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Summer Institute in English and Applied Linguistics, University of Cambridge, July 1995

Contextual Factors In Classroom Language Learning:

An Overview

1. Introduction: Other People Do Make a Difference, Don’t They?

1.1 The relevance of social inhibitions

My starting point here is to ask you to pay serious attention to a document that you may well

think is quite unremarkable: just a brief out-of-context comment about classroom language

learning from an Algerian secondary school student (from Cherchalli, 1988: 185):

Sometimes I feel like asking the teacher a question, but just realizing that perhaps the rest of the class understand, I hesitate.

It is unremarkable, I suggest, precisely because it is so very familiar and so very

understandable, from the perspective of our own language classroom memories. But it is, I

also suggest, at the same time all too easy for us to dismiss it as a comment of no real

consequence - just a somewhat sad little anecdote, worth a wry smile of recognition and even

sympathy, but not really worth more serious contemplation. I want in this paper to persuade

you that a casually dismissive attitude to such an anecdote is actually a mistake, and perhaps a

highly damaging one, because it may prevent us from examining what could be a very fruitful

area of enquiry - the importance to classroom language learning, and therefore to language

teaching, of the presence in the same room of other people. Perhaps it is precisely because

such anecdotes are so familiar and so immediately 'understandable' that we underestimate

their potential significance. A moment's thought, however, might convince us that it does

indeed seem to be a very common, almost universal, experience for people in language

classrooms to feel inhibited from asking the questions they would really like the teacher to

address, just because other more confident or more competent people are around. And if that

is the case, then the cumulative effect such inhibitions might have on otherwise good,

intelligent learning behaviour could perhaps add up to an important overall inhibition on

effective classroom language learning, for most people, most of the time.

1.2

Questioning the obvious

If this analysis is correct, then we have a good example of the application of a guiding principle of research - the potential value of investigating something that we have overlooked precisely because we have taken it so much for granted. Certainly applied linguists in recent decades do seem to have largely neglected the potential importance of the presence of other people in the language classroom - the immediate social context for language learning.

2. So Why Have Applied Linguists Looked Elsewhere?

2.1 The problem

The key initial question for this overview, then, is why this should have been the case. Why should applied linguists have not seen the potential interest and importance of such an apparently ubiquitous phenomenon as social inhibition on classroom language learning (and teaching) behaviour? Or more generally, how could they have found it possible to neglect the whole area of investigating the importance of the classroom itself as the social context for language learning?

2.2 Have other researchers made the same mistake?

To answer the questions in the previous subsection the first thing to ask is perhaps whether or not applied linguists are alone in their neglect of this area. Even a casual review of the literature, however, suggests that although they may not be alone, researchers in second and foreign language education do seem to be largely 'out-of-line' with researchers in general education, who have for many years have been taking such things more seriously, as I will hope to demonstrate later, in section 5 below.

2.3 So why have applied linguists been different?

What has happened to make people in language education so very different? Here the answer seems to lie in the recent history of the subject. The field of language education has enjoyed a period of great development and expansion over recent decades, but in the process it has tried perhaps too hard sometimes, and in some hands, to establish language teaching and learning as a largely independent field for research. And it has looked for connections with linguistics, rather than with education, and so it has arisen as a discipline with a view of itself as having hardly anything to learn from educational research in general. Certainly we applied linguists have had plenty of our own special notions to occupy our research time. It may therefore be

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helpful to address them here, to see how they might have served to deflect our attention from the role of social contextual factors in the language classroom.

2.3.1 Faith in 'method'

Among applied linguists there has been, I suggest, a pre-occupation in the last three decades with other candidates for the role of 'key causal factor', with research tending towards the search for 'the' key causal factor above all others. We first see this very clearly in the work done principally in the 1960s to establish the 'best' language teaching method. The implication of this line of enquiry, as exemplified in the Pennsylvania Project (Smith, 1970), was necessarily to suggest, at the very least, that the choice of method was the most significant decision facing language teaching professionals, precisely because the choice of method would override all other decisions in terms of the expected overall effect on the rate of language learning, and therefore on school achievement in languages.

