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Principles for Developing Learner Agency in Language Learning in a New Eduscape with COVID-19

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Abstract

Agency, learners' ability to act on their own learning through actively utilizing the resources and affordances in the learning environment, is of paramount importance to their success in language learning, especially within the online learning environment in a world confronting COVID-19. This paper illustrates the concept of agency from a sociocultural perspective, discusses factors that affect agency development in language learning, and proposes five teaching principles that promote learner agency for teachers designing language lessons online and offline.
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Principles for Developing Learner
Agency in Language Learning in
a New Eduscape with COVID-19
Abstract: Agency, learners ability to act on their own learning through actively utilizing the resources and
affordances in the learning environment, is of paramount importance to their success in language learning,
especially within the online learning environment in a world confronting COVID-19. This paper illustrates
the concept of agency from a sociocultural perspective, discusses factors that affect agency development
in language learning, and proposes five teaching principles that promote learner agency for teachers
designing language lessons online and offline.
Key words: Learner Agency; Teaching Principles; Literacy; Cultural Relevance; Interaction; Language Producer;
Engaging Assessments
文 / 李国芳
Introduction
In 2007, when I was conducting a
research study about English language
learners’ literacy development in and out
of school in the U.S. (Li, 2015), I met
Yina, one of my research participants, a
fourth-grade English language-learner
who was a Hmong refugee with no other
family members who were proficient in
English. She was one year into school
in the U.S., but she was struggling with
English learning. Yina shared with me
that she was “not reading much,” and not
writing much “cause English was hard.”
She also shared with me that she had no
friends in school because she “[didn’t]
know how to speak English… can’t speak
clearly.” However, at the end of the study
two years later, she had become a uent
reader and writer in English, reading
widely and writing different genres on her
own including poems and short stories.
She had even skipped a grade level in
school. During our last interview, Yina
described her passion for reading and
writing in English: “I love to write and
reading is my thing…I like to read a lot
and a lot!! … My favorite types of book
that I like to read are manga books, ction
books, or ction with nonction together
books.”
What transformed Yina? In my two
years of research with her, I found Yina
was becoming increasingly motivated and
committed to improving her English: She
began to self-initiate reading and writing
at home, copying and rewriting some of
her favorite characters from her favorite
books, trying to write her own stories,
reading extensively online and offline,
and actively seeking resources to support
her reading and writing (asking peers and
teachers for books and using libraries).
That is, Yina had developed a strong
sense of agency in second language
learning that enabled her to exercise a
measure of control over her own learning
and use appropriate learning strategies
despite the challenges she faced in and
out of school.
Yina’s success story shows the
paramount importance of agency in
facilitating second language development.
In today’s world plagued by the
COVID-19 pandemic, where learners
are increasingly learning languages
and academic subjects online at home,
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learning automatically becomes “tool-
mediated and goal-directed action…
connected with some outer activity”
(Zimmerman & Schunk, 2013, p. 135).
More than ever, learners need to “take
charge of one’s self and one’s learning in
the face of uncertainty and frustration”
(Zimmerman & Schunk, 2013, p. 140). In
this context, how to design the language
learning-teaching cycle to foster learner
agency in the self-directed learning
environment is of paramount importance.
There is a consensus in language
education that agency, or learners’ ability
to act on their own learning through
actively utilizing the resources and
affordances in the learning environment,
is critical to their success in language
learning. Agentic second language
learners like Yina have the capacity to
exercise control over their own thought
processes, motivation, and action
(Bandura, 2001), can initiate, take part
in, and carry out actions (van Lier, 2008),
and have the ability to assign relevance
and significance to things and events
during their own learning processes
(Lantolf & Thorne, 2006). In sum, agency
has a major impact on learners’ self-
efcacy (beliefs about their own abilities),
identity (personal will and power),
motivation (desires and aspirations),
and metacognition (self-awareness and
understanding of one’s own learning
processes)—four constructs which are
instrumental in determining language
learning success (Larsen-Freeman, 2019;
Fincham & Li, 2019; Vandergriff, 2016).
van Lier (2008) points out that successful
language learning depends crucially on
the activity and initiative of the learner,
as no amount of teaching or language
material will magically transform into
language knowledge unless the learners
themselves make some effort to learn.
