Behind the Scenes of an Advising Session: Weaving Together Learning Advisors’ Voices

Kie Yamamoto, Kanda University of International Studies

“So, what do you exactly do as a learning advisor?” This is one of the common questions I believe learning advisors get asked. Yes, we engage in different types of interaction than teachers do, yet we don’t necessarily “advise” students. It is evident that the advising dialogue is not just a simple “conversation” and its significance is discussed elsewhere in the literature of advising in language learning (ALL) (e.g. Gremmo, 2009; Kato, 2012; Kato & Mynard, 2016; Mynard & Carson, 2012). However, there are very few opportunities to look inside advising sessions and one of the aims of this column is attempt to address this need as helps us to better understand our practice and learn from each other.

In this third issue of the Reflective Practice column of Relay Journal, as an experiment, seven learning advisors from Kanda University of International Studies in Japan have agreed to share their advising experiences. The series of short written reflections aims to achieve the following objectives: First, this experiment disseminates various aspects of advising practice in order to offer those who have an interest in the field of ALL beyond theoretical approaches a practical glimpse into the world of advising. Additionally, with current the growth of community of learning advisors all over the world, we hope to exchange practical ideas through these reflections and develop knowledge repository through active discussions among the members of the community. Lastly, by collecting multiple voices from advisors, these experimental reflective accounts aim to generate themes that can be further investigated later from sociocultural as well as psychological perspectives.

Each of the seven stories is a personal account of an advising experience with a learner, related to the theme of “the most memorable advising experience this academic year”. Each author shares firsthand challenges, struggles, excitement, appreciation and joy in working with their learners. Shedding light on the multifaceted nature of learning advisors’ roles, the seven stories are categorized into three themes for readability; advisor as an empowerer, advisor as a significant other; and shifting advisor roles in continuous advising.

Across the seven stories, I highlight sociocultural dimensions of advisor development..  The premise of advising is, without doubt, transformational learning through reflective dialogue. Thus, advisors incorporate various advising skills and strategies as described in each story. However, more importantly, what the collection of advisors’ voices provides here is an indication of the multifaceted nature of learning advisors’ selves. Rather than defining who they are, each story illustrates their reflexivity that enables them to listen to individual learners with an open mind and “create a mutually respectful and balanced relationship” (Karlsson & Kjisik, 2009, p.185). While each advisor has had a different approach depending on who the learner is, the advisor’s voice in each story reflects the first principle of transformational advising (Kato & Mynard, 2016), that is, the importance of focusing on the learner. It also reminds readers that advising is an opportunity to “appreciate diversity yet notice every student’s unique experiences” (Karlsson, 2014, p. 409).

Related to advisors’ reflexivity, advisor identity construction appears as a potential intriguing theme in each narrative. While each narrative primarily focuses on the learner in the specific advising experience, it also signals the transformation within the advisor him/herself. As Benson, Chik and Barkhuizen (2013, p. 8) write, narratives “capture the nature and meaning of experiences that are difficult to observe directly and are best understood from the perspective of those who experience them.” By making sense of their memorable moment via storytelling, each of the seven advisors also makes sense of their change and growth as a learning advisor. In this sense, while each narrative is rather short, it touches aspects of narrators’ identities (Benson, Chik & Barkhizen, 2013). It is not my intention to provide an in-depth analysis here; however, I will remark on the significance of the collection of advisors’ voices as it will enable the research in ALL to investigate broader issues and challenges situated in particular social, historical and cultural contexts, as witnessed in previous narrative research in applied linguistics (see Barkhuizen (2013) for a good review).

It is my hope that you delve into the seven stories of journeys in becoming a learning advisor in this column and take a reflective moment—what is a learning advisor? What does an advising dialogue mean to a learner? With your engagement in participating in their stories, each narrative becomes more meaningful. Simultaneously, I truly wish that more contributions from learning advisors to this narrative practice will create an opportunity to cultivate further development in the field of ALL. If you wish to share your response with any of the contributors or write a short narrative related to advising in the future issue, please contact Kie Yamamoto (yamamoto-ki@kanda.kuis.ac.jp).

Acknowledgements

I am grateful for members of the SALC learning advisor team at Kanda University of International Studies, who participated in this experimental project. Special thanks go to Huw Davies, Yuri Imamura and Isra Wongsarnpigoon, who encouraged me to start off the project by willingly sharing their advising stories in our coffee-break reflective chat.

References

Barkhuizen, G. P. (2013). (Ed). Narrative research in applied linguistics. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Barkhuizen, G., Benson, P., & Chik, A. (2014). Narrative inquiry in language teaching and learning research. New York, NY: Routledge.

Gremmo, M-J. (2009). Advising for language learning: Interactive characteristics and negotiation procedures. In F. Kjisik, P. Voller, N. Aoki & Y. Nakata (Eds.), Mapping the terrain of Learner Autonomy: Learning environments, learning communities and identities (pp. 145-167). Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press.

Karlsson, L., & Kjisik, F. (2009). Whose story is it anyway? Auto/biography in language learning encounters. In F. Kjisik, P. Voller, N. Aoki & Y. Nakata (Eds.), Mapping the terrain of learner autonomy. learning environments, learning communities and identities. Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press.

Kato, S. (2012). Professional development for learning advisors: Facilitating the intentional      reflective dialogue. Studies in Self-Access Learning Journal, 3(1), 74-92.

Kato, S., & Mynard, J. (2016). Reflective dialogue: Advising in language learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Mynard, J., & Carson, L. (2012). (Eds.). Advising in language learning: Dialogue, tools and context. Harlow, UK: Pearson.

