Philip Cardiff, Kanda University of International Studies
Cardiff, P. (2021). Going deeper: Broadening the perspectives of an advisee through metaphor and a learning advising tool. Relay Journal, 4(1), 16-22. https://doi.org/10.37237/relay/040103
*This page reflects the original version of this document. Please see PDF for most recent and updated version.
This reflective paper outlines an advising session conducted online as part of the assessment for an advising in language learning certification at Kanda University of International Studies (KUIS). Specifically, the author focuses on the use of an advising tool (Wheel of Language Learning) combined with metaphor in an attempt to deepen a learner’s reflection process. In addition to reflecting on their performance and continuing development as an advisor, the author discusses how the advising course has broadened his teaching perspectives.
Keywords: professional development, metaphor, reflective practice, advising tool, Wheel of Language Learning
While learner autonomy is a well-established concept in language education, advising in language learning (ALL), which strives to help learners become more effective and autonomous language learners is still considered an emerging field (Carson & Mynard, 2012). In addition, ALL is said to be markedly different to language teaching, “in terms of the practical skills required and in the discourse employed” (Morrison & Navarro, 2012, p. 351). The Research Institute for Learner Autonomy Education at KUIS offers a series of online courses aimed at teaching participants how to become learning advisors. In this paper, I analyze and reflect on an advising session I conducted with a Freshman student, as part of the assessment for the second course of the learning advisor certification. Building on a range of basic advising strategies learned in the first course, trainees were introduced to the approach of “Broadening Perspectives”, whereby an advisor “challenges a learner’s existing beliefs and assumptions” by using more complex strategies in an attempt to stimulate “deeper critical reflection” (Kato & Mynard 2016, p. 10). The trainee advisors were encouraged to expand on the strategies learned in the first course and to utilize different advising approaches. Through the use of metaphor and an advising tool, I aimed to facilitate a learner’s reflective process in order to help them clarify their learning issues.
The advisee in this session is Mia (pseudonym) who at the time was a Freshman university student majoring in Spanish. Prior to this advising session, I had been meeting Mia twice a week as part of an English support service provided outside of the classroom. During our animated conversations I learned that Mia had never studied Spanish before beginning her degree, although she was passionate about Flamenco dancing as well as other elements of Spanish and Latin American culture. She was also very interested to hear about my own experiences living in Spain and expressed her desire to study there in the future. Having spent several weeks meeting with Mia, I found her to be an extremely motivated language learner although she would often express feelings of frustration about her progress in Spanish. Furthermore, she seemed to be comparing this lack of progress with her ability and confidence in English. Due to feeling that we had established a strong rapport and developed an element of trust, I invited her to take part in a 30-minute recorded advising session—an idea that she was very enthusiastic about. Before we began, Mia signed a form giving consent for her data from the advising session to be published.
The advising session
Early in the session we discussed an assignment Mia had been working on before I switched the focus onto her experiences as a Freshman student of Spanish so far.
Philip: So…what is it like to study Spanish?
Mia: Studying Spanish is too difficult for me because …(pause)..sometimes like English, similar to English, but sometimes different meanings….and sometimes I make mistakes. And when I talk to my friends Espan…no Spanish, I make mistakes and she didn’t understand so it is difficult for me.
P: And how did you feel when your exchange partner didn’t understand?
M: Mmm I’m sorry for them…and I should study more! Because sometimes I make mistakes and sometimes……it’s bad for them.
P: It’s bad for them?
M: Because I want to say something, but they understand different meanings so…I sometimes I make it hard for them.
P: How do you feel when you can communicate successfully in Spanish?
M: If I can…If I can communicate in Spanish to them, I feel so happy.
P: What do you find most difficult about studying Spanish?
M: Most difficult?…hmmm….I think..grammar. But my effort…I can overcome grammar with my effort I think.
This excerpt demonstrates a familiar pattern to our conversations. Speaking with Spanish exchange students is one of the most enjoyable aspects of her course, yet Mia often feels frustrated and that she “should study more.” I wanted to encourage Mia to reflect on what was so difficult about studying Spanish, and to perhaps challenge her perspective about this. The repeated phrase (“I think”) demonstrates that she is beginning to use more reflective language while also questioning her existing belief that grammar is the most difficult aspect of her learning. From my prior knowledge of Mia, I knew that she was extremely motivated and I wanted to help her recognize the progress she was making in spite of the challenges she was experiencing. I decided to intentionally structure the dialogue to help Mia clarify what her language learning issues were, and felt that an advising tool could be an effective way to achieve this.
Wheel of Language Learning (WLL)
According to Kato and Mynard (2016, p. 29), advising tools used in conjunction with dialogue can facilitate learning while also providing “alternative ways of discussing a problem.” The ‘Wheel of Language Learning’ (Kato & Sugawara 2009; Yamashita & Kato 2012) is a simple visual aid which prompts learners to rank their present level of satisfaction for six areas of their language learning: goal-setting, learning materials, time-management, reflection and self-evaluation, learning strategies and motivation (figure 1 shows Mia’s completed WLL). After explaining the WLL and allowing time for Mia to complete the task, I asked her to choose two areas to focus on in the session. Mia chose to discuss her current level of satisfaction for time-management (3/10) and goal-setting (5/10).