Similarly, Pavlenko and Lantolf (2000)
conclude that “ultimate attainment in
second language learning relies on one’s
agency” (p. 169).
Despite the importance of learner
agency, current second and foreign
language education has remained largely
teacher-controlled and text-bound,
leaving very little room for students to
exercise control over their own learning,
or opportunities to practice identifying
resources or limitations in the learning
environment and taking action to respond
to these learning conditions. The results
have been that many students remain
passive and fail to activate their full
potential for language learning or learning
in general. In this article, building on my
research on teaching and learning English
as a second language in K-12 schools in
international settings, I will discuss how
language teachers can transform students’
second language reading and writing by
understanding the importance of agency,
the factors that contribute to agency
development, and the need to promote
the right kind of language learning
agency. The article will provide five
guiding principles for English language
teachers to develop class-based strategies
to support agentic readers and writers
by focusing on literacy skills, practicing
culturally relevant teaching, promoting
learner interaction, attending to language
production process, and deploying diverse
and engaging assessments.
A Sociocultural Perspective
on Learner Agency and Its
Development
Although agency has been
conceptualized from diverse perspectives
(Larsen-Freeman, 2019; McLoughlin,
2016), a sociocultural view of agency in
language learning is gaining increasing
signicance. Ahearn (2001), for example,
regards agency as “the socioculturally
mediated capacity to act” (p. 112),
emphasizing the role of sociocultural
factors in learners’ decisions to act on
their learning processes. More recently,
Larsen-Freeman (2019) also points
out that agency is not an individual
trait but highly relational because each
learner is inextricably linked to his or
her environment and especially to the
inevitable presence of other people, such
as teachers, parents, and peers, who are
all crucial influences on the learner’s
activities and actions during the learning
process. Teachers, for example, normally
have the power to determine the types of
activities and resources made available to
learners and the opportunities they will
have to engage in the activities in and out
of the classroom.
Another sociocultural dimension of
agency is that it is distributed temporally
and spatially (Emirbayer & Mische,
1998; Enfield & Kockelman, 2017;
Larsen-Freeman, 2019). Learners’
agency is temporally situated because
it is not only influenced by their current
learning environment, but also by those
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learning conditions, interactions, and
experiences that occurred in the past. As
well, a learner’s current and past agentic
development will have an impact on their
learning orientation in the future. Another
dimension of the distributed nature of
agentic development is that the context or
learning environment (past and present)
matters to learners’ agency development
(Shirazi, 2016). These historical and
contextual factors shape language
learners’ agency development over time
and across space.
Due to these relational, historical,
and contextual factors, learners’
development of agency is highly
dependent upon the confluence of these
factors with the availability of economic,
cultural, and social resources within the
learners’ particular physical environment
and networked spaces (Biesta &
Tedder, 2007; Larsen-Freeman, 2019;
Vandergriff, 2016). As Biesta and Tedder
(2007) argue, “the achievement of agency
will always result from the interplay of
individual efforts, available resources
and contextual and structural ‘factors’ as
they come together in particular and, in a
sense, always unique situations” (p. 137).
Since these different dynamics
vary substantially in different learning
situations, each learner’s path toward
achievement of agency can be different.