The highly publicised failure of the Pennsylvania Project to live up to the expectations of the research team (captured dramatically in the project leader's remarkably human, but rather unsettlingly 'unscientific', statement that "these results were personally traumatic to the Project staff" (Smith, 1970: 271)) was seen as a failure in general education research, necessitating a change of research strategy (and an at least temporary 'cease-fire' according to one contemporary commentator (Grittner, 1968: 7, cited by Otto, 1969: 420).

2.3.2 Faith in the linguistic context - 'input'

It was also a failure associated strongly with the area of 'modern' language teaching, just at a time when interest in language acquisition was building up among people whose prime concern, significantly, was with the rapidly developing field of English as a foreign or second language. The fact that the research failure was in the 'modern' language area may well have helped the people setting up second language acquisition studies to feel that educational research in general was unlikely to have anything of value to offer them, and to be confident that they would do well to look elsewhere for assistance. In any case, they found some of their roots in bilingualism studies (Leopold, 1939, 1947, 149a, 1949b), and in psycholinguistics as it had been developed in research on first language acquisition, which with its pre-occupation with pre-school children (see Brown, 1973) naturally saw little need to concern itself with educational research in general. Second language acquisition researchers soon made their mark and established their professional relevance at major

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international meetings of language teachers. For example, the TESOL 1975 proceedings, entitled "New Directions in Second Language Learning, Teaching, and Bilingual Education" and edited by two second language acquisition specialists - Burt and Dulay - contain six papers in the Second Language Acquisition category. Of the remaining eleven categories, two contain four papers each, three contain three papers each, and six contain just two papers each. But, in North America at least, second language acquisition researchers chose to seek academic acceptance among linguists rather than educationalists. For example, there was great euphoria among second language acquisition specialists at Amherst in 1974 when the Linguistics Society of America at last gave their work its own designated space on the annual convention programme, and thus conferred legitimacy, within academic linguistics, on the new discipline of second language acquisition (SLA). There was no parallel move to gain acceptance within the American Educational Research Association.

This pre-occupation with linguistics in general and psycholinguistics in particular translated into an interest in the linguistic context for language learning, with its implication that, replacing method, input would emerge as the new factor that could now be expected to override all others in determining classroom language learning. The difference now was that 'rate' of learning (the concern of the methods researchers) was seen as less interesting than 'route' - the sequence of events during the acquisition process. After early skirmishes with the idea that the relative frequency of items in the input might alone suffice to explain the processes of second language acquisition (see Larsen-Freeman, 1976), and after Krashen's attempts to explain sequence through his 'monitor theory' (1991, 1982), the field came to be largely dominated by Krashen's Input Hypothesis (1985). Krashen, returning to rate of acquisition as a main concern, posited that for most effective learning input merely needed to be made comprehensible. Grading it or explaining it, or even deliberately practising to say it, would be, for all practical purposes, a pointless enterprise - a way of slowing things down rather than speeding them up. In his conception of second language acquisition the relevance of social contextual factors was first of all limited to the role of conversational gambits in securing more input for the learner, and eventually became related to the notion of an 'affective filter' (Krashen, 1985), whose role would be to determine what input got through to the brain's central language acquisition mechanism. Comprehensible input itself remained the main causal variable.

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2.3.3

Faith in 'natural processes'

Alongside this priority given to input came a related implication: that once input had got past the 'affective filter' then natural psycholinguistic processes would take over to determine what happened to it - the route and rate of linguistic development. We thus had a position, exemplified well in the work of Felix (1981), that whatever a teacher did to teach a language in the classroom would be powerless against the natural forces of the learners' natural psycholinguistic processes. All a teacher could, or should, do was to ensure the occurrence of a plentiful supply of comprehensible input that would be, in affective terms, acceptable. And to achieve this, it could suffice for a teacher to teach some other subject matter well, thus eliminating the need for any classes that would actually appear on a timetable as language lessons. It is difficult to see how the potential importance of the social context of the language classroom could be any more effectively ruled out of serious consideration by applied linguists.

Some people did try to establish, however, even within the new second language acquisition 'tradition', a role for social contextual factors. Schumann, for example, elaborated his ideas on acculturation (1978) as a potential explanatory construct, but in that work he was primarily concerned with social relations outside the classroom, between language communities. In his work on diary studies with Francine Schumann (Schumann and Schumann, 1977) he did begin exploring social factors within the classroom, however, and his work was followed up by Bailey's multiple diary study analysis, which, in 1983, drew attention to the potential importance of competitiveness and anxiety as features of individual psychology that affected classroom language learning behaviour. But such excursions into the realms of social psychology failed to make much impact upon those more concerned to pursue what was undoubtedly for them the more 'central' notion of input. Even the development of input studies to include interactional features (Long, 1981) managed to hold on to an essentially asocial notion of interaction, by ignoring, for example, the possibility that overhearers of interaction might benefit as much as, if not more than, those actively involved in it.