Mia’s completed Wheel of Language Learning
P: Can I ask. Why did you choose time management?
M: So time management is not good, for me because I… I waste my time too long so I cannot do effectively.
P: You can’t do what effectively?
M: Hmmm…I think….(long pause)
P: Do you mean you can’t manage your time effectively?
M: Yes yes yes. So I spend too much time.
P: So…when you say your time management is bad, do you mean for everything? Or just for Spanish?
M: Maybe just for Spanish.
Yamashita and Kato (2012) suggest that the reflective processes of advisees can be deepened by helping them to see how the different elements of the WLL are inter-linked and can impact each other. As we used the WLL to engage in intentional reflective dialogue, I felt that Mia’s problems with time-management were likely due to an absence of clear goals. When reflecting back on the session, I could have made this more transparent by asking “How do goal-setting and time-management relate with each other?” However, in that moment as Mia had chosen goal-setting as the second area to discuss, I decided to try using a metaphor to gain some insight into how she perceived her long term goal of being “fluent” in Spanish. Rather than relying on language, metaphors can help learners to “visualize and express their thoughts and feelings in different ways” (Kato & Mynard, 2016, p. 24) while also providing a point of reference to return to in future advising sessions.
P: If you imagine you are swimming in the ocean, and you imagine your goal of speaking Spanish is an island, does it feel like you can swim towards it?
M: I feel…my goal is too far now.
M: So…that’s why I study…but English I can speak to you (laughter) but I have knowledge of English…but Spanish I don’t have many words.
P: So, do you think you are comparing your Spanish level to your English level?
M: Ah yes yes yes exactly.
P: So maybe…because you have more experience in English…English feels easier for you?
M: Yes yes.
P: But you started English in primary school? You started Spanish three months ago.
P: You said before when you are swimming towards your goal of speaking Spanish it feels far away.
P: Is it possible to change your goal? To something closer?
M: (very enthusiastically) Mmmm hmmm yeah!
P: Because the other area you mentioned was goal setting…Do you think your goal to be “fluent” in Spanish after three months? Is it possible right now?
M: Nooooo! (Laughter)
P: (Laughter).What if you changed your goal? That could be your goal for the future, but could you make a more possible goal now?
M: Mm mm yes.
The metaphor of swimming in the ocean was something that came to me spontaneously and on reflection, perhaps asking Mia to think of her own metaphor would have been more meaningful. Nevertheless, I believe it helped Mia to reflect more deeply about her goals and begin questioning her beliefs and assumptions about what was achievable after only three months of studying. Furthermore, her reaction to my question (“Do you think you are comparing your Spanish level to your English level?”) suggests that Mia was beginning to become more self-aware and marked a turning point in the dialogue.
Throughout the advising session I felt positive about how the dialogue was developing and immediately after finishing, I watched the recording again to analyze the session in more detail. Upon reflection, as previously noted I believe the metaphor would have been more insightful if Mia had come up with her own example rather than my suggestion. Furthermore, I could have illustrated the links between the different elements of the WLL more clearly. However, despite these issues, overall I think that this was a successful advising session. First and foremost, because I feel that it enabled Mia to broaden her perspective and reconsider her language learning issues. This was the first opportunity for me to see the benefits of continuous advising for both advisor and advisee. Specifically, how advising sessions enable a level of rapport and trust to be established and from an advising perspective, how this provides an environment to implement more complex strategies and advising approaches. As McCarthy (2012, p. 120) notes, having some knowledge of a learner’s history “can play a critical role in the decision-making process” during an advising session, and I believe my previous meetings with Mia helped to make this session a success.
Kato (2012, p. 78) makes the valid point that in order to “activate learner’s reflective learning processes,” it is “worthwhile for advisors to experience reflective learning processes for themselves.” After several weeks, I was able to reflect on the session further with another trainee learning advisor. As I reflected on my advising session, I reiterated my feeling that knowing our learners’ histories and being able to engage in continuous reflective dialogue with them had significant merits. However, due to the time restraints of a full-time teaching schedule we both questioned how practical it would be to have this level of continuous one to one contact with our own students. Nevertheless, when I consider the “Broadening Perspectives” approach, I am aware that my own perspectives towards teaching and supporting my students have changed. By participating in this advising course, I have seen how deeper, meaningful reflection can help students to become more self-directed and autonomous in their learning. As Kato and Mynard (2016, p. 5) highlight, many language learning contexts “do not provide opportunities for learners to reach a deep enough level of reflection in order to understand and take charge of their own language learning.” With this in mind, I intend to incorporate more reflection based activities into my future classes as well as continue to examine my beliefs and values as a teacher through reflective dialogue.
Notes on the contributor
Philip Cardiff is an English Lecturer for the English Language Institute (ELI) at Kanda University of International Studies. He holds an MA in Applied Linguistics & TESOL from Newcastle University in the UK, and the Cambridge DELTA. His research interests include corpus linguistics, discourse analysis, and learner autonomy.
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