Depending on the reconfigurations of
learners’ personal will, sociocultural and
materials resources, and the contextual
elements in their learning environment,
agency can both afford and constrain
language learning (Duff, 2012). When
learner agency orients learners to the
right choice and inuences self-efcacy,
motivation, capacity to mobilize available
resources, and ability to self-regulate, it
leads to acquisition of language. On the
other hand, when learners’ agency leads
to choices or influences that promote
resistance or compliance toward learning,
it can result in negative outcomes(Li,
2013). Aro (2016) followed two EFL
learners in Finland from age seven
(Grade 1) to college to understand their
development of agency in EFL learning
and found that although both learners
achieved agency toward EFL learning in
the early grades, Emma struggled with
English learning throughout her school
years because her agency lead her toward
utilizing resources (such as watching
English TV, which provided mostly oral
input) that were ultimately limiting for
her English learning. In contrast, Helen
excelled in English throughout her school
years because she oriented her resources
(such as use of word dictionaries, reading
books, and writing practices) to match
school-based English practices that were
writing-focused. As a result, while Emma
felt increasingly defeated by learning EFL
in school and eventually lost her sense of
agency in learning, Helen moved forward
to deeper learning with relative ease.
Of particular importance for whether
learners achieve or lose their sense of
agency is the teacher factor in their
learning ecology. Teachers’ beliefs,
pedagogical approaches, and resources
provided for students are all important
in fostering the “right” kind of agency.
Teachers’ beliefs about students’ potential
to learn can have a profound impact
on learners’ agency development. A
body of research has documented that
teachers who hold decit attitudes toward
students’ learning potential (e.g., labeling
students as problem vs. independent
learners; bad vs. good learners; low vs.
high achievers) often engenders learners’
non-participation, resistance, and
avoidance of learning (Harklau, 2000; Li;
2006; Miller & Zuengler, 2011; Morita,
2004; Talmy, 2008). In contrast, teachers
who hold a growth mindset with the
belief that learners are in control of their
own ability and can learn and improve
will foster learners’ active engagement
and motivation in their learning process.
In the case of Yina, her teachers believed
in her ability to learn and catch up with
her English-speaking peers and provided
her with social and material support
(e.g., engaging her with peers through
regular lunch meetings and providing
her with books and other resources)
(Li, 2015). This growth mindset on the
part of teachers enabled Yina to actively
seek all the resources available (such
as finding peers and relatives to help
homework, using online resources for
language and subject area learning, and
keeping in close contact with her ESL
teachers about her learning) in her life to
improve her English reading and writing
and eventually surpassed her English-
speaking peers in many areas in two years
of time.
Yina’s example also indicates that
teachers’ pedagogical actions matter
to foster agentic readers and writers.
van Lier (2008) outlines six different
pedagogical practices that may lead
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to differential agency achievement:
from passivity to active commitment to
learning. Classrooms where learners are
not required to do much except respond
minimally or follow teacher instructions
often foster passivity and obedience.
By contrast, those that allow learners to
voluntarily answer teacher questions, ask
their own questions, help other students,
or engage in collaborative problem-
solving all promote participation,
inquisitiveness, autonomy, and
commitment to learning. A case example
is the EFL classrooms documented
in Li, Sun, and Jee’s (2019) study in
which teacher talk dominated most of
the class time and teacher questions
were mostly display questions or known
information questions that did not require
active participation from students. As
a result, students in these classrooms
remained passive and obedient and their
minimal responses were characterized
by repetitions of short answers and an
absence of authentic oral output.
A large body of studies from around
the world have revealed the impact of
EFL teacher pedagogical practice on
their students’ agency to learn (Graham,
Courtney, Tonkyn, et al., 2016; Muñoz,
2017; Sah & Li, 2018). Muñoz (2017)
conducted a 10-year longitudinal study
in Spain that followed the trajectories
of a group of young learners of EFL
from age 6 to age 16 using a mixed-
methods design to examine their
outcomes in relation to their language-
learning aptitude and motivation. The
study found that EFL lessons that were
not adequately challenging and involve
tiresome repetition were responsible for
very slow development over the years
and learners’ loss of motivation over
time. Similar ndings were also observed
in another study situated in Hungary,
where Nikolov (2009) investigated EFL
agency development of 84 Hungarian
students aged 6 to 14. Other studies in
various contexts (e.g., Graham, Courtney,
Tonkyn, et al., 2016; Sah & Li, 2018) also
found that learners’ agency development
was negatively affected by classroom
experiences, in particular by activities
that learners felt did not help them to
learn effectively or to make continuing
progress.
