Huw Davies, Kanda University of International Studies
Robert Stevenson, Kanda University of International Studies
Isra Wongsarnpigoon, Kanda University of International Studies
Introduction by Kie Yamamoto
It is common for learning advisors to receive a request such as conversation practice or simple linguistic support in our institution simply because learners find them accessible and friendly. Although this may not be the usual role of a learning advisor, it can be the beginning of a long-lasting reflective dialogue. Learning advisors are aware that the learners’ initial interest is not necessarily an opportunity for reflection on their learning process. Nevertheless, they also acknowledge the fact that learner readiness for reflection varies depending on the learner. Thus, while advisors appear to be “conversation partners” at first, they endeavor to create reflective dialogues by incorporating advising strategies in each session. As the learning trajectory that the learner follows is not always straightforward, keeping an open mind and engaging in each advising session is crucial. The following stories depict the importance of openness to learners’ needs and maintaining continuous advising sessions in order to generate transformational learning.
Every Conversation is an Advising Opportunity
My most memorable advising moment in the last year came from a student who I had been talking with regularly over the previous two years. She is majoring in a language other than English, and I felt she was using the advising service to get English speaking practice. She had been reserving me once a week and the conversations rarely strayed towards learning. In fact, my sessions with her had made me reflect on how long it is appropriate for advisors to build rapport before encouraging some kind of action.
Our conversation took place shortly before the summer break and after talking for around 20 minutes, the student suddenly and unexpectedly brought up a topic to do with language learning. She was worried that some of the English fluency she developed would disappear during six weeks in her hometown, far from the university and opportunities to use English.
Looking back, I can now see this was an optimum moment to introduce a tip from a successful language learner. However, at the time I was skeptical that the student would change her behavior, so before speaking I leaned back in my chair and spoke more slowly and quietly than I had been doing. I told her about other university students that I had worked with who recorded a spoken diary once or twice a week to maintain spoken fluency. The conversation then moved away from learning and, although I mentioned this tip again in a recap at the end of the session, I was unsure that the student would keep an audio diary during the vacation.
It was very much to my surprise shortly after the vacation the same student came to speak to me again and told me she was able to fully participate in her English classes that week because she had kept an audio diary over the summer. She was so excited she played extracts to me, then reflected on difficulties she had keeping the diary and what she did about it.
This moment helped me realize that continuing to give time to students is valuable even when language learning is not on the student’s agenda; an optimum moment to share advice can occur at any time. Next time such a moment presents itself, I will deliberately alter my body language and tone because I believe by doing this I helped to make the tip memorable for my student.
The Importance of Casual Advising
An advising session that sticks out for me from this past year began as a casual chat with a class exploring books in the SALC. I spent some time with several students to discuss what books they were looking at and what they were actually looking for. One student wanted to travel so we went to the Lonely Planet books. Another student enjoyed comics so we visited that section. They each had their own curiosities that made for good conversations. Class ended and off they went.
Several weeks later a student made a reservation to see me. I did not recognize the name and the purpose was simply listed as “other.” When the time came, I was happy to see it was a student I had spoken with during the class time. She wanted to continue the conversation and practice her English. Previously she had not had a conversation with a native speaker, and since I had spoken to her that one time in class, she thought this would be a good way to begin. Most of the dialogue was general conversation as that was what she knew she needed to improve her confidence. It became a bit of a balance between conversation for conversation practice and reflection for thinking how the conversation was affecting her learning. Reflection came in the form of asking how she thought the conversation went or by discussing and encouraging some recently learned vocabulary or grammar. Over time she has certainly improved. Since then she has made reservations with me several times for more conversations, and I have seen her out and about in the SALC with friends or even talking with a teacher.
Random chats can help more than I often realize, and students will remember them much longer than I will. It is something I hope to increase in the coming year.
When Meetings Nurture the Roots of Trust
One relatively recent session had quite an impact on me, not due to the use of any specific advising skill or some insight reached in the moment, but rather because of how it made me consider the relationships that I develop with my advisees.
This student would usually book me for conversation practice or to ask about colloquial vocabulary. I felt that he saw me more as a language resource, and whenever I did try to engage him in deeper reflection, he did not seem especially interested. Still, because he was not a frequent SALC user, and because I sensed that he did not often reach out to speak to new people, I was happy to meet him “just” for those purposes. It seemed to me that he felt comfortable speaking with me because of my background and our common interests. I went into this particular appointment fully expecting to discuss slang with him again, only to be surprised when he started reflecting on his mindset and negative habits. We had a long talk in which we both shared our experiences and thoughts. He expressed the feeling that being able to think about these issues was a sign of personal growth, a belief which I wholeheartedly agreed with. I could tell that he had been contemplating these matters for some time, and the fact that he trusted me to open up about these thoughts stuck with me.
This session showed me the significance of establishing trust and rapport with learners. Although I had previously had several meetings that did not necessarily focus deeply on the student’s learning, I realized that those sessions were not without value. In the process of developing a positive rapport with him, he grew comfortable and came to trust me enough that he could come to me later with topics that we might not have been able to broach previously. From this instance, I came to see the value in developing a connection with learners in such sessions that might seem to lack a deeper purpose or do not lead to definitive outcomes. In my advising from here on, what I learned will help me to be more proactive in maintaining connections with students and realize the part that any given meeting may play in building trust.