2.3.4 Faith in 'communication in the classroom'

But second language acquisition studies did not completely take over the world, or even all of applied linguistics. Alongside all this psycholinguistic work came the internationally equally influential development of communicative language teaching. Communicative language teaching (and its near-relative in some respects - language teaching for specific purposes) was

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developed as a way of putting into practice the long-held position that language teaching was ultimately intended to give people the practical ability to cope linguistically in some social context other than their own first language one. The notion of 'relevance' came in as at least of equal importance to the notions of 'route' and 'rate' previously considered so central. It was felt that previous approaches had merely paid lip service to this aim, because they had not seriously attempted to reproduce, in the language classroom, the conditions for target language use. In practice this meant devising ways, such as more or less elaborate role-plays and simulations, in which the target language situation could be brought into the classroom, so that the classroom would become as realistic as possible a rehearsal room for life outside it.

2.4 The story so far

This effectively brought the notion of social context into centre stage for language teaching methodologists, but, deeply ironically, it simultaneously served to further deflect their attention away from the language classroom as already a social situation in its own right. So we have a situation where, over three decades, the preoccupations of people centrally concerned with language teaching and learning somehow contrived to divert attention from what would appear to be a most promising line of enquiry, one that has, as I shall later show, proved fruitful elsewhere. But so far I have taken for granted myself how I intend to interpret the key term in my overall title - 'contextual factors'. It is time to consider in more detail what I am talking about here.

3. What Do I Mean By ‘Contextual Factors’, Then?

3.1 What is included

It is probably abundantly clear by now that I am especially concerned with those particular contextual factors that result from the fact that the language classroom is a social setting - a setting where people have to take account, in some way or other, and for good or ill, of the fact that they are not entirely alone there. And I am concerned with the effects of such a situation of 'co-presence' on classroom language learning and teaching behaviour, and therefore on the rate, the route, and the relevance of language development. Furthermore I would also wish to add here a concern for the possible effects on the 'ceiling' - the potential limits to the extent - of language development.

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3.2

What is excluded

I am not therefore directly concerned with other potential candidates for designation as 'contextual factors'. For example, the term could reasonably be used to refer to the purely physical characteristics of language learning settings, the buildings and other physical resources available, but these, while potentially influential in their own right (see Dreeben, 1973, on 'The school as workplace'), are much less my concern here than the human, social contextual factors implied by the presence in the classroom of others. I am primarily concerned with establishing the possible role of co-presence in helping us to understand classroom language learning and teaching.

4. But Two Background Issues Remain

4.1 The two issues

This still leaves two matters to be disposed of. Firstly, since all classroom-based education, by definition, has co-presence as an essential feature, is the language classroom really so very special? Does it need to be studied separately? And, secondly, can it really be satisfactory to consider the language classroom as a micro social context in itself, in isolation from the macro, even geopolitical, context in which language education takes place?

4.2 The macro/micro issue

To take the second issue first, because co-presence is a characteristic of the immediate social setting of the classroom itself, a focus on co-presence could suggest an exclusive concern for the classroom as the appropriate level of analysis, with a consequent neglect of the obvious fact that classrooms are necessarily embedded in their own wider social settings. However potentially fruitful it may appear to try to take seriously the immediate social context of life inside the classroom, are we not likely to badly misinterpret what goes on in the language classroom if we neglect the much wider social issues that could surely impinge on classroom life? Must we not always try to take into account the macro context? Or could a micro perspective suffice for our purpose of trying to throw light on what happens in language classes?

