Thomas Ashton, Kanda University of International Studies
Ashton, T. (2021). Extracts from an advising session: How viewpoint switching can help broaden learner perspectives and provide positive feedback. Relay Journal, 4(1), 23-30. https://doi.org/10.37237/relay/040104
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Advising in language learning is a relatively new field that has generated considerable interest amongst educational practitioners because of its focus on the individual language learner. Advising is an effective way of generating motivation and fostering learner autonomy as it encourages reflection on the language learning process. With this in mind, adequate training must be provided for developing language learning advisors and educational practitioners making the transition from teachers to advisors. This paper contains a brief description of an advising session from a developing learning advisor who focuses on two particular advising strategies: those of broadening perspectives and giving positive feedback. The outcomes are developmental and by presenting them I aim to highlight some of the difficulties for teachers making the transition to becoming a Language Learning Advisor.
Keywords: broadening perspectives, giving positive feedback, developing learning advisor.
As advisors and educational professionals, we often encounter moments that have the potential to play a significant role in empowering learners to take a step forward in changing a critical situation in their learning. It is often the case that if not handled appropriately these instances could prove negative instead of more positive turning points in a session. This reflective paper will focus on five extracts from an advising session. The extracts are in sequence and progress from more basic advising strategies such as giving positive feedback to more advanced strategies like broadening perspectives.
The primary aim to this paper was to evaluate and reflect upon the use of aforementioned advising strategies, giving positive feedback and broadening perspectives and also the usage of the viewpoint switching tool (Kato & Mynard, 2016). Yamashita and Kato (2012) suggest that reflection can be encouraged not only through dialogue, but also through the use of advising ‘strategies and tools.’ A secondary aim is to reflect on my developing advisor style and my decision making during sessions in terms of discourse choices (Kato & Mynard, 2016). The overall aim is to promote good practice and help other learning advisors in their professional development and transition from educational professionals to learning advisors.
The learner in question will be referred to as Rio for the sake of anonymity. Rio was a fourth-year university student majoring in English and taking classes in Korean. Rio also participated in weekly extracurricular journal sessions offered by one of the university dormitories, where she currently resides. It was from these sessions that the advisor and advisee know each other.
However, this was Rio’s first advising session and therefore the basic principles of advising and what the role of an advisor entails were explained to Rio prior to the session. She gave her full consent to participate in this research paper. The advisor conducting the session was in the early stages of the six-part learning trajectory of becoming a learning advisor as outlined by Kato and Mynard (2016) and had just completed the second course in an advisor-training programme. Due to the Covid-19 epidemic, the advising session was conducted online via the videoconferencing platform Zoom.
Extracts from the Advising Session
In the opening moments of the session a positive environment was created. This was achieved by a combination of comments on the learner’s recent change of virtual background and praise for submitting her journal on time.
Advisor (A): What would you like to talk about, Rio?
Rio (R): I don’t know- I feel- felt that I am struggling. Everything is getting on top of me.
A: So, what do you do when you feel like this?
R: Mmm. I often take a break. Go outside and take a walk.
A: Take a walk. That sounds nice.
R: Yes. I like being outside in nature.
A: Me too! What kind of nature do you enjoy?
R: I really like the nature of my hometown. You know it is countryside.
A: That sounds lovely. You must miss your hometown.
R: Yes I miss it a lot.
A: So, it’ll be really nice when you visit it again!
R: (Silence) Yes.
A: Are you going back in summer?
R: Yes I am. (Smile).
A: That’s lovely. You must be looking forward to it.
R: Yes I am looking forward.
The opening moments of the session highlight that Rio was feeling homesick and that perhaps this was one of the possible contributor to her problems, but “everything is getting on top of me” also seemed like she was feeling pressure and stress from multiple sources. Rather than asking intrusive questions, the referral to a shared interest in nature and prompting her to expand on her comments were effective here, as was pointing out how little of the semester actually remained. This encouraged her to remember that she would soon be able to return to her hometown and therefore helped to reduce Rio’s negative emotions. In short, it presented an opportunity to continue with the session and find out whether there were indeed any other underlying issues.
A: How are your assignments going?
R: There are so many. Most of them are good.
A: Most of them?
R: Yes, but I am not enjoying one of the courses so much.
A: So, what is it that you are not liking?
A: You don’t have to tell me what course it is Rio, or if you would like to talk about something different that’s fine also.
R: I – I don’t like the way we are graded for not participating in activities (Shaking of head and body showed signs of being visibly frustrated.)
A: How are you graded?
R: Well, I am always marked as not participating because I do not speak, but we don’t have the time or opportunity to all speak. It is unfair. Other classmates are more confident and always answer the question. When it is my turn there is no time to speak.
A: That sounds difficult Rio. I’m sorry to hear that.
This extract highlights Rio’s continued lack of confidence in the session and it was not only clear through dialogue but visibly evident that she was both frustrated and emotional. She considered the manner in which she was being graded to be unfair, and the strength of her feelings was visibly evident. As a learning advisor, I wanted the session to progress on my advisee’s terms, yet as an educational professional making the transition from teaching to advising, this passivity and move away from being directive, as suggested by Kato (2012), went against both my training and instincts. I decided to make a mental note of this apparent lack of confidence and frustration, and apply an advising strategy at a more natural time in order to tackle the issue. Rio seemed grateful to not be asked to explain herself further as it had not been easy for her to make a negative comment about one of her courses.
R: Yes, I am also as you know about to take TOEFL exam.
A: Oh yes, the TOEFL exam. How do you feel about that?
R: I feel nervous.
R: Yes. I am not ready.
A: On a scale of 1 to10 (10 being really nervous and not prepared at all), how do you feel?
A: (Laughter) 10. Wow OK.
R: (Laughter) Yes I think 9 or 10.
A: So if you could use any word to describe the TOEFL exam and your studies to prepare for it what would you use?
R: (Silence) Mmm the enemy!
A: The enemy! Oh wow. Really!?
R: Yes the enemy!
The advisee’s anxieties and feeling of being ill-prepared for the upcoming TOEFL exam are evident from this extract. It seems that broadening of perspectives and positive feedback had encouraged her to express her fears about the upcoming exam. In particular, this was highlighted when I asked the question, “If you could use any word to describe the TOEFL exam and your studies to prepare for it what would you use?” and Rio responded with, “the enemy!” This hereby demonstrated her understanding of how difficult the exam was going to be and her need to take a more active role if she was going to pass the exam. On reflection, this particular part of the session could easily have turned into an extremely emotional, negative experience for the advisee. However, this was avoided, and the advisee was able to quantify and evaluate her feelings.
A: What parts of the exam are you most worried about?
R: Mmm. Speaking and maybe reading.
A: The speaking and reading parts.
R: Yes, because I have no confidence for speaking.
A: You have no confidence? But you are speaking with me now without any problems at all.
R: Yes, but that’s different.
A: Why is that different?
R: (8 seconds silence) I don’t know.
A: How about with the reading?
R: I am reading a lot to practise, but I can’t read quick.
A: You can’t read quick.
R: Yes I am reading five articles every day but very slow.
A: Five articles? Wow. That’s great.
R: Yes but very slow.
( 8 seconds silence)
A: What do you think your parents would think if you talked to them about this?
R: My parents?
A: Yes your parents, imagine you had talked to them about this anxiety of reading you have. What do you think they would say?
R: Mmm (5 seconds silence) I don’t know. Maybe something like try your best, Rio.
A: Try your best. Great! And what are you doing?
R: Trying my best.
As an advisor, my role was to challenge Rio’s negative emotions and critical views of her own performance. Once challenged, it would be possible to build on her strengths and to formulate a personalised action learning plan. In addition, by the use of transformational advising strategies such as praise and positive feedback, it was possible to prompt deeper and further reflection.
It was clear that Rio was working hard to achieve her goals. This was particularly evident when we discussed the reading section of the exam and she stated that she was reading five articles every day. However, although Rio was active in the session, as we can see from the transcript, she was slow to gain the desired boost of confidence. Therefore, it seemed appropriate to implement an adapted version of Kato & Mynard’s (2016) Viewpoint Switching tool. I adapted the 4 part procedure, as first of all, in the dialogue, the topic was already established as being Rio’s reading skills, specifically her inability to read at a fast pace. I similarly adapted procedure 2 and focused on 2 rather than 4 people who were influential in her life, and asked Rio to consider how her parents, with whom she had mentioned her close relationship in a previous journal session, would respond to her concerns. According to Kato & Mynard (2016), the purpose of Viewpoint Switching is to “change perspectives and try to see a particular situation from a different standpoint” (p.227). By getting Rio to switch viewpoints and consider the perspective of her parents, it was possible to compliment and provide her with positive feedback that was more meaningful and significant than from myself.
A: So, how do you think you can improve reading quickly?
R: Mmm I think I can read more.
A: But you are reading lots!
A: So do you think you need to read more?
R: (5 seconds silence) Yes.
A: Do you practice different reading skills like scanning in class?
R: (7 seconds silence) aah like scan? Yes scanning and mm I don’t remember names.
A: Scanning, that’s great. Do you practice scanning for specific information?
R: In class yes.
A: In class, that’s good. And how about the five articles you read every day?
R: Ahh (nodding) OK I see. I should practise different styles when reading by myself.
A: That’s a great idea Rio.
R: Thank you.
At the start of this final extract, Rio appeared to be more positive and energized. Getting her to switch viewpoints and offering her encouragement had helped. Rio was starting to ‘go deeper’ in terms of becoming an autonomous learner and becoming more cognitively aware. In this final extract, giving positive feedback in order to maintain the positive atmosphere and finish the session on a high note was the main focus.
Reflection on this advising session revealed some of the challenges that teachers who have become learning advisors can experience. In particular, it can be hard for teachers who have recently taken on the role of advisor to remain neutral and not fall back on their instincts and give direct feedback—‘telling’ instead of ‘advising.’ However, there are strategies that can be adopted to avoid this. For example, in Extract 5, the idea of Rio doing more scanning in her own studies was introduced without me instructing her to do so. Silence was also utilized on multiple occasions to notify the advisee that she was not going to be directly instructed as she may have indeed been in a more traditional classroom setting. However, the moments of silence that surpassed 5 seconds proved to be somewhat uncomfortable for both myself and Rio. It was during these more extended periods of silence that my instincts as a teacher were telling me to break the silence and directly instruct the learner. Using silence as a strategy to promote learner autonomy proved to be effective and would most certainly be an area of interest for future research.
As a follow up to the advising session, I connected with another learning advisor via the videoconferencing platform Zoom to reflect and evaluate our performance as advisors. In this post-reflection meeting, we discussed the topics of what being an advisor entails and the expectations of the advisee. I felt that at times in the session Rio seemed to expect the advisor to take on the instructional role of a teacher. This sentiment was exemplified when she remained silent for extended periods, as in these moments her body language demonstrated apparent confusion and a reluctance to respond without instruction. It is therefore important to be flexible whilst advising and to not only listen but also gauge the expectations of the advisee.
Focus Points for the Future
Continued development as an advisor aids the transformation from teacher to advisor, and an action plan for my own development is a potential way for me to achieve this transition. The two key focal points for this action plan are as follows: firstly, to resist temptations to take on the instructional role of a teacher and guide rather than direct learners towards becoming autonomous learners, and secondly, to make use of a wider range of strategies and tools to prepare activities for future advising sessions. Tools can be useful when used appropriately; however, advisors must ensure they have practiced with the tool in a more controlled environment before using on advisees. According to Kato and Mynard (2016), “one of the purposes of using tools for a new advisor is to undergo the development process and understand first-hand what the learner is going through” (p. 226). Furthermore, if we go into a session with our own agenda of using a specific tool, then we risk overlooking what the advisee actually needs.
The usage of advising tools, such as Viewpoint Switching in Extract 4, seemed to be effective as it visibly encouraged and motivated the advisee. However, I remain unsure whether the results would have been similar if I had had opportunity to practice more with the tool in a more controlled environment beforehand. Furthermore, as a developing advisor I lacked confidence to use the tool in depth and really “ask the advisee to share her thoughts and feelings with me” (p.227). Kato and Mynard (2016) highlight how the tool “enables advisors to learn how valuable it is to see the situation from different points of view” (p.227) and thereby helps in understanding the complexities and background of the advisee. This could then harness great potential if practiced with before using in an advising session. By continuing to use a range of strategies and tools we will not only challenge ourselves as advisors and educational practitioners, but we will avoid the risk of becoming complacent and relying on one particular style that we are comfortable with.
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