These studies suggest that in order
to foster the right kind of agency, second
language teachers must consider that
agency is not just an individual effort, but
also highly dependent on the resources
provided to learners and the classroom
environment and pedagogical practices
that learners are subject to. As Reber
(1993) states, teachers must ask “not
[just] what’s inside [a student’s] head,
ask what [his/her] head is inside of” (p.
58). Instructionally, this means second
language teachers need to become
what Epstein (2009) calls “intentional
teachers” who not only teach content but
also are intentional about the context and
pedagogy of teaching and assessment
that build on what students already
know, highlight students’ strengths, and
gives them condence to gain control of
their own learning processes, including
confronting their weaknesses. Epstein
(2009) explains:
“Intentional teachers use their
knowledge of child development and
literacy learning to supply materials,
provide well-timed information, guide
discussions, make thoughtful comments,
ask meaningful questions, and pose
calibrated challenges that advance
children’s learning” (p. 40).
Intentional Language
Instruction that Promotes
Learner Agency: Five
Principles
A number of instructional approaches
have been found to be conducive to learner
agency development. Among them are
project-based language learning, inquiry-
based language learning, task-based
language teaching and phenomenon-based
language learning. All these approaches
engage language learners with real-world
issues and meaningful reading and writing
activities through a series of learning
tasks that have an authentic purpose and
therefore promote students’ autonomy and
agency in the learning process. However,
many of these approaches, developed
in English as a first language contexts,
may be difcult to actualize in a foreign
language learning context, especially
in contexts where language teaching is
often traditionally conducted in lecture
style and favors rote learning (Li, Sun,
& Jee, 2018). While not all lessons can
engage with real world issues and follow
a project or phenomenon-based approach,
in the EFL context, teachers can adapt
their lessons by abiding the following
ve principles to promote greater learner
agency in language learning that aims to
move:
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from teaching the target language
to teaching literacy skills;
from teaching the target culture
to making lessons culturally relevant to
students;
from focusing on providing language
input to promoting interaction in the
language;
from attending to nal products to
students as producers of language;
from preparing for exams to
conducting engaging assessments.
1. From Teaching the Target Language
to Teaching Literacy
In second and foreign language
teaching, language was traditionally
conceived of as a set of grammatical
rules, and language learning was believed
to primarily involve mastery of these
rules (Cortazzi, & Jin, 1996; Fang & Li,
in press). This approach, however, has
been documented to be largely ineffective
in promoting either language learning or
learner agency. In the Chinese context,
this kind of grammar-based language
teaching has been documented to lead
to wide-spread resistance to language
learning in both rural and urban schools
(Fan & Cheng, 2015; Ke, 2016; J. Li,
2007). Many students are also reported
to suffer from high levels of study /
test anxiety, which has been found to
negatively impact their English test scores
(J. Li, 2007). And many students express
a “hatred” for studying English starting
in elementary school. One key reason is
that English has been taught as a set of
linguistic rules that has no applications
outside the weekly English lessons.
An alternative perspective is to
move away from seeing language as a
set of rules to master towards viewing
language learning as a means to achieve
literacy in a second language. Literacy is
commonly defined as “the ability to use
language and images in rich and varied
forms to read, write, listen, speak, view,
represent, and think critically about
ideas” (Ontario Ministry of Education,
2004, p. 5). According to ACTFL (2020),
literacy is purposeful use of language
skills (such as reading, writing, listening,
speaking, and viewing) for purposeful
communication in meaningful contexts
and with engaging content. These
literacy skills may include the ability to
manage, analyze, and synthesize multiple
streams of information, design and share
information for global communities, build
intentional cross-cultural connections
and relationships with others, and create,
critique, analyze, and evaluate multimedia
texts, among others (NCTE, 2013).
Viewing learning a second language as
a means to enhance these 21st century
skills may require teachers to teach the
language not as a set of prescriptive rules
through isolated, drill-like exercises, but
as connected goal areas that integrate
reading, writing, listening, speaking,
representing, viewing, and critical
thinking with a communicative purpose
(ACTFL, 2020).