4.2.1 It is difficult to know just how far back to go in the history of educational research for evidence of a concern with wider social issues, but we can easily find such evidence from the years before modern language teaching got caught up in the 1960s battle between methods. Getzels and Thelen published their paper on "The Classroom Group as a Unique Social

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System" in 1960, and in their first footnote recorded that their paper drew on work done by the first author throughout the 1950s. Although they were concerned to establish the classroom group as a social system in its own right, it is clear that they did not intend to neglect the wider social issues, which they summarised as the 'anthropological' dimension:

'The pupil cannot be expected to learn Latin in a culture where knowledge of Latin has little value, nor can he (sic) be expected to identify with teachers in a culture where teachers have little value' (1960, adapted for reprinting 1972: 24).

It is perhaps just fortuitous that Getzels and Thelen chose to make their point with reference to societal values regarding Latin, but it is striking to read such a reference in 1995, after a decade or more of growing concern at the implications of the social value placed on English around the world. Again it is difficult to know quite how far to go back into history for appropriate examples, but Auerbach and Burgess's 1985 title is indicative: 'The hidden curriculum of survival ESL', as are the earlier 'Language and culture in conflict' from Wallerstein in 1983, and the even earlier 'The world for sick proper' from Rogers in 1982. From the 1990s we have Phillipson's 1992 volume entitled 'Linguistic Imperialism' to show us one direction for current thinking, and Pennycook's work in a series of papers (1989, 1990a, 1990b), perhaps best exemplified here in his 1990 title: 'Towards a critical applied linguistics for the 1990s'. Peirce has very recently (1995) taken the argument a stage further by arguing, as I have begun to do in section 2 above, that second language acquisition researchers have effectively diverted their own and other people's attention away from social issues, by focussing exclusively and unhelpfully on an asocial conception of the individual. She proposes the notion of 'social identity' as a key to helping us understand the processes of second language development, and draws her examples from her work with immigrant women in Canada, who, in a context of an apparently continuous opportunity to interact with native speakers of English at work, report considerable difficulty in establishing their right to speak. I have no quarrel with Peirce's analysis here, but, without intending to detracting from the force of her argument, I would suggest that the factors she is concerned about can readily be found to be operating at the micro level. Her wider social concern could even, unfortunately, work against her - by focussing attention on 'hard' cases that perhaps resistant readers could relatively easily dismiss as unrepresentative of their own situations. They might therefore fail to relate Peirce's argument to the fact that learners have difficulty

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establishing their 'right to speak' even inside the language classroom, as suggested in the

quotation I started this paper with:

Sometimes I feel like asking the teacher a question, but just realizing that perhaps the rest of the class understand, I hesitate.

I suggest, therefore, that Peirce's interest in immigrant women's difficulties OUTSIDE the

classroom in Canada could, ironically, serve to divert attention yet again from examining

social pressures INSIDE the classroom, and delay even more an adequate response from

applied linguists to Getzels and Thelen's 1960 call for studying the classroom itself as a

'unique social setting'.

4.2.2 For this reason I am personally willing to stay focussed on micro issues, therefore,

within an avowedly narrow institutional social context, conscious of what I may be missing

by so doing, but even more conscious of what I may be missing if I am so bound up in trying

to take vast geopolitical issues into account that I fail to do anything like justice to the role of

social forces in everyday classroom interaction.

4.3 Is the language classroom special?

The above arguments should suffice to commend the language classroom as a fit object of

separate study, given the probable educational importance of the notion of social identity and

the nature of the special issues that arise in the relationship between social identity and

language. But there is still another important case to be made for treating the LANGUAGE

classroom as special, from the history of language teaching method in recent decades, as

suggested above in section 2.2.4.

4.3.1 Communicative language teaching stressed the reproduction of the target language

social context within the language classroom, and therefore promoted classroom interaction

as rehearsal for 'real-life'. As we saw above, this methodological innovation, and the amount

of work involved to develop appropriate classroom practices, effectively made it easy for

applied linguists, with their historical connection to methodological concerns, to fail to notice

that the language classroom was already, like all other classrooms, a setting for social

interaction. But it did, at the same time, turn the language classroom into an even more

special social situation, since it had now become a setting in which other social settings

(target language ones) would be reproduced, precisely for the purpose of helping learners

become able to cope with them linguistically.

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So, yes, the language classroom is potentially special, both because language teachers and learners are dealing with a subject that can evoke impassioned discussions about such major geopolitical issues as linguistic imperialism, and also because, but again 'potentially', wherever a communicative language teaching approach is being seriously employed, language teachers may attempt to reproduce within the classroom the target social setting. But my somewhat insistent repetition of the cautious 'potentially' is important here, given that communicative language teaching has clearly not been adopted everywhere in the world, and given that that it is not everywhere that language teaching evokes geopolitical debates.

