitate reflection among learners. By using reflection and also metacognitive strategies, it is possible that learners will attribute difficulties to their behaviours and focus on what can be changed, rather than sticking with maladaptive strategies such as blaming the text for being too fast or too dense with unknown vocabulary. Such adaptive attributions are also likely to be helpful with reading, writing and speaking.
In spite of our exploration, one question that remains unanswered is how helpful process-based teaching is for listening development. While both authors see the merits in the process-based approach, we wonder whether there is sufficient time available for teachers to use it. As stated above, if autonomy is fostered, then available classroom time increases. However, if there are conflicting priorities, real or merely perceived, it is likely that process-based activities will be short-lived novelties with little effect on learning. Time constraints also cause doubts regarding the efficacy of instruction. Additionally, we concur that where teachers are unaware of the foundations of listening, process-based instruction may remain a short-lived innovation. Both authors plan further research on listening pedagogy and practices, and we welcome further research in teacher cognition regarding listening pedagogy and the efficacy of process-based instruction.
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