5 thoughts on “Behind the Scenes of an Advising Session: Weaving Together Learning Advisors’ Voices”

  1. Dear Kie,

    I love this experiment! Reading your introduction and the personal narratives immediately brought to my mind an early inspiration into narrative inquiry, the concept and idea of the resonance of stories (Conle, 1993). To me, getting close(r) to the experience of another through storytelling is crucial in advising/counselling work. Listening to, or reading the experiential tellings by others, ideally, inspires us to respond to their stories with our own. Through storytelling, that is, through sharing our stories of practice, we make sense of the diverse experiences of advisers/counsellors. In Conle’s view, such sharing of stories has both a past and a future orientation; it is not only memories resurfacing but new possibilities opening up for us in this experiment.

    Our practitioner stories emerge from our unique narrative contexts but, through resonance, we will deepen our understanding of both the work we are doing and the work that happens elsewhere in a different context. And the gap is closing between professional development and practitioner research when we explore our experiences and when we experiment writing reflectively, and self-reflexively, about them. Here, it seems to me, we can do it “without losing touch with experience” (Conle, 1993, 262).

    Leena

    Reference
    Conle, C. (1993). Learning culture and embracing contraries: narrative inquiry through stories of acculturation. Doctoral thesis, Graduate Department of Education, University of Toronto.

    1. Dear Leena,

      Thank you very much for your insightful comments. Since I read your book chapter “Whose story is it anyway? Auto/biography in language learning encounters” (Karlsson & Kjisik, 2009), I have been interested in advisors’ narrative accounts of their experiences with language learners. I fully concur with what you suggested in your comment; narrative practice is not just a story-telling activity but a means of exploring new possibilities for professional development. In recent years, teacher identity has been approached from narrative research (e.g. Barkhuizen, 2016; Barkhuizen, Benson & Chik, 2014) and I hope this experiment contributes to developing a body of research in advisor identity and development.

      The narratives shared in this third issue are situated in Japanese context but advisors’ social, historical and cultural backgrounds are very much diversified. It is always intriguing to talk about our advising beliefs and where those beliefs come from through reflective dialogues among the advisor team. I am curious about advising practice in other institutions and their advising stories (needless to say, I would like to hear about your team’s stories too). How do they see themselves as a learning advisor? What does advising mean to them? I hope more members in the community of learning advisors will share the similar interest and continue weaving the stories together with us!
      Kie

      References
      Barkhuizen, G., Benson, P., & Chik, A. (2014). Narrative inquiry in language teaching and learning research. New York, NY: Routledge.

      Karlsson, L., & Kjisik, F. (2009). Whose story is it anyway? Auto/biography in language learning encounters. In F. Kjisik, P. Voller, N. Aoki & Y. Nakata (Eds.), Mapping the terrain of learner autonomy. learning environments, learning communities and identities. Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press.

  2. Dear Kie,

    What a great initiative to turn the attention to language advisors’ narratives of their experiences! It is a timely answer to a call for more attention to language advisors themselves (cf. Karlson & Kjisik, 2009; Tassinari, 2017). Reading your introduction makes me think about the advisors’ professional identity. More specifically, it makes me wonder who they are as language advisors, what makes them become language advisors, how they see themselves in this role, and, paraphrasing your question, what an advising dialogue means to them. It seems to me that such identity emerges from their interactions with students and is closely related to their emotional experiences. I would love to read your ideas about advisor’s identity.

    Again, congratulations on putting up this column.

    Eduardo

    References
    Karlsson, L., & Kjisik, F. (2009). Whose story is it anyway? Auto/biography in language learning encounters. In F. Kjisik, P. Voller, N. Aoki & Y. Nakata (Eds.), Mapping the terrain of learner autonomy. learning environments, learning communities and identities. Tampere, Finland: Tampere University Press.

    Tassinari, M. G. (2017). How language advisors perceive themselves: Exploring a role through narratives. In C. Nicolaides & W. Magno e Silva (Eds.), Innovations and challenges in applied linguistics and learner autonomy (pp. 305-336). Campinas, Brazil: Pontes Editores.

  3. Dear Eduardo,
    Thank you for your comments! Looking back the past four years in my advising journey, I feel my professional identity has been shaped up by a number of memorable moments with the learners I worked with. Also, instead of thinking “What can I do in order to become the best learning advisor?”, I started focusing more on what learners look for in our dialogue and who I am to them in the advising context. The process of becoming a learning advisor involves a person’s historical, cultural and social backgrounds, which I also think strongly influence on advisor identity. We hope to continue exploring multifaceted nature of advisors’ sense of selves in this column.
    Yes, I totally agree with you– emotional experiences in advising certainly plays a powerful role in creating advisors’ professional identity. It will be meaningful to unpack those experiences from a narrative perspective. What does the particular moment influence on a learning advisor’s professional identity construction? What types of professional development might offer better support when they face emotional challenges? It will be truly exciting for us, as the community of learning advisors to approach to those questions together.
    I hope to hear about your advising experiences in the future column!

  4. Dear Kie and Eduardo,

    Our counselling context in Helsinki University language Centre is obviously very different from most advising contexts. A couple of years ago, we were reaching out with our counselling stories and collaborated on experimental academic writing. Our writing experience was very important to us as a team, as colleagues, and made us dig deep into our own stories as counsellors but also into the story of the ALMS programme. In telling our counselling stories we present an idea of taking our professional development into our own hands through what is called Peer Group Mentoring. Perhaps the article would be of interest to the community of learning advisers reading these wonderful stories:

    https://tuhat.helsinki.fi/portal/en/publications/generating-visions-(e5a2c325-032b-42d3-8b77-ec09fe86a7dd).html

    Leena

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