It may even be more important, for our purpose of trying to understand better what happens inside language classrooms, to insist that a foreign language is probably most often 'just another school subject' for very many learners and teachers around the world. So it does make sense to look at language classrooms separately, especially in situations where one might expect the ideas of communicative language teaching, or the spectre of linguistic imperialism, to be influential. But it would very probably be quite unhelpful to assume that all language classrooms were all different from all other subject classrooms in all important respects. It would seem much more productive to look at the language classroom in the light of what has been done in educational research more generally, and not risk missing out on what has been happening in that field.

5. Co-presence As The Focus

5.1 Why the term: 'co-presence'?

I have so far spent my time largely on trying to establish why co-presence has been neglected in the field of research on classroom language learning and teaching. It is time to attempt to do justice to the work that has nevertheless been done in this area. But first I perhaps need to clarify further what my interest is here.

I have already narrowed my concern, in this paper, to 'co-presence' - the mere fact that classroom language learning and teaching have to take place in the presence of others. And I am proposing co-presence as a key contextual factor in classroom language learning. But to propose it as a 'key factor' must mean that I think it important for its relevance to something else, and so I need to say what that 'something else' refers to. I have in fact already suggested four possibilities: the RATE of classroom learning, its ROUTE, its RELEVANCE, and its

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potential CEILING. I will leave these here as my summary of what I have in mind when I say

that the overall research question I want to throw light on is the following:

What difference does it make that classroom teaching and learning take place in the presence of others?

In the remainder of this paper I will sketch some of the work that has explored this overall

question, starting with general educational research, and moving finally to relevant research

on classroom language learning.

5.2 General educational research on co-presence - some illustrative examples.

The term 'co-presence' is not easily found in the indexes of books on educational research. It

is a term I suspect I have half-borrowed and half-coined myself from social psychology by not

being content with 'co-action', 'audience-effect', and suchlike (see Davis, 1969: 12-16). I find

it convenient to use it here because of its conciseness. Studies using the general concept itself

have a very long history - certainly back to 1898 (Triplett's work on cycling with or without

pacers and/or competition). For the first three decades of the century they seem to have

focussed on such issues as the influence of co-presence on task performance. Subsequently

they moved away from task performance rather, to focus more on the development or

manipulation of social relations (see Davis, 1969: 16). I find the term particularly helpful as a

cover term for a wide range of intriguing possibilities. For example, learners might be

expected to perform differently on tests according to whether they think that the shadowy

figure they can see through the semi-opaque glass partition is a senior teacher, or someone

without such academic authority. In my own work, I have not pursued the issues surrounding

test performance under different conditions of 'co-presence', but I have found it useful to

consider the curious case of the possible influence on the classroom behaviour of learners and

teachers of unexpected absences - the converse of co-presence.

Back in the 1960s, while language teaching researchers were trying to establish which

teaching method was 'best', general education researchers were already beginning to offer

detailed descriptions of the social life of classrooms, typically with a debt to Waller's 1932

work on "The Sociology of Teaching". The best known is probably Jackson's 1968 study of

"Life in Classrooms", but that influential volume was not the first in the field. "Realities of

the Urban Classroom" was published by an anthropologist (Moore) in 1967, from work done

between 1962 and 1964 by a team at Hunter College in the USA. It is intended not as a

research report so much as 'a guide for newcomers to urban schools' (op cit: 1), and

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principally for newcomers to teaching. The flavour of the enterprise (and its explicit concern

for the importance of what I am calling 'co-presence') is perhaps best captured in one of the

follow-up discussion questions to a description of several hours in the life of a fourth grade

class: 'How might it influence the class's morale to have a fifth grade vandal demoted and

thrust in its midst?'