Teaching in this connected and
integrated manner requires attention to
text, context, and purpose in language use
in the teaching-learning cycle whether
it is online or offline (Fang & Li, in
press). In a second or foreign language
classroom, repetitive drill exercises
usually diminish interest and motivation,
and hence agency. Providing age-
appropriate texts and tasks that engage
learners in reading, writing, representing,
and higher-order thinking is essential. In
lower-level classes, teachers can choose
to read high-interest books as whole
class or in small groups, and engage
students in oral discussions and written
responses to the text through drawing and
writing. Similar approaches can also be
applied to upper-level classrooms, where
students are offered high-interest reading
materials and authentic tasks around
the readings that require the meaningful
and purposeful use of reading, writing,
speaking, and thinking skills (e.g., small
group discussions, interviews, or other
meaningful tasks) (see Li, 2017 for
examples of such connected instruction in
low and higher grades).
2. From Teaching the Target Culture to
Culturally Relevant Teaching
Teaching language cannot be
separated from teaching the target
language culture. In a foreign language
context, how to teach the target culture
is a frequent challenge for any teacher.
Research has revealed many English
teachers vary widely in their awareness
and knowledge of the target language
culture and for too many, teaching
the target language culture still means
knowing and teaching target cultures of
western norms without critical reection
(Li, 2013). However, due to the fact that
many English teachers do not have a
deep knowledge of the target language
culture, they often teach those specified
in textbooks (Li, 2018). For example,
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in Atay’s (2008) study of Turkish
prospective teachers’ integration of
culture in the classroom, it was found
that besides the target culture specied in
the textbook, the teachers did not discuss
the local culture or any other culture; and
they often chose not to discuss cultural
differences even for a teaching unit that
included cultural issues, if they felt they
did not have enough knowledge about the
target culture. Moreover, all the teachers
believed that “focusing on learners’
culture is not necessary” (Atay, 2008, p.
96).
Due to this deep-seated conception
of culture as the target language culture
and teaching it as a subject of knowledge
in the language classroom, teachers
often overlook the affordance of local
languages and cultures as funds of
knowledge (González, Moll, & Amanti,
2005) in the language classroom. A
funds-of-knowledge perspective regard
the historically and culturally developed
bodies of linguistic knowledge and skills
from the teacher’s (and their students’)
local cultures and communities as
rich cultural, linguistic, and cognitive
resources and foundation for culturally
responsive and meaningful lessons in the
English language classroom (González,
Moll, & Amanti, 2005; Li, 2018). Seeing
their prior knowledge in local varieties
and cultures as funds of knowledge
can help foster cultural and linguistic
continuity among learners, promote
intrinsic motivation, and increase
academic achievement, and therefore
develop their sense of agency for further
learning.
This alternative perspective matters
for the materials that teachers may
provide to students. For example, in some
classrooms, many students may choose
to use English names for the language
class. Besides a random choice of names,
teachers can design a themed study of
names by bringing in students’ cultures
and identities and discussing important
name-related issues in our daily lives.
Teachers can conduct a critical reading
of thought-provoking, relatable books
such as
The Name Jar
(Choi, 2006),
My
Name is Sangeol
(Williams, 2009),
My
Name is Maria Isabel
(Ada, 1995), or a
book in their rst language about names.
Teachers can engage students in making
connections to the story by talking about
their own names, engaging them to
interview their parents about their names
and report back to class, generating
questions they have about the story,
retelling the story, or making predictions
about the story. These kinds of active
engagement activities will be culturally
relevant to students and personally
meaningful, and therefore, students will
likely be more invested and more agentic
in the learning process.
