Curtis Edlin, Kanda University of International Studies
Amelia Yarwood, Kanda University of International Studies
Edlin, C., & Yarwood, A. (2019). Advisor as an empowerer. Relay Journal, 2(1), 63-65.
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Introduction by Kie Yamamoto
Advisors acknowledge that their words are powerful. On the one hand, they potentially influence a learner’s action if he or she is not confident enough to make his or her own decision. Thus, the degree of directiveness is a concern that they pay attention to in advising dialogues. On the other hand, advisors often encounter the situation where they play crucial roles in empowering learners to take a step forward to changing a critical situation, especially when he or she faces a difficulty. As the challenge involves not only academic matters but also interpersonal as well as emotional ones, they also take initiatives to create a “secure space” in their advising dialogues so that the learner feels accepted and comfortable sharing the core of his or her problem. The two stories below illustrate how advisors supported their learners in rather directive ways, which eventually ignited learners’ willingness to take charge of their own learning and overcome the challenging situation.
Lateral Application of Learning
My most memorable advising session this year came on the heels of many weekly face-to-face advising sessions with a student. He had been both struggling to self-regulate well and reflect deeply in written work with learning advisors.
I noticed that when I met with this student, there were many misunderstandings, which seemed to parallel the written work. However, in a face-to-face setting, I could work in the moment to rephrase things, add sketches and figures to support the ideas we were talking about, give further examples, weave in Japanese, and overall repair many of our miscommunications and misinterpretations. This seemed to help focus him and overall improved the quality of his reflections. I asked him schedule a time to meet with me every week so that we could use reflective dialogue to talk through his reflections in a face-to-face setting. While this might constitute a slightly higher degree of directiveness than advisers are normally used to, it proved invaluable to prompting further reflection (PFR–an advising skill) and scaffolding the student to delve deeper into quality reflections that could inform further action. This seemed to mark a turning point for him and he was finally able to complete his work in self-directed learning for credit, which he was ecstatic about.
What made the final session of the semester memorable were some unprompted comments on how he had applied what he had learned about learning. The experience of self-directed learning, supported by reflective dialogue, changed not only how he approached his study of English, but also how he approached his other language classes and school in general. He even mentioned taking better care of his health so that he could be alert and learn more efficiently. His energy levels in turn supported his ability to manage his time more effectively. I was elated to see such a big change in his life and all his successes, and that he took what he learned and applied it laterally to his other courses and other parts of his life.
Asking for a push
Being new to world of language advising, I have had many memorable sessions which are often connected to my firsts. The first repeat student, the first crying student, the first ‘ah-hah’ moment, and the first student who bounded up to me to share the fruits of their learning plan in the form of a high test score. These are all memorable, but the session that is most clear in my memory occurred when my student stopped doing things how she thought I wanted her to do them, and opted for a path she felt more comfortable on. My student had been through the self-directed learning modules.
Throughout both modules, the students’ motivation had been a rollercoaster ride of sharp twists. When she lost motivation, her goals changed but her learning plans didn’t, causing a mismatch. When she had time, she procrastinated. When she didn’t think she had time, she cancelled meetings. She was tenacious in the sense that she tried to stick to methods she seemed to know weren’t working for her.
We had discussed motivation many times prior, but for some reason when I asked her why her motivation was so low, this time she answered with greater honesty. She told me that she needed someone to push her. When asked how she could create that push, she created a learning plan that utilized myself and an English teacher to keep her accountable through twice-weekly meetings. Later, in the comments section of her learning journal, she wrote, “I thought it’s fine to say my opinion about my study”.
I thought about this session for a while afterwards. Several things seemed to hit home. Firstly, I understood exactly where this student was coming from. For me, language learning isn’t something I can do by myself for long; an external push is often necessary for the ongoing study to be successful. Secondly, while autonomous learning might mean learning by one’s self for some students, for others, it is about the presence of structures that push them to reach the heights they are aiming for. Playing the role of the external force may seem contradictory to our notions of autonomous learning, but I think it is a position we still need to embrace – if it’s what our students want.