In 1976 Karp and Yoels drew attention to, and developed, a distinction made by Riesman et

al. in 1950 (and discussed briefly in general terms by Getzels and Thelen in 1960 (op cit: 25))

between 'getting on' and 'getting along', as two orientations to classroom participation among

learners - i.e. as features of social identity in the classroom. This distinction is intended to

capture the two major ways in which learners react to the presence of other learners in the

classroom - they either compete with them, emphasizing achievement in educational terms or,

perhaps more commonly, prefer to focus on social rather than academic success. Karp and

Yoels use the distinction to explore the question in their title: "Why don't college students

participate?" They focus more on the relationship between students and their teachers and

suggest that:

it might be argued that the current norm in college classrooms is for both students and teachers to avoid any type of direct personal confrontation with one another. It might be that 'amicability' in the classroom is part of a larger process, described by Riesman in The Lonely Crowd, in which the desire to 'get ahead' is subordinated to the desire to 'get along'. In the college classroom 'getting along' means students and teachers avoiding any situation that might be potentially embarrassing to one or the other.

In the same year, 1976, Delamont published her influential book on 'Interaction in the

Classroom', intended to establish the importance of taking a sociological perspective on

classroom learning and teaching. Drawing attention to how previous research had not really

allowed individual differences between learners to be taken properly into account, Delamont

describes (1976:106-110) an incident in a biology lesson as a result of which the teacher can

only respond appropriately to one learner by risking appearing to be dismissing the important

contribution of another. Delamont focuses on the individual differences between the two

learners directly involved and does not draw attention, as I now would, to the possible overall

effect such an incident might have on other members of the class.

Cortis, writing one year later (1977) on 'The Social Context of Teaching' does consider how

learners might more or less directly affect each other's learning:

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pupils have different statuses, provide different models for imitation, act as reinforcers, give or withhold attention and communicate with differing amounts of noise (1977: 127).

but he does not pursue the issue of the potential overall effect on learning rate, route,

relevance or ceiling.

5.3 An illustrative example from the language classroom: the work of Breen

At a time when I was pre-occupied (1984) with the nature of lessons as co-productions, and

with the importance of interaction in that connection (see my companion presentation), my

then colleague at Lancaster Mike Breen called attention to the potential value and importance

of looking at a language classroom as a culture in its own right (1985), echoing Getzels and

Thelen's work from a quarter of a century before. Breen drew attention to the problems

inherent in the reductionist stances of both second language acquisition studies and classroom

oriented research. He emphasized that:

It is incumbent upon classroom-based investigations of language learning to account for those social psychological forces which generate classroom

discourse and for those socio-cognitive effects of the discourse

(1985: 141)

and proposed an anthropological approach, as captured in his metaphorical conception

(following Malinowski) of the classroom as 'coral gardens'. A language class, suggested

Breen (op cit: 142):

is an arena of subjective and intersubjective realities which are worked out,

changed, and maintained. And these realities are not trivial background to the

They locate and define the new

language itself as if it never existed before, and they continually specify and mould the activities of teaching and learning.

tasks of teaching and learning a language.

It is this last point which for me takes us further than work in general educational research in

the previous decade had done - the insistence on the effects of social factors on 'the activities

of teaching and learning'. Breen went on to describe eight 'essential features of the culture of

the language classroom', and then offered nine objectives for an adequate approach to

research into classroom language learning, if it is to avoid reductionism.

Breen has also been concerned to relate his research perspective to his interest in curriculum

and syllabus design, particularly in respect of the notion of negotiation in the language

classroom. For him, since classroom life is inevitably a matter of collectively interpretating

and reconstructing whatever plans people bring into the room, it is only natural to want to

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address the question: "How might we best exploit the special contributions which the social context of the classroom can provide for language learning?", and to propose a Process Syllabus which will offer "a framework within which individual learners and classroom groups can directly participate in the creation of plans" (1984: 59).

Breen has subsequently (1987) distinguished between two 'orientations' among learners, much as Karp and Yoels had done in 1976, but labelled them somewhat differently: 'achievement' and 'survival', and stressed that he sees them as endpoints on a continuum, not as a simple dichotomy. I will take up this issue of different orientations among learners (and teachers) in my companion presentation.

6. The Story So Far, Then

6.1 What I have set out in these pages is a picture of several decades of research on the

language classroom having quite different priorities from those current over the same period

in general educational research, and suffering accordingly from a comprehensive marginalisation of social contextual factors, for a variety of more or less intellectually justifiable reasons.

6.2 I have also documented a relatively recent new interest in macro social (geopolitical)

concerns, highlighting the special nature of the language classroom from a wider social perspective, but potentially contributing, paradoxically, via its primary concern for influences outside the classroom, to a continued neglect of the classroom itself as a social setting worthy of investigation.

6.3 I have therefore attempted to make out a convincing case for an increased interest in

micro concerns, and illustrated both from the general educational research literature and from Breen's work in the field of language education how such an increased interest could potentially help us understand how social processes in the classroom might affect the learning that takes place there.

6.4 But can I yet answer the question of how important all this might or might not be to my

chosen issues of rate, route, relevance, and ceiling? No, not yet. In fact all that I can state with total confidence is that the question is clearly unanswerable in anything like precise, numerical terms (no percentage figures will be forthcoming, unlike for aptitude or motivation in the 1950s). But I can also state with some confidence that if my overall analysis is

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anything like appropriate, then we can look forward to a progressively richer sense of understanding of how language classrooms do or do not 'work' for the people in them.

6.5 Over the last quarter of a century, I have made successive attempts to develop a personal contribution, my own 'sense of plausibility' (Prabhu, 1990: 172-176, 1992: 237-240), to our understanding of the role of contextual factors in classroom language learning and teaching. What follows by way of finale here is a very brief summary of this (my own writings are indicated by year of publication alone).

6.5.1 It was the unsatisfactorily individualistic nature of psychology that led me, in the early

1970s, to begin including a social dimension in my academic teaching of applied linguistics and my thinking about language teaching and learning. This led initially to a focus in my work on systematic classroom observation as the key tool (Allwright, 1972), but by the mid 1970s this too had proved too limited and was soon replaced (1980) by a more discursive type of analysis (more recently paralleled by developments in psychology itself, see Harré and Gillett, 1994). For a while I played with conceptual mapping (1976), but this too proved unsatisfactory and I settled on macro analyses in the form of conceptual frameworks as my preferred way of representing my attempts at understanding language classroom phenomena (1982). More significantly, I began to take seriously Mehan's notion of lessons as a social 'accomplishment', and to reconceptualise lessons in terms of more or less well accomplished learning opportunities rather than more or less well taught teaching points (1984a).

6.5.2 This reconceptualisation in terms of learning opportunities was expressed in the form of

a conceptual framework for classroom language learning, including learners and teachers both as 'managers' of learning and as 'doers' of learning. Within this framework it became possible to posit mechanisms that would throw more light on such language classroom curiosities as the indirectness of the relationship between teaching and learning (1984b), the apparent failure of both teachers and learners to pursue pedagogic goals as determinedly as one might have expected, and the frequent appearance of some sort of conspiracy between teachers and learners to ensure that this is the case, which itself would help us understand the problem for learners who really want to learn but find it impossible, for social reasons, to 'bring off' the intelligent language learning behaviour they are intellectually capable of.

6.5.3 My concern with 'mechanisms' soon broadened out again to the overall social dimension

of language classroom behaviour (1989a and b), wherein teachers and learners might delude themselves, and each other, that 'all must be well pedagogically if all is apparently well

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socially'. I began to see this in the context of an essential discoursal dilemma for classroom

teachers and learners (not only of language), which proposed a simple conflictual relationship

between social and pedagogic pressures.

6.5.4 Nothing could be so simple, however, and so I soon found myself trying to get to grips

with the whole notion of socialisation in the classroom by developing a new conceptual

framework for that area of my work (1996). At the same time I needed a new way of

reflecting the complexities of participants' orientations to life in classrooms. First of all I

wanted to extend the Karp and Yoels distinction between 'getting on' and 'getting along' to the

teacher, and secondly I wanted to incorporate Breen's third orientation of 'survival' ('getting

by'?). This led me to reconceptualise the relationships such that the first two orientations

would be bipolar notions, offering both negative and positive poles, with 'getting by' being the

appropriate term for the neutral position on either or both of the other two orientations.

6.5.5 Throughout all these successive conceptualisations and reconceptualisations it has

become increasingly clear to me that the only useful goal for me to adopt for my work is some

sort of understanding, of things as they are, of the workings of the social context as it

currently is. Such understandings as I can develop may or may not add up to ‘significatn

generalisations’, but I can hope at least that they may help other people in their attempts to

reach their own understandings of their own situations, of the workings of the social context

as it currently is for them. And such understandings might then both illuminate and inform

classroom practice.

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