3. From Input to Interaction
The issue of language input and
output has been widely discussed in
the language teaching literature. Input
refers to the language exposure a teacher
provides to students (by the teacher and/
or through multimedia) and output means
language produced by the students orally
or in written forms (Swain, 1985). In a
language classroom, which is often the
only place of language exposure outside
school, input is therefore of paramount
importance to students’ learning
outcomes. A variety of technology tools
and digital resources can be used to
bring into the classroom authentic target
language input well beyond what was
formerly possible in traditional foreign
language classrooms (Celik & Aytin,
2014; Li, Jee, & Sun, 2018; Li, Sun, &
Jee, 2019). Despite the increasing use of
technology tools in the foreign language
classroom, a body of research confirms
that the majority of teachers make only
minimal or supercial use of educational
technology (Li & Ni, 2011a, 2011b;
Li, Jee & Sun, 2018; Li, Sun, & Jee,
2019; Peeraer & Van Petegem, 2015).
Research on many current EFL teaching
practices reveals an over-emphasis on
the “technologies in English” rather than
“technologies for English” (Cobo, 2016).
That is, English teaching practices in
these English classrooms still remain
“old-fashioned and pre-digital” (Selwyn,
Nemorin, Bulfin, et al., 2018, p. 151).
A body of studies in the Chinese
context reveals that most Chinese EFL
teachers’ use of technology is still mainly
restricted to preparing for class and
delivering instruction. These practices
are reminiscent of the traditional model
of foreign language teaching, which
is highly textbook-driven and teacher-
centered (Li, Jee, & Sun, 2018; Li, Sun,
& Jee, 2019; L. Li, 2014; Li & Walsh,
2011).
Another striking finding in many
EFL classrooms is a lack of interaction
in the target language, be it student-
teacher or student-student interaction.
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Research on EFL classroom talk indicates
that teacher talk still dominates EFL
classroom discourse around the world;
and teachers’ choices of initiation
are often characterized by display
questions; and their most frequent
feedback strategies (e.g., gap filling or
short evaluative comments) often do
not encourage student target language
output (Faruji, 2011; Lee, 2008; Long
& Sato, 1983; Thornbury, 1996; Tsui,
2001; Walsh, 2002). Existing literature
on student output in EFL classrooms has
revealed that the quantity and quality
of EFL students’ responses are mostly
restricted due to excessive teacher
talk time and teacher control over the
content and procedure of the classroom
interaction (Cheng, 2009; Walsh, 2002).
In their study of four college EFL
classrooms in China, Liu and Le (2012)
found that the average amount of teacher
talk time (68.89%) surpassed student
talk time (21.66%) and other activities
(6.67%) in a 45-minutes class. Similarly,
discourse analyses of elementary EFL
lessons in China by Li, Jee, and Sun,
(2018) and Li, Sun, and Jee (2019)
revealed that EFL teachers’ technology
use played a negative role in facilitating
communicative classroom discourses,
with high-technology-use teachers using
more display questions and directives
and facilitating less spontaneous or
authentic output from students in the
target language. In addition, the teachers
provided little corrective feedback.
Therefore, the researchers concluded that
such practices, despite being supported
with new technologies, were detrimental
to student target language interactions in
the classroom.
The need to engage students
in authentic interaction in the target
language is the basis of the integrated,
connected, culturally relevant teaching
approach described earlier. This means
teachers need to allow the development
of fluency alongside the emphasis
on accuracy in language learning.
Opportunities to use the language for
authentic communications and dialogues
such as small group discussions,
presentations, interviews, and other
collaborative activities all increase
students’ interaction and language output
in the language classroom.
4. From Language Product to
Language Producers
Another principle to develop agentic
second language readers and writers is
to move away from a product-oriented
view of language learning. In this view,
students often learn the target language by
imitating model texts through controlled
practice of the text features and focusing
on organization of ideas more than the
ideas themselves; often the emphasis is
on the end product or results of learning
(Nunan, 1999). In contrast, a process
approach considers the text as a starting
point for collaborative learning and a
resource for creative ideas generated
by the language user. The emphasis is
therefore on the creative process itself.
In addition to changing this focus,
teachers also need to attend to the
development of language learners as
producers and users of language during
the learning process. As van Lier (2004)
argues, achieving literacy in a language
must be accompanied by the development
of a dually compatible identity that
connects the learner’s self-identity with
that afforded by the new language. This
means language teaching must foster “a
voice in that language, and having both
the right to speak and the right to be
heard, as well as having something of
consequence to say” (van Lier, 2004, p.
83).
One example of attending to both
process and producers of language as
well as products of learning is the activity
of having students create “identity texts.”
According to Cummins and Early (2011),
identity texts are works and artifacts
produced or authored by students that are
based on their own personal experiences
or their social realities. These works or
artifacts (e.g., stories, poems, journals,
art, drama, or videos) are often bi-
or multilingual, and can be written,
spoken, visual, musical, or multimodal.
These identity text assignments can be
embedded or connected to subject area
learning such as language arts, social
studies, and science. Examples of such
projects include having students make
dual language books and arts about the
migration patterns of Canada geese and
reecting on the birds’ journey to survive
between two homes (social studies) or
having students create number sense
problems and timelines in photo stories
that incorporate their lived experiences,
families, and home lives (math). Literacy
skills required to produce these identity
texts are connected to the curriculum
and encourage extensive reading,
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writing, and dialogues among peers,
parents, and / or communities about their
shared experiences and realities (for
examples of identity texts instruction
see Cummins, Hu, Markus, et al., 2015).
These identity texts, based on personal
realities, are often published and read,
heard, or viewed by peers or the wider
communities. Therefore, this process of
producing the language through identity
texts gives students a “voice” and sense of
“power” in the language, afrms students’
identities, and increases their sense of
their agency (Cummins, Hu, Markus, et
al., 2015). In today’s world confronting
COVID-19, students may experience
emotional stress and anxiety during their
stay-home lockdown. Teachers can give
students voice and power in the language
by encouraging students to compose
identity texts documenting their lived
experiences.
5. From Exams to Engaging
Assessments
Transforming an information-
transmission mode of language teaching
into integrated, culturally relevant
teaching that focuses on interaction and
development of learner identities cannot
be accomplished if the assessment is
exam-oriented and score-driven. van
Lier (2004) argues that standards do not
equal quality and the quality of language
education cannot be measured by test
scores. Indeed, students’ test scores
on exams usually do not correspond
with students’ literacy attainment in
the language or their ability to use the
language in the real world. Research has
indicated that high-stakes exams usually
increase students’ anxiety and stress
and decrease learners’ motivation and
engagement in learning (Fan & Cheng,
2015; Li J., 2007).
Therefore, to promote a greater
sense of learner agency, assessments
must be engaging for learning and
addressing students’ affective filters
during the learning process. Such
engaging assessments need to first build
on an understanding of students’ needs
and strengths. By knowing students’
individual differences, their pace of
learning, as well as their strengths,
teachers can then deploy diverse
assessment methods to differentiate both
instruction and assessment by providing
options, personalization, and choice. In
sum, engaging assessment “involves
assuring that the assessment process—
beginning with student learning outcome
statements and ending with improvements
in student learning—is mindful of student
differences and employs assessment
methods appropriate for different student
groups” (Montenegro & Jankowski,
2017, p. 11). Through engaging students
early in the assessment process by writing
learning outcome statements for and with
students, teachers increase the chances of
students understanding what is expected
of them, and therefore they will have
more agency in how to demonstrate
learning and become engaged throughout
the learning process.
There are many different engaging
assessment methods other than standardized
tests. For example, portfolio assessment
and other performance-based assessments
have been documented to increase
students’ learning outcomes and
agency in learning. As Montenegro and
Jankowski (2017) suggest, engaging
assessments should allow students to
choose different ways to demonstrate
their knowledge, and assessment
methods should appropriately elicit
demonstrations of what students know.
For example, instead of doing multiple
choice questions after reading a text,
teachers can alternatively allow students
to demonstrate their understanding in
different formats, e.g., a skit written based
on the reading. To encourage reading
uency, instead of repetition, students can
perform a read-aloud through a reader’s
theater. In one writing project, teachers
can allow different formats—traditional
paragraph writing, PowerPoint slides,
stories, poems, videos, or graphic novels.
After finishing a writing unit, students
can organize a writer’s celebration party
for which they have to write invitations,
design celebration posters or banners,
and present their work to others. Through
providing different options, choices,
and personalization, students can fully
activate their strengths and interests
in demonstrating their knowing and
therefore, become more agentic in the
learning and assessment process.
Conclusion
In a new world struggling with
the COVID-19 pandemic, education,
including language education, has now
shifted to online instruction. Learner
agency in this new learning environment
is becoming increasingly important as
learners of all ages now need to learn to
41
2020.5
英语学习
take more control of their own learning
process. In this article, I argue for a
different way of thinking about second /
foreign language teaching that promotes
agency throughout the learning and
assessment process whether online or
offline. This alternative perspective
enables language teachers to move
beyond just providing linguistic input and
teaching the target culture (e.g., American
or Western culture) to connect with the
culture of students, focus on promoting
meaningful interaction in the classroom,
developing learner identity and
engagement, and engaging students in the
assessment process. These principles aim
to change the focus on language learning
from a student’s individual effort to what
sociocultural and material resources
and learning environment teachers and
schools can provide for optimal language
learning, both online and ofine.
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Building upon existing research on preparing teachers for English language learners (ELLs), this chapter examines current practices and challenges of integrating ELL education into teacher preparation programs in the U.S. The analyses reveal sporadic efforts of ELL integration into the American teacher training institutions. Most programs focus on cultural diversity rather than language and linguistic challenges that all teachers will also encounter in their future classrooms. Findings also reveal several challenges in integrating language and linguistic diversity into teacher education: a lack of faculty expertise in ELLs, programmatic constraints, and minimum policy support. The findings suggest that teacher education programs need to extend the current focus on cultural diversity to equip future teachers with teaching competencies to address the increasing sociolinguistic complexities in the classrooms.
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This chapter presents an integrated discussion of the overarching themes of this edited volume. Building upon the editors’ understanding of education and youth agency as a dialectical relationship, this chapter considers the importance of contextual knowledge in analyzing formations of youth agency. It identifies three points in detail as vital contributions of this book: theorizing youth agency as imaginative work; connecting practices of representation to possibilities of youth agency; and highlighting the relational aspects of youth agency. The chapter calls for greater attention to how discourses of promoting youth agency with education circulate and are localized in distinct social contexts.
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This chapter reported on the construction and development of the metacognitive knowledge (MCK) about web-based distance language learning of two adult English as a foreign language (EFL) learners in China. Drawing upon theories and research in metacognition, self-regulated second/foreign language learning, and distance language learning, the authors investigated adult Chinese EFL learners' knowledge about themselves as online distance language learners, the nature and demands of online distance English learning, and how to best approach their learning in this program. They identified changes in these learners' MCK over the 16 week semester and discussed how a number of contextual factors, including the pre-determined learning structure, teacher-led instructional sessions, and peer interaction opportunities, were significant in shaping and influencing learners' adjustments and revisions of their MCK about online distance language learning. Findings from this study have important implications for the design and implementation of web-based distance language programs for adult learners.
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Agency has attracted considerable attention, especially of late. Nevertheless, perceptions of language learners as nonagentive persist. In this article the Douglas Fir Group's call for a transdisciplinary perspective is heeded in a Complex Dynamic Systems Theory's (CDST) conceptualization of agency. It is suggested that CDST maintains the structure–agency complementarity while bringing to the fore the relational and emergent nature of agency. Coordination dynamics is identified as a possible mechanism for the phylogenetic and ontogenetic emergence of agency. CDST further characterizes agency as spatially–temporally situated. It can be achieved and changed through iteration and co‐adaptation. It is also multidimensional and heterarchical. In this era of posthumanism, an issue that is also taken up is whether it is only humans who have agency. The article then discusses educational practices that could support learner agency. Finally, the article closes with a discussion of agency and